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Top 20 Famous Black Actors of All Time

It is a known fact that Hollywood is a big industry offering work to numerous actors by recognizing their talent. This industry was mostly dominated by white actors at its start. The white actors used to rule the silver screen whereas blacks were given minor roles.

However, there has been a drastic change as time advanced with blacks being given equal status in society. The stereotyped American culture of whites dominating the society changed over time. Whites started to get ahead in every walk of life by being provided white-collar jobs. This also paved way for the black actors to enter Hollywood which otherwise had mostly white actors.

And today, we are going to discuss the top 20 famous black actors who have been successful in their acting careers in Hollywood as well as received immense love from the audience and fans.

List of the Top 20 Famous Black Actors

These 20 black actors have contributed much to the film industry, television, and theater; thanks to their spectacular acting skills.

Let us now take a dive into the 20 most famous black actors of all time.

1. Denzel Washington

Famous Movies: Antwone Fisher, The Book of Eli, Glory, Malcolm X, The Hurricane, Flight, The Equalizer

Denzel Washington, recipient of Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award is a famous American actor who is also a director and a producer. He has acted in more than 50 films and has been the recipient of numerous awards like Academy awards for Best Actor & Best Supporting Actor, Tony Awards, Golden Globe Awards among others.

Born in the year 1954 in the city of New York, Denzel Washington first appeared in the movie Carbon Copy in the year 1981 that collected 9 million dollars. Post completion of his schooling, he completed his graduation in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University in 1977. He starred in famous movies like Glory, Training Day, The Hurricane, Remember the titans, Fences. It is expected that he is working on a couple of movies that are due for release this year.

2. Morgan Freeman

Famous Movies: Shawshank Redemption, Glory, Million Dollar Baby, Driving Miss Daisy, Gone Baby Gone

Morgan Freeman is a veteran American actor and director who is known for his deep voice. In his 50 years long career in the film industry, Freeman played different characters in many movies. He has been honored with numerous awards like Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, AFI Life Achievement Award, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Freeman, who was born in the year 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee, showed interest in acting right from his childhood. His first acting debut was at the age of 9 in a class play. He made his official acting debut in 1968 with the Broadway play Hello, Dolly! His appearance in the Shakespearean plays Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, with Coriolanus bagging him the Obie Award.

The 1987 American film Street Smart has been the turning point for the actor which earned him the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His work in theatrical productions bagged him three Obie Awards which is one of the most prestigious honors in theatre.

3. Samuel L. Jackson

Famous Movies: Pulp Fiction, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Incredibles

Samuel L. Jackson is the next black actor who falls on the list of the 20 most famous black actors. The 72-year old actor needs no introduction as such who is considered as one of the most popular actors in American cinema. The gross worldwide collection of the films he appeared in is over $27 billion which makes him the highest-grossing actor of all time (excluding the cameo appearances).

Born in December 1948 in Washington, Jackson is an amazing actor who graced the silver screen in over 150 films. Jackson, who made his acting debut with Together for Days in 1972 later worked in popular movies like Jurassic Park, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Pulp Fiction, the Star Wars prequel trilogy among others.

4. Will Smith

Famous Movies: The Pursuit of Happyness, Aladdin, Gemini Man, Men in Black, I Am Legend, and more

Will Smith is another famous black actor of Hollywood who was born in Pennsylvania, U.S. in the year 1968. Will Smith has won numerous accolades which include five Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Award nominations and is also the recipient of four Grammy Awards.

Apart from acting Will Smith is a producer, singer as well as a composer of songs’ lyrics. He won millions of hearts owing to his impeccable acting skills.

5. Laurence Fishburne

Famous Movies: The Matrix, Man of Steel, Mystic River, Mission: Impossible 3, Ant-Man And The Wasp

Laurence John Fishburne III is another famous black actor born in Augusta, Georgia who is also a playwright, producer, screenwriter as well as a film director. He is the recipient of numerous awards.

His performance in Two Trains Running (1992) bagged him a Tony Award for ‘Best Featured Actor in a Play’ and his role in TriBeCa earned him an Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series’. His portrayal of Morpheus in The Matrix trilogy is one of his popular characters.

6. Forest Whitaker

Famous Movies: The Butler, Black Panther, The Last King of Scotland, Taken 3, Rogue One.

Forest Steven Whitaker is a famous American actor, director, producer, and also activist. He has been honored with numerous awards including the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, British Academy Film Award, and a couple of Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Whitaker who is actively doing humanitarian work became the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 2011 and was later promoted to Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation.

7. James Earl Jones

Famous Movies: The Lion King, Field of Dreams, Return of the Jedi, Clear and Present Danger

James Jones is an American actor who has been into acting for over seven decades. He has been referred to as “one of America’s most distinguished and versatile” actors owing to his acting performances. He is also called “one of the greatest artists in American history.”

He is the recipient of three Tony Honors, a Grammy Award, and two Primetime Emmy Awards.

8. Chadwick Boseman

Famous Movies: 42, Marshall, 21 Bridges, The Express, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Chadwick Aaron Boseman was an American actor, who happened to be the first black actor appearing in an MCU film. He left an incredible mark in Hollywood although his career lasted for a short period.

He was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 40 in 2016. He still continued to work and also supported cancer charities. He died in 2020 owing to his illness.

9. Eddie Murphy

Famous Movies: Beverly Hills Cop, The Haunted Mansion, Tower Heist, Coming to America

Edward Regan Murphy is not only an American actor but also a comedian, writer, producer as well as singer. He attained his early fame by being a comedian. He occupied 10th place on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-up comedians of All Time.

He made his silver screen debut in 1982 with the film 48 Hrs which proved to be successful. He also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance in the film.

10. Danny Glover

Famous Movies: Lethal Weapon, Predator 2, Jumanji: The Next Level, The Color Purple, Beyond the Lights

Daniel Lebern Glover is another famous black actor born in San Francisco, California, U.S. He gained a huge recognition for his performance as Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film series. He also actively supports a number of political causes.

11. Sidney Poitier

Famous Movies: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Duel at Diablo, In the Heat of the Night, A Warm December

Sidney L. Poitier KBE is a Bahamian-American retired actor. Poitier became the first black male and Bahamian actor to be honored with the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1964.

Poitier also became one of the last surviving big actors from Hollywood cinema’s Golden Age after the death of Kirk Douglas in 2020. He is also a film director, an ambassador as well as an activist. Poitier also holds the record of the earliest surviving Best Actor Oscar winner.

12. Don Cheadle

Famous Movies: Hotel Rwanda, Reign Over Me, Brooklyn’s Finest, Traffic, The Family Man, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and more

Donald Frank Cheadle Jr. is a popular American actor. He received the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in the historical drama film Hotel Rwanda. He also received Primetime Emmy Award nomination for his performance in Black Monday.

13. Jamie Foxx

Famous Movies: Django Unchained, Ray, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Project Power, Robin Hood

American actor Jamie Foxx is the professional name of Eric Marlon Bishop. He gained recognition for playing the role of Ray Charles in the film Ray (2004) for which he was honored with numerous awards – Academy Award, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild Award, Critics’ Choice Movie Award, and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

14. Michael B. Jordan

Famous Movies: Black Panther, That Awkward Moment, Just Mercy, Fruitvale Station

Michael Bakari Jordan is an American actor who gained recognition for his stellar performances in the films – Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther.

In 2020, he made it to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and was also listed on People’s Sexiest Man Alive. He was ranked #15 among the 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century listed by The New York Times in 2020.

15. Idris Elba

Famous Movies: The Wire, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War

Idris Elba is another famous black actor who was born in London, England. He is known for his performances in the HBO series The Wire, the BBC One series Luther as well as 2013 film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Elba also gained recognition for his Heimdall role in five MCU films.

He is also an amazing singer, songwriter, rapper as well as DJ. Idris Elba has also made it to People’s magazine Sexiest Man Alive in 2018.

16. Michael Clarke Duncan

Famous Movies: The Scorpion King, Planet of the Apes, Daredevil, The Green Mile, The Island

Michael Clarke Duncan was another famous American black actor. He gained fame for his remarkable performance as John Coffey in the 1999 film – The Green Mile. His role in the film also made him nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor apart from other honors.

17. Mahershala Ali

Famous Movies: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Moonlight, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

Mahershala Ali is an American actor and rapper who has been honored with a number of awards – two Academy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, a BAFTA award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award.

18. Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Famous Movies: Men Of Honor, What Dreams May Come, Jerry Maguire, Pearl Harbor, Life of a King

Cuba Mark Gooding Jr. is an American actor who also falls on the list of the most famous black actors. He is known for his performance as Tre Styles in the 1991 film Boyz n the Hood. He later appeared in a number of other popular films like A Few Good Men, The Tuskegee Airmen, Outbreak, Jerry Maguire among others.

19. Ving Rhames

Famous Movies: Pulp Fiction, Dawn of the Dead, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Irving Rameses “Ving” Rhames is an American actor who gained a huge recognition for portraying the character of Luther Stickell (IMF Agent) in the Mission: Impossible film series. He is also known for his supporting actor role in the film Pulp Fiction.

20. Wesley Snipes

Famous Movies: Blade, Passenger 57, White Men Can’t Jump, Demolition Man

Wesley Trent Snipes is an American actor, film producer as well as a martial artist. Snipes received a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male for his performance in the 1992 film The Waterdance.  He also received the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for his role in One Night Stand.

Please bear with us in case we missed including any of your favorite black actors in our list. Feel free to share with us your favorite black actor by heading to our comments section below!

Archana Kabra
Archana Kabra is a Freelance Writer and has been extensively writing stuff related to Entertainment, Lifestyle, and Technology. She is also an ardent music lover. Twitter handle: @archana153sarda
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1 COMMENT

  1. I really like Terrance Howard (Four Brothers and more). He has a great smile and amazing eyes. And Ernie Hudson (Hand That Rocks The Cradle and more). I really like his voice and smile – beautiful teeth! And speaking of beautiful- Shamar Moore (Young and the Restless, Criminal Minds and more). His smile and overall personality are top-notch in my book!

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