Two years after ‘The Slap,’ Will Smith proves he can still bring people to the theaters

OPINION: At a moment when Hollywood is struggling, Smith just showed people that he can still sell lots of tickets with "Bad Boys: Ride or Die."

Will Smith is shown at the European premiere of "Bad Boys: Ride or Die" on May 27 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Gerald Matzka/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Will Smith probably knew that “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” was a make-or-break moment for his career. “Bad Boys 4” was nothing less than a temperature check for his stardom. Yes, the film co-stars Martin Lawrence, but this moment was about Smith. People were either going to go because they still liked Smith or not go because they no longer liked Smith. It was an open question: Was he still a Hollywood super A-lister?

If “Bad Boys 4” performed below Hollywood’s expectations, it would send a message to Hollywood studios that maybe Smith wasn’t a super A-lister anymore. You don’t just stay on that list. You stay on it by selling movie tickets film after film. If people want to see you, you keep getting big roles. If the people stop wanting to see you, the studios stop paying you to star in their movies. Smith was at a fork in the road — do people still like him following The Slap?

The answer from the box office was a resounding yes. Temperature check: Call the doctor this man might have a fever. “Bad Boys 4” was a box office success. The film cost about $100 million to make and in its first weekend in theaters, it made a global total of $104 million. That comes from $56 million made in the U.S. and Canada and over $48 million from the world.

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Several important statistics: “Bad Boys 4” was the highest-grossing R-rated first weekend since “Oppenheimer” back in July, which puts the film in great company commercially. At a moment when Hollywood is struggling, Smith just showed people that he can still sell lots of tickets. Bad “Boys 4” was the sixth-highest U.S./Canada opening weekend of his career. 

Also important: A film starring two African-American men did almost as much box office in the rest of the world as it did in America. That means that Smith remains a global star. I know he remembers the days when they said Black films couldn’t sell in other countries. He’s done as much as anyone to dismantle that idea.

Who went to see “Bad Boys 4”? According to data published on Deadline, the audience for “Bad Boys 4” was 44% Black, 26% Hispanic and Latino, and 18% Caucasian, which means Black people turned out for Smith’s movie in a big way.

It was smart for Smith to pop up with another “Bad Boys” movie. He went back to his Hollywood roots, back to a venerable franchise that has been a perfect fit for him. The “Bad Boys” brand has good memories for Gen Xers who saw the first “Bad Boys flick” 29 years ago. The first “Bad Boys” was Smith’s first time as a leading man so in returning to “Bad Boys,” he’s taking us back to the early days of his film superstardom and the first time we fell in love with him as a leading man.

It was also smart for Smith to pop up at a few theaters and thank people for coming out to see him and posting that on Tiktok @willsmith. It looked like he was running for president.

Clearly, we still love Smith, and we still want to see him onscreen. It appears like a lot of Black folks have moved on from The Slap.


Toure is a host and writer at TheGrio. He hosts the TheGrio TV show “Masters of the Game,” and he created the award-winning podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and its upcoming sequel “Being Black: The ’70s.” He is also the creator of “Star Stories” and the author of eight books, including “Nothing Compares 2 U an oral history of Prince.” He also hosts a podcast called “Toure Show.” He is also a husband and a father of two.

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