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Top 5 Sidney Poitier Movies To Watch

Poitier received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for this tight, lively drama about two escaped prisoners who must depend on one another to survive. It may seem to be a heavy-handed racial tale now, but audiences back then resonated with the brotherhood notion.

Norman Jewison’s iconic 1967 crime thriller threw Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs into the center of a racially contentious murder investigation in a hostile Southern community. Rod Steiger gives an excellent supporting performance.

1. Red Ball Express (1952)

Although arguably less iconic than his more popular films, this is an essential entry into Poitier’s filmography. He plays a recently qualified doctor who begins to win the trust of a racially hostile group of children in London. By demonstrating his calmness, encouragement and positivity he breaks down the barriers between them and makes himself invaluable to their well-being.

This movie might seem overly simplistic by today’s standards but it was a potent message at the time when American culture desperately needed positive racial messages. The chemistry between Poitier and Cosby is believable and the rest of the cast is strong, including beefcake Jeff Chandler and girl-next-door Jacqueline Duval. Directed by Budd Boetticher. The yesmovies film won an Oscar for Best Picture. This Kino Blu-ray is an excellent presentation of the film.

2. Blackboard Jungle (1967)

Based on the novel by Evan Hunter, this hard-hitting movie, starring Glenn Ford as Richard Dadier, a fresh fish in a tough urban high school, touched a raw nerve with teenagers. Columbia didn’t want to make it, but they were flabbergasted when adoring teenagers turned it into Poitier’s biggest hit and launched him on a star-studded career.

The film introduced the theme of a dedicated teacher reaching troubled kids in a ghetto school, and while its studied pseudo-documentary atmosphere feels heavy handed, its acting is scalding hot. Poitier’s performance as Gregory Miller, the smarter troublemaker in a group of switchblade-wielding gang members, is particularly notable. You can see Blackboard Jungle for free on Tubi. (Click to see a list of other Poitier films available on Tubi.) —Gordon Douglas, All Movie Guide. May 31, 2019. Accessed June 7, 2022.

3. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1968)

A movie that seems mawkish by today’s standards, but whose message of Black-White solidarity still resonates. Poitier’s first starring role in a major studio picture, the film made him a star and introduced audiences to the character of Walter Lee Younger.

The film may not be as classic as some other titles on this list, but it was a major moment in the arc of Poitier’s career: his first interracial kiss in a movie. It also came just a few years after Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and a few months before Martin Luther King’s death.

This gritty urban drama paired Sidney Poitier with a formidable cast. He played a West Side dock worker who befriends an emotionally stunted white drifter. Their unlikely friendship might seem a bit on the nose for modern viewers, but it boosted his “good Black guy” image at a time when the country needed every positive racial message it could get.

4. The Color Purple (1985)

In 2009, Poitier received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. The following year, he returned to the screen in this drama about civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall’s 1954 Supreme Court case that ruled laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

This taut, lean thriller marked the first time Poitier’s name was placed above the film’s title. He delivered a riveting performance as Virgil Tibbs, a Black Philadelphia police officer stranded in a racist Southern backwater trying to help locals solve a murder.

Poitier’s cool, collected persona served him well in this Stanley Kramer prison drama. He and Tony Curtis made for a formidable team as escaped convicts Noah Cullen and Joker Jackson, who initially despise one another but must cooperate to survive and evade recapture. This tense drama was on-the-nose for the late 1950s, but it still packs a powerful punch today.

5. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1998)

Poitier starred in several films that addressed issues of racial tensions, from his debut as the first Black doctor in an urban hospital in No Way Out to his role as a Catholic priest dealing with racist patients in The Greatest Story Ever Told. This tight and energetic Stanley Kramer thriller finds a saintly wanderer helping a group of German nuns build a chapel in the Arizona desert; while today it may read as a heavy-handed racial parable, audiences back then were uplifted by this tale of bondage and brotherhood.

Two years after the release of To Sir, with Love and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Black audiences welcomed this rousing interracial quasi-romance as proof that Hollywood was ready to embrace interracial romance. Poitier is in fine form as a man juggling family responsibility, pride and day-to-day struggle.

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