"The Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend don't get the credit they deserve," says Brandon Gray of ticket-sales tracker Box Office Mojo. "Both of those movies broke radically from his usual roles and still did big business. He can safely lay claim to being the only true movie star out there right now."
That doesn't mean Smith is bulletproof, Gray says. He says that Legend "might have left a sour taste, particularly the dog scene. Hancock will be a test if there was some residue left over. Even if a movie is a tremendous hit, it can have a negative effect on a star."
Smith has been taking more knocks than usual, primarily for his ties to Cruise and speculation that he has converted to Scientology.
But Smith, who was raised Baptist and says he remains Christian (he co-founded the non-denominational Christian church Living Waters in San Fernando Valley), takes such gossip about as seriously as he does marauding space creatures.
"You have to let that roll off you," he says. "There's a natural narcotic my brain must pump, because negativity doesn't last. It's strange to play a guy like Hancock, who can't find something to feel good about. That's the opposite of who I am."
To prepare for the role, he watched W.C. Fields and All in the Family. "W.C. Fields was hilarious being mean to kids. And Archie Bunker was a jerk, but he was hilarious," he says.
"I've got this theory that as long as your characters are harmless, or in pain, they can be funny. Even when they're mean to kids."
He has applied part of that theory to parenting his children, Willow, 7, and Jaden, 9, whom he had with wife Jada Pinkett, and Smith's son from his first marriage, Trey, 15.
"The kids can do anything they want, as long as Daddy thinks it's funny," he says. "And artistically, that's where you need to be, too. You have to find the humor in things."
Still, he's bothered by how the entertainment media handle Cruise's faith. "That's painful for me to see. I've met very few people committed to goodness the way Tom is. We disagree on a lot of things. … But even with different faiths and different beliefs, at the end of the day, goodness is goodness."
Their relationship has sparked a friendly rivalry between the two, though Smith says it's not a box office battle.
Instead, they see who can sign autographs longer.
"It's hard to beat that dude," Smith says. "He has another gear. He did 21/2 hours in France for Mission: Impossible on the red carpet. Now when I go to France, people will say, 'You know, Tom was out here for 21/2 hours.' "
Smith, though, could not be far behind. Back on the set of Hancock, he and friend Jamie Foxx are watching a video replay of a stunt in which Smith is whipped down Hollywood Boulevard along a cable 40 feet above ground, then plunges to the ground like a bungee jumper.
"Man, you are crazy," Foxx says, shaking his head at the replay "You couldn't get me …"
He turns to Smith, but the star has bolted from his chair toward a throng of tourists who have spotted him behind the barricades. He spends 20 minutes in the group, offering signatures and high-fives while the crowd breaks into the theme from his TV hit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
"It doesn't matter how many movies I've made, they'll always remember me best for the show," he says. "When you're on TV, people are allowing you into their homes. I knew when that show took off that I could accomplish whatever I wanted in this business."