Despite her ongoing controversies, there was a time in Hollywood history when Jada Pinkett Smith wasn’t commanding tabloid headlines. In recent years, the actress has been met with rumors and scandals about “entanglements.” Now, news of her official separation from Will Smith thrust her back into social media chatter. The attention has often caused the global audience to associate Jada with just about anything other than her illustrious acting career. However, we think it’s the perfect opportunity to walk down memory lane.
Jada Pinkett Smith’s step into acting began in the 1990s. She picked up bit parts in several television series before landing a role in 1993’s cult classic Menace II Society. Since then, Smith’s filmography has diversified to include production and voice-over credits, as well as hosting, most famously on her family-centered Facebook Watch series, Red Table Talk.
Although several of Smith’s films have been blockbusters, not all have made it to this list. Many movies included here are some of her most influential, as they arrived during her transition from small-time actress to major player in the industry. There are some fan favorites, expected arrivals, and a few surprises. Take a look at seven of Jada Pinkett Smith’s best films (in no particular order!), and let us know which is your favorite.
Jason’s Lyric (1994)
In Jason’s Lyric, the narrative centers on Jason (Allen Payne), a man constrained by family trauma. It comes after the violent choices of his brother Joshua (Bokeem Woodbine). Into this tangled web strides Lyric (Jada Pinkett Smith), who is far from a mere love interest. Lyric is a catalytic force, thrusting Jason’s life with new dimensions. She embodies the dreams and limitations of their community, pulling Jason toward a more hopeful future.
The Nutty Professor (1996)
In the 1996 comedy The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy’s multiple characters might command the spotlight, but Smith’s Carla Purty subtly enriches the film’s emotional landscape. As a chemistry grad student and Sherman Klump’s love interest, Carla brings a sense of compassion to a movie where Murphy does some of his best comedic lifting. Purdy is an intellectual force in her own right, providing the audience and Sherman—a character otherwise swamped in insecurities—with a moral and emotional anchor. Her portrayal elevates the narrative from a comedy about physical transformation to a story that also questions societal beauty norms.
The Inkwell (1994)
In the 1994’s The Inkwell, Smith is Lauren Kelly, a young woman on a coming-of-age journey. The socially awkward protagonist is Drew (Larenz Tate). Set against the backdrop of a family vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, the movie delves into the complexities of Black family life and youthful exploration. Lauren becomes more than simply the object of affection. She’s a prism through which the film explores varied aspects of Black youth and identity. With confidence and free-spirited energy, Lauren provides a foil for Drew’s social anxieties and family dynamics. It forces him to confront his insecurities while still maintaining nuanced character depth.
Girls Trip (2017)
The 2017 box-office hit Girls Trip saw Jada Pinkett Smith in the ensemble cast as Lisa Cooper, a nurse and devoted mother undertaking a transformative journey with her college friends. While the film is awash with raucous humor and audacious escapades, Pinkett Smith’s character presents an intriguing divergence. Lisa starts as a conservative, somewhat stifled member of the group. She’s by the responsibilities of motherhood and a life that revolves around caregiving. Yet, as the escapades in New Orleans unfold, she undergoes a vibrant metamorphosis.
Matrix Reloaded (2003)
In 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, Smith takes on the role of Niobe, a rebel ship captain whose contributions to the resistance go beyond mere tokenism. Niobe helps Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity, played by Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss, respectively, in their monumental struggle against the machines. Niobe’s decisions factor into the rebellion’s strategy, making her not a periphery but an essential element in this sci-fi universe. With Smith’s enactment, Niobe embodies a leadership model that’s analytical, independent, and compassionate. She offers audiences an entry point into the film’s twisted themes of destiny, choice, and resistance.
Set It Off (1996)
In the gritty crime drama Set It Off, Smith portrays Lida “Stony” Newsom, a woman caught in the inescapable cycle of systemic poverty and disenfranchisement. Stony isn’t a mere caricature of struggle. She’s a fully realized character grappling with losing her brother, navigating toxic relationships, and facing harsh economic realities. Alongside Queen Latifah’s Cleo, Vivica A. Fox’s Frankie, and Kimberly Elise’s Tisean, Stony becomes a co-conspirator in a series of bank heists. They aim at seizing a semblance of control over her destiny. Pinkett Smith brings a riveting authenticity to Stony, navigating her evolution from a beleaguered individual to a reluctant anti-heroine.
Menace II Society (1993)
In Menace II Society‘s harrowing drama, Jada Pinkett Smith plays Ronnie, a grounding force amid a storm of violence and systemic neglect. The film primarily focuses on the life of Caine Lawson (Tyrin Turner) as he navigates the treacherous landscape of inner-city Los Angeles. Ronnie serves as a moral compass, offering Caine fleeting glimpses of a life less burdened by the weight of circumstance. Smith delivers a potent counter-narrative to the destructive masculinity surrounding her.