Watchworthy
191 voters

The Greatest African American Biopics

Updated October 17, 2020 1.8k votes 191 voters 8.2k views29 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. 

...more
  • 1
    Malcolm X
    121
    10

    Malcolm X

    Denzel Washington, Al Sharpton

    Released1992

    Directed bySpike Lee

    Malcolm X is a 1992 American biographical drama film about the African-American activist... more on Wikipedia

    More Malcolm X 

    #276 of 366 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime#44 of 315 The Best Political Films Ever Made

  • 2
    Ray
    114
    13

    Ray

    Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx

    Released2004

    Directed byTaylor Hackford

    Ray is a biographical film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray... more on Wikipedia

    More Ray 

    #304 of 1,189 Every Oscar Winning Film Ever#22 of 629 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked

  • 3
    Straight Outta Compton
    93
    25

    Straight Outta Compton

    O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins

    Released2015

    Directed byF. Gary Gray

    Straight Outta Compton is a 2015 American biographical film directed by F. Gary Gray. The... more on Wikipedia

    More Straight Outta Compton 

    #40 of 195 The Best Movies About Music#123 of 299 The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time

  • 4
    Hidden Figures
    82
    19

    Hidden Figures

    Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer

    Released2016

    Directed byTheodore Melfi

    Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi, based on... more on Wikipedia
  • 5
    Ali
    65
    8

    Ali

    Will Smith, Jamie Foxx

    Released2001

    Directed byMichael Mann

    Ali is a 2001 American biographical film directed by Michael Mann. The film tells the story of... more on Wikipedia
  • 6
    Glory
    66
    10

    Glory

    Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington

    Released1989

    Directed byEdward Zwick

    Glory is a 1989 American drama film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick,... more on Wikipedia
  • 7
    12 Years a Slave
    74
    17

    12 Years a Slave

    Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender

    Released2013

    Directed bySteve McQueen

    12 Years a Slave is a 2013 period drama film directed by Steve McQueen, based on the 1853... more on Wikipedia
  • 8
    American Gangster
    61
    8

    American Gangster

    Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

    Released2007

    Directed byRidley Scott

    American Gangster is a 2007 American biographical crime film directed by Ridley Scott, based... more on Wikipedia

    More American Gangster 

    #10 of 108 The Best Mafia Films Of All Time#185 of 480 The Greatest Movies For Guys

  • 9
    Get on Up
    69
    16

    Get on Up

    Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis

    Released2014

    Directed byTate Taylor

    Get on Up is a 2014 American biographical drama film about the life of singer James Brown... more on Wikipedia

    More Get on Up 

    #51 of 123 The Best Rock Music Movies#83 of 150 The Very Best Biopics About Real People

  • 10
    Antwone Fisher
    50
    4

    Antwone Fisher

    Denzel Washington, Viola Davis

    Released2002

    Directed byDenzel Washington

    Antwone Fisher is a 2002 American biographical drama film directed by and starring Denzel... more on Wikipedia
  • 11
    The Tuskegee Airmen
    51
    6

    The Tuskegee Airmen

    John Lithgow, Cuba Gooding Jr.

    Released1995

    Directed byRobert Markowitz

    The Tuskegee Airmen is a 1995 HBO television movie based on the exploits of an actual... more on Wikipedia

    More The Tuskegee Airmen 

    #134 of 374 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked#50 of 214 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time

  • 12
    42
    66
    20

    42

    Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni

    Released2013

    Directed byBrian Helgeland

    42 is a 2013 American biographical sports film written and directed by Brian Helgeland about... more on Wikipedia

    More 42 

    #31 of 172 The Best Sports Movies Ever Made#3 of 78 The All-Time Best Baseball Films

  • 13
    Notorious
    51
    8

    Notorious

    Angela Bassett, Anthony Mackie

    Released2009

    Directed byGeorge Tillman, Jr.

    Notorious is a 2009 American biographical film about the life of Christopher Wallace, an... more on Wikipedia

    More Notorious 

    #40 of 63 Movies Set in Brooklyn#110 of 264 Movies That Should Be Made Into Broadway Musicals

  • 14
    Men of Honor
    4
    1

    Men of Honor

    Charlize Theron, Robert De Niro

    Released2000

    Directed byGeorge Tillman, Jr.

    Men of Honor is a 2000 drama film, starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. The film was... more on Wikipedia

    More Men of Honor 

    #1178 of 1,647 The Most Rewatchable Movies#36 of 81 The Most Patriotic Movies of All Time

  • 15
    Rosewood
    52
    13

    Rosewood

    Jon Voight, Don Cheadle

    Released1997

    Directed byJohn Singleton

    Rosewood is a 1997 film directed by John Singleton. While based on historic events of the 1923... more on Wikipedia
  • 16
    The Butler
    55
    17

    The Butler

    Mariah Carey, Robin Williams

    Released2013

    Directed byLee Daniels

    The Butler is a 2013 American historical drama film directed and produced by Lee Daniels and... more on Wikipedia

    More The Butler 

    #627 of 836 The Greatest Chick Flicks Ever Made#8 of 42 Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories

  • 17
    The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
    42
    5

    The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

    Cicely Tyson, Katherine Helmond

    Released1973

    Directed byJohn Korty

    The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a 1974 television movie directed by John Korty,... more on Wikipedia
  • 18
    The Hurricane
    47
    10

    The Hurricane

    Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber

    Released1999

    Directed byNorman Jewison

    The Hurricane is a 1999 biographical film directed by Norman Jewison, and starring Denzel... more on Wikipedia

    More The Hurricane 

    #127 of 134 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again#26 of 82 The Best Movies Based on Non-Fiction Books

  • 19
    Boycott
    1
    0

    Boycott

    Terrence Howard, Jeffrey Wright

    Released2001

    Directed byClark Johnson

    Boycott is a 2001 drama film about Black Americans who boycotted the public buses during the... more on Wikipedia
  • 20
    Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
    39
    6

    Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

    Halle Berry, Tamara Taylor

    Released1999

    Directed byMartha Coolidge

    Introducing Dorothy Dandridge is a television film directed by Martha Coolidge. Filmed over a... more on Wikipedia

    More Introducing Dorothy Dandridge 

    #73 of 125 The Best Movies About Tragedies#11 of 40 The Best Halle Berry Movies of All Time, Ranked

  • 21
    Red Tails
    40
    9

    Red Tails

    Daniela Ruah, Bryan Cranston

    Released2012

    Directed byAnthony Hemingway

    Red Tails is a 2012 American film directed by Anthony Hemingway in his feature film... more on Wikipedia
  • 22
    The Great Debaters
    40
    10

    The Great Debaters

    Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker

    Released2007

    Directed byDenzel Washington

    The Great Debaters is a 2007 American biopic period drama film directed by and starring Denzel... more on Wikipedia
  • 23
    Selma
    45
    16

    Selma

    Oprah Winfrey, Common

    Released2014

    Directed byAva DuVernay

    Selma is a 2014 historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is... more on Wikipedia
  • 24
    All Eyez On Me
    43
    16

    All Eyez On Me

    Demetrius Shipp Jr., Kat Graham

    Directed byBenny Boom

    All Eyez on Me is a 2017 American biographical drama film about hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur,... more on Wikipedia
  • 25
    The Jackie Robinson Story
    28
    9

    The Jackie Robinson Story

    Jackie Robinson, Ruby Dee

    Released1950

    Directed byAlfred E. Green

    The Jackie Robinson Story is a 1950 biographical film directed by Alfred E. Green and starring... more on Wikipedia