You will struggle to find an actor that is more loved than Morgan Freeman. The 82-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, has had a prolific career in film, television and on the stage, breaking through in the ’80s and still going strong today. He has appeared in some of the biggest films of the last 30 years, picking up a number of awards along the way, including an Academy Award (and 4 other nominations). He has shown his versatility through appearing in different genres, and he has a habit of endearing fans through his smooth, deep and immediately recognizable voice.
So without further ado, here are 10 of legendary Morgan Freeman’s greatest performances. Enjoy!
10. Invictus (2009)
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Invictus is a 2009 biographical sports drama film surrounding the events in South Africa both before, and after, the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The World Cup was held in South Africa that year following the dismantling of apartheid, and South Africa famously won the competition, seeing Nelson Mandela sport a Springboks jersey and present the trophy to South Africa captain, Francois Pienaar in what is now an iconic image. If anyone were capable of playing the role of Nelson Mandela, then it is Morgan Freeman, who puts in a brilliant performance which earned him an Academy Award nomination. Matt Damon plays the role of Pienaar, and he was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It is an inspirational story, and a dream come true for Freeman who had always wanted to do a film based on Mandela.
9. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
In 1987, Morgan Freeman starred in the off-Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy. This play, written by Alfred Uhry, follows the relationship of an elderly white Southern Jewish woman and her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn (Freeman). Two years later, a film adaptation was made and directed by Bruce Beresford and saw Freeman reprise his role as Hoke Colburn. It is a touching comedy-drama film which explores racism and prejudice, with Miss Daisy initially refusing to let Hoke drive her. She gradually starts to accept him and then finds herself a victim of prejudice after her synagogue is bombed. The film was widely praised and particularly for the performance of Freeman and Jessica Tandy as Daisy, and certainly worth watching for those that are unfamiliar with Freeman’s earlier work. The film won the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay at the 62nd Academy Awards in 1990.
8. Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise has proved to be immensely popular, and he gave it a darker, more realistic and sinister tone, which all began with this 2005 film. It features an all-star cast which also helped to boost popularity, with Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, and others all appearing. Anytime you get actors of this caliber together it is always going to be a success, and particularly when Morgan Freeman is in the mix too. Freeman plays the role of Lucius Fox, the genius inventor who supplies Bruce Wayne with all the equipment and weapons to carry out his missions. He is promoted to CEO once Wayne retakes control of Wayne Enterprises at the end of the film. Whilst it is not a major part, Freeman excels in the role and was the only choice to play the character.
7. Glory (1989)
Glory is a gripping drama war film directed by Edward Zwick and is generally considered to be the greatest film ever about the American Civil War. It is based on the personal letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and follows the first formal unit of the Union Army during the Civil War to be made up entirely of African-American men. It is told from the point of view of Colonel Shaw (Matthew Broderick), who is the white commanding officer. It also stars Denzel Washington (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Cary Elwes, and Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins. The story leads to their charge on Fort Wagner, which saw the regiment lose nearly half its men in the battle, but their bravery resulted in the Union accepting thousands of black men for combat. According to President Abraham Lincoln, this turned the tide in the war.
6. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Ben Affleck’s feature length directorial debut was the dark, gripping thriller Gone Baby Gone, which starred his brother Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, John Ashton and Morgan Freeman. It is a brilliantly told story of two private investigators who are searching for an abducted 4-year old girl in Dorchester, Boston. Working alongside the police, including Captain Jack Doyle (Freeman), it soon becomes apparent that things are not quite what they seem. The intriguing conclusion asks an important question about parenthood and a child’s home environment, and it will stick in the back of your mind for days after the credits roll. Freeman is, as always, excellent in the role of Captain Jack Doyle, who becomes increasingly important as the story unfolds. It is often compared to Mystic River due to the heavy subject matter, tone, and fantastic depiction of the neighborhoods of Boston.
5. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Over the course of his career, Morgan Freeman has received five Academy Award nominations. He has won one of these nominations, and it was for Best Supporting Actor in 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. The film paired director Clint Eastwood and Freeman together once again, which proved to be hugely successful before with Unforgiven (more on this to come). The film stars Eastwood as an elderly boxing trainer, Frankie Dunn, whilst Freeman plays his gym assistant, Eddie Dupris, who is a former boxer that was blinded in one eye in his final fight. Hilary Swank plays Maggie, a determined amateur boxer who Dunn takes under his wing to help atone for his previous mistakes. It is powerful, gripping, heartfelt and brutal (like most of Eastwood’s films), and it is also narrated by Freeman, who of course has the perfect voice for the task (see also: March of the Penguins).
4. The Dark Knight (2008)
Whilst Batman Begins brought Batman into a new dark and twisted era, it was The Dark Night that was the most menacing, chilling, and compelling of the trilogy. It is hard to look past Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing performance as The Joker (seeing him win a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), but this is another fine performance from Freeman. His character, Lucius Fox, faces a moral dilemma in this film, giving him greater depth than the previous installment. Batman asks Fox to use a city-wide tracking prototype to locate The Joker, but this is something that Fox opposes. He reluctantly agrees, but informs Batman that he will resign immediately after. With so many actors putting in excellent performances, it makes it a compelling and completely gripping watch, plus the masterful direction of Nolan ensures that this is one of the greatest films since the turn of the century.
3. Unforgiven (1992)
Here at Goliath, we recently explored the Western genre and established Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven as the third greatest Western of all-time. This was helped by the compelling performance from Freeman as Ned Logan, but there are also powerful performances from Eastwood (in the lead role), Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris. It is also brilliantly directed by Eastwood, who certainly knows a thing or two about the genre. Western movies often face a lot of criticism for lacking depth and being formulaic, but this cannot be applied to Unforgiven. Freeman and Eastwood play retired outlaws who take on one more job, but they find their killing days are long behind them and they no longer have the stomach for murder. This gritty side had never been explored before, and the darkness and violence of the film make it a fascinating watch and quite unlike any other film.
2. Seven (1995)
There are hundreds of psychological crime thrillers out there, but none have had a bigger impact than David Fincher’s Seven. The film is famous for its harrowing conclusion, leading “what’s in the box?” to become a key movie quote which is often used in popular culture. The entire film is entirely absorbing, with a fantastic storyline, excellent direction, and phenomenal performances from Brad Pitt as Detective Mills, Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset, Gwyneth Paltrow as Tracy Mills, and Kevin Spacey as the twisted serial killer, John Doe. Freeman is the perfect fit for the role of Detective Somerset, who is a kind-hearted, intelligent, softly spoken, soon-to-be-retired detective, who has seen a few too many bad things throughout his career. He is partnered by the explosive and idealistic Detective Mills, creating a memorable and contrasting duo as they become deeply involved in the murderer’s seven-deadly-sins-inspired killing spree.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
There could really be no other film to top the list, and Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is widely considered to be one of the best films of all-time. The film, again brilliantly narrated by Freeman, tells the story of a banker, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is wrongly sentenced to life in Shawshank State Prison. Here he meets fellow inmate Red, the ultimate character for Freeman in that he is kind hearted, full of wisdom, and a very likable character. Andy is soon used by the warden to launder money, and before escaping from prison, he tells Red of his dream of living in a Mexican coastal town and of a package hidden in a hayfield near Buxton, Maine. Red is paroled after 40 years and he goes to find the package, which leads to the two friends being reunited in a heart-warming, touching, and brilliantly told the tale.