Before she ever became the center of the 2022 Oscars #slapgate, Jada Pinkett Smith’s career was a long and distinguished one, from a string of memorable performances in both film and television to acclaimed work behind the scenes as a producer on TV and Broadway. After first achieving fame on two seasons of the popular NBC sitcom “A Different World,” Pinkett Smith made an abrupt turn to drama for her feature film debut in The Hughes Brothers’ 1993 film “Menace II Society.” In our photo gallery below, we take a closer look at the Top 12 Jada Pinkett Smith movies and TV shows ranked worst to best.
Though she did not forsake television — in the following years she had memorable roles in the comic-book crime series “Gotham” and the medical drama “Hawthorne” — Pinkett Smith’s greatest successes have largely been in films. Displaying an acting ease in genres ranging from romantic comedies to crime thrillers, Pinkett Smith has worked opposite a wide variety of actors throughout the years, from Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx to Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy. And yes, one of those co-stars was husband Will Smith as well.
In her spare time, Pinkett Smith is a Tony-nominated Broadway producer (“Fela!”), a New York Times best-selling author (“Girls Hold Up This World”) and an Emmy Award-winning talk show producer of “Red Table Talk,” which has quickly become one of the most discussed talk shows today. If that wasn’t enough, in 2002 she even created the heavy metal band Wicked Wisdom, serving as its songwriter and lead singer.
12. REIGN OVER ME (2007)
Writer/Director: Mike Binder.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Robert Klein, Melinda Dillon.
In writer/director Mike Binder’s drama, Pinkett Smith plays Janeane, a young mother whose marriage to successful dentist Alan (Don Cheadle) is slowly coming apart. Much to her dismay, Alan is spending most of his free time not with the family but with his former college buddy Charlie (Adam Sandler), who lost his own family on 9/11 and is now losing his own grip on reality. The key to Pinkett Smith’s approach to Janeane is that she keeps it real throughout the film, never stooping to make her character a villain but instead presenting her as a woman who just wants to keep her marriage and her family together.
11. HAWTHORNE (TV Series) (2009-2011)
Creator: John Masius.
Starring: Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan, David Julian Hirsh, Suleka Mathew, Christina Moore.
This medical series had two strong elements working in its favor: a hospital drama told from the fresh point perspective of its nurses, as well as a long-overdue leading role for Pinkett Smith, who gave it her all as Christina Hawthorne, a widowed single mom who heads up a prominent Virginia hospital. As the series progressed, however, critics began to note the predictability of many of the show’s scripts, and the freshness of the series’ point of view began to wear off. But they never wavered in their support of Pinkett Smith’s performance, which provided a steady hand during the series’ at-times-rocky three-season run.
10. THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1996)
Director: Tom Shadyac.
Writers: David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Tom Shadyac, Steve Odedkerk.
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, James Coburn, Dave Chappelle.
Taking over the role created by Stella Stevens in the 1963 Jerry Lewis original, Pinkett Smith portrays chemistry student Carla Purdy, who greatly admires the work of university professor Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy). Pinkett Smith has two big acting hurdles in the film — to make us believe that she could fall for the super plus-size educator (which she does beautifully) and, in an even tougher job, to convince us that she has the same feeling for Klump’s lounge lizard of an alter ego, Buddy Love (also Murphy). Even with the film’s dazzling makeup, “The Nutty Professor” wouldn’t have worked if audiences didn’t buy the romance. Thanks largely to Pinkett Smith’s commitment, they did.
9. ALI (2001)
Director: Michael Mann.
Writers: Michael Mann, Eric Roth, Stephen J. Revele, Christopher Wilkinson.
Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jada Pinkett Smith.
In their first film together since their 1997 wedding, Pinkett Smith joined husband Will for Michael Mann’s biopic “Ali,” in which Will’s performance as the legendary boxing champion earned him his first Oscar nomination. Pinkett Smith plays Ali’s first wife Sonji Roy, a former Playboy bunny who quickly went head-to-head with her husband over her refusal to join the Nation of Islam, defying her husband by using lipstick and wearing revealing attire. Both actors play their marital battles to the hilt, investing that couple’s highs and lows with a such believability that made some critics wonder whether art was imitating life.
8. GOTHAM (TV Series) (2014-2016)
Developer: Bruno Heller.
Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal League, David Mazouz, Robin Lord Taylor, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Pinkett Smith did not have an established comic book character to draw from when she took on the role of supervillain Maria Mercedes “Fish” Mooney in the “Batman”-oriented series “Gotham.” Series creator Bruno Heller came up with the character of Fish, a highly skilled but ruthless business woman who works her way up the mob ranks, and Pinkett Smith was given the freedom to forge her own path with the character. And forge she did. Her stint on “Gotham” was only contracted to last for a year, but, despite being killed off in season one, Fish and Pinkett Smith proved so popular with the fans that Fish was brought back from the dead for seasons two and three.
7. COLLATERAL (2004)
Director: Michael Mann.
Writer: Stuart Beattie.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Bruce McGill, Irma P. Hall, Javier Bardem.
Pinkett Smith is in full-on professional mode in Michael Mann’s thriller as federal prosecutor Annie Farrell whose story bookends the Tom Cruise/Jamie Foxx action drama. As “Collateral” gets underway, Farrell is a passenger in Max Durocher’s (Foxx) cab, whose good conversation prompts her to hand him her card. That card comes in handy when Max is being held hostage by hitman Vincent (Cruise) whose next target just happens to be Farrell. Pinkett Smith becomes a key player in the film’s climax as she and Max try to elude the hitman’s bullets before being cornered at a local metro rail station. Pinkett Smith is all business here, a mode in which she excels, strongly going toe-to-toe with her celebrated co-stars.
6. MENACE II SOCIETY (1993)
Directors: The Hughes Brothers.
Writer: Tyger Williams, based on a story by Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes, Tyger Williams.
Starring: Tyrin Turner, Jada Pinkett, Bill Duke, Charles S. Dutton.
Pinkett Smith made a powerful film debut in The Hughes Brothers’ acclaimed first feature as Ronnie, a strong-willed single mother who, tired of all of the men around her playing gangster all day, sets out to raise her young son Anthony without the toxic masculinity that pervades her neighborhood. Pinkett Smith, who had until then had only been known for her sitcom work on “A Different World,” provided audiences a jolt as if to say “Who is this Jada?” The depth of her character work and the breadth of her range portended the arrival of a major new actress, a promise that was more than fulfilled in her many films to come.
5. MAGIC MIKE XXL (2015)
Director: Gregory Jacobs.
Writer: Reid Carolin.
Starring: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie McDowell, Elizabeth Banks.
You might think that an extended sequence that pairs a self-confident female club owner and a male stripper might go one way, but in the hands of Pinkett Smith and Channing Tatum, it moves in a wonderfully unexpected direction in “Magic Mike XXL,” the well-regarded sequel to that 2012 original. En route to a career-capping stripping convention in Myrtle Beach, Mike (Tatum) stops by the Savannah strip club run by Rome (Pinkett Smith) with whom he once had a romance gone wrong. Their scenes together are warm yet rueful, as they know that there may a small spark there but realize that it is not to be. Beautiful work from both actors.
4. A DIFFERENT WORLD (TV Series) (1991-1993)
Starring (in Seasons 5-6): Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Dawnn Lewis, Sinbad, Glynn Turman, Jada Pinkett, Karen Malina White.
Pinkett Smith will likely forever be linked with her role as tough kid Lena James on the NBC comedy “A Different World,” the college-set comedy where she first achieved fame. Though she is often strongly identified with the show, Pinkett Smith only joined the cast in year five of the six-season series, but her performance as Lena that so smoothly blended the character’s book smarts and street smarts quickly made her a fan favorite and helped to launch Pinkett Smith to a successful career in both film and television that has lasted over 30 years.
3. THE MATRIX — RELOADED (2003)/REVOLUTIONS (2003)/RESURRECTIONS (2021)
Directors: The Wachowskis (2003 films), Lana Wachowski (2021).
Writers: The Wachowskis (2003 films), Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell & Aleksandar Moss.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne-Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Though comparatively diminutive in her physical stature, Pinkett Smith’s Niobe is nonetheless a giant in the world of “The Matrix” sequels that followed the original 1999 classic. First introduced in “The Matrix Reloaded,” Niobe is quickly established as not only as a deadly martial artist but also the most skilled pilot among all of the rebel forces, a strength she also amply displays in “The Matrix Revolutions.” In 2021’s “The Matrix Resurrections,” however, the years have passed for both the actress and the character, and Niobe’s words are now those of well-earned wisdom. And Pinkett Smith delivers those words with a kind of gravitas that only such an experienced actress could pull off.
2. SET IT OFF (1996)
Director: F. Gary Gray.
Writers: Takashi Bufford, Kate Lanier.
Starring: Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise, John C. McGinley, Blair Underwood.
It’s rare to see a film that feature four women working together as co-leads in a film, and even rarer when those four are women of color. Not only has Pinkett Smith achieved this distinction twice, but her work in those ensembles are arguably the finest of her career. The first is this 1996 crime thriller directed by F. Gary Gray in which Pinkett Smith plays Stony, a blue-collar worker whose world is shattered when her younger brother is mistakenly killed by police, and, desperate for money and with nothing to lose, she joins her cohorts in a series of bank robberies. All four actresses are in top form, with Pinkett Smith’s final scene being especially devastating.
1. GIRLS TRIP (2017)
Director: Malcolm D. Lee.
Writers: Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver.
Starring: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter.
Much to my surprise, Pinkett Smith’s most critically acclaimed film is also her raunchiest — Malcolm D.Lee’s female buddy comedy “Girls Trip.” Not only did the film help to make co-star Tiffany Haddish a household name, but it also provided Pinkett Smith with one of the most well-rounded roles of her career. As Lisa, a nurse and straight-laced single mom who breaks out of her emotional shell, Pinkett Smith, with the aid of a top-notch script by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, makes the most of the character, displaying a memorable mixture of humor, caring and just a bit of a wild streak.