Why Will Smith Was So Disappointed In I Am Legend

There are few actors who can say that they've enjoyed the level of sustained success across multiple decades the way that Will Smith has. After graduating from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" to the big screen in the '90s, he has often been box office gold and even earned the title of "Mr. July" for a time, as he was the unquestioned king of summer. In 2007, Smith scored another hit with his sci-fi film "I Am Legend," which, on paper, did extremely well for the actor and Warner Bros. And yet, the "Independence Day" and "Bad Boys" actor found himself disappointed with the results. 

But why would a movie earning nearly $600 million at the box office disappoint anyone? Smith has his reasons.

Will Smith was disappointed in the movie's box office

In November 2021, while chatting with Oprah Winfrey on The Oprah Conversation, Smith looked back on "I Am Legend" nearly 15 years after the movie's original theatrical release. For the actor, it all came down to the box office numbers which, it is worth noting, were great. The film opened to $77 million, a then-record for a December release that wasn't a Christmas movie. So why the disappointment? Smith recounted a conversation he had with his producing partner James Lassiter:

"I'm excited for 30 seconds, and then my mind drifts and I say to J, 'Hey, why do you think we missed 80? He said, 'What?' And I said, 'No, it was 77, do you think if we would have adjusted the ending? Because I wanted the ending to feel more like Gladiator.' He's like, 'It's the biggest opening in history, ever. What are you talking about?' I'm like, 'J, I get that, I'm just asking why do you think we missed the 80?' And it's the only time he ever hung up on me."

It appears Smith's disappointment was not shared by Lassiter, as this was a success from just about everyone else's perspective. To that end, the movie finished its run with $585 million globally, earning nearly four times its $150 million production budget. Yet, Smith wasn't able to see it that way and was instead looking at what they could have done better, and what might have made this an even bigger hit. And there is a reason for that.

Smith's career before 2007

While the narrative has certainly changed over the years, Smith circa 2007 had established himself as a man who could rarely do wrong in the movie business. Granted, he made some big mistakes along the way, such as passing on "The Matrix" to instead make "Wild Wild West," a legitimate flop in his catalog. But the misfires were exceptions and not the rule. "Bad Boys," "Independence Day," "Men In Black," "Hitch," "The Pursuit of Happyness" — all big hits, and all because of those two magic words: Will Smith.

It's easy to see why one of the most famous people in the world might develop a bit of an ego about this stuff over time. That was all surely only magnified but the misfires suffered between the hits, such as "The Legend of Bagger Vance." So, when he teamed up with director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman with compelling post-apocalyptic source material, it's not hard to understand why his personal expectations were sky-high.

The other important element of this is what Smith alludes to in his chat with Winfrey. "I Am Legend" did have two very different endings. The one that ultimately made its way to theaters sees Smith's character Robert Neville seemingly sacrifice himself to protect the cure to the mutant apocalypse that had been created. However, an alternate ending sees Smith's character survive, and this ending has been viewed by many who have seen it as the superior conclusion. It appears the film's star thought that might have been the better way to go as well.

The shame of it all

Perhaps the biggest shame in knowing that Smith was disappointed in the movie on some level is that he actually delivers one heck of a performance in it. Part of the movie almost plays like "Cast Away," with only Smith and his dog to carry the audience through a monster-filled wasteland. Smith is tasked with carrying a great deal of the movie on his shoulders and he does so admirably. Not only that, but he shouldered the film by shedding much of what we had come to know from him in other performances over the years.

This was not a flashy, quip-filled performance. This was not the fun-filled Smith of many blockbusters that preceded it. This was a quiet, grounded, and very human performance in the midst of an otherwise big sci-fi landscape. If there is one scene to illustrate just how much the actor pours himself into this role, it's the moment where he must say goodbye to Sam, his trusty dog and only friend in the world. It is an absolutely heartbreaking moment and one that Smith makes the audience feel — an honest-to-God gut-punch.

For his part, "I Am Legend" represents great work from Smith and audiences turned up in droves to see it. It is indeed a shame that he saw it as a disappointment, but the good news is that he's going to get another crack it at. Smith is teaming up with Michael B. Jordan for a sequel, which may well give him a shot at redemption, bringing the whole thing full circle.