Entertainment

The Greatest Black Actors in Film History  

Ranker Film
Originally by
86.1k votes 9.1k voters 425.2k views 180 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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list ordered by
1
Denzel Washington is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Antwone Fisher, Book of Eli, American Gangster
Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. is an American actor and filmmaker. Washington has received much critical acclaim for his film work since the 1990s, including his portrayals of real-life figures ...more
2
Morgan Freeman is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy, Million Dollar Baby
Morgan Freeman is an American actor, film director, and narrator. Freeman has received Academy Award nominations for his performances in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank ...more
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
Samuel Leroy Jackson is an American actor and film producer. He achieved prominence and critical acclaim in the early 1990s with films such as Jungle Fever, Patriot Games, Amos & Andrew, ...more
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
Willard Carroll "Will" Smith, Jr. is an American actor, producer, rapper, and songwriter. He has enjoyed success in television, film, and music. In April 2007, Newsweek called him ...more
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
Forest Steven Whitaker III is an American actor, producer, and director. He has earned a reputation for intensive character study work for films such as Lee Daniels' The Butler, Bird and Ghost ...more
6
Laurence Fishburne is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
The Matrix, Man of Steel, Boyz in the Hood
Laurence John Fishburne III is an American actor, playwright, director, and producer. He is known for his roles as Morpheus in the Matrix science fiction film trilogy, Mr. Clean in Apocalypse ...more
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
James Earl Jones is an American actor who in a career of more than 60 years has become known as "one of America's most distinguished and versatile" actors and "one of the greatest ...more
8
Sidney Poitier is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, Fast Forward
Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE, is a Bahamian-American actor, film director, author and diplomat. In 1964, Poitier became the first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role ...more
9
Don Cheadle is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Crash, Hotel Rwanda, Iron Man 3
Donald Frank "Don" Cheadle, Jr. is an American actor. Cheadle had an early role in Picket Fences and followed it with performances in Devil in a Blue Dress, Rosewood and Boogie Nights. ...more
10
Idris Elba is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Prometheus
Idrissa Akuna "Idris" Elba is a British actor, producer, singer, rapper, and DJ. Elba is best known for his portrayal of Russell "Stringer" Bell in the HBO series The Wire, ...more
11
Danny Glover is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Lethal Weapon, The Color Purple, Shooter
Daniel Lebern "Danny" Glover is an American actor, film director and political activist. Glover is well known for his roles as Mr. Albert Johnson in The Color Purple, Michael Harrigan ...more
12
Jamie Foxx is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Django Unchained, Collateral, Ray
Eric Marlon Bishop, known professionally as Jamie Foxx, is an American actor, singer, comedian, writer, and producer. As an actor, his work in the 2004 Ray Charles biographical film Ray earned ...more
13
Eddie Murphy is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, Norbit
Edward Regan "Eddie" Murphy is an American comedian, actor, writer, singer, and director. Box-office takes from Murphy's films make him the 4th-highest grossing actor in the United ...more
14
Ving Rhames is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Pulp Fiction, Dawn of the Dead, Mission: Impossible
Irving Rameses "Ving" Rhames is an American actor best known for his work in Bringing Out the Dead, Pulp Fiction, Out of Sight, Baby Boy, Don King: Only in America, Dawn of the Dead, ...more
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
Michael Clarke Duncan was an American actor, best known for his breakout role as John Coffey in The Green Mile, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. He was also ...more
16
Louis Gossett, Jr. is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
An Officer and a Gentleman, Iron Eagle, Roots
Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr. is an American actor. He is perhaps best known for his Academy Award-winning role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman, and his ...more
17
Cuba Gooding, Jr. is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
What Dreams May Come, Jerry Maguire, Boyz in the Hood
Cuba M. Gooding Jr. is an American film actor. He is best known for his Academy Award–winning role as Rod Tidwell in Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire.
18
Chiwetel Ejiofor is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Twelve Years a Slave, American Gangster, Children of Men
Chiwetelu Umeadi "Chiwetel" Ejiofor, OBE is an English actor of film, television, and theatre. After enrolling at the National Youth Theatre in 1995, and then subsequently gaining a ...more
19
Martin Lawrence is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Do the Right Thing, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II
Martin Fitzgerald Lawrence is an American actor, comedian, and filmmaker. He came to fame during the 1990s, establishing a Hollywood career as a leading actor, most notably in the films House ...more
20
Dwayne Johnson is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
acc3307 added Fast & Furious 6, Fast Five, The Other Guys
Dwayne Douglas Johnson, also known by his ring name The Rock, is an American-Canadian actor, producer and professional wrestler. Johnson was a college football player for the University of ...more
21
Terrence Howard is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Iron Man, The Best Man, Hustle and Flow
Terrence Howard is an actor, singer-songwriter, film producer and record producer.
22
Ice Cube is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Friday, 21 Jump Street, Boyz n the Hood
O'Shea Jackson, Sr., better known by his stage name Ice Cube, is an American rapper, record producer, actor, and filmmaker. He began his career as a member of the hip-hop group C.I.A. and later ...more
23
Wesley Snipes is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Blade, White Men Can't Jump, Demolition Man
Wesley Trent Snipes is an American actor, film producer, and martial artist. He is best known for his role as the Marvel Comics character Blade in the Blade film trilogy. He formed a production ...more
24
Chris Tucker is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
The Fifth Element, Friday, Silver Linings Playbook
Christopher "Chris" Tucker is an American actor and comedian. He is known for playing the role of Smokey in Friday and as Detective James Carter in the Rush Hour film series. Tucker ...more
25
Bernie Mac is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Black Actors in Film History
Transformers, Friday, Ocean's Eleven
Bernard Jeffrey "Bernie" McCullough, better known by his stage name Bernie Mac, was an American stand-up comedian, actor and voice artist. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, ...more