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The Greatest Black Actors in Film History 

Ranker Film
Originally by
Updated July 4, 2020 93.9k votes 10.1k voters 499.3k views 190 items

List Rules Black male actors only. Vote based on their entire body of work in film.

From any era and genre, these are the greatest Black actors in film history, ranked by the community to determine who is the best of all time. These Black actors are the top in the business, and many are also among the best living actors today. From those who have portrayed classic Black characters in film, to award winning actors, only the most deserving actors are on this list.

Who are the greatest Black actors in film? How about the most famous Black actors? From Oscar winners like Denzel Washington, classic African American actors like Sidney Poitier, and newer names such as English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, each of the Black actors on this list has earned his place with an excellent body of work and memorable performances. Some Black comedians and rappers are also on this list, having found success in the world of film as well.

The actors that are featured on this list include some of the best actors of all time including, Morgan Freeman, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Ossie Davis, Forest Whitaker, Danny Glover, and Eddie Murphy. Are the Black male actors you think are best not on the list? Add them to make a truly comprehensive list to determine the best Black men in film history.

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1
Morgan Freeman is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy, Million Dollar Baby

Birthplace: Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Morgan Freeman (born June 1, 1937) is an American actor, film director, and film narrator. Freeman won an Academy Award in 2005 for Best Supporting Actor with Million Dollar Baby (2004), and he ...more

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2
Denzel Washington is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Antwone Fisher, Book of Eli, American Gangster

Birthplace: Mount Vernon, New York, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Denzel Hayes Washington Jr. (born December 28, 1954) is an American actor, director, and producer. He has received two Golden Globe awards, one Tony Award, and two Academy Awards: Best ...more

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3
Samuel L. Jackson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Pulp Fiction, The Avengers, Django Unchained

Birthplace: Washington, D.C., United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Samuel Leroy Jackson (born December 21, 1948) is an American actor and film producer. A recipient of critical acclaim and numerous accolades and awards, Jackson is the actor whose films have ...more

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The Best Samuel L. Jackson Movies, Ranked List #5 of 285 The Best (Male) Actors Working Today #8 of 329 The Greatest Actors Who Have Never Won an Oscar (for Acting)

4
Will Smith is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
After Earth, I Am Legend, Independence Day

Birthplace: USA, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Nationality: United States of America

Willard Carroll Smith Jr. (born September 25, 1968) is an American actor, rapper and media personality. In April 2007, Newsweek called him "the most powerful actor in Hollywood". Smith ...more

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5
Forest Whitaker is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
The Butler, The Last King of Scotland, The Last Stand

Birthplace: Longview, Texas, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Forest Steven Whitaker III (born July 15, 1961) is an American actor, producer, and director who has earned a reputation for intensive character study work for films such as Bird, The Crying ...more

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6
Idris Elba is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Prometheus

Birthplace: London Borough of Hackney, London, United Kingdom

Nationality: United Kingdom

Idrissa Akuna Elba (; born 6 September 1972) is an English actor, writer, producer, musician, DJ, rapper, and singer. He is known for roles including Stringer Bell in the HBO series The Wire, ...more

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7
James Earl Jones is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
The Lion King, Return of the Jedi, Field of Dreams

Birthplace: Arkabutla, Mississippi, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

James Earl Jones (born January 17, 1931) is an American actor. His career has spanned more than seven decades, and he has been described as "one of America's most distinguished and ...more

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8
Laurence Fishburne is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
The Matrix, Man of Steel, Boyz in the Hood

Birthplace: Augusta, Georgia, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Laurence John Fishburne III (born July 30, 1961) is an American actor, playwright, producer, screenwriter, and film director. He is known for playing Morpheus in The Matrix trilogy, Jason ...more

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9
Sidney Poitier is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, Fast Forward

Birthplace: Miami, Florida, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America, Bahamas

Sir Sidney Poitier, (; born February 20, 1927) is a Bahamian-American actor and film director. In 1964, Poitier became the first Bahamian and first black actor to win an Academy Award for Best ...more

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10
Don Cheadle is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Crash, Hotel Rwanda, Iron Man 3

Birthplace: Kansas City, USA, Missouri

Nationality: United States of America

Donald Frank Cheadle Jr. (; born November 29, 1964) is an American actor, author, director, producer and writer. Following early roles in Hamburger Hill (1987), and as the gangster ...more

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11
Eddie Murphy is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, Norbit

Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Edward Regan Murphy (born April 3, 1961) is an American actor, comedian, and singer. Murphy was a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1980 to 1984. He has worked as a stand-up ...more

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12
Jamie Foxx is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Django Unchained, Collateral, Ray

Birthplace: Terrell, Texas

Nationality: United States of America

Eric Marlon Bishop (born December 13, 1967), known professionally as Jamie Foxx, is an American actor, singer, songwriter, record producer and comedian. For his portrayal of Ray Charles in the ...more

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13
Danny Glover is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Lethal Weapon, The Color Purple, Shooter

Birthplace: California, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Danny Lebern Glover (; born July 22, 1946) is an American actor, film director, and political activist. He is known for his lead role as Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film series. He also ...more

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14
Cuba Gooding, Jr. is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
What Dreams May Come, Jerry Maguire, Boyz in the Hood

Birthplace: New York City, USA, New York

Nationality: United States of America

Cuba Mark Gooding Jr. (born January 2, 1968) is an American actor and director. After his breakthrough role as Tre Styles in Boyz n the Hood (1991), he appeared in A Few Good Men (1992), The ...more

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15
Michael Clarke Duncan is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Planet of the Apes, Daredevil, The Green Mile

Birthplace: USA, Chicago, Illinois

Nationality: United States of America

Michael Clarke Duncan (December 10, 1957 – September 3, 2012) was an American actor best known for his breakout role as John Coffey in The Green Mile (1999), for which he was nominated for the ...more

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16
Chiwetel Ejiofor is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Twelve Years a Slave, American Gangster, Children of Men

Birthplace: Forest Gate, England

Nationality: England

Chiwetel Umeadi Ejiofor ( CHOO-ə-tel EJ-ee-oh-for; born July 7, 1977) is a British actor.After enrolling at the National Youth Theatre in 1995 and attending the London Academy of Music and ...more

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17
Dwayne Johnson is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
acc3307 added Fast & Furious 6, Fast Five, The Other Guys

Birthplace: Hayward, California, United States of America

Nationality: Canada, United States of America

Dwayne Douglas Johnson (born May 2, 1972), also known by his ring name The Rock, is an American actor, producer, and former professional wrestler. Johnson was a professional wrestler for the ...more

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18
Chadwick Boseman is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Chadwick Boseman 42, The Express, Get on Up

Birthplace: Anderson, South Carolina

Nationality: United States of America

Chadwick Aaron Boseman (born November 29, 1976, or in 1977) (sources differ) is an American actor known for his portrayals of real-life historical figures such as Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), ...more

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19
Terrence Howard is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Iron Man, The Best Man, Hustle and Flow

Birthplace: USA, Chicago, Illinois

Nationality: United States of America

Terrence Dashon Howard (born March 11, 1969) is an American actor and singer. Having his first major roles in the 1995 films Dead Presidents and Mr. Holland's Opus, Howard broke into the ...more

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20
Michael B. Jordan is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
That Awkward Moment, Fruitvale Station, Hardball

Birthplace: Santa Ana, California

Nationality: United States of America

Michael Bakari Jordan (born February 9, 1987) is an American actor. He is known for his film roles as shooting victim Oscar Grant in the drama Fruitvale Station (2013), boxer Adonis Creed in the ...more

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21
Louis Gossett, Jr. is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
An Officer and a Gentleman, Iron Eagle, Roots

Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. (born May 27, 1936) is an American actor. He is best known for his Academy Award winning role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film An Officer and a ...more

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22
Ving Rhames is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Pulp Fiction, Dawn of the Dead, Mission: Impossible

Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Irving Rameses Rhames (born May 12, 1959) is an American stage and screen actor. He is best known for his starring role as Luther Stickell in the Mission: Impossible film series and his ...more

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23
Bernie Mac is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Transformers, Friday, Ocean's Eleven

Birthplace: USA, Chicago, Illinois

Nationality: United States of America

Bernard Jeffrey McCullough (October 5, 1957 – August 9, 2008), better known by his stage name Bernie Mac, was an American comedian, actor, and voice actor. Born and raised on Chicago's South ...more

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24
Martin Lawrence is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Do the Right Thing, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II

Birthplace: Frankfurt, Germany

Nationality: United States of America

Martin Fitzgerald Lawrence (born April 16, 1965) is an American stand-up comedian, actor, producer, talk show host, and writer. Lawrence came to fame during the 1990s, establishing a Hollywood ...more

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25
Richard Pryor is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Stir Crazy

Birthplace: Peoria, Illinois, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor (December 1, 1940 – December 10, 2005) was an American stand-up comedian and actor. He reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations and ...more

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