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SYFY WIRE Independence Day

As 'Bel-Air' returns, revisit Will Smith's 5 best sci-fi roles for Peacock reboot's second season

You think moving to the West Coast gets your life flipped, turned upside down? Try welcoming an alien to Earth. 

Will Smith Mib Fresh Prince Header PRESS YT

Will Smith burst onto the scene after his character on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air got in one little fight and his mom got scared and said, "you're moving with your auntie and your uncle in Bel-Air." However, while the upscale SoCal community is a far, far different place than West Philadelphia, it was hardly the farthest from home that Smith would ever get. The actor has also starred in several beloved sci-fi movies that would take him to strange new places, including an alien spacecraft, a steampunk wild west, a vampire-ridden apocalyptic wasteland, and more.

Peacock's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot, Bel-Air, which reimagines the iconic '90s comedy as a drama, returns to the streamer this Thursday, Feb. 23 with the debut of Season 2. Since Smith is an executive producer on the newer series, we at SYFY WIRE figured it was a good occasion to rank Smith's five best sci-fi roles. You think moving to the West Coast gets your life flipped, turned upside down? Try welcoming an alien to Earth.

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5. Wild Wild West

Wild Wild West is not, exactly, "high art." Will Smith plays Jim West (desperado), a Civil War captain-turned-swashbuckling agent working for President Ulysses S. Grant. Smith's style and wise-cracks do not exactly seem like he fits into 1869 American History, but then again neither does pretty much everything else in this movie, which features a giant mechanical spider crawling across the titular wild wild west. It's dumb, but it's dumb fun, and Smith is having a good time playing the cocksure Jim West — and he also recorded a pretty silly theme song.

4. Gemini Man

With Gemini Man, director Ang Lee wanted to push the medium of cinema forward. The movie was released (in the few theaters that were technologically capable of showing it in the proper format) in 120 fps HFR and advanced 3D. The movie looked incredible, and it's a shame that a viewing on your TV — or even a regular movie theater screen — won't quite look the same. But, those who were able to see the movie in its most deluxe format were no doubt wowed by Smith, who plays both a retiring assassin and a much younger cloned version of himself set out to kill the original. It's present-day Smith vs. Fresh Prince Smith, albeit a much deadlier one. Smith is digitally de-aged with some impressive technology that looks amazing even under the intense scrutiny of Gemini Man's high frame rate, but even without the special effects, Smith manages to capture the energy of his youth in this innovative action thriller.

3. I Am Legend

Will Smith's forays into genre tend to be joyous affairs, as he's innately just too dang charismatic to keep that smile hidden for long. However, in I Am Legend, he plays one of the last human beings alive in a post-apocalyptic world. But, even though he's eventually joined by co-stars, first his loyal dog, then the vampire-like Darkseekers, then eventually some actual humans, it's only because of Smith's charisma that the movie works. He's essentially alone, but he's still enthralling to watch.

2. Men in Black

Confidence is what gets James Darrell Edwards III — later dubbed simply Agent J — into the Men in Black. He's confident he can make the leaps and bounds needed to chase a (secretly alien) criminal, he's confident he can just swagger his way through a written test, and he's confident that, actually he was correct to shoot the little girl target instead of the big scary aliens because she looks like she was up to no good while the monsters were just chillin'. The former Fresh Prince is a breath of fresh air in the stodgy alien-monitoring organization, and Smith contributes to a perfect dynamic duo when paired with Tommy Lee Jones' experienced and weary Agent K.

1. Independence Day

One of the greatest scenes in Independence Day, a great movie, comes when Will Smith's Captain Steven Hiller is dragging the unconscious alien he knocked out when he welcomed the invader to Earth. Wrapped in the remains of Hiller's parachute, the scene is essentially just Smith dragging a heavy prop across an arid desert and talking to himself. In theory, this is boring. In practice, it's delightful, as Smith perfectly sells Hiller's cocky exhaustion at the whole situation. ("WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SMELL! I COULD'VE BEEN AT A BARBEQUE!")

Smith is a big part of the reason why ID4 works (and his absence, part of the reason why Independence Day: Resurgence falls flat.) He's an incredible protagonist, able to keep things funny, quick, and light without ever undermining the film's world-ending stakes.

Need to catch up on Season 1 of Bel-Air before diving into Season 2? Check it out on Peacock.