Morgan Freeman has been so great for long that it's easy to forget that the legendary movie star didn't break out on the big screen until he was 50, in 1987's Street Smart. Since then, the 83-year-old icon has appeared in more than 100 films and racked up five Oscar nominations. Now, on the eve of his latest release — the down-and-dirty crime thriller Vanquish (in theaters April 16, on VOD April 20) — we thought it was high time to count down Freeman's top films. See if your favorites match ours.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
In Frank Darabont's Oscar-nominated male weepie, Freeman and Tim Robbins co-star as a pair of convicts sentenced to rot in Maine's imposing Shawshank State Prison. Although the screenplay was adapted from a Stephen King novella, the film isn't a horror story. Far from it. Rather, it's a touching meditation on friendship as these two doomed souls struggle to hold on to hope in a place where hope goes to die. As Red, Freeman is spectacularly understated, mixing compassion, desperation, resignation and finally something like ecstasy as he finally tastes freedom and is reunited with his pal, Robbins's Andy Dufresne, on a sunny beach in Mexico. It's a movie that gets better and deeper with each viewing.
2. Unforgiven (1992)
Freeman has often said that his favorite movie is Clint Eastwood's 1976 Western, The Outlaw Josey Wales. So when the actor finally had the chance to co-star with Eastwood in Unforgiven, he didn't need to be asked twice. Ostensibly, the film is about a once-ruthless gunslinger named Bill Munny (Eastwood) who has left behind his bloody past only to be called back into action by his conscience to take down a sadistic sheriff (Gene Hackman). But its message about the toll violence takes on a man's soul can also be seen as a mea culpa of sorts from an actor and director who spent the first half of his career glorifying killing on the big screen. As his equally regretful best friend and old partner Ned Logan, Freeman gives a gorgeously nuanced performance that forces Eastwood to express emotional depths that he usually keeps hidden below the surface.
3. Glory (1989)
Based on a true story left out of most high school history books, Edward Zwick's rousing and powerful war drama exhumes the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry — the country's first all-Black unit during the Civil War, whose members showed tremendous courage despite being treated as less than second-class citizens. Matthew Broderick is excellent as the white officer commanding the group, but the film's most ferocious and heartbreaking turns come from Freeman and Denzel Washington, who give master classes on the stoic bravery and fiery pride beneath their mud-and-blood-stained uniforms.
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