- Action: The Dark Knight (2008)
- Adventure: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Seven Samurai (1954) both have two mentions
- Biopic: Raging Bull (1980) has two mentions – but also two more that see it as mainly a Sports movie
- Coming of Age: The Breakfast Club (1985) has two mentions
- Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and Pan’s Labyrinth or El Labrintho del Fauno (2006) both have two mentions
- Gangster: The Godfather (1972) has three mentions (plus one more under the parent genre “Crime”)
- Musical: Singin’ in the Rain (1952) has two mentions
- Mystery: Rear Window (1954) has three mentions
- Romance: Casablanca (1942) has two mentions
- Sports: Rocky (1976) has two mentions – Raging Bull (1980) also has two, but also two more that see it as mainly a Biopic
- Thriller: The Silence of the Lambs (1991) has two mentions
- War: Saving Private Ryan (1998) has two mentions
- Western: The Searchers (1956) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) both have two mentions
World of Warcraft is the huge MMORPG—Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game—that you might be more familiar with more recently, but it’s not the originator of the… well, the world of Warcraft. Before World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment made a series of PC strategy games set in the same fantasy universe.
(These games were originally meant to be based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer fantasy games, but the deal went nowhere, necessitating Blizzard to write their own story.) These PC games were called Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.
So World of Warcraft takes place several years after the events of those strategy games—in fact, the MMO takes place nearly 3 decades after the events of the first game.
So which one is this one based on?
Naturally, the first game, Orcs and Humans. Warcraft will tell the story of how the Orcs, manipulated by demon entities called the Burning Legion, came to the world of Azeroth from their own planet, Draenor, for the very first time.
Wait. They’re space orcs???
Sure! Well, they don’t have laser guns or anything, but the orcs of Warcraft come from a different planet to the Humans: Draenor. A few orcs were corrupted by these demons with the promise of power, and they persuaded their fellow orc clans that in order to survive (Draenor was a harsh world) they had to invade another world.
With the help of a human traitor, the orcs, lead by the evil warlock Gul’Dan, constructed a Dark Portal that bridged Draenor and Azeroth together.
The Orc you keep showing a picture of is brown. Aren’t orcs green-skinned?
They are—and they are in Warcraft as well, eventually. While native Orcs are brown skinned, part of the process that brings the Orc clans together under the thrall of the Burning Legion involves drinking the blood of a demon. This grants them increased strength and a sort of blood rage, but also turns their skin green. Yes, like the Hulk but with more permanence.
Eventually, even Orcs who didn’t drink the blood—some clans disagreed with Gul’Dan’s plan and refused, like the Frostwolves. More on them in a second—found their skin turning green, simply because of exposure to demonic energy.
Cool. You mentioned those Frostwolf guys. Aren’t all the orcs bad guys in this?
Nope! Part of Warcraft’s storytelling has always been about a sort of blurring of lines. Not every Human is good (Remember that traitor guy I mentioned earlier?), and not every Orc is bad. The Frostwolves are just one group of dissenters who refuse to drink the demon blood. They’re led by Durotan, played by Toby Kebbel in the film.
Right. So who else is important in the movie?
The movie’s cast is fairly split between the two sides—The orcs of the Horde, and the humans of the Alliance. Here’s the main cast that we know of so far, split into each faction:
- King Llane (Dominic Cooper)
- Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel)
- Lady Taria (Ruth Negga)
- Medivh (Ben Foster)
- Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer)
- Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton)
- Durotan (Toby Kebbel)
- Orgrim (Rob Kazinsky)
- Blackhand (Clancy Brown)
- Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu)
If you want to know more about each of these characters, here’s a handy guide I wrote about each of them—it’s largely spoiler free, but I go into some detail about who exactly all these people are. Sure these are spoilers for 20 year old games, bear in mind—but hey, there’s a movie coming out soon, so you might want to avoid them!
Wait. There’s an Orc on the humans’ side? I thought you said they came over from a different planet!
Garona is a weird case. She originally worked for Gul’Dan as a spy, and was sent over to Azeroth as a liaison between Gul’Dan and the human helping him construct the portal. While she was there, Garona became friends with the Mage Khadgar, and she decided she wasn’t too keen on her master’s plans. So she warned the humans about the impending Orc invasion and decided to fight with them. Like I said, bad guys and good guys on both sides.
All you those people you mentioned are Orcs or Humans, right? There aren’t any other fantasy races in this?
There are, actually—in the very first game, there were only Orcs and Humans (hence the name), but later on more races were introduced: Dwarves, Gnomes and High Elves joined the Alliance, Tauren (a race of cow-people) and Trolls joined the Horde. By the time of World of Warcraft, each side had a few other races join their cause, but they won’t be a factor in the movie.
Although it would be true to the game not to see any other races, it’d be kind of a bit boring (and Warcraft fans are much more familiar with these multi-racial factions from the current games.)
In fact, we already know there’ll be more races in some form: a trailer shown at a Blizzard fan convention last year featured Elves at the very least, and we’ll probably be seeing some more fantastical characters too.
Trailers? Are there any clips I can watch?
Sadly, no. That trailer was only for fans attending, as was the most recent footage shown at Comic-Con. But, you can read a description of that Comic-Con footage here.
Better than nothing, I guess. There’s a lot of focus on a baby Orc in that description. Who is it?
The child mentioned is Durotan and his wife Draka’s son. He has an Orcish name—Go’el—but is more commonly known by another: Thrall. He’s not important to the first movie, but he eventually grows up to become a leader to the Orcs and the Horde as a whole, and a pretty major player in World of Warcraft. You’ll probably be seeing more from him in any potential sequels.
Right. So that’s pretty much what I need to know going in, but one thing: Why are people so excited about this?
Lots of reasons. Warcraft itself is incredibly popular, thanks to the success of World of Warcraft, which has become a pop cultural force in its own right over the last decade, played by millions and millions of people. Plus, a movie adaptation has been in the works for years—Sam Raimi was originally attached to the project in 2009 but that fell through, before Duncan Jones (director of the awesome sci-fi film Moon) signed on—so fans have been waiting a long time.
Plus, video game movies have a pretty bad rep, for good reason: they’ve mostly been terrible. Warcraft’s popularity, combined with the fact that it seems like the creative teams behind it are at least talking like they understand how to adapt a video game to film, has a lot of people hoping that this film could break the trend and bring video game stories and worlds to wider audiences.
There’s also the fact that post-Lord of the Rings, there hasn’t been much in the way of big-ticket fantasy on the big screen, and people looking for more of that are pinning their hopes of Warcraft being a success and kick-starting a new wave of cinematic fantasy. So basically,there’s a big fanbase and a lot of expectation that Warcraft could be the start of something special.
Many will be aware of the new Hollywood film which has been recently released entitled: ‘Dracula Untold’. It might not be well known that, supernatural powers aside, the tale of Dracula is actually based on a real person. Unfortunately however, this film is such a fictitious remake that it speaks volumes about the rise of Islamophobia as well as it does about the West’s attempts to seek to rewrite history by glamourising mass murders whilst peddling the fear of the ‘Muslim invaders’. What follows is a summarised account of the real, well-known history of Dracula.
Vlad Dracula was a three-time Voivode of Wallachia (modern day Romania), ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462, the period of the emergent Uthmani Khilafah, the Ottoman Caliphate, and its conquest of the Balkans. His father, Vlad II Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, which was founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe and was fashioned after the military orders of the Crusades requiring initiates to defend the Cross and fight the so-called “enemies of Christianity”, in particular the Muslim Ottoman Caliphate.
There was a time, when much of what is modern Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, the Balkans, the Crimea and almost all of southern Russia was ruled by Muslims. This was once part of the Muslim heartland of Islām, the Ottomon Empire and produced many great leaders and scholars. Today of course, the only majority Muslim community found in mainland Europe is in Bosnia, Kosovo and al-Baniya, Albania.
The Christian communities in Hungary and Wallachia wanted to fight against the Ottomans, however they were very weak and there was much disunity amongst them. In 1436, Vlad II Dracul ascended to the throne in Wallacia only to be dethroned by those loyal to the King in Hungary, János Hunyadi. Vlad II sought the help of the Ottoman Muslims who in turn sought payment of the Jiz’yah, a tax which non-Muslims pay to a Muslim ruler in return for their protection from outside nations. As part of this deal, Sultan Murad II asked that Vlad II send two of his four sons to Istanbul to be educated. Vlad II agreed and so he sent his two sons and he in turn was ascended to the throne again in Wallachia by the Ottomans.
The two sons who travelled back with the Muslims to Edirne were Vlad Dracula and his younger brother, Radu. Vlad is the one who we have now come to know as Dracula because the word Dracula means ‘son of Dracul’ which was the name of his father. The word ‘Dracula’ has of course since taken on a different meaning, being synonymous with a devilish evil, and we will see why this is.
Whilst under the tutelage of the Ottoman Muslims, the boys were provided with education including that of Islamic texts. Radu became Muslim and was a close friend with the young boy of the Sultan Murad II, Muḥammad (Mehmet II). Vlad however was rebellious and is recorded to have developed a well-known hatred for Muslims even though he too studied the Qur’ān, spoke Arabic, Persian, Turkish and of course Wallachian (Romanian).
In 1447 the King of Hungary attacked Wallachia and killed Vlad Dracula and Radu’s father and brothers. Given that Vlad’s father had paid the Jiz’yah, the Muslims defended them against the Hungarians and they installed Vlad Dracula in power.
In the meantime, Radu at the age of 22 became a leading Mujāhid (one who strives in the path of Allāh) within the Ottoman court and commanded the Janissaries (the foreign contingent of the army). He was sent by his good friend Muḥammad, who by this stage had become the Sultan at the age of 19, to subdue various rebellions such as that in Anatolia. Perhaps more importantly, he participated alongside Sultan Muḥammad in the Ottomon siege which eventually led to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Constantinople was the capital city for the Roman Byzantine Empire. Napoleon was quoted as once saying, “If the Earth were a single state, Constantinople would be its capital” . As for Sultan Muḥammad, he was from here on forever to be known as Muḥammad Fātiḥ (Muḥammad the Conqueror), and his new city was from here on forever to be referred to as Islambul, meaning the “City of Islām”. It should be noted that it was only during the secularisation process of Ataturk where it took on the name of ‘Istanbul’ which has no relevant meaning. Incidentally, there are coins in the British Museum from 1730 where the name of the city, Islambul is clearly imprinted . By conquering Constantinople, Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ had also fulfilled the blessed words of the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) who said concerning this event:
“Verily, Constantinople shall be conquered. Its commander shall be the best commander ever, and his army shall be the best army ever.”
With the fall of Constantinople, Pope Pius II called for crusade in 1459 against the Ottoman Muslims, at the Congress of Mantua. In this crusade, the main role was to be played by Matthias Corvinus, son of János Hunyadi, the King of Hungary. To this effect, Matthias Corvinus received from the Pope 40,000 golden coins, an amount that was thought to be enough to gather an army of 12,000 men and purchase 10 warships. In this context, Vlad Dracula allied himself with Matthias Corvinus, whose family it should be remembered killed his family, with the hope of keeping the Ottomans out of the country.
The Declaration of War
Later that year, Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ sent emissaries to Vlad in Wallachia to urge him to pay a delayed jiz’yah which Vlad Dracula had put off paying. Unknown to the Ottomans, Vlad Dracula had already allied himself with the Hungarians and joined the Pope’s call for a Crusade against them. Vlad Dracula met with the emissaries and said to them, “If you want to step inside of my port, you have to take off your turban and bow.” The Muslims responded that they would not remove their turban and “we only bow to Allāh”. So Vlad once again demanded, “Take it off” and again they refused. Vlad Dracula then told someone to come with some very big nails and hammers and he said, “If they refuse to remove it for me then they will never remove it again.” And he commanded that their turbans be nailed into their heads. Of course, this resulted in them being killed – this act was a declaration of war against the Muslims which Vlad Dracula had been spoiling for.
Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ sent the Bey of Nicopolis, Hamza Pasha to eliminate Vlad Dracula. Vlad Dracula however planned an ambush. Hamza Pasha, the Bey of Nicopolis, brought with him 10,000 cavalry and when passing through a narrow pass north of Giurgiu, Vlad Dracula launched a surprise attack. The Christians had the Muslims surrounded and defeated and almost all of them were caught and impaled, with Hamza Pasha impaled on the highest stake to show his rank. Impalement was Vlad Dracula’s preferred method of torture and execution and it was this which makes him stand out in being remembered as absolutely evil and barbaric. Impalement is the penetration of an organism by an object such as a stake, pole, spear or hook, by complete (or partial) perforation of the body, often the central body mass. What they would do is get a very long stick, make sharp one end and insert it through a person’s back passage, driving it through their body until it came out of their mouth. Often, the victims would be alive and this is how they would be killed. Then they would put this stick into the ground and impale others, putting them next to each other.
In the winter of 1462, Vlad Dracula crossed the Danube and devastated the entire Bulgarian land in the area between Serbia and the Black Sea. Disguising himself as Turkish, utilising the fluent Turkish he had learned whilst under the care of the Muslims, he infiltrated and destroyed Ottoman camps. In a letter to Corvinus of Hungary, he wrote:
“I have killed peasant men and women, old and young… We killed 23,884 Turks (Muslims) without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers… Thus, your highness, you must know that I have completely broken any peace with him (Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ).”
Vlad Dracula’s attack was celebrated by the then western Christendom; the Saxon cities of Transylvania, the Italian states and the Pope. A Venetian envoy, upon hearing about the news at the court of Corvinus, expressed great joy and said that the whole of Christianity should celebrate Vlad’s successful campaign. The Genoese from Caffa also thanked him.
In response to this, Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars, and in spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia. This army was under the Sultan’s commandership and in its ranks was his friend and brave Mujāhid, Radu. Vlad Dracula was unable to stop the Ottomans from crossing the Danube on June 4, 1462 and on entering Wallachia, they found that on one of the very long roads leading to the capital of this area were 20,000 Muslims impaled along the sides of these roads. Imagine this, we suffer today no doubt but incidents of such brute are very rare indeed. You can imagine how Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ felt to see even one Muslim killed which was too much to bare, but to mutilate their bodies after this was something, which was beyond acceptable.
Vlad Dracula constantly organised small attacks and ambushes on the Muslims and adopted what we would call today ‘Guerrilla warfare’. Pausing for a moment and thinking of the current state of the Muslim world, it is clear that it is now the Muslims who usually adopt guerrilla tactics in view of their weakness and inferior military might whereas Muslims were in the time of Muḥammad Fātiḥ, the superpower of the day.
The End Game
After some time, Radu, who remained faithful to Islām and the Sultan and spent his entire life on the frontlines of Jihād and battle in protection of the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, was charged with the responsibility of pursuing his brother and thus showing the world that in Islām, brotherhood in faith is given priority over blood relations where they have an enmity towards the faith. Vlad Dracula was running out of funds and returned to Hungary to seek help from Corvinus, who instead of helping Vlad Dracula, imprisoned him as he was seen as a liability even for the Christians. In his absence, Radu defeated the remnants of Vlad Dracula’s army and became the ruler in Wallachia and he ruled from 1463-1473 when he died at the age of 40. Meanwhile, Vlad Dracula was released from prison and he returned to Wallachia once again and retook power in 1476 with Hungarian support. He immediately assembled an army and invaded Bosnia, slaughtering its Muslim population and impaling 8,000 on stakes in a forest of human bodies. Vlad Dracula had arisen from the darkness with the objective of eliminating Islām from the Balkans once and for all and installing Christianity. Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ invaded Wallachia and faced the forces of Vlad in Bucharest, Romania. Vlad’s army was overrun in a blitz and all were killed, including Vlad himself. His head was removed from his body and was taken back to Istanbul. They impaled his head and put it at the gates of Islambul where it stood for about 2 – 3 months to send a clear message to others. “If you want to be like this man, then dare wage war against us.”
7. The Rum Diary
When American journalist Paul Kemp takes a freelance job for a local newspaper in Puerto Rico during the 1950s, he realizes he must work to find the balance between island culture and the expatriates who live there. Based on an early novel by Hunter S. Thompson, Depp’s portrayal in the film adaptation engages all the treachery, rum and lush writing fans of the book can expect.
6. Cry Baby
Teen musical? Check! This 1990 American cult classic featured the likes of Iggy Pop, Amy Locane, Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, Kim McGuire, David Nelson, Susan Tyrrell and Patty Hearst.
5. Sleepy Hollow
The brainchild of Burton and Depp began on the set of Burton’s 1999 period horror film adaptation inspired by the 19th century short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In total, the two have partnered for six films. This May, Burton and Depp will drop Dark Shadows, rounding out the collaboration to a healthy seven films.
4. Pirates of The Caribbean
All judgment aside, Johnny Depp made a character everyone loved. The first Pirates of the Caribbean film was a huge commercial success and pretty well-received by critics. Pirates became cool again because Johnny Depp created a bumbling, funny character based off of a real-life character (Keith Richards) that everyone could get along with. So despite any animosity you may still hold towards the now quadrilogy, admit it… He’s Captain Jack Sparrow.
3. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
Hunter S. Tompson created Raoul Duke. Johnny Depp brought him life. The book’s tales of the psychedelic escapades of Duke and Dr. Gonzo pioneered gonzo journalism and brought explosive social reactions. The 1998 film was a box-office failure but became an American cult classic. Depp almost didn’t get the opportunity to play the role he’s made iconic, as Jack Nicholson, Dan Aykroyd and John Cusack were all considered for the part.
2. Edward Scissorhands
It’s a story of an uncommonly gentle man. The unfinished Edward is taken in by a suburban family. He subsequently falls in love with their teenage daughter. The seemingly rudimentary plot drives a powerful perspective on civilization’s corruption of innocence along with themes of isolation and self-discovery. Gothic archetypes and German expressionism line the floor for the iconic way-before-its-time 1990 American romantic fantasy film.
We’re not talking about Blow the film. We’re talking about Blow Johnny Depp. Despite the overall mild reception of the 2001 biopic, Depp took “Boston George” Jacob Jung and rang him through our emotions and our minds. He’s the king of destruction, a desperate, egotistic, fatally flawed human being who never gets a leg up, always lets someone down and cannot surpass his greed. Depp’s riviting performance makes his portrayal of Jung our favorite of all.
10. I, Robot (2004) 58%
Isaac Asimov’s classic short story collection had a long journey to the screen — and when it finally arrived in 2004, the end result bore little more than a passing resemblance to its literary namesake. It may have disappointed purists, but I, Robot was another in a line of hit summer films for Smith — and although its transformation into a big-budget action thriller may have sacrificed thought-provoking subtext along the way, it was still enough for Nev Pierce of the BBC, who argued, “Whether there’s anything substantial under the sheen and CGI of Alex Proyas’ glistening future vision is debatable, but this enjoyable, engrossing picture is at least intelligently artificial.”
9. Independence Day (1996) 60%
After establishing himself as an action star with Bad Boys, Smith kicked off a string of July 4 blockbusters with Independence Day, Roland Emmerich’s 1996 ensemble sci-fi thriller about the worldwide chaos unleashed when an armada of terribly unfriendly aliens stops by Earth for a visit. With a worldwide gross of over $815 million, Independence Day was the biggest hit of the year, and although Smith had a lot of help along the way, his wisecracking heroics were a big part of what inspired critics like Empire’s Angie Errigo to hail it as “a throwback to traditional entertainment with an old-fashioned, gung-ho good time thrilled up by ’90s-style state-of-the-art technology.”
8. Ali (2001) 67%
Smith trained for a year to prepare himself for the title role in Michael Mann’s Muhammad Ali biopic, both inside the ring and out, with a workload that included everything from live sparring to Islamic studies and time with a dialect coach. While Ali ultimately packed a somewhat disappointing punch at the box office, where its $87 million gross failed to earn back its budget, all that preparation paid off handsomely for Smith, who walked away with a Best Actor Oscar nomination — as well as glowing reviews from critics like Jay Carr of the Boston Globe, who wrote, “Smith makes contact with enough of Ali’s swagger, sweetness, wit, and pride to convince us that justice is being done to the boxing champion.”
7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) 67%
Otherwise known as the film that proved Will Smith’s cinematic dynasty would eventually extend to his kids, The Pursuit of Happyness used the real-life story of Chris Gardner’s journey from homeless single parent to stockbroker as the basis for an inspirational drama starring Smith alongside his son Jaden, who was all of eight when the movie came out (and stole the picture anyway). It takes a special kind of performance to make audiences believe a multimillionaire box-office king as a desperate dad on the brink of losing everything, and Smith delivered it here; as Tom Meek wrote for the Boston Phoenix, “Smith turns in a career-capping performance, and director Gabriele Muccino ingeniously turns the material inward, cautioning us all to be grateful for what we have, for we’re closer to the edge than we think.”
6. Hitch (2005) 69%
Romantic comedies get a pretty bad rap, but when they’re put together with enough sensitivity and skill, the results can be pretty hard to resist. Case in point: 2005’s Hitch, starring Smith as a legendary “date doctor” who’s playing matchmaker for a schlub (Kevin James) and his celebrity crush (Amber Valletta) while wooing a gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) whose latest assignment puts her on an unwitting collision course with Hitch. It’s all familiar stuff, but that was just fine with critics like Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, who wrote, “Smith and Mendes are terrific together. He brings her game up so high you’d think she has had as many good parts as Smith.”
5. I Am Legend (2007) 70%
After languishing in development hell for more than a decade and passing through the hands of a list of stars that included Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Matheson’s classic novel finally made its way to the screen for the third time in 2007, with Will Smith starring as Robert Neville, the virologist who just happens to be one of the last healthy people left after a government-engineered vaccine goes awry and turns the human race into vampire-like beings. Although its deviations from the book — particularly in the final act — made the movie something of a blown opportunity as far as some fans were concerned, most critics enjoyed Legend on its own merits, with an appreciative Rex Reed calling it “a grenade that goes off when least expected. It has more horror than heart, but it is never boring.”
4. Enemy of the State (1998) 71%
Depending on your ideological leanings, Enemy of the State‘s pre-9/11 warnings of an encroaching government surveillance state are either quaint or chillingly prescient — but either way, this techno-thriller, which united Bruckheimer with director Tony Scott for their fifth film, is a solidly built piece of big-budget entertainment. Starring Will Smith as a lawyer targeted by the NSA, Gene Hackman as the retired spook who helps him evade capture, and Jon Voight as the creepy bureaucrat who will stop at nothing to ensure the passage of a key piece of legislation, State blended good old-fashioned man-on-the-run action with state-of-the-art technology, and scared up a healthy $250 million along the way — as well as praise from critics such as Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle, who called it “a thriller straight through to its sleek, millennial-fever heart, an onrushing, giddily paranoiac roller-coaster ride with bad brakes, clever dialogue, and a reach that only occasionally exceeds its grasp.”
3. Where the Day Takes You (1992) 80%
As a rapper and an actor, Smith spent the first several years of his career largely in comedy mode — so when he decided to make the jump into film, he chose the decidedly unfunny role of a handicapped, homeless Los Angeles youth in the ensemble drama Where the Day Takes You. Surrounded by a crowd of veteran actors that included Dermot Mulroney, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Kyle MacLachlan, Smith was able to test the dramatic waters without having to carry a movie on his own — and it paid off for critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote, “Maybe the director, Marc Rocco, is good with actors. Or maybe these actors haven’t had this kind of strong material to work with before.”
2. Six Degrees of Separation (1993) 88%
The fascinating story of real-life con artist David Hampton formed the basis for Six Degrees of Separation, adapted from the John Guare play about a smooth-talking young man named Paul (Smith) who shows up on the doorstep of a wealthy New York couple (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing) and convinces them he’s not only friends with their college-age kids, but that he’s the son of Sidney Poitier. Before the night is out, he’s sleeping in their guest room — and before the closing credits roll, the extraordinary truth of Paul’s story is revealed. While far from a blockbuster on par with Smith’s future efforts, Separation earned Channing an Oscar nomination and won praise from critics like About.com’s Fred Topel, who called it “a compelling drama” and “Will Smith’s greatest performance.”
1. Men In Black (1997) 92%
The success of The Fugitive catapulted Tommy Lee Jones from “distinguished character actor” to “leading man” status, and after Bad Boys, the mid-to-late 1990s pretty much belonged to Will Smith — so Men in Black wasn’t just your average action/comedy/sci-fi summer blockbuster, it was an Event Movie with almost $590 million in ticket sales (and a pair of sequels) waiting to happen. It didn’t win any awards for storytelling depth (although it did win a Best Makeup Oscar), but its unapologetic popcorn thrills, fueled by Smith and Jones’ easy interplay, entertained a whole lot of people — including Slate’s David Edelstein, who called it “The smartest, funniest, and best-looking sci-fi comedy since the movies learned to morph.”