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What happens to Will Smith after “After Earth”?

WIll Smith in Columbia Pictures’ “After Earth.” (14120)
WIll Smith in Columbia Pictures’ “After Earth.” Credit: Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

For the past 20 years or so, from “Independence Day” (1996) and the “Men in Black” franchise, beginning in 1997 right up to the present, A-list actor Will Smith has been delivering blockbuster summer films at the box office. But 2013’s “After Earth,” released May 31, has proven to be a box-office bust, coming in at No. 3 instead of No. 1.

Smith seems to be taking his movie flop in stride. On a recent appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, Smith actually joked about the film’s lackluster box-office showing, saying “No. 3 is the new No. 1?” Then he asked Kimmel if he knew how many ones it took to make a three.

The Sony sci-fi epic—in which Smith stars opposite his son, Jaden—premiered in North America with a dismal $27.5-million opening, behind holdover “Fast & Furious 6” and new entry “Now You See Me.” As of this date, “After Earth” has fallen to No. 9 on the box-office charts, grossing in the U.S. $54.2 million, and worldwide $102,800,000. To put this in perspective, “Independence Day” grossed more than $306 million domestically and $800 million worldwide. “Men in Black 3” earned $179 million domestically and $445 million worldwide.

Smith may be laughing publicly, but you can best believe the “bean-counters” aren’t. Apparently, when a big box-office star delivers a flop the repercussions go much further than one would think.

In a recent Hollywood Reporter article, the writer claims that given the low $27.5 million domestic bow and the 12 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, top executives at several rival studios estimate that if the film doesn’t score big overseas, it could lose tens of millions. Sony insiders who put the loss at about $20 million are guessing much higher. As a result that puts a lot of pressure on the rest of Sony’s summer, including Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down,” “Grown Ups 2,” the comedy “This Is the End,” “The Smurfs 2” and Matt Damon’s “Elysium.”

Careers could be severely damaged. The first to take a big hit might be director M. Night Shyamalan, whose career, reportedly was already faltering.

Although I’m a big fan of Shyamalan, many movie-goers are not. Most critics believe his first movie, “The Sixth Sense” (1999), was his best. The movie was about a boy who communicates with spirits that don’t know they’re dead. He seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist played by Bruce Willis. Remember the famous line, “I see dead people?”

Hollywood critics also claim that Smith—who conceived the “After Earth” project, produced it with wife Jada Pinkett Smith and cast son Jaden Smith as his co-star—has the most to lose.

Jaden Smith, left, and WIll Smith star in Columbia Pictures’ “After Earth.” (14119)

Some critics site his changing public image. The Smith’s and their children have certainly been in the headlines a lot, regarding parenting, and rumors of an open marriage, etc. It’s looking like our box-office hero and his family may have “gone Hollywood.” For instance, the Smiths’ attempt to make stars of his daughter Willow and son Jaden, to some critics is a little too soon, but to the Smiths it just makes sense.

“The Barrymores got really close to what I see in my head for my family,” Smith told the Associated Press.

The Barrymore family is, in a word, Hollywood royalty, beginning with Oscar winner Lionel Barrymore. Indeed, the Barrymore family have almost worked in Hollywood films right up to today, including award-winning actress-producer Drew Barrymore.

Then there is the whole Scientology thing. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Smith has kept his links to the religion much quieter than has buddy Tom Cruise. But with “After Earth,” media reports and reviews, including The New York Times’ pan of the film, described perceived Scientology themes. Smith said he and his son are “students of world religion,” but a prominent producer says “After Earth” opened the door to this generally well-hidden [connection with] Scientology.”

Fans of Smith, of which I am one, will just have to wait and see what he comes up with next. After all, especially in Hollywood you can’t win ‘em all.