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Top 10 Morgan Freeman Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
He's played a prisoner, a principal, the President, and God. Since he entered the scene, Morgan Freeman has made a name for himself as a talented and versatile actor who brings weight to every role he embodies. Not only is he famous for his acting skills, Freeman also used his silky voice as a narrator in several films. But one thing’s for sure: whether he’s a streetwise pimp, a kindly chauffeur, a knowledgeable inmate or a book smart detective, Morgan Freeman is riveting. In this video, counts down our picks for Morgan Freeman's top 10 performances.

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Top 10 Morgan Freeman Performances

He’s played a prisoner, a principal, the President and God. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for Morgan Freeman’s top 10 performances.

#10 – Ned Logan: “Unforgiven” (1992)

Packing a cowboy hat and shotgun, Freeman steps into the middle of this Oscar-winning western. Beside heavyweights like Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Richard Harris, Freeman shines and even stands out as retired gunslinger and film conscience Ned Logan. With a lesser actor, this character could easily have become a simple sidekick, but with Freeman at the helm Logan is a reminder of reason in a lawless world.

#9 – Nelson Mandela: “Invictus” (2009)

Ever since Nelson Mandela himself handpicked Freeman to portray him, we’d been waiting anxiously for the result. Freeman’s Mandela may not be this emotional film’s main character, but he is the vital behind-the-scenes player who keeps the inspirational plot moving along. With nobility, grace and confidence, Freeman calls to mind Mandela’s determination as the unwavering force for racial integration, and earned an Oscar nomination for this once-in-a-lifetime role.

#8 – Joe Louis Clark: “Lean on Me” (1989)

We’d already glimpsed Freeman’s star power, but this role drove the point home. As real-life inner-city administrator “Crazy” Joe Clark, Freeman arms himself with rousing speeches, unflinching discipline and a baseball bat to revive a struggling school using unorthodox motivational methods – and by unorthodox, we mean illegal. Freeman’s simple style lends authority and emotion to this standard tough-love story about someone who cares so deeply he’ll risk it all.

#7 – Fast Black: “Street Smart” (1987)

After starting on-stage and on TV, Freeman became a film star thanks to his role as a morally bankrupt, fast-talking pimp. Freeman elevates this movie with his Oscar-nominated performance, and is one of the only reasons it’s watchable: it’s shocking to see him act so convincingly ruthless and intimidating, but at the same time so charismatic. The movie doesn’t satisfyingly resolve his story, but Freeman is a more-than-memorable bad guy.

#6 – Lucius Fox: “Batman” Trilogy (2005-2012)

One of the many things these films do right is they feature veteran actors in vital, supporting roles: Freeman, while providing Bruce Wayne with the gadgets he requires to be Batman, also acts as a father figure and sometimes an ethical center. Full of warmth, class and even some comic moments, Freeman’s understated performance proves why he was the only actor ever considered for the part.

#5 – Sergeant Major John Rawlins: “Glory” (1989)

Outlining the tribulations of the first all-African-American Civil War unit, this movie tracks the bravery of those forgotten by history, and its strength comes from supporting players like Denzel Washington, Andre Braugher and Freeman himself. All three transcend Hollywood stereotypes about African-Americans, and give tremendously distinctive performances: as the kindly, reasonable father figure, Freeman’s John Rawlins is a born leader who could even moonlight as a pastor.

#4 – Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris: “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)

Freeman’s got one of Hollywood’s best voices, and it’s that voice that narrates this story. Told through the eyes of a former fighter in a straightforward, unemotional way, this tale is one where the boxing is incidental and the relationships are everything. Partnering again with Clint Eastwood, Freeman is a friend and confidante and not the film’s focus; but his unwavering support to the main players earned him his first Oscar.

#3 – Hoke Colburn: “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989)

Spanning decades, religions, cultures and more, this story proves that people from different worlds can find common ground. After originating the role in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Freeman gave an impressively subtle performance in the film as Miss Daisy’s kind, wise and patient chauffeur. With gestures and facial expressions sometimes saying more than words, this movie propelled Freeman to leading man status and earned him his second Oscar nomination.

#2 – Detective Lt. William Somerset: “Se7en” (1995)

The formula’s there: headstrong, reckless young cop partners with the finicky almost-retired old guy. Only, this film and its characters are much more than that thanks to top-notch acting: on the trail of a sadistic serial killer, Freeman and Brad Pitt show dynamic chemistry, but it’s Freeman’s methodical, perceptive and almost scholarly performance in both the suspenseful action sequences and the quieter scenes that steals the show.

#1 – Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding: “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)

Stephen King wrote this character as a white Irishman, but Freeman’s aura of honesty and his calm, compassionate voice got him the job. While it is his quintessential narrator role, Freeman anchors the story in person as a Shawshank lifer who forms vital relationships inside prison walls but struggles on the outside after decades spent incarcerated – but that’s his best work in the film, because the redemption is his.

Do you agree with our list? Which Morgan Freeman performance do you think is the greatest? For more top 10s about your favorite stars, be sure to subscribe to

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