Did you know that Anthony Mackie went to the Juilliard School for acting? I know, right? But it actually makes perfect sense. While most people think of the Captain America movies or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier when they think of the actor, Anthony Mackie's movie and television performances are far more diverse than just superhero flicks.
In fact, more than half of the performances on this list have nothing to do with the MCU. And while Mackie has impeccable comic timing, a majority of these performances are for deeply dramatic roles. So, without further ado, Anthony Mackie’s best performances in television and film.
10. Frank (Half Nelson)
If you want proof that Anthony Mackie can be a great villain, then look no further than Half Nelson, where he plays a drug dealer. In this drama, which also stars Ryan Gosling as a druggie middle school teacher named Dan, Anthony Mackie’s character, Frank, is not helping Dan’s problems. Especially since Frank is leading one of Dan’s favorite students, named Drey (played by Shareeka Epps) down the wrong path.
Anthony Mackie is smarmy, but also charming in the way that only he can pull off. It’s a far cry from the kind of hero he would later play in the MCU, but that’s the whole point, right?
9. Kris (The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete)
Speaking of drug dealers, Mackie plays another one in this coming-of-age story about two young boys who do anything they can just to survive after their mothers are taken into custody. Both this and Half Nelson feature a bad guy Mackie, but I find him to be a lot more intimidating in this one.
It might be the mohawk and the James Harden beard, but it’s fascinating to see a story of two young kids just trying to get by, and Mackie being a total scumbag. If you think it’s impossible to dislike Mackie after seeing him in his more playful roles, then do yourself a favor and check out his performance in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. You won’t like him after this one.
8. Falcon (Captain America: Civil War)
I’m actually going to go in chronological order when it comes to Anthony Mackie’s tenure as Falcon since he’s grown with each film. First appearing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Falcon truly came into his own in Captain America: Civil War, where he teamed up with Bucky Barnes, a.k.a The Winter Soldier, to fight on Team Cap.
This performance is fantastic since it shows some of that great humor of Mackie’s that I mentioned in the intro. Mackie’s Sam Wilson always has something funny to say to add levity to the situation, and he makes flying around and kicking butt about as believable as possible given the role. We also see him vying to be Captain America’s new best friend as opposed to Cap’s old best friend, Bucky. This movie sets up the playful back-and-forth banter we come to expect in every new episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
7. Shawrelle Berry (Million Dollar Baby)
Anthony Mackie is barely even in this Academy Award winning movie, but that doesn’t make his presence any less enjoyable. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby is about an over the hill coach, played by Eastwood, who’s training a female boxer, played by Hillary Swank. Mackie is also a boxer, and he’s training to be the best, but he’s a total asshole who gets on everybody’s nerves. Not only that, but he’s the kind of guy who would punch an old man, as he spars with Morgan Freeman’s character, Eddie.
But, and here’s the great thing about Mackie’s performance, he plays such a jerk that you legitimately feel good when Morgan Freeman knocks him out. It takes a lot to be that irritating, but Mackie pulls it off with gusto.
6. Danny Parker (Black Mirror)
Black Mirror has a number of great episodes, but one of my favorites is “Striking Vipers”. Mackie is exquisite as a straight man who finds that he has sexual feelings toward his best friend, who is also a male, in a video game that is reminiscent of Mortal Kombat.
Like with most things, Black Mirror had its finger on the pulse with this episode, as it dropped on Netflix right around the same time that gender pronouns like he/him, she/her, and they/them, were becoming widely accepted. Mackie’s performance as a married man who is conflicted about what it means to be sexually attracted to his best friend who has picked a female avatar is riveting throughout, and you trust it all the way through. It’s a knock-out performance, and a brave one.
5. Falcon (Avengers: Infinity War)
While Mackie’s role as Falcon in this one may not have been as expansive as it was in The Winter Soldier or Civil War, his performance is probably more dramatic in this one than in any other MCU film. Avengers: Infinity War is a surprisingly dark movie for a Disney film, and it’s all due to Thanos’ snap, which eliminated half the universe.
Sure, everybody remembers Spider-Man’s, “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good” moment, but Falcon’s fantastic death is so much more subtle and understated. The look on his face is much more potent in that it reveals both surprise, but also acceptance. It’s not overblown and swinging for the fences. Instead, we see a man who doesn’t understand his fate, but is accepting of it all the same. Powerful stuff.
4. Martin Luther King Jr. (All The Way)
I actually saw All The Way on Broadway before it became an HBO film. And while that version also had Bryan Cranston as LBJ, it had a different actor playing Martin Luther King, Jr. And here’s the thing, the actor who portrayed MLK sounded just like him, but by that, I mean every line he uttered sounded like it came from one of MLK's speeches. It was a good performance, sure, but it didn’t sound natural. It was nowhere near David Oyelowo’s performance in Selma, which I think is quite possibly the greatest portrayal of Dr. King in any movie ever.
But All The Way isn’t strictly about MLK, and for that, I think Mackie does an excellent job. Does Mackie look or even sound like Martin Luther King Jr.? No, not really. But he definitely has the spirit of MLK. And he imbues the role like no other actor in that he is a lot more aggressive with his ambitions than the typical MLK that you see in films. No, Mackie’s Dr. King knows he likely doesn’t have much time left, and it takes an actor like Mackie to portray King in that manner. It’s a sterling performance, even if it’s not quite the one you expect.
3. King (The Hate U Give)
Speaking of Kings, Anthony Mackie is the complete opposite of MLK as he plays a gang leader named King in the movie adaptation of Angie Thomas’s mega popular YA novel, The Hate U Give. Starring Amandla Stenberg as a girl named Starr who witnesses the murder of her friend at the hands of a police officer, Anthony Mackie possibly plays an even bigger villain as somebody who rules the neighborhood with an iron fist.
This role is so tremendous because the film shows both sides of Starr’s world as she’s a black girl who goes to a white school in another part of town. Mackie’s character, King, is a major reason why Starr doesn’t go to the inner-city school, and also why her family works so hard to get her away from the negative influence that King has on the neighborhood. It really takes a lot to be a character who is even worse than a police officer who mistakenly kills a black teenager, but Mackie nails it. He truly is the very worst in this picture.
2. Sam Wilson/Falcon (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier)
And now we’re back with The Falcon again. I think this is Mackie’s best performance as the superhero since the emotions run high on this Disney+ show. It might be because this series actually has something important to say about race, class, and what it means to represent America.
You see, in this show, it’s not so simple to just be a superhero. In fact, this show often presents the question of not only what it means to be a black hero, but what it means to be a black American in general. Scenes of Sam wrestling with the idea of saving the universe and still not being able to get a loan could resonate with anybody, but it specifically resonates with certain minorities who have faced this kind of prejudice in the past. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the first real project, outside of Black Panther, that is taking a definitive stance on race, and Falcon is at the center of that. Thankfully, Mackie’s acting can do a lot of the heavy lifting.
1. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (The Hurt Locker)
True story, the first time I had ever seen Anthony Mackie was at a New York Comic-Con. But it wasn’t for anything MCU related. No. It was for The Hurt Locker, of all things. Mackie was there to present a clip of the film before it came out in theaters. The film, which is about soldiers who dispose of bombs in Iraq, also stars fellow Avenger, Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner. But it was Mackie’s performance that really blew me away.
In probably his best role, Mackie’s character, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn, isn’t about the life of somebody who disposes of bombs. And you witness just how difficult it is to be out in the field with a madman like Renner’s character, who lives for the intensity of being out in the battlefield. At one point of the film, Mackie’s character even suggests that they kill Renner’s character and make it look like an accident since Renner’s character is so reckless. But Mackie’s acting is so good that you really don’t even blame him for considering this. It’s a fantastic performance, and the one that will always stick with me when it comes to the actor.
Anthony Mackie is one of the finest actors we have today. But what do you think? Sound off in the poll below what you think is Anthony Mackie’s greatest performance.
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Lover of Avatar (The Last Airbender, not the blue people), video games, and anything 90s, he will talk your ear off about Godzilla, so don't get him started.
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