Will Smith has Found the Magic Formula

Will 'Hancock' continue Will Smith's winning knack for picking blockbusters?

ByABC News
February 12, 2009, 12:10 PM

June 29, 2008— -- The biggest star on the planet is sucking his thumb.

"Damn," Will Smith says on the set of Hancock, trying to shake the pain of a thumbnail that split in two as he was thrown through a mock wall. "All these crazy stunts we're doing, and this is how I get hurt. I didn't see that coming."

Which is strange for Smith, who is nothing if not calculating.

For all the on-screen charisma that has made him a Hollywood ATM, Smith is, at his core, a statistician with social skills. He breaks down the films he's considering into sub-categories — are there enough special effects, a love story? — to calculate their commercial or Oscar viability. Most Mondays, he pores over box office reports the way sports nuts read box scores, even when he doesn't have a movie in theaters.

That knack for cinematic algebra makes studios the kind of money once reserved for white men named Tom.

All of which makes his recent career choices a bit of a puzzle. Where once Smith saved the world from aliens with a grin and laser gun, lately he has been, well, surly.

On Wednesday, he opens Hancock, a superhero story about a crime fighter who loves his whiskey, hates his job and doesn't mind chucking children a few hundred feet in the air. Think Superman as a hobo on a bender.

Before that, he anchored I Am Legend, an apocalyptic drama in which he played one of New York's last survivors. While the movie was a smash, it took some fans aback with its gloomy tone and a scene in which Smith is forced to kill his dog bare-handed.

But Smith says it's time to break out and find real success. Seriously.

"I don't feel like there's anything I can't do, no movie I can't make," he says. "I feel like the next 10 years are going to be my sweet spot."

That's a frightening prospect, considering that the guy has two Oscar nominations and has eclipsed Tom Hanks and close friend Tom Cruise as the most bankable man in the industry.

And, if Hancock does as well as projected, he'll become the first actor in Hollywood history with eight straight movies to rake in more than $100 million.

"He's one of the last true leading men," says Alex Proyas, who directed him in I, Robot. "There's a connection he has with audiences who will see him in anything he does. I don't quite know how you explain that kind of magic."