Entertainment

The Greatest African American Biopics  

Ranker Film
623 votes 91 voters 2.7k views 26 items

Though we tend to get the most entertainment out of action-packed thrillers, sci-fi flicks, and comedies, a good biopic every now and then can be just as captivating. Not only that, but these biographical films can span a range of genres—no matter the subject at hand. Some of the most moving and interesting of them all, however, are African American biopics. As you can imagine, these typically fall within dramas and period pieces, but they're incredible movies nonetheless. Whether you're talking about breakthrough athlete biopics, notable figures in history, or the greatest musicians, black biopics are aplenty. 

It's no secret: racial tension has long been a problem in our world and instead of sitting idly by, a great deal of African Americans have made great strides in such difficult circumstances. Considering this, such is often the topic of biopics. From being the first black baseball player to becoming a leading political rights activist, these moving stories were rightfully made into biopics, and some are simply the greatest biographical films of all time. Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Winnie Mandela, and Ray Charles are just a few wonderful subjects of top African American biopics and there are plenty more where that came from. What's your favorite?

Check out the list of African American biopics below and vote up those you think are the best—whether that be the most influential, inspiring, or downright impactful films. Of course, feel free to add any others that may be missing from the list. 

list ordered by
1
Ray is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx, Terrence Howard
Ray is a biographical film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. The independently produced film was written, produced and directed by Taylor Hackford, and ...more
2
Malcolm X is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Denzel Washington, Al Sharpton, Nelson Mandela
Malcolm X is a 1992 American biographical drama film about the African-American activist Malcolm X. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee. The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X's life: his ...more
3
Straight Outta Compton is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
Straight Outta Compton is a 2015 American biographical film directed by F. Gary Gray. The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and ...more
4
Hidden Figures is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae
Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi, based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly. The story of a team of female African-American ...more
5
42 is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni, Nicole Beharie
42 is a 2013 American biographical sports film written and directed by Brian Helgeland about the racial integration of American professional baseball by player Jackie Robinson, who wore jersey ...more
6
Glory is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick
Glory is a 1989 American drama film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The screenplay was written by Kevin Jarre, based on ...more
7
12 Years a Slave is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch
12 Years a Slave is a 2013 period drama film directed by Steve McQueen, based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free ...more
8
Ali is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith
Ali is a 2001 American biographical film directed by Michael Mann. The film tells the story of the boxer Muhammad Ali, played by Will Smith, from 1964-74 featuring his capture of the heavyweight ...more
9
Get on Up is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer
Get on Up is a 2014 American biographical drama film about the life of singer James Brown directed by Tate Taylor and written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. The film stars an ensemble cast ...more
10
The Notorious B.I.G. is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known by his stage names The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie or Biggie Smalls, was an American rapper. Wallace was raised in the Brooklyn borough of New York ...more
11
American Gangster is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Idris Elba
American Gangster is a 2007 American biographical crime film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by Steven Zaillian. The film is based on the criminal career of Frank Lucas, a ...more
12
The Tuskegee Airmen is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
John Lithgow, Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne
The Tuskegee Airmen is a 1995 HBO television movie based on the exploits of an actual groundbreaking unit, the first African American combat pilots in the United States Army Air Corps, that ...more
13
The Hurricane is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Rod Steiger
The Hurricane is a 1999 biographical film directed by Norman Jewison, and starring Denzel Washington. The script was adapted by Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon from the books Lazarus and the ...more
14
Antwone Fisher is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
ScribbleScrabble added Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Salli Richardson
Antwone Fisher is a 2002 American biographical drama film directed by Denzel Washington, marking his directorial debut. He also stars in the film as the psychiatrist Jerome Davenport, alongside ...more
15
Rosewood is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames
Rosewood is a 1997 film directed by John Singleton. While based on historic events of the 1923 in Florida, when a white mob takes out blacks and destroyed their town, the film introduces ...more
16
Red Tails is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Daniela Ruah, Bryan Cranston, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Red Tails is a 2012 American film directed by Anthony Hemingway in his feature film directorial debut, and starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. The film is about the Tuskegee Airmen, a ...more
17
The Great Debaters is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Jurnee Smollett
The Great Debaters is a 2007 American biopic period drama film directed by and starring Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey and her production company, Harpo Productions. It is based ...more
18
The Butler is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey
The Butler is a 2013 American historical drama film directed and produced by Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong. Loosely based on the real life of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest ...more
19
The Autobiography of Miss Jane... is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
ScribbleScrabble added Cicely Tyson, Katherine Helmond, Odetta
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a 1974 television movie directed by John Korty, based on the novel by Ernest J. Gaines. Story of a black woman in the South who was born into slavery in ...more
20
All Eyez On Me is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Demetrius Shipp Jr., Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan
All Eyez on Me is a 2017 American biographical drama film about hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, directed by Benny Boom and written by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian.
21
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
ScribbleScrabble added Halle Berry, Tamara Taylor, Loretta Devine
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge is a television film directed by Martha Coolidge. Filmed over a span of a few weeks in early 1998, the film was aired in the United States on August 21, 1999. The ...more
22
Brian Banks is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Melanie Liburd
Brian Banks is a 2018 American biographical drama film directed by Tom Shadyac, based on the true story of Brian Banks. A football linebacker (Aldis Hodge) is falsely accused of a crime and ...more
23
Selma is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Oprah Winfrey, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Selma is a 2014 historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James Bevel, Hosea Williams, and ...more
24
Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Forest Whitaker, Keith David, Sam Robards
Bird is a 1988 American biographical film, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood of a screenplay written by Joel Oliansky. The film is a tribute to the life and music of jazz saxophonist ...more
25
The Jackie Robinson Story is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Jackie Robinson, Ruby Dee, Louise Beavers
The Jackie Robinson Story is a 1950 biographical film directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Jackie Robinson as himself. The film focuses on Robinson's struggle with the abuse of racist bigots ...more