You may already have names in mind when it comes to famous black male actors over 50. That isn’t surprising given the number of iconic black figures in the acting world.
From Denzel Washington to James Earl Jones, it’s safe to say there are many leading black men on television and in cinema.
Let’s turn on the spotlight and go!
1. Denzel Washington
We will get Denzel Washington up first because he is the quintessential black actor in Hollywood to many people. Washington’s career spans decades, but Washington made a name for himself early thanks to Glory as Pvt. Trip in 1989. That film led him to win his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Since then, Washington’s career as a premiere black actor has shown his range. From his turn as the title character in Malcolm X to his Academy Award Best Actor-winning role in Training Day, Washington continues to show his ability to reinvent himself.
More recently, Washington has starred in The Tragedy of Macbeth, a spin on the classic William Shakespeare play written by one of the Coen brothers, and has been the lead role in The Equalizer franchise.
2. Will Smith
When it comes to versatility and popularity, Philadelphia-born Will Smith is very much a Gold Standard for black actors in Hollywood. Smith may have started his career as a recording artist, but he quickly branched out with his star-making turn on NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Smith was given the chance to anchor the show, portraying a fictionalizing version of himself that also showcased his dramatic chops in several episodes.
Movies soon came calling for Smith, where he delivered hits like Independence Day, Hitch, and Men in Black. Smith began to shift towards more serious roles in the later 2000s, garnering critical acclaim for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Ali and Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness.
Both films got his Oscar nods, but he would not succeed in the Best Actor category until 2022 when he won recognition for playing Venus and Serena Williams’ father, Richard Williams, in King Richard.
3. Jamie Foxx
You might not know it, but Jamie Foxx has been a popular entertainer since the 1980s. His big break came in 1989 when he started performing in comedy clubs based on a dare from his then-girlfriend. That led to Foxx developing one of the most successful careers in Hollywood.
Foxx launched his television career two years later on Fox’s In Living Color, where he got plenty of laughs as LaWanda Page. From there, he starred in The Jamie Foxx Show, got a recording deal, and earned rave reviews opposite Tom Cruise in 2004’s Collateral.
But it was Foxx’s shape-shifting role as R&B superstar Ray Charles in Ray that earned him his first Oscar win for Best Actor. Meatier roles soon arrived for the Texas-born actor, where he eventually landed a starring role in 2012’s Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino.
4. Forest Whitaker
With a career spanning four decades, Forest Whitaker has amassed 135 acting credits, stretching back to an episode of TV’s Making the Grade in 1982. Since then, Whitaker has been one of the most recognizable faces in film and television, spanning genres as varied as science fiction, historical dramas, and musical fantasies. Indeed, he has repeatedly shown bravery in taking roles outside the mainstream, vividly illustrated with 1992’s The Crying Game.
Born in Longview, Texas, Whitaker is best known for his roles in Good Morning, Vietnam, Black Panther, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. However, it was his portrayal as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland that won him an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2006.
5. Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Cuba Gooding, Jr., 54, got his start as an entertainer and breakdancer, believe it or not. Still, his moves propelled him into TV roles on hits such as Hill Street Blues and MacGuyver. But it wasn’t until 1991’s Boyz n the Hood that he grew his success overnight.
Gooding further elevated his name when he starred alongside Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. His role as a boisterous athlete screaming, “show me the money” earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
While Gooding’s career cooled off after his Oscar win with less favorable films, he stepped back into the limelight playing O.J. Simpson in FX’s crime anthology series The People vs. O.J. Simpson. That role earned him an Emmy nomination.
6. Morgan Freeman
When it comes to black male actors over 50, you cannot make a list without Morgan Freeman’s name on it. For many, Freeman has one of the most iconic voices in popular culture, and that has led to him appearing in numerous commercials.
Still, Freeman is more than just a voice—he is a versatile actor whose work has spanned decades. To think that his career started in PBS’ The Electric Company is a true testament to his acting abilities.
His breakout came in 1987 with Street Smart, which earned him an Oscar nomination. He followed that up with well-received roles in Glory, Lean On Me, and Driving Miss Daisy. In the 2000s, Freeman’s career continued to flourish, with iconic roles in The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, Invictus, and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
7. Delroy Lindo
The 69-year-old Delroy Lindo is such a terrific actor that many of you may not even know he is from London, England. While Lindo’s career as a Hollywood actor did not take off until the 1990s, he has still managed to make his mark on Tinsel Town.
Lindo has collaborated with director Spike Lee on five films, including his most recent that landed on Netflix, Da 5 Bloods. The Vietnam War film received praise for its acting, particularly on Lindo’s part, and direction.
8. Tyler Perry
Talk about a success story. Tyler Perry, 52, bet on himself and his writing abilities in his 20’s. He struggled for years as a playwright until he hit big with his Madea character, starring in several plays featuring the no-nonsense matriarch.
That success soon translated to film, where Madea took Perry to even greater heights. The character appeared in 12 films before Perry said he was retiring the character after 2019’s Madea’s Family Funeral. However, that retirement was short-lived as Perry announced in early 2022 that he intended to bring her back with a Netflix movie.
Outside of Madea films, Perry has found himself in several dramatic roles, including one in the film adaptation of Gone Girl and the title role in Alex Cross.
9. James Earl Jones
The voice. The gravitas. The presence. James Earl Jones commands respect anytime he is on-screen—on television or in the movie theater. Acting since the 1960s, many consider Jones to be one of the greatest actors of all time.
Now in his 90s, Jones has slowed down his appearances in the last several years. His most prominent recent film role came in 2021’s Coming 2 America, the sequel to 1988’s Coming to America, where he played King Jaffe Joffer.
But if Jones is known for anything, it is two roles in particular. He may never appear in any of the movies as a physical presence, but Jones has voiced Darth Vader in multiple Star Wars films and television shows. His voice also steals the spotlight in The Lion King, where he brought Mufasa to life.
Jones’s voice is still being used in Star Wars, with his most recent appearance as the iconic villain coming in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+.
10. Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson must have found the Fountain of Youth because his career remains as vibrant as ever.
Jackson is a prolific actor, appearing in over 150 films since his first credit in 1988’s Coming to America. From then, he appeared in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, where he got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and a remake of Shaft.
Still, those roles have been eclipsed for a new generation of fans thanks to his role as Agent Nick Fury across several films and shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
11. Laurence Fishburne
He might have started appearing on the screen as Larry Fishburne, but this versatile actor’s style has earned him praise and three Emmy wins.
The 60-year-old Fishburne got one of his first big breaks starring as a 17-year-old soldier in Apocalypse Now despite lying about his age to get the part. The role transformed his career and thrust him forward for the next 40 years.
However, it was 1993’s Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It? that earned him an Oscar nomination for playing Ike Turner.
In 1999, Fishburne took on the role of Morpheus in The Matrix, one of the biggest hits in decades that gavehim his most recognizable film credit to date. Since then, Fishburne has taken less prominent roles in ABC’s Black-ish and CBS’ CSI.
12. Don Cheadle
Another member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Don Cheadle is known these days for playing James Rhodes, thanks to Iron Man 2. At 57 years old, the actor’s career stretches back to 1985 when he played a small role in the comedy Moving Violations.
Cheadle had steady work in the 1990s, appearing in sitcoms, dramas, and a few films before his dramatic work took off in 2005’s Hotel Rwanda, portraying the real-life figure Paul Rusesabagina. He starred in Crash in 2006, another drama that won that year’s Oscar for Best Picture.
In recent years, Cheadle’s work has focused on the MCU, where he plays Tony Stark’s best friend. He has appeared as Rhodes in multiple Marvel films, and guested in Falcon and the Winter Soldier and What If…? on Disney+.
13. Terrence Howard
Funny that we should place Terrence Howard, 53, on this list directly after Don Cheadle. Howard originally played James Rhodes in Iron Man but was replaced by Cheadle following a contract dispute with Marvel and the studio behind the Robert Downey, Jr. vehicle.
Howard starred in 2005’s Hustle & Flow, where he played the lead role and even sang the lead track “It’s Hard Out There for A Pimp,” which won him an Academy Award.
One of his most recent roles has included Lucius Lyon in FOX’s Empire, a hit series about a hip-hop mogul learning to navigate life and business after a terminal illness diagnosis.
Despite saying he was “retired” from acting in 2019, Howard appeared in the period drama The Walk in 2022.
14. Eddie Murphy
In the 1980s, there was no bigger star of television, movies, and even the recording industry, than Eddie Murphy. A stint on Saturday Night Live, a string of hit comedies (including the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, Trading Places, Harlem Nights, and The Golden Child), several noteworthy stand-up specials, and a number two-ranked Billboard Top 100 song made Murphy a mainstay for most of the decade.
That star power stayed for most of the 1990s, with Murphy landing hits with The Nutty Professor and Doctor Dolittle.
While his career cooled for a brief period, Murphy was able to reinvent his career with a dramatic role in 2007’s DreamGirls, where he snagged a Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as soul singer James “Thunder” Early.
Of course, Murphy is also a prolific voice-over actor, and has starred as the irrepressible Donkey in four Shrek films alongside Mike Myers.
Most recently, Murphy has returned to one of his biggest comedy hits with the sequel Coming 2 America. In addition to reprising the role, Murphy wrote the script and produced the film.
Best Black Male Actors Over 50, Final Thoughts
Black actors have spent decades breaking further and further into the mainstream. In an industry that has often been accused of ageism, these black male actors over 50 are proving that talent doesn’t diminish with time. Icons like Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Denzel Washington have paved the way for contemporary and future black actors. Their popularity is as high as ever while their careers continue to flourish.