245 voters

The Greatest African American Biopics

Updated December 28, 2020 2.1k votes 245 voters 12.1k views85 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. 

  • 1

    Malcolm X

    Denzel Washington, Al Sharpton
    Malcolm X is a 1992 American biographical drama film about the African-American activist...  more

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  • 2


    Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx
    Ray is a biographical film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray...  more

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  • 3

    Straight Outta Compton

    O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins
    Straight Outta Compton is a 2015 American biographical film directed by F. Gary Gray. The...  more

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  • 4

    12 Years a Slave

    Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender
    12 Years a Slave is a 2013 period drama film directed by Steve McQueen, based on the 1853...  more

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  • 5

    Hidden Figures

    Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer
    Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi, based on...  more

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  • 6


    Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington
    Glory is a 1989 American drama film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick,...  more

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  • 7

    Get on Up

    Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis
    Get on Up is a 2014 American biographical drama film about the life of singer James Brown...  more
  • 8


    Will Smith, Jamie Foxx
    Ali is a 2001 American biographical film directed by Michael Mann. The film tells the story of...  more

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  • 9

    American Gangster

    Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe
    American Gangster is a 2007 American biographical crime film directed by Ridley Scott, based...  more

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  • 10


    Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie
    42 is a 2013 American biographical sports film directed by Brian Helgeland. The powerful story...  more

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  • 11

    Antwone Fisher

    Denzel Washington, Viola Davis
    Antwone Fisher is a 2002 American biographical drama film directed by and starring Denzel...  more

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  • 12

    The Butler

    Mariah Carey, Robin Williams
    The Butler is a 2013 American historical drama film directed and produced by Lee Daniels and...  more
  • 13

    The Tuskegee Airmen

    John Lithgow, Cuba Gooding Jr.
    The Tuskegee Airmen is a 1995 HBO television movie based on the exploits of an actual...  more

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  • 14


    Jon Voight, Don Cheadle
    Rosewood is a 1997 film directed by John Singleton. While based on historic events of the 1923...  more

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  • 15

    Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

    Halle Berry, Tamara Taylor
    Introducing Dorothy Dandridge is a television film directed by Martha Coolidge. Filmed over a...  more

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  • 16


    Angela Bassett, Anthony Mackie
    Notorious is a 2009 American biographical film about the life of Christopher Wallace, an...  more

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  • 17

    The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

    Cicely Tyson, Katherine Helmond
    The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a 1974 television movie directed by John Korty,...  more

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  • 18

    All Eyez On Me

    Demetrius Shipp Jr., Kat Graham
    All Eyez on Me is a 2017 American biographical drama film about hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur,...  more
  • 19

    The Hurricane

    Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber
    The Hurricane is a 1999 biographical film directed by Norman Jewison, and starring Denzel...  more

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  • 20


    Forest Whitaker, Keith David
    Bird is a 1988 American biographical film, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood of a...  more
  • 21

    The New Edition Story

    Keith Powers, Algee Smith
  • 22

    Red Tails

    Daniela Ruah, Bryan Cranston
    Red Tails is a 2012 American film directed by Anthony Hemingway in his feature film...  more

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    #510 of 627 The Greatest Action Movies Of All Time#97 of 134 The Best Black Action Movies

  • 23

    Miles Ahead

    Ewan McGregor, Don Cheadle
    Miles Ahead is a 2015 American music film directed by Don Cheadle in his feature directorial...  more
  • 24

    The Great Debaters

    Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker
    The Great Debaters is a 2007 American biopic period drama film directed by and starring Denzel...  more

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    #129 of 141 The Best College Movies Ever#8 of 40 The Most Inspirational Black Movies

  • 25


    Oprah Winfrey, Common
    Selma is a 2014 historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is...  more

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