On August 28, 2020 the world lost one of its greatest up and coming actors way too soon with the death of Chadwick Boseman at the age of 43. Boseman was known for many things, especially his portrayal of prominent black historical figures in biopics and for bringing to life a certain Marvel superhero, but it’s his charisma, commitment and capabilities as an actor that helped him shine above many of his contemporaries as one of the best things to come out of the 2010s. His legend may be a short one, but it is one that left a huge mark on the industry and his fans, including myself. So today, to honor his memory and my love for his work, I’m going to put his performances front and center and count down my picks for the Top 5 Chadwick Boseman Performances.
During his short career Boseman appeared in 14 movies with a 15th to be released posthumously. For this list I’m going to look at five characters, NOT movies, that, in my eyes, proved to be highlights of Boseman’s career. I will not be taking from his extensive work in television as this is, after all, a movie blog not a TV blog.
What Boseman performance or character was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below…in fact let me know what your favorite memory of Boseman is if you have one. Now lets recap the legacy of a legend!
5. Stormin’ Norman Earl Holloway, “Da 5 Bloods”
While the forthcoming four roles might seem obvious, there were a lot of possibilities for fifth place on this list and I juggled which one I really felt was worth mentioning here as every performance from Boseman has qualities worth praise. However, his small but important role in Spike Lee’s 2020 war drama “Da 5 Bloods”, his final on-screen performance prior to his death, is certainly a standout. While Boseman takes a backseat for much of the film due to his character being feature mostly through flashbacks, he proves that he can keep up with the big boys in a film that depends heavily on its actors to drive the emotional core of its plot. Boseman needed to portray a soldier with strong leadership, morals and character that the main soldiers could believably look back on as an example for them to live by. As usual Boseman does so with poise and confidence, showcasing a proud black soldier with a strong sense of pride in not only his race but also his service to his country even when those elements of his identity clash.
4. Thurgood Marshall, “Marshall”
Portraying famed African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the early years of his career, Boseman does plenty of respect to his legendary subject bringing to the table a sincere and downplayed performance as Marshall tackles his first major case. By this point in his career Boseman had already done justice to three other legendary African American figures in biopics, two of them as leading man, so this performance lands a little lower due simply to the fact that Boseman was well practiced at his approach by this point, but once again he brings everything to the table turning what could have been an overlooked historical court drama into something with real weight and helping drive home not only the significance of its story but also capturing the true essence of the man who serves as its centerpiece.
3. James Brown, “Get on Up”
Boseman’s second biopic on this list, “Get on Up” explores the origins of The Godfather of Soul James Brown featuring Boseman in the lead role including doing some of the singing and dancing himself. This film was released only a year after Boseman earned critical praise in “42” and secured his place as a prominent biopic regular with a dynamic and soulful take on the legendary African American music icon. Boseman wastes no effort in portraying both the good and bad of Brown’s legacy seemingly losing himself in the role literally becoming the man. While “Get on Up” is often lost among Boseman’s filmography his performance as James Brown definitely stands out as one of his best earning him critical praise and solidifying him as a certified rising star in only his fourth big screen production.
2. Jackie Robinson, “42”
The film that arguably introduced the masses to Boseman and his talent, “42” puts Boseman in the shoes of the legendary Jackie Robinson who endured racism and other struggles as a barrier-breaker in the MLB. While this was Boseman’s second big screen portrayal of a famed black icon after 2008’s “The Express”, “42” put him as the leading man for the first time in mainstream cinema as he successfully adapted the rise of one of baseball’s most prominent historical figures with a poise and confidence few actors could ever hope to bring to a biopic. Boseman even earned the respect and praise of Jackie Robinson’s wife for his portrayal, which is about as big a compliment as the actor could have hoped to receive. Critics loved his performance as well with “42” essentially skyrocketing Boseman into the mainstream and making him a marketable and prominent African American actor practically overnight while also leading the way for him to take on other legendary black Americans like Marshall and Brown in the years that followed.
1. T’Challa/Black Panther, the Marvel Cinematic Universe
It’s not the most inspired choice obviously but how could it not be the top pick for this list considering that T’Challa had four films of development as a character each showcasing Boseman’s consistency as an actor and his ability to effectively grow his character over time. First appearing in “Captain America: Civil War” before starring in a standalone film and two “Avengers” movies, Boseman’s performance as T’Challa provided one of the most focused, dedicated and grounded superheroes in the MCU lineup and gave black Americans a superhero icon and representation they had waited so long to appreciate. In only four movie Boseman’s Black Panther became one of the most popular and beloved heroes in the MCU, but Boseman earned that respect. He didn’t just rest on the character’s pre-established popularity to sell his performance. He truly owned his opportunity to play a hero who is flawed, conflicted, and always growing from his experiences rather than remaining one-note or watering down his flaws with comedic levity. It’s not just Boseman’s most iconic role, it’s his most fleshed out and defined and one that for me personally is his most unforgettable.