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Film

Morgan Freeman’s 10 greatest performances

@Russellisation

Undoubtedly one of the most likeable movie stars of contemporary cinema, Morgan Freeman has collaborated alongside some of the finest filmmakers of all time. Rising to prominence in the 1980s, the actor had enjoyed a healthy stint in television the decade prior, before he reached internal acclaim in 1989 with the release of the Best Picture-winner Driving Miss Daisy. 

Since then, Freeman was catapulted to Hollywood success, working with such esteemed filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Lawrence Kasdan, Rob Reiner and Luc Besson. In his 58-year career in the industry, the actor has been lucky enough to enjoy a career marked with blockbuster highlights and independent award winners. 

Having worked with Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Brad Pitt and many more, Freeman is certainly considered to be one of the finest actors of his generation, with his career still very much thriving. Take a look at our list below that details the actor’s ten finest performances, including modern action movies and old school dramas. 

Morgan Freeman’s 10 greatest performances:

10. Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009)

Of all the sports that cinema cherishes, rugby is not one of them. The simple spectacle of a boxing match or a formula one race wins out over rugby’s complicated, rucking, mauling and 22 drop-outs, yet Clint Eastwood sought to change this in 2009 with Invictus. Granted, the film wasn’t solely a sports movie, with the Hollywood film following President Nelson Mandela and his mission to unite South Africa in the aftermath of the apartheid.

Playing the historical icon, Mandela, Freeman gives a terrific performance, doing justice to the internationally-known figure despite the film’s somewhat underwhelming quality.

9. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)

A forgotten gem of Ben Affleck’s career, the actor’s directorial debut starred his brother, Casey, as a Boston detective in charge of investigating a young girl’s kidnapping. Featuring alongside Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Michael K. Williams and more, Morgan Freeman gives a compelling performance as one of the lead detectives of the case, working with Affleck’s character.

Playing a detective better than many other roles, there’s something so authentic about Freeman playing a police officer, carrying a weight of authority that you can’t and shouldn’t question.

8. Glory (Edward Zwick, 1989)

A classic historical drama that won Freeman’s co-star Denzel Washington his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Edward Zwick’s film tells the story of the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company. A fascinating true story that tells of the prejudices of both the Union Army and the Confederates, Freeman plays Sgt. Maj. John Rawlins, a recruit of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s division of soldiers. 

Appearing with an impressive ensemble cast that included himself, Washington, Matthew Broderick, Andre Braugher and Cary Elwes, Freeman gives a fantastic supporting performance in one of his greatest ever movies.

7. Amistad (Steven Spielberg, 1997)

Often forgotten from Steven Spielberg’s staggering lineup of classic movies, Amistad is undoubtedly one of the director’s worst movies, though this should only serve to show just how strong his filmography truly is. One thing the film certainly does have is great performances, with Freeman featuring alongside Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins, Pete Postlethwaite, Stellan Skarsgård and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Telling the story of Mende captives revolting aboard a Spanish owned ship in 1839, the film turns into a political drama where courts in the US must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free. Playing the assistant to the lawyer defending the Mende, Freeman doesn’t have a massive amount to do but plays his role superbly.

6. Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford, 1989)

Winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1989, despite its two-dimensional approach to race issues, Driving Miss Daisy remains one of the actor’s greatest films, despite him referring to the film as “a mistake” back in an interview in 2000. Playing the role of a chauffeur for an elderly Jewish woman in the American South, the film explores the pair’s relationship over the years including the racial differences between the two of them. 

Appearing with Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd and Esther Rolle, Morgan Freeman shines in one of his all-time best performances, elevating the film and the quality of the actors around him.

5. Street Smart (Jerry Schatzberg, 1987)

A remarkable film for several reasons, Jerry Schatzberg’s 1987 crime thriller tells the story of a New York journalist who creates a fake story about a pimp, only for that story to mirror a very true reality. Playing the brutal pimp, Freeman breaks away from his typecasting and produces one of his most staggering performances, showing his diversity as one of Hollywood’s greatest actors.

Receiving his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, the film marked a significant turning point for Freeman’s career, catapulting him to industry acclaim later in the decade.

4. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)

Telling the story of a merciless killer turned pig farmer who is forced to return to his life of crime, Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture-winning western starred a trio of Hollywood icons, including the director, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman. One of the few westerns that has ever claimed the top prize at the Oscars, Unforgiven questions the role of the American psyche in the creation of an unfavourable contemporary culture.

A fascinating analysis of the genre, Eastwood’s film picks apart the caricatures of the genre, with Freeman’s Ned Logan being an old friend of the protagonist and one of the film’s most beloved characters. 

3. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)

Winning Best Picture in 2005, Eastwood’s boxing movie Million Dollar Baby remains a rousing watch to this very day, following the tumultuous life of a determined woman working to become a professional boxer. Whilst Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her leading performance, Freeman also took home an award for his supporting role as a former boxer, as well as the film’s narrator. 

Featuring alongside Clint Eastwood, Anthony Mackie and Jay Baruchel, Freeman helps to make this shocking sports drama all the more impactful.

2. Seven (David Fincher, 1995)

American filmmaker David Fincher is a great fan of a twist, with several of his films including Fight Club, The Game and Gone Girl each containing thrilling narrative turning points. None of his twists are better than the one in his dark 1995 crime film Seven, a film that sees a serial killer dispatch his victims using the story of the seven deadly sins, whilst two detectives, played by Brad Pitt and Freeman, try to foil his plans.

Providing much of the film’s substance, Freeman’s hardened character grounds Pitt’s erratic young character, acting as a bridge between the old school way of policing, and the new. 

1. Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)

Having long sat at number one of IMDB’s top 250 films of all time, The Shawshank Redemption takes the trophy for a reason, providing an intricate prison story of forgiveness, and retribution, with Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne and Freeman’s Ellis Boyd Redding at the very heart. Based on the novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Steven King, Freeman’s character comes from the mind of one of the world’s greatest ever writers. 

Though Robbins’ character remains the star of the show, Freeman plays his part perfectly and helps to make Frank Darabont’s film such an indelible classic.