Idris Elba's Best Movie And TV Performances, Ranked
Is there anybody cooler than Idris Elba? Whether it be Idris Elba movies or Idris Elba TV shows, the British actor can swoop into any project and class it up. In fact—and I have no shame in saying this—but Idirs Elba even made the movie Cats kind of cool as Macavity. And yes, I just said that.
But how could I not? Ever since he blew up on The Wire as Stringer Bell, Idris Elba has been endlessly captivating. He’s currently set to appear in James Gunn’s upcoming The Suicide Squad as a still-unnamed character and will probably knock it out of the park. But in the meantime, what are his current best performances? Step inside. I’ve got you covered.
10. Roland Deschain - The Dark Tower (2017)
I love the Dark Tower series with my full heart and soul, but even I have to admit that the movie adaptation was pretty terrible. Almost none of it worked. The action was boring, the story was bland, and there was no real grand sense of the adventure that Sai King set up in his novels. But I said almost none of it worked, didn’t I? And the one thing that did work was Idris Elba as the series protagonist, Roland Deschain.
Now, Roland in the book is actually a white man who was drawn from Clint Eastwood’s character in the Man With No Name trilogy. But Idris Elba as Roland still just works. When he says, “I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart,” I still get chills. Idris Elba’s portrayal as Roland is just one of the many reasons why I think he would be an amazing James Bond. Apparently, Idris Elba can play anybody. It just stinks that the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to how good he is in it.
9. Heimdall - Thor (2011)
Playing “the whitest of the gods,” (which I just find hilarious), Idris Elba plays Heimdall like a boss. As the all-seeing, all-knowing Asgardian god, Heimdall stands guard at the Rainbow bridge, Bifrost, and doesn’t let anybody through if they don’t belong there. He was in all three Thor movies, but his presence was best felt in the first film when Loki somehow got past his guard.
Idris Elba is great in this role since his calm, but intimidating demeanor shines through here. It just proves that even just standing in front of a spinning orb and holding a sword can be badass. Plus, very few people can pull off yellow eyes and not look ridiculous. Spoiler alert, but he was greatly missed in Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos did you dirty (and too early), Heimdall. But thankfully, he’d take on the part again if they offered it to him. You hear that, Marvel/Disney? He'd take the role again!
8. Shere Khan - The Jungle Book (2016)
Remember when I said that I liked Idris Elba in Cats? (No regrets, by the way). Well, I know I’m mostly alone in that opinion, but one cat that most people did enjoy was when Idris Elba played Shere Khan in the live-action The Jungle Book movie. Even as just a voice, he dominated that movie and struck fear in the hearts of everybody, both on the screen and in the audience.
Shere Khan is the perfect example of just how intimidating Idris Elba can be when he wants to be. Plus, the mangy features that were given to his face only added to the thick, heavy voice that Idris Elba lent to the big tiger. Fun fact: My son actually asked me to turn off the movie when Shere Khan started talking. Poor boy.
7. Brixton Lore - Hobbs and Shaw (2019)
At one point in this Fast & Furious spin-off, Idris Elba’s character, Brixton Lore, calls himself the black Superman. And while we may actually one day have a black Superman on screen, Idris Elba will have to do for now. Thankfully, he makes a convincing argument.
Idris Elba was born to play this part. There are moments where he’ll have explosive outbursts, and other moments where his steely glare is enough to cut a mountain in half. Sure, the movie is pretty ridiculous, and all of the characters are larger than life. But if you’re going to have a man claiming to be the black Superman, then you damn well better make it Idris Elba.
6. Charles Miner – The Office (2009)
The new Vice President of the Northeast Region, Charles Miner seems like a nice and friendly guy at the onset, but deep down, he doesn’t take any crap. He sees Dunder Mifflin as a place that needs to get its act together, especially when it comes to Michael Scott, who he thinks is a joke and even causes the poor guy to leave. But at least the ladies like him.
It’s strange to say, but you don’t often get to see Idris Elba in a comedic setting. He’s always playing the tough guy, or the smooth guy, but never just the hard-working, soccer loving, normal dude who comes from a steel background and occasionally cancels anniversary parties. And you know, that’s a shame.
5. Stacker Pentecost – Pacific Rim (2013)
Speaking of cancelling things, how about we cancel the apocalypse? That’s what Idris Elba’s character, Stacker Pentecost, said anyway in the big-in-China movie, Pacific Rim. In a world (and can you please imagine the movie trailer voice when I say that?) where giant kaiju are wreaking havoc to the earth, Stacker Pentecost, Marshal of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, will not allow this world to come to an end, even if it means sacrificing himself for the greater good.
Pacific Rim is a really ridiculous (but really fun) giant monster movie where people get in massive mechs and fight them off (“The Drift is silent”). So you know that you need somebody stern and serious to sell this hokey picture. And Idris Elba is that man. Who else can stand in a nice military suit one minute, and a mech suit in the next and still look entirely badass in both? Idris Elba, that’s who.
4. John Luther – Luther (2010)
Forget the black Superman or the black James Bond for a minute. On the BBC show Luther, Idris Elba is the black Batman! Hear me out. Luther is a Detective (like Batman), he gets the criminals by means that sometimes go beyond the law (like Batman), and he is against guns (like Batman!) Hell, Alice Morgan (played by Ruth Wilson) might as well be Catwoman given her relationship with Luther.
It’s not often that we get to actually hear Idris Elba’s accent, but since this is a BBC show, he doesn’t have to change how he sounds, which is cool, since he sounds about ten times cooler as Luther. Plus, he’s a badass who tries to remain calm, but sometimes flies into fits of rage. So you never know when Luther will snap, which is pretty scary.
3. Nelson Mandela – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Playing historical figures is usually a thankless job (unless you count the Academy, of course), since your performance is often measured on what people think a person was like in real life. In other words, do you kind of sound like the historical figure? Do you look like them? If I squint, will I forget that you’re you and think that you’re that other person? And that’s why Mandela is interesting, since Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom covers a long span of the man’s life, from when he was younger, to when he was thrown in jail, to when he was eventually released and became the man that most younger people think of him as.
But Elba plays ALL of these variations of the man, and honestly, if anybody was robbed of an Academy Award nomination, it’s Idris Elba, since he’s amazing as Nelson Mandela. So much so, that even the man himself was said to have said “Is that me?” when he saw Elba’s performance. And you know what’s funny? I often say the same thing whenever I see Idris Elba on the big screen. Is that me? Just kidding. ...Or am I?
2. Commandant - Beasts of No Nation (2015)
You have to be one smooth son of a bitch to play a man who enlists children to fight wars and not be the most hated character in all of cinema. But leave it to Idris Elba to play the all but nameless “Commandant” and still seem somewhat (only somewhat) noble in whatever war he’s trying to fight.
And let me tell you something. Idris Elba is freaking terrifying in Beasts of No Nation. Since we see the story from a child’s perspective, Idris Elba is seen as both a leader and a ruthless murder, often in the same scene. War is obviously hell, but Idris Elba makes it look like Hell is not only normal, but even necessary. I feel like very few actors could pull off the cocksure bravado to make that work, and Elba does it effortlessly.
1. Stringer Bell – The Wire (2002)
The Wire is the greatest TV show of all time, and Stringer Bell is one of the greatest characters of all time. Playing a second-in-command to a drug empire, you get a sense that Stringer is really the one in charge, and he knows it, too. He reads, tries to better himself, and doesn’t fit the description of many of the drug dealers who do business in Baltimore. At the same time, he’s not above killing kids if he feels it’s necessary. No doubt about it, Stringer Bell is Elba’s most ruthless character ever.
But he’s also the most fascinating. This is a man with layers, and Elba has no problem with revealing only slivers of who he is throughout the course of his time on the series. When most people think of Idris Elba, they immediately think of Stringer Bell, and for good reason. It’s a standout performance in a cast of standout performances. What else could you possibly want in a performance?
Everybody loves Idris Elba. But what’s your favorite performance of his? Sound off in the comments.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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