Nicole Sperling
December 04, 2009 AT 05:00 AM EST

Will Smith defines the aughts as the decade of the impossible. He’s largely talking about Barack Obama’s unlikely presidential win (”It was so unrealistic and Hollywood-cheesy that no one would have made that script into a movie”), but the 41-year-old might as well be referring to his own career. When this decade began, Smith was coming off a rare box office disappointment, Wild Wild West, a film he chose over playing Neo in The Matrix. But the actor spent no time looking backward. Instead, he attacked virtually every genre he could find — with stunning results. First up: drama. His roles in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness earned him two Oscar nominations. And Happyness proved that a black actor can capture international audiences even in a serious drama. (The film grossed more than $143 million overseas alone.) ”I’ve been to 40 countries with Happyness, and there is a powerful sense of purpose in that movie that people connect to,” he says. ”It translates beyond language.” Smith also made it okay for men to see romantic comedies by playing a dashing dating consultant in 2005’s Hitch, which became the third-highest-grossing rom-com of the decade. Then he clobbered sci-fi in 2007’s I Am Legend, a tense survivor story that soared at the box office solely because of Smith’s mesmerizing performance — and his rapport with his character’s beloved German shepherd. Despite his accomplishments — he really is the only worldwide movie star everyone can bank on — Smith deflects praise. ”When I look at myself,” he says, ”I have a hard time seeing anything other than what I should have done.”


KING OF THE WORLD
A sampler of his global box office from the last 10 years

2002
Men in Black II
$441.8 Mil

2004
Shark Tale
$367.7 Mil

2005
Hitch
$367.1 Mil

2006
The Pursuit of Happyness
$307.1 Mil

2007
I Am Legend
$585.3 Mil

2008
Hancock
$624.4 Mil

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