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The Greatest African American Biopics 

Ranker Film
Updated February 4, 2020 1.1k votes 143 voters 4.5k views 27 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. 

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list ordered by
1
Ray is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx, Terrence Howard

Released: 2004

Directed by: Taylor Hackford

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

Released: 1992

Directed by: Spike Lee

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

Released: 2015

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

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

Released: 2016

Directed by: Theodore Melfi

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
12 Years a Slave is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch

Released: 2013

Directed by: Steve McQueen

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
6
Glory is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick

Released: 1989

Directed by: Edward Zwick

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
Get on Up is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer

Released: 2014

Directed by: Tate Taylor

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
8
42 is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni, Nicole Beharie

Released: 2013

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

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
9
Ali is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith

Released: 2001

Directed by: Michael Mann

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
10
American Gangster is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Idris Elba

Released: 2007

Directed by: Ridley Scott

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
11
Rosewood is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames

Released: 1997

Directed by: John Singleton

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
12
The Tuskegee Airmen is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
John Lithgow, Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne

Released: 1995

Directed by: Robert Markowitz

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 Butler is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey

Released: 2013

Directed by: Lee Daniels

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
14
Antwone Fisher is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
ScribbleScrabble added Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Salli Richardson

Released: 2002

Directed by: Denzel Washington

Antwone Fisher is a 2002 American biographical drama film directed by and starring Denzel Washington in his feature film directorial debut. He also stars in the film as the psychiatrist Jerome ...more
15
The Notorious B.I.G. is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics

Released: 2009

Directed by: George Tillman, Jr.

Christopher George Latore Wallace (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997), known professionally as The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or Biggie, was an American rapper. He is widely considered to be ...more
16
The Hurricane is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Rod Steiger

Released: 1999

Directed by: Norman Jewison

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
17
Red Tails is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Daniela Ruah, Bryan Cranston, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Released: 2012

Directed by: Anthony Hemingway

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
18
Introducing Dorothy Dand... is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
ScribbleScrabble added Halle Berry, Tamara Taylor, Loretta Devine

Released: 1999

Directed by: Martha Coolidge

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
19
The Autobiography of Mis... is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
ScribbleScrabble added Cicely Tyson, Katherine Helmond, Odetta

Released: 1973

Directed by: John Korty

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
The Great Debaters is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Jurnee Smollett

Released: 2007

Directed by: Denzel Washington

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
21
Selma is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Oprah Winfrey, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Released: 2014

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

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
22
All Eyez On Me is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Demetrius Shipp Jr., Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan

Directed by: Benny Boom

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.
23
The Jackie Robinson Stor... is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Jackie Robinson, Ruby Dee, Louise Beavers

Released: 1950

Directed by: Alfred E. Green

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
24
Brian Banks is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Melanie Liburd

Released: 2019

Directed by: Tom Shadyac

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
25
Miles Ahead is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest African American Biopics
Miles Ahead Ewan McGregor, Don Cheadle, Michael Stuhlbarg

Released: 2015

Directed by: Don Cheadle

Miles Ahead is a 2015 American music film directed by Don Cheadle in his feature directorial debut. Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) attempts to get his career back on track following a period of ...more