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Idris Elba is one of the most charismatic actors working today. With his inherent physicality, witty sense of humor, and unflinching dramatic sincerity, Elba has often been cited by fans as a favorite to take on the role of James Bond. While it seems like Elba isn’t in line to take on the part of 007, he certainly has an exciting future ahead of him. Just this year, he proved that he could generate an audience for an original project, and few movie stars can do that.

It’s no slight against Elba to say that his best roles have been on television. Elba’s performance as the intelligent criminal mastermind Stringer Bell on “The Wire” proved that he could examine the mindset of a complex character who wasn’t simply a hero or villain. His role as the titular detective on the BBC One mystery series “Luther” showed that he could sustain a recurring series and keep it interesting.

Here are the 14 best Idris Elba movies, ranked.

Pacific Rim (2013)

Bill Pullman’s famous inspirational speech in “Independence Day” has stood the test of time as the definitive “call to arms” monologue. That being said, Idris Elba might have offered him a challenge with his incredible “canceling the apocalypse” speech in “Pacific Rim.” Who doesn’t want to immediately suit up and start fighting kaiju monsters after Elba’s riveting delivery? There’s something very impressive about Elba’s ability to make even the most ridiculous technical jargon sound awesome.

“Pacific Rim” is the type of movie that knows exactly what it is. Guillermo Del Toro made a movie for every child out there who has wanted to see giant robots fight kaiju monsters. However, the self-seriousness of the performances show how committed to camp the cast was. Elba is easily the standout of the ensemble. He co-stars as Marshal Stacker Pentecost, the commanding officer of the Pan Pacific Defense Corp.

“Pacific Rim” takes place in the not-so-distant future in which kaiju have emerged to wreak havoc on humanity. To fight these massive beasts, a resistance group of humans begins piloting hulking robots called “Jaegers” to stand up to their oppressors. Elba is tasked with explaining how this combat system works, and his empathetic delivery helps the audience get adjusted to this post-apocalyptic world. He’s easily more interesting than the main character, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam).

Prometheus (2012)

Idris Elba has an inherent sense of authority that makes him perfect for playing leaders. Elba took on the role of Captain Janek, the leader of the outer space vessel in Ridley Scott’s science fiction film “Prometheus.” He was the latest in a long line of great captains in the “Alien” franchise and does a great job representing the core themes of the series. “Alien” is a unique franchise because it understands the struggles of the working class. Janek is a career professional whose legitimacy comes from his experience.

Similar to “Pacific Rim,” Elba spices up an ensemble that wouldn’t have been as interesting without him. The melodramatic romance between Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) isn’t terribly compelling, but Janek at least has some hints of personality. While he undoubtedly takes his job very seriously, Janek gets a few moments of comic relief. His flirtatious comments towards Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) are particularly amusing given how cold and calculating she is.

“Prometheus” does a great job of escalating tension before the riveting finale. While it’s very much an outer space horror movie, the film explores themes about the origins of mankind. Elba takes on the challenge of playing a character who is forced to ponder his origins. He tries to set aside his interest in the study to give support to his crew.

Beast (2022)

It doesn’t get much pulpier than “Beast,” and the film has no illusions about what type of movie it is. At just 93 minutes, “Beast” sets up its scenario very quickly and gets into the goofy nonsense. Idris Elba proves once again that he can add depth to a relatively simple screenplay. It’s one thing to pop up in a great movie, but Elba is the type of actor who can redeem a mediocre one.

“Beast” follows Dr. Nate Samuels (Elba), who is struggling to connect with his daughters Mare (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) following the death of his wife. Samuels thinks that by taking his children on a tour of the African wilderness, they might be able to set aside their collective grief. Unfortunately, their intended vacation goes awry when they realize there is a rogue man-eating lion on the loose. Elba does a great job of fleshing out Samuels’ personality. He clearly has much respect for the wilderness and believes that the experience will be beneficial to his daughters.

It’s the connection between Samuels and his children that makes the film endearing. A project like “Beast” wouldn’t have been able to generate an audience if the characters weren’t compelling, and Elba does a great job of showing the plight of a struggling father.

The Losers (2010)

Many comic book films are burdened with an extensive universe and confusing world-building, but “The Losers” seems like a throwback to classic mercenary action movies. It’s the type of film that would have never worked without memorable characters, and Elba has terrific chemistry with his co-stars.

“The Losers” follows a highly-trained black-ops team that is dispatched to Bolivia to take out an elusive drug lord. When this group of quirky anti-heroes arrives, they realize that enslaved children are in danger. They realize that they were the intended targets of a helicopter missile attack, which leaves them stranded without any resources. The film is pretty comical, but having this moral dilemma at the beginning is essential. Elba indicates that while his character Capt. William Roque is not averse to brutality, he draws a line at putting innocent people in danger.

Each member of the group has their own specialty, and Rogue is the guy to ask about explosives. The scenes in which he is asked to deactivate explosive devices during the heat of combat are particularly riveting.

The Suicide Squad (2021)

Tonally confused, 2016’s “Suicide Squad” was a massive letdown. The film simply did not know if it wanted to be a gritty crime thriller or a wacky action-comedy. Thankfully, James Gunn managed to redeem the franchise with his highly entertaining 2021 sequel, “The Suicide Squad.” While some of the characters from the first film return, “The Suicide Squad” is essentially a soft reboot that switches out the leads. Will Smith’s performance as Deadshot wasn’t particularly strong in “Suicide Squad,” and Idris Elba’s version of Bloodsport serves as a perfect replacement.

It seems like for everything that “Suicide Squad” got wrong with Deadshot, Gunn manages to revamp with Bloodsport. They’re both complicated fathers who struggle to relate to their children. However, Elba is a much more convincing parent and gets to play a more complex man. There’s a particularly funny sequence at the beginning of the film when Bloodsport gets into an argument with his daughter, Tyla (Storm Reid). It’s a perfect showcase for his sense of humor that also reveals why he agrees to take on this crazy mission.

There aren’t many filmmakers out there who can pull off quippy dialogue quite like Gunn. Elba gets some particularly amusing one-liners as he argues with Peacemaker (John Cena) throughout their mission. Their bare-knuckled brawl in Jötunheim is easily the standout action sequence of the film.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

The recent “Star Trek” films in the “Kelvin Timeline” have not done a great job of bringing their villains to life. While Eric Bana and Benedict Cumberbatch are both great actors, they were not given roles that allowed them to add any depth. However, Idris Elba avoided these issues with his terrific performance as the main antagonist Krall. While Elba certainly got to do some fun scenery-chewing under heavy makeup and prosthetics, a pivotal twist in the film’s final act reveals a surprising element of his backstory that ties into the film’s themes of militarism and expansion.

“Star Trek Beyond” is the film in which Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) truly grows as a leader. As he confronts the legacy of his father and his crew being put in danger, Kirk questions what his future will be. Krall is the perfect antagonist to pit him against. He’s a former serviceman who rejected the Starfleet code of unity and peace. “Star Trek” is never afraid to mask its political intentions, and Elba embodies the theology of a xenophobic warlord who reveals his desire for conquest.

Elba is particularly terrifying during the scenes with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho). It’s clear that Krall is vicious and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his own soldiers.

Thor (2011)

The “Thor” franchise is a bit of an oddity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the first film is relatively straightforward and sincere, the sequels gradually get silly and tongue-in-cheek. Kenneth Branagh deserves credit for how well he established the world of Asgard. It’s an environment that feels lived in, and Idris Elba appears as one of the most knowledgeable servants of the realm. Elba brings an ethereal, timeless quality to Heimdall. He seems like he has years of service behind him.

Heimdall plays a bit of an expositional role in the first film, but he shines in a few scenes with Thor (Chris Hemsworth). While Thor questions whether he is worthy of his power, Heimdall inspires him to live up to his father’s legacy. Elba was unfortunately met with some racist backlash for portraying a Nordic god, but Heimdall was thankfully given an even larger role in the sequels.

American Gangster (2007)

Idris Elba has done a great job throughout his career of telling stories about the Black experience. Ridley Scott’s brilliant “American Gangster” tells the incredible true story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the infamous crimelord who brought heroin to the United States through a smuggling operation. While it’s Washington who carries the movie, many great Black actors pop up to show how the community in Harlem reacts to Lucas’ rise to power. Elba has a brief, but memorable role as the drug dealer Tango.

“American Gangster” does not flinch from brutality, and Ridley Scott was unafraid to bring some moments of graphic violence to the screen. Elba said that one sequence with Washington was so realistic that he thought that he would be shot for real. It’s one of the most impactful sequences in the film. Lucas’ calculating nature when dispatching Tango shows how he builds his criminal empire.

Zootopia (2016)

While it’s very easy for celebrities to simply phone it in for a children’s film, Idris Elba brings depth to the character of Chief Bogo in “Zootopia.” While “Zootopia” is a great family film, it addresses themes of racism, police brutality, and corruption. Even if Chief Bogo is an African buffalo, it may have been difficult for the audience to have sympathy for a police chief. However, Elba does a great job of showing Bogo’s change of heart as he became more self-aware.

Bogo is strict and humorless. He is skeptical of the eager young officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and assigns her to check parking meters. The relationship between Judy and Bogo is one of the more emotional elements in the film. Judy is desperate to earn Bogo’s respect, and his words of wisdom inspire her when she doubts her abilities. A critical scene in which he tells her that she is a “good cop” serves as the perfect conclusion to their friendship. Given how grim he is at the beginning of the story, it’s nice to see Bogo open up a little bit.

That doesn’t mean that Elba didn’t add any humor to the film. There’s a particularly amusing storyline focusing on Bogo’s obsession with the singer Gazelle (Shakira) that hilariously pays off during the closing credits.

The Jungle Book (2016)

Disney’s “live-action” remakes of their classic animated films have been generally disappointing. There is simply no reason to remake a beloved film shot-for-shot if there are no fundamental changes to the story. However, Jon Favreau’s reimagining of “The Jungle Book” is an exception. While the original film is essentially a collection of silly moments, the 2016 remake is a riveting adventure epic. The darker tone works in the remake’s favor, and that’s all thanks to Idris Elba’s magnetic vocal performance as the tiger Shere Khan.

The greatest villains in film history are those with understandable motivations. Shere Khan is heavily scarred, and it’s implied that he was abused by someone in the past. Although Shere Khan is desperate to kill Mowgli (Neel Sethi), they are both essentially scared children who don’t have a home. Elba’s overbearing performance suggests that Shere Khan wants to instill the same fear into others that he feels himself.

4. Three Thousand Years Of Longing (2022)

Following the game-changing success of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” many cinephiles expected George Miller’s next film to be another riveting action masterwork. That couldn’t be further from what “Three Thousand Years of Longing” ended up being. As the title suggests, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” explores the nature of time and how it relates to love. While the film employs gorgeous sets, brilliant costume design, and incredible makeup, the real beauty is the chemistry between Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton.

Elba is so charismatic that it seems odd that he hasn’t appeared in more romantic films. That being said, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” isn’t a typical romantic film by any standard definition. The film follows a Djinn (Elba) who is awakened by British scholar Alithea Binnie (Swinton). As the Djinn chastises Binnie for not making a wish, they fall in love. It’s an odd subversion of the “genie in a bottle” story: What if the genie who is so desperate to serve just wants to be loved? Leave it to Elba to make us fall in love with a mythological creature.

The Harder They Fall (2021)

“The Harder They Fall” is just so much fun. Although the film draws from history, it feels like a classic Western adventure film. While the influences are classical, the film has a distinctly modern edge. The cast is composed almost entirely of Black actors, and the film addresses how people of color are often sidelined in Western stories. It’s a powerful moment of representation, but that doesn’t mean that “The Harder They Fall” doesn’t get to indulge in the genre’s best qualities. You get a terrific new Western hero in Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) and a scene-stealing villain in Rufus Buck (Idris Elba).

“The Harder They Fall” follows Love and his allies Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cycler) as they venture across the American West. When criminal mastermind Buck escapes from prison, Love decides to track down his nemesis. The jailbreak scene announces what type of villain Elba is. He only needs to say a few words to instill fear in his enemies. The film allows Elba to have fun as an eccentric evildoer, but the scenes in which his history with Love is explained reveal a deeper darkness in the character.

Beasts Of No Nation (2015)

“Beasts of No Nation” is not an easy film to watch, but it tells an essential story about a real issue that sadly is not given enough attention. The film examines the lives of child soldiers in West Africa, who are raised to be vicious. This horrifying process only perpetuates the cycle of violence in the region. These children are faced with either unleashing their brutality or accepting their death and “Beasts of No Nation” does not shy away from these uncomfortable conversations. To explore just how dehumanizing this issue is, “Beasts of No Nation” is told from the perspective of Agu (Abraham Attah), a child soldier.

The film revolves around the relationship between Agu and the fearsome Commandant (Idris Elba), who trains the children for combat. Elba shows the deceptive nature of the character. In a horrifying way, he is a paternal figure to these children. Some truly disturbing sequences imply that the Commandant had a similar experience when he was young. Elba shows the depth of his motivations.

Molly’s Game (2017)

Picking just one film that represents the totality of Idris Elba’s career is a challenge because he is simply so versatile. Do you choose a performance that shows his ability to command attention, or do you choose a smaller role in a cinematic classic? “Molly’s Game” fits both of those descriptions. It’s one of the best films of the last decade, and it serves as a showcase for Elba’s captivating presence. Aaron Sorkin generally gives actors juicy monologues, and Elba delivers some of the most memorable lines in the film. Even if the story is all about Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), it’s impossible to finish “Molly’s Game” without thinking about lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Elba).

“Molly’s Game” follows former skier Molly Bloom as she runs an underground poker empire that attracts various powerful people. After she becomes the target of an FBI investigation, Molly enlists Jaffey’s help to defend herself. He has a fascinating character arc. Initially, he takes the case for business reasons, but he slowly becomes invested in her story.

The film builds up to a riveting scene in which Jaffey defends Molly’s honor and calls out the unfair nature of the case. It takes a truly brilliant actor to deliver Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue, but Elba pulls it off in the standout sequence in the film.

Read this next: Ranking Morgan Freeman’s 20 Best Roles

The post The 14 Best Idris Elba Movies, Ranked appeared first on /Film.

/Film – ‘Slash Film: The 14 Best Idris Elba Movies, Ranked’
Author: Liam Gaughan
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November 20, 2022

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