Best Idris Elba Movies and TV Shows, Ranked
Few actors can claim the level of global fame Idris Elba has achieved over the last 20 years.
The London-born Elba is a one-time "People's Sexiest Man Alive" and six-time Golden Globe Award nominee who has been a steady presence in both film and television projects since the early 2000s. That includes worldwide box-office receipts totaling over $8 billion in films that he's either had a lead or key supporting role in, making him one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. It includes roles in television shows that have been regarded as some of the greatest of all time — from network television through the current streaming era.
Here's a look at Elba's best movie and TV roles — so far, of course.
10. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Co-stars: Abraham Atta, Ama K. Abebrese, Kobina Amisa-Sam, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Jude Akuwudike
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Box office: $90,000 (Netflix release)
Bottom line: "Beasts of No Nation" holds an interesting place in the pop-culture canon as the vehicle with which Netflix publicly declared its intentions to make films geared toward awards season with an up-and-coming star in Fukunaga ("No Time to Die") and an up-and-coming star with Elba.
"Beasts" is as disturbing a movie as you will come across, and Elba's role as the evil Commandant is a walking nightmare — he walked away with Best Supporting Actor nominations from the Golden Globe Awards, BAFTAs, SAG Awards and Independent Spirit Awards. This is the type of movie you probably need to watch but will never be able to watch again.
9. Molly's Game (2017)
Role: Charlie Jaffey
Co-stars: Jessica Chastain, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, Kevin Costner, Graham Greene, Joe Keery, Claire Rankin
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Box office: $59.3 million
Bottom line: Elba has a knack for picking great projects with female leads and taking choice supporting roles — in the case of the Academy Award-nominated film "Molly's Game," the lead was Academy Award winner Jessica Chastain playing underground poker queenpin Molly Bloom.
Director Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men") was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, while Chastain was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globe Awards.
8. The Office (2009)
Role: Charles Miner
Co-stars: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak, Mindy Kaling, Ed Helms, Leslie David Baker, David Denman, Craig Robinson, Creed Bratton, Ellie Kemper, Oscar Nunez
Bottom line: "The Office" showed us Elba could be something no one thought he could be — funny. Like really funny. His role as Michael Scott's handsome replacement, Charles Miner, had us rolling and gave us the famous line: "I'm aware of the effect I have on women."
That sort of "wink-wink" humor is usually groan-worthy. Here, Elba's deadpan approach is pitch-perfect.
7. The Mountain Between Us (2017)
Role: Dr. Ben Bass
Co-stars: Kate Winslet, Dermot Mulroney, Beau Bridges
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Box office: $62.8 million
Bottom line: If there's a beef people might have with this list, it's probably right here. But there are few things that can draw me in more than a plane-crash-followed-by-survival plot. This two-hander with Kate Winslet and Elba is basically "The Edge" meets "The Notebook," and I'm really here for it.
You want to burn a couple of hours in the middle of the winter on a sort-of-trashy, sort-of-cheesy romantic thriller? Just hit play.
6. The Suicide Squad (2021)
Role: Robert DuBois/Bloodsport
Co-stars: Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, Pete Davidson
Director: James Gunn
Box office: $168.7 million
Bottom line: There is a certain pool of actors who are so popular they've been able to dip into both the fanbases for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and D.C. Universe — count Elba as one of those after his turn as Heimdall in the MCU and then becoming Robert DuBois/Bloodsport in the D.C. Universe.
Elba has big shoes to fill here as his character is a tongue-in-cheek stand-in for Will Smith's Deadshot from the first "Suicide Squad" film in 2016 — he didn't want to do the sequel. But Elba's able to carry the movie whenever Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn isn't front and center.
5. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)
Role: Nelson Mandela
Co-stars: Naomie Harris, Atandwa Kani, Tony Kgoroge, Michelle Scott, S'thandiwe Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa
Director: Justin Chadwick
Box office: $28 million
Bottom line: The movie role (emphasis on movie) that brought Elba the biggest amount of critical accolades in his career is probably his portrayal of the late Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."
He was even nominated for Best Actor (Motion Picture Drama) at the Golden Globe Awards.
4. Marvel Cinematic Universe (2011-2021)
Co-stars: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Rene Russo, Ray Stevenson
Box office: $5.429 billion (five films)
Directors: Kenneth Branagh, The Russo Brothers, Alan Taylor, Joss Whedon, Taika Waititi
Bottom line: With the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in shambles, we can point to Elba's time with the franchise as its heyday, appearing as Thor's best friend, Heimdall, in five films, with a cameo in a sixth film, "Thor: Love and Thunder" … which wasn't as good. No surprise there.
This was an era where bringing trusted actors like Elba in to play supporting roles in the MCU seemed like a given and created a trust between the fandom and the filmmakers that resulted in the big box office results. Playing in this sandbox did more than just buy Elba a few more flats in London — it introduced him to the world of comic-book nerds who now consider him one of their own.
3. H/JACK (2023)
Role: Sam Nelson
Co-stars: Neil Maskell, Christine Adams, Eve Myles, Archie Panjabi, Max Beesley, Ben Miles, Neil Stuke, Hattie Morahan
Network: Apple TV+
Bottom line: Few of Elba's projects have used his skills as expertly as this massive summer 2023 hit from Apple TV+, which puts our guy in a stressful situation with a ticking clock … and just lets him cook. There are no big-name co-stars in "Hijack" — stylized as "H/JACK" — which lets Elba shine even more. It's basically "Michael Clayton" on a plane, on steroids, with Elba in the George Clooney role.
Don't be surprised if Elba's character, fixer extraordinaire Sam Nelson, is another one he's able to go back to over and over again. Judging from whatever metrics we have available, this show is a massive hit, and there's no way Apple TV+ doesn't bring it back in some form.
2. The Wire (2002-2004)
Role: Stringer Bell
Co-stars: Dominic West, Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick, Michael K. Williams, Wood Harris, Sonja Sohn
Bottom line: Elba's role as drug dealer/aspiring business student Stringer Bell on arguably the greatest TV show of all time was the springboard to his last 20 years of film and TV roles. This is the role that put him on the map.
HBO's epic tale of drug dealers, cops and politicians in Baltimore, Maryland, still resonates to this day, and Stringer Bell is one of the first characters that comes to mind whenever it comes up.
1. Luther (2010-2023)
Role: DCI John Luther
Co-stars: Ruth Wilson, Steven Mackintosh, Indira Varma, Dermot Crowley, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Paul McGann
Networks: BBC One/Netflix
Bottom line: If there is a single role that will lead Elba's obituary one day, it will be that of DCI John Luther in the BBC series "Luther." It's a part he's inhabited since 2010 and has spanned across five seasons and a Netflix movie, "Luther: The Fallen Sun," which was released in 2023.
For his role as the dogged detective, Elba has been nominated for four Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, a Critics Choice Award and SAG Award, winning a Golden Globe in 2012 and SAG Award in 2016.
Idris Elba: Best of the Rest
There were a lot of pretty great Idris Elba performances in movies and TV shows that didn't make this list — most notably "Obsessed," co-starring Ali Larter and Beyonce, and "The Harder They Fall," co-starring Jonathan Majors and Regina King.
Elba also has a lead voice role in "Zootopia" — an animated film that made over $1 billion at the box office, and the last 10 minutes of the 2022 film "Beast" are as good as you will ever get when it comes to man versus animal action sequences. He's also excellent in a supporting role in the sci-fi hit "Prometheus" directed by Ridley Scott.
It's worth pointing out that Elba has also had his share of misses. He has starred in two of the biggest box-office flops of the last decade, with the Stephen King adaptation "The Dark Tower" alongside Matthew McConaughey and "Cats" based on the Broadway musical.