Best Morgan Freeman Performances: Great acting makes an actor immortal. Such actors transcend the laws of time, space, reality and create a perennial memory space inside the beholder’s head. One such great actor is Morgan Freeman. With his poised nature, distinctive voice, and commanding presence, Morgan Freeman has perpetually had a claim to the title of one greatest actors of his time and continues to prove his mastery to this day.
As an actor, Freeman played a pivotal role in the evolution of modern contemporary Hollywood cinema, portraying a plethora of characters with precision. With an inspiring mantle adorned with five decades of acting, Morgan Freeman’s eminence and artistry have influenced many actors, carving his name as one of the most influential actors with inscrutable talent.
Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Freeman discovered his passion for acting early in his life and ventured into theater arts, which directed him to The Electric Company, a children’s television series in the 1970s that put him in the limelight. Despite being a Black actor during the 1970s in Hollywood, Morgan Freeman has made his presence known with his distinctive baritone voice and austere presence on screen.
Freeman was regarded as a pioneer among Black actors who broke the stereotypes and proved multiple times that Black actors could be the center of a film and pull audiences to the theater.
Morgan Freeman has created a spectacular impact through his films by representing Black actors with novelty and breaking all the cliches. He has been the quintessential Black actor of our times, who can lead the film commercially and artistically.
As an actor, he strived for inclusivity and stood as an inspiration for posterity. Freeman is one of the most loved actors in the world, who never fell into the category of a “labeled actor.”
By portraying a wide range of character – be it a conflicted mentor of Batman, South Africa’s President, or a vicious convict – Freeman’s acting portfolio is an testament to his reputation as one of the greatest actors of all time. Here is a list of the top 10 best performances by Morgan Freeman and an in-depth understanding of what makes him a great actor.
1. Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012)
One of the most underappreciated roles played by Freeman – probably because of the path-breaking performance by actors such as Heath Ledger – is Lucius Fox in The Dark Knight, a character of integrity and great loyalty. Marking his first collaboration with Christopher Nolan, Freeman plays the role of one of Wayne Enterprises’ core employees, who is friends with Thomas Wayne himself. He treads with confidence and exudes the utmost conscientiousness towards the company.
Lucius Fox might be a character with less screen time but he carries a significant role as an ally of Batman. While Batman was credited for most of his futuristic gadgets, Lucius Fox reinforced Batman’s desire to conquer the dark side of Gotham using technology. Morgan Freeman establishes his presence as an actor rather remarkably in the film when his character, Lucius Fox, learns that his employer is the masked vigilante of Gotham, thus proving his prominence as an actor.
Christopher Nolan succeeds triumphantly in developing a special bond between Fox and Wayne in The Dark Knight Trilogy. He is not only an employee who is loyal to his company but also a mentor with solid principles. Morgan Freeman’s interpretation of Lucius Fox offers us a distinctly reinterpreted comic character. Fox is a man possessing excellent knowledge and he understands the significance of artillery and consciously roots for the prevailing of good over evil.
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2. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
‘Gone Baby Gone’ marked the directorial debut of Ben Affleck, who delivered a dark film set in the neighborhood of Boston. The film tells the story of a 4-year-old girl abducted under mysterious circumstances, and Morgan Freeman plays the Captain of the Precinct whose job is to find her. Freeman’s masterful portrayal of Captain Jack Doyle is dotted with many layers. As we tread deeper into the film, Freeman’s mystic character unveils itself, only to culminate in the film’s grim nature towards the end.
Watching Freeman meticulously unveil his morally conflicted character in the film is something that’s inexplicable and comes straight out of a textbook, if there is one, on how to play a complex character with finesse. Led by Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, Gone Baby Gone not only offers us one of the best roles donned by Freeman but also a great mystery film that cements Ben Affleck as one of the best filmmakers, followed by his many accreditations.
3. Invictus (2009)
Based on the 2008 John Carlin book ‘Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation’, Invictus is a biographical sports-drama that chronicles the political, economic, and cultural shift in post-apartheid South Africa. Helmed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, the film chronicles the events before and after the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It encapsulates the resilience and perseverance of President Mandela in uniting a nation.
Playing a lead role in a biographical film is a major undertaking; however, playing the role of South Africa’s beloved first Black president, Nelson Mandela, is a different responsibility altogether. The sight of Mandela donning a Springboks jersey and watching South Africa captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) receive the trophy from Mandela makes Invictus a memorable film.
After having received accolades worldwide for their on-screen chemistry, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman collaborated for the third time, on this film. It goes without saying that Morgan Freeman is the only actor in Hollywood who is capable of sliding into the shoes of the great Mandela, and watching him bring Mandela to life is as emotional as it is iconic.
Freeman, who famously confessed to starring in a Mandela film as his dream, brings a visceral impact to the screen and honors the character of Mandela with brilliance and authenticity. Freeman in Invictus is an excellent example of portraying a real-life character on-screen without being caricaturish and yet being able to infuse minute details, with humility.
4. Glory (1989)
‘Glory’ is another excellent example substantiating why Freeman is not just an actor but also an influential figure in the Black community. Regarded as the greatest film ever about the American Civil War, Glory 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.
‘Glory’ sheds light on black soldiers’ courage and documents one of the biggest revolutions during the Civil War, according to Abraham Lincoln. Directed by Edward Zwick and laced with heart-thumping music by James Horner, ‘Glory’ is a most influential film that brought Denzel Washington his first Oscar for his supporting role.
Freeman plays the role of battle grave-digger-turned-sergeant, Sergeant Major John Rawlins, who serves as the conscience of the regiment. In addition to being an inspiring historical film, ‘Glory’ pays tribute to the unsung story of African American ‘glory’ and heroism in the Civil War. ‘Glory’ is a film centered primarily on racial bigotry and discrimination, with one of the finest performances by Morgan Freeman. This film is a testament to the emotional connection Freeman is capable of establishing with the audience.
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5. Street Smart (1987)
A vapid magazine reporter weaves an entirely fictional story about a fervent pimp of Time Square and his operations. Soon the published story revitalizes the poor career of the journalist, only for him to realize that the fictional pimp really exists and is now on a mission to find the culprits who gave away his story to the journalist.
As inventive and exciting as it may sound, ‘Street Smart’ was not well received at the box office or by critics. Directed by Jerry Schatzberg, Street Smart is a cleverly written thriller that interlocks the lives of a pimp and a journalist, one chasing and the other being chased. From a different perspective, ‘Street Smart’ can be seen as a great satire on journalism and the publishing industry. Conversely, it sheds light on society’s moral decay, using Morgan Freeman’s character as its catalyst.
As Fast Black, Freeman brings a fresh breath of elegance and charm into the deplorable character of a pimp who is on parole. His character as the violent pimp is brilliantly, juxtaposing his capricious nature with the screenplay like a ticking bomb. ‘Street Smart’ is one of those rare films with Morgan Freeman that needs to be remade with Shane Black as the director.
This film is another excellent example depicting Freeman’s range as an actor. Suppose you are an aspiring actor and eager to learn from the screen. In that case, Freeman’s portrayal as a pimp is a textbook guide on how to own a culpable character with moral ambiguity and transfer it into an endearing, quirky role with precision.
6. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) is an old, southern Jewish lady in this endearing tale of love, patience, and humanity. The story spans over a quarter of a century, where Daisy Werthan develops a strong bond with her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman), thus justifying the title of the film. ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ is not only a great film that reflects America’s cultural and racial evolution but also an important film where Morgan Freeman plays the quintessential African American who represents racial egalitarianism.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the film’s leads as they play these soft and innocuous human beings, taking us through their 25-year journey with many ups and downs. The film yet again proves that LOVE is the cure for everything. Driving Miss Daisy is a film that speaks less with its dialogues and more with the subtle body language of the characters.
A tiny nod, a soft grim look in the eye, or a dainty gesticulation prove what great acting actually is. Freeman and Jessica Tandy deliver a masterclass in acting, proving that great acting is when each fragment of your body embodies the story’s soul and acts according to it.
7. Unforgiven (1992)
Each collaboration between Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman delivers a timeless masterpiece with an unique setting and unforgettable characters. ‘Unforgiven’ was the beginning of this iconic collaboration, which continued until ‘Invictus’ and gave the world three remarkable films. It’s not a secret that Clint Eastwood is the indomitable icon of Western cinema. With ‘Unforgiven’, he breaks the formula of his customized Western films and the rest is history.
Unforgiven is a deep analysis of the rise and sustenance of Western films, with Clint Eastwood himself as the representative. The film was perceived as a paean to stalwarts of the genre like Don Siegel and Sergio Leone, who cemented its pillars. William Munny, played by Clint Eastwood, is a struggling hog farmer. His past is full of bloodshed and alcohol, and his long-time companion in the ruthless Western world is Ned Logan, played by Morgan Freeman.
While William is a mercenary who was chastened by marriage, his past catches up with him when he needs money. One day, a young man named Schofield Kid visits the veteran to be his partner on a bounty-hunting trip.
Morgan Freeman plays one such strong, remarkable, and lovable character with sheer honesty and authenticity. In ‘Unforgiven’, Morgan Freeman will make you laugh, cry, and empathize with the story through his heart-wrenching performance. It is a film that speaks volumes about Freeman’s acting prowess. The dichotomy of Freeman as a glorious cowboy and a captive tortured to death is what makes him a beloved actor in the film and the real world. A must-watch, timeless classic!
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8. Se7en (1995)
With seven gruesome deaths depicting the seven sins, a gut-wrenching climax, and masterful direction by David Fincher, it is hard to snatch away the limelight, yet Freeman does it like an ace. Se7en is not only David Fincher’s gothic masterpiece but also a widely celebrated thriller that paved the way for aspiring filmmakers to explore the genre.
The film opens with Morgan Freeman reminiscing on the past crimes he resolved and awaiting his imminent retirement. He is partnered with a short-tempered, fidgety yet ambitious young detective to solve a series of killings based on the Bible’s seven deadly sins.
Amidst this psychological drama stands Freeman’s character of Somerset as a detective who has seen enough wrath in people’s minds. Se7en is an eventful film where Morgan Freeman spreads his wings as an actor and brings composure to the dark, disturbing theme. He acts as the reserved veteran who gracefully guides his protege.
While Mills (played by Brad Pitt) is acclimated to the structured chaos of his life (depicted brilliantly through his dogs and relationship), Freeman infuses order and peace. His character uses the vibration of the metronome as a lullaby to comfort his inner peace with hope. The significance of Freeman shines throughout the film as he brings an ineffable calm to it, making the “What’s in the Box” scene, an iconic moment in cinema history.
9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
We see the film from Red’s eyes, understand the film through Red’s perspective, relate with characters through Red’s conscience, and hear the film through Red’s voice – rendered rather brilliantly by the master Morgan Freeman. The Shawshank Redemption is all things we expect from Morgan Freeman.
Revered as one of the greatest films ever made, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of the convict Andy Dufresne, imprisoned at Shawshank State Penitentiary, and chronicles his journey from doom to redemption. Andy is a man of few words and reclusive at heart, yet Red, the prison’s long-time inmate, penetrates through Andy’s opaque nature and sees a friend. What makes Shawshank Redemption a masterpiece is its sophisticated storytelling and an unexpected plot twist that advocates the power of perseverance, friendship, and endurance.
The Shawshank Redemption goes into history as one of the stand-alone films that gave Morgan Freeman global recognition and cemented his stature as a wise, austere, and shrewd man. Playing the narrator and one of the two central characters, Freeman’s soothing voice unveils the dark abyss of prison life one dialogue at a time. As mentioned earlier, we hear the film through Freeman’s assuring voice. With the narrative spanning over two decades, we deeply perceive Red’s evolution as an individual, and his metamorphosis happens within the 142-minute duration of the film, proving yet again that Freeman is an unique talent.
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10. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
“I only ever met one man I wouldn’t wanna fight. Then he walked out. I don’t think he had anything left”. These were the exact first and last words uttered by Freeman’s character, Eddie ‘Scrap-Iron’ Dupris, describing the life and tragedy of Frankie Dunn. Eddie is a former pugilist who dedicated his post-retirement life to boxer-turned-coach Frankie Dunn’s gym. Eddie and Frankie’s camaraderie transcends respect and brotherhood.
One day, a destitute hillbilly named Maggie Fitzgerald visits the gym to request Dunn’s tutelage. Dunn, who’s a petulant person, disregards her wish and advises her to quit boxing. But soon, he acknowledges Maggie’s unwavering passion and persistence and takes her under his wing. Together, they create history in the women’s boxing league, only to be met with a tragedy that tears them both apart — physically and emotionally.
Narrating this poignant saga of a reluctant coach and a female boxer is Eddie, played by Morgan Freeman. Unlike adrenaline-pumping boxing films, Million Dollar Baby tells the poignant story of a boxer through its meditative pace and heartbreaking climax. In the sports-drama genre, Million Dollar Baby is a gem, which won Morgan Freeman his first-ever Oscar for his supporting role.
Morgan Freeman is probably the only nonpareil thespian in the world whose demeanor and beguiling narration can turn even the darkest tragedy into something celebratory. As a narrator, he addresses the film in the first person to make his audience feel the same pain and grief his character undergoes. However, the film ends with hope, with Eddie sitting at the gym waiting for Dunn.
Despite being surrounded by bustling boxers, Freeman weaves a mysterious atmosphere around his character. Eddie is a three-dimensional character and Freeman takes the brilliantly written character to greater heights by creating a fourth dimension, i.e., the audience’s pathos. ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is a timeless masterpiece and one of the greatest films ever made.
Each character brings their ‘best and beast’ to the film, with special credit to Hilary Swank, who plays Maggie with such profundity that even her Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role would bow down with respect.