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This is a tough list to make. The list of Morgan Freeman movies that stand out above all the rest. He has had so many great performances and played so many beloved characters over the years, is it even possible to break them down and pick a top ten?
Of course it is! For a man who didn’t really have his big break happen until he was 50 years old, Morgan Freeman has put together an amazing career. His dedication to acting shows in every role he takes and the world -- or at least Hollywood --is much better for it. He can be funny or serious and his God-like voice is both powerful and soothing.
So here it is, the best of the best – and it is the best of the best, his filmography was difficult to cull down, but in the end, we did and here are the choices!
10. Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)
This version of Robin Hood gets trashed these days, but unfairly so. It probably has something to do with Kevin Costner’s accent, which is admittedly terrible, but there are some amazing performances in the film, like Alan Rickman as the Sheriff Of Nottingham and certainly including Morgan Freeman’s role as Robin Hood’s faithful friend, Azeem.
Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves was a really big deal when it was released. Mel Brooks even made a parody of it, and though it doesn’t get much respect today, it’s worth a second watch if it’s been a while since you last saw it. Especially for the great cameo at the end that the movie managed to keep a secret from most people in those halcyon pre-Twitter, spoiler-free days.
9. Invictus (2009)
Morgan Freeman’s brilliant portrayal of South African President Nelson Mandela in this not-really-about-sports sports movie is what elevates Invictus. It doesn’t matter you don’t like sports movies, or rugby, this is a movie about redemption and overcoming the suffocating history of apartheid in South Africa.
Morgan Freeman’s co-star, Matt Damon, is also masterful in this film. Both were deservedly nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes for their performances. Clint Eastwood’s direction is, as usual, excellent and also elevates the performances, but it’s really all about Freeman’s performance as the beloved South African leader that keeps audiences entranced.
8. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Morgan Freeman credits Street Smart (below) as his breakout role, but for most audiences it was his performance as the chauffeur to Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) that really put him on the movie star map. Driving Miss Daisy won four Oscars and was nominated for another five, including Best Actor for Freeman, though he didn’t win.
Driving Miss Daisy is another example, like Robin Hood, of a performance and a film that is often overlooked today, but it’s a really well made film with wonderful acting performances from Jessica Tandy, who won an Oscar for her role as Miss Daisy and Morgan Freeman, as well as Dan Aykroyd, who were also nominated!
7. Street Smart (1987)
Morgan Freeman considers this his breakout role and he's also has said that Street Smart is his favorite movie that he has made (sorry Shawshank fans). In the film, Freeman plays a pimp named Fast Black who is suspected by the police of murder. Morgan Freeman’s co-star Christopher Reeve plays a struggling newspaper reporter who fabricates a story about a pimp the police believe is Fast Black and Fast Black believes is about him as well, setting up the conflict between Morgan and Reeve.
Street Smart resulted in Freeman’s first Oscar nomination and set him on the path to stardom. At age 50, it's remarkable this was the movie that really got his career going like gangbusters. It's hard to image there was a time when Morgan Freeman movies were the norm! Everyone can thank Street Smart for all the Morgan Freeman in our lives. Thank you Street Smart!
6. Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins is really just the best way to represent Morgan Freeman’s role as Lucius Fox, the loyal employee of Wayne Enterprises who works with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to develop and reconfigure all kinds of technology for Wayne’s alter ego, Batman in the Christopher Nolan directed Dark Knight Trilogy.
In Batman Begins, Freeman’s character has been demoted in Bruce’s absence. He is stuck in the Applied Sciences division where the current bosses think he’ll be out of the way, but it turns out that it’s the perfect position for Fox to help Bruce Wayne/Batman. Morgan Freeman’s signature calm-but-firm demeanor is perfect for the loyal and dedicated Fox and his inclusion in the film, while it may be fleeting, is perfect.
5. Glory (1989)
Glory is an incredible and powerful movie. It toes the line between being important and fun brilliantly and Morgan Freeman’s role is critical to that. Freeman understood how important a movie like Glory was from the beginning and he gives it his all in his performance. Glory, believe it or not, was the first time, even in 1989, that many people ever heard the story of African-American soldiers fighting for the Union during the Civil War.
While all the actors in the film played their roles well, not surprisingly it was the two African-American leads, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, who were at the heart of this cast. Washington won a richly deserved Academy Award for his performance as a disillusioned private under Mathew Broderick’s command and it would have been perfectly acceptable had Freeman won one too.
4. Seven (1995)
Seven, was a big film for a lot of big stars. While it wasn’t Brad Pitt’s breakout role, it was the first time he was taken seriously as a lead actor. The movie is, however, Gwyneth Paltrow’s breakout role and behind the both of them, like a rock keeping calm in a sea of crazy, is Morgan Freeman's Detective Somerset.
Directed by David Fincher, the film is masterful and Morgan Freeman excels in his performance as a detective on his last case, catching a serial killer. That is the kind of role (and trope) that many actors would phone in or overact in, but not Freeman, he doesn’t overplay the “I gotta get out of here” vibe, but you can feel the pain in his character as he deals with one last psychopath.
3. Unforgiven (1992)
In Unforgiven, Morgan Freeman plays sharpshooter Ned Logan, a loyal and longtime friend to Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny in this epic western. Logan joins up with Munny to help a young man called “The Schofield Kid” track down a gang a vial cowboys accused of torturing a prostitute.
In a film filled with some of the best actors of their day, including Clint Eastwood (who also directed), Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman more than holds his own with his brilliant performance. In fact, Unforgiven might just be his best performance that he WASN’T nominated for any major awards for.
2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Ah yes, that TNT Sunday afternoon special. A movie so important, you can find it somewhere on cable at almost any time of the day or night, every single day. If you took a poll on the street of people asking them for their favorite Morgan Freeman movie, it’s a safe bet that The Shawshank Redemption would far and away be the most popular answer. For a movie that was a disappointment at the box office, that is pretty amazing.
Freeman plays Red, a man whose been in jail for a long time when Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins arrives after he is sentenced to life for murdering his wife and the man she was having an affair with. Red mentors Andy and their friendship grows. It’s a wonderful movie and Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of the convicted criminal with a heart of gold made millions of Gen Xers and Millennials who grew up watching the movie on cable consider Freeman one of the most beloved actors of all-time.
1. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
If you are counting, Million Dollar Baby is the third time a Morgan Freeman performance in a Clint Eastwood-directed film is on the list. It has been one heck of a partnership over the years, to say the least. Million Dollar Baby and its story of redemption is everything viewers could want from a serious and personal movie.
The acting in the movie, by Eastwood, Hilary Swank, And Freeman are as good as you will find in any movie, anywhere, in any time in Hollywood history. It’s a masterclass by all three and it makes even this sad, tragic story a true joy to watch.
It’s amazing to think of how many other movies and performances aren’t on this list also. Great films like The Power Of One and Lean On Me or powerful films like Amistad. Morgan Freeman’s remarkable career also, of course, includes his stellar voice over work in documentaries like March Of The Penguins.
At 81-years-old, Morgan Freeman is still going, still playing roles that audiences will appreciate for years to come. He is truly a remarkable actor.