You might think that once an actor signs up for a role, especially one as significant as Dr. Robert Neville in a blockbuster like “I Am Legend,” they’d know exactly what they’re getting into. However, as Will Smith can attest, that’s not always the case.
The Original Vision
“I Am Legend,” based on the Richard Matheson novel, originally had an ending that dove deep into the psychology of its main character, Dr. Neville. In this version, Neville realizes that he is viewed as the monster by the mutated humans he has been trying to cure. It’s a poignant twist that challenges the traditional definitions of hero and monster. This complex moral dilemma was the aspect that attracted Smith to the role in the first place.
However, the producers decided to pivot towards a more mainstream, Hollywood ending. In this version, Dr. Neville doesn’t have his eye-opening realization. Instead, he becomes a traditional hero, sacrificing himself in a climactic moment to save humanity. While this ending might be more easily digestible for mass audiences, it negated the complex themes that had initially attracted Smith to the project.
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Will Smith’s Reaction
According to Will Smith, he envisioned the ending to be more along the lines of the film “Gladiator.” In an intriguing conversation he had with producer James Lassiter, Smith expressed his disappointment about the film not hitting the $80 million mark in its opening weekend.
Lassiter, seemingly shocked, responded, “It’s the biggest opening in history, ever. What are you talking about?” Smith retorted, “J, I get that, I’m just asking why do you think we missed the 80?” This led Lassiter to hang up on Smith, a first in their professional relationship.
Smith later admitted that his dissatisfaction at that time was indicative of “the subtle sickness of material success.” In hindsight, it’s fascinating to consider how a different ending might have impacted not just the box office numbers, but also the movie’s lasting legacy. Could an ending more in line with Smith’s vision have pushed the film past the coveted $80 million opening? We can only speculate.
Despite Smith’s reservations, the changed ending became the version that most audiences know today. Although an alternative ending more faithful to the original vision was included in some home releases, the theatrical version remains the prevalent one.