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Will Smith is officially forgiven with 'Bad Boys: Ride or Die'

Jason Guerrasio   

Will Smith is officially forgiven with 'Bad Boys: Ride or Die'
  • "Bad Boys: Ride or Die" topped the global box office over the weekend, making over $100 million.
  • The film's success proves the public has forgiven Smith for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars.

The 2022 Oscars were supposed to be the crowning achievement of Will Smith's nearly three-decade career. Instead, it became the night Hollywood soured on Will Smith.

By the time he took the stage to accept the award for Best Actor for his performance as Serena and Venus Williams' father in "King Richard," he'd already appeared onstage in one of the most infamous moments in award-show history. After presenter Chris Rock made a crude joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Smith spontaneously walked onstage and slapped him.

The fallout from The Slap was swift. Public opinion of the once-beloved actor took a nosedive. The online discourse mill went into overdrive picking apart Smith's motivations and speculating if his career was toast. The Academy even banned him from the event for 10 years. Smith seemed to retreat from public view.

But those who thought Smith was done clearly forgot one of Hollywood's age-old truths. As much as the industry loves to ostracize those who have done wrong, it loves a comeback story even more — especially when it helps the bottom line.

More than two years later, the dust has settled, and the box-office numbers for Smith's most high-profile release since the infamous slap are in. "Bad Boys: Ride or Die" was the No. 1 movie in the world over the weekend, taking in over $100 million worldwide. That's the biggest opening for an R-rated movie since "Oppenheimer" last summer. It's also Smith's 18th No. 1 opening as a leading man and the sixth-biggest opening of his career overall.

"Several of our key markets drastically over-performed," B&B Theatres CEO Bob Bagby told Business Insider, noting that their new theater in Dallas ranked 10th in the North American box office on Friday.

With the movie business in an enormous box-office slump — 2024 grosses are down over 20% from this time last year — the film's performance is a reminder that Smith is still a box-office draw decades after his late-1990s hits "Independence Day" and "Men in Black" — The Slap be damned.

It helps, of course, that the fourth installment in the action-comedy franchise, which stars Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami police detectives, is a tried-and-true property that audiences can count on for entertainment. "Moviegoers just want to go out to a summer movie," Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told BI, and "Bad Boys: Ride or Die" has all the qualities that made the franchise a hit in the first place.

Smith pulled off his comeback by laying low and focusing on the movie

This weekend marks the culmination of Smith's two-year quest to put The Slap behind him.

Aside from his public apology to Rock four months after the incident, Smith laid low and stayed out of the public eye. Outside of doing some limited press for his 2022 Apple TV+ movie, "Emancipation," he stayed off social media.

He only returned to social media again while making "Bad Boys: Ride or Die." Weeks before the movie's opening, he finally went into full promo mode, as he and Lawrence traveled the globe on the film's promotional tour.

Along with appearing on "360 With Speedy" and "Hot Ones," and doing commercial spots for the NBA Finals, his social media was filled with bits he shot with influencers while he and Lawrence covered three continents on their press tour. That overseas push led to the movie performing 58% higher than "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" at the box office and more than doubling "The Fall Guy" in the same overseas markets, according to Sony, the studio behind "Bad Boys: For Life."

With Smith focusing solely on the movie, fans were reminded again of Will Smith, the movie star, not Will Smith, the maybe-still-controversial celebrity.

And then there's how "Ride or Die" addresses The Slap.

In the movie's big action finale, Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) get pinned down in a firefight against the bad guys. While bullets are whizzing by them, Mike gets lost in the moment, thinking about his fallen police captain. Suddenly, Marcus slaps Mike across the face, screaming, "Bad boy, Mike, bad boy!!" The line is meant to encourage Mike to get focused and become the bad boy cop — but the line has a different meaning for the audience, playing as if Lawrence is scolding Smith in the scene, giving him a taste of his own medicine with a very hard slap.

All of this has led to a sight you'd never think possible a few years ago. Over the weekend, Smith posted on his Instagram that he was sneaking into a showing of "Ride or Die" at a Cinemark in the Crenshaw section of Los Angeles. When the movie ended and moviegoers realized it was Will Smith casually walking out of the theater with them, they went ballistic, hounding the star for selfies.

"It's clear that if the movie is good, audiences are very forgiving," Brian Schultz, the CEO and founder of LOOK Cinemas, told BI over the weekend. "To Will Smith: keep making great movies, and your fans will always come back."

Time certainly heals all wounds.


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