Movie fans across the world are stunned by the sudden death of actor Chadwick Boseman. Earlier today, Boseman passed away from colon cancer, surrounded by his wife and family. In a statement, Boseman’s family revealed that he has been battling cancer for four years while maintaining a busy schedule that included blockbuster superhero movies and critically acclaimed films.
Boseman was only active as an actor for 17 years, but he amassed an impressive array of roles in that relatively short time. On the big screen, Boseman portrayed Black icons like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall, while also breathing life into fictional characters and action heroes.
It seems unfair to lose an actor in the prime of his life just when his potential promised even bigger and better things ahead. But while we grieve for Boseman, as well as his family and friends, he left beyond a cinematic legacy that will withstand the test of time. In tribute to Boseman’s all-too-brief career, here is a selection of his best movies.
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Chadwick Boseman’s breakthrough role as Jackie Robinson in 42 changed the course of his career. The film told the story of Robinson, the first Black player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, Robinson had to face stiff resistance from racist fans, owners, and even members of his own team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Through it all, Robinson had to maintain strict control of himself and refrain from any retaliation.
Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie also give winning performances as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey and Robinson’s wife, Rachel. But it’s Boseman’s movie from start to finish, and 42 was his star-making turn.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie
Director: Brian Helgeland
Runtime: 128 minutes
Although Draft Day largely centers on the personal and professional struggles of Kevin Costner’s Sonny Weaver Jr., Boseman had a small but pivotal role in the film. As the Cleveland Browns general manager, Weaver leveraged the team’s future to move up in the NFL draft. However, Boseman’s Vontae Mack forced Weaver to reconsider his choices by making a very public case for himself. Weaver ultimately realized that Mack was right, but going with his gut only increased the drama in Draft Day.
Rotten Tomatoes: 59%
Stars: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman
Director: Ivan Reitman
Runtime: 110 minutes
Boseman wasn’t exactly a perfect physical match for the late, great James Brown, but he made audiences believe in his on-screen persona in Get on Up. This music biopic chronicled the rise and fall and rise again of the Godfather of Soul. Boseman’s turn as Brown was absolutely electrifying, and he carried the movie on his strong shoulders.
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis
Director: Tate Taylor
Runtime: 139 minutes
There was a palpable excitement in 2014 when Chadwick Boseman was cast as Black Panther and slated to make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Captain America: Civil War. It would have been easy to get lost in a movie that introduces Spider-Man and tears the Avengers apart. Regardless, Boseman’s T’Challa had a riveting screen presence as he sought to avenge the death of his father by pursuing the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes. Black Panther is also the only hero in the movie who ultimately realizes just how hollow his vengeance is. That’s a lesson that eludes Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man (at least for this film).
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey. Jr., Chadwick Boseman
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Runtime: 147 minutes
Boseman seamlessly went from a superhero to a real-life hero in his next film, Marshall. He portrayed Thurgood Marshall, a noted civil rights lawyer and the first Black man to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But Marshall isn’t a biopic — it’s a legal drama that takes place early in his career. In 1940, Marshall defends a Black man accused of raping a white woman. However, Marshall isn’t allowed to utter a word in court, which forces him to carefully coach Josh Gad’s Sam Friedman with some timely advice and notes.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Runtime: 118 minutes
Black Panther was, quite simply, a triumph on every level. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler infused Black Panther with more challenging themes and questions than the average superhero flick. That’s why Boseman’s T’Challa was forced to confront what his technologically-advanced nation, Wakanda, owed oppressed Black men and women across the globe.
Michael B. Jordan has an arresting turn as Killmonger, T’Challa’s rival, and he played a rare villain who has very legitimate reasons for his actions. But it was Boseman’s performance that held the movie together, and he gave kids of all ages a new cinematic superhero to look up to. This was also the first superhero movie to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Ryan Coogler
Runtime: 134 minutes
Tragically, Da 5 Bloods has turned out to be one of Chadwick Boseman’s final films. Boseman has only a small role as Norman, the squad leader of the titular Bloods during their military tour of Vietnam. Decades later, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) return to Vietnam for some unfinished business and a treasure that was lost on their previous trip. Spike Lee’s latest joint was already poignant and powerful before Boseman’s passing. Now, it’s even more so.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Stars: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Chadwick Boseman
Director: Spike Lee
Runtime: 156 minutes