Sidney Poitier’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked
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Sidney Poitier’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked


  • Sidney Poitier broke stereotypes with his influential acting and impactful storytelling in over 50 films.
  • Poitier’s groundbreaking roles addressed race relations and social issues, leaving a lasting impact in Hollywood.
  • Films like
    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
    In the Heat of the Night
    highlighted Poitier’s legacy of challenging norms.



In 1950, Sidney Poitier earned his first role in a Hollywood film, and he created a legacy of not only incredible acting but also subverting expectations and becoming one of the most influential actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Poitier appeared in over 50 films and directed nine, leaving an undoubtedly lasting impact on the film industry and audiences alike. Though Poitier made countless amazing films, the best stands out for the quality of performance, innovative storytelling, and social significance.

Long before becoming a staple of Hollywood’s Golden Age movies, Sidney Poitier was born in 1927. Though Poitier’s parents resided on Cat Island in the Bahamas, Poitier was born in Miami, and he returned there as a teenager. Sick of Jim Crow laws in the South, Poitier spent the latter half of his adolescence in New York City. During World War II, he enlisted in the army and worked with psychiatric patients at a Veteran’s Administration Hospital. In 1950, Poitier started his acting career.


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10 Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)

Sidney Poitier & Katherine Houghton In An Interracial Drama

In 1967, Sidney Poitier starred in a romantic comedy that was unique due to its positive depiction of interracial marriage. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner follows Katharine Houghton’s Joanna Drayton, a young white woman who returns home after a Hawaiian vacation with her new fiancé, Sidney Poitier’s Dr. John Prentice.

Though considered liberal-minded, Joanna’s parents are shocked by their daughter’s interracial relationship, and throughout the film, Joanna and John’s peers must come to terms with their opinions on it. Ultimately, this film broke ground for its time, and Poitier’s performance is a particularly memorable one. This is only one of many socially significant roles Poitier played. In 2017, the movie was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

9 Blackboard Jungle (1955)

A Social Justice Drama In Inner-City Schools

Gregory in a classroom in Blackboard Jungle.

Another Sidney Poitier role that dissects race relations in a movie is Blackboard Jungle. Though not his first film role, this 1955 movie is considered to be his first breakout role. In the film, Poitier plays a rebellious but musically talented black teen who brings hardship to a new white teacher. Aside from bringing Poitier into the limelight, this film is remembered for the ways that it toed the line of what was acceptable at the time.

In particular, Blackboard Jungle’s use of rock and roll music was considered incredibly risky. However, the movie’s leaps paid off as it helped establish the age of rock and roll. In 2016, the movie was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.


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8 Uptown Saturday Night (1974)

An Action Comedy Directed By Sidney Poitier

Steve and Wardell looking at something in Uptown Saturday Night.

A film that Sidney Poitier both directed and starred in, Uptown Saturday Night is iconic for its sophisticated depiction of black characters during a time when most were negatively stereotyped. Uptown Saturday Night stars Poitier and Bill Cosby as two men enjoying a night on the town when Poitier’s wallet is stolen, and they soon realize a winning lottery ticket worth $50,000 is inside.

They enlist the help of Harry Belafonte’s character to get the money back. Overall, this film is not only important to the development of black cinema but is also an exceptionally fun time, with many hilarious moments that still hold up today. Critics praised the film for its lighthearted humor and good spirits.

7 A Raisin In The Sun (1961)

Based On The Play By Lorraine Hansberry

A Sidney Poitier role that can only be described as unforgettable is Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun.Poitier originated the role of the eldest Younger child on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s play and later reprised it on-screen in 1961. A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of the Younger family as they decide what to do with a $10,000 life insurance check.

A Raisin in the Sun also succeeded and ultimately earned Poitier a Golden Globe nomination.

Aside from the fact that Hansberry’s play is now considered a classic, exploring the idea of dreams and how they contradict each other, A Raisin in the Sun also succeeded and ultimately earned Poitier a Golden Globe nomination.


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6 No Way Out (1950)

Sidney Poitier’s First Movie Role

Dr. Luther Brooks working in No Way Out.

Sidney Poitier’s first official role came in 1950 with No Way Out. In it, Poitier plays Dr. Luther Brooks, the first black doctor at a hospital, who is tested when two racist brothers involved in an attempted robbery become his patients. While this film is important because it was Poitier’s first-ever role, it also stands out because of its depiction of racism.

No Way Out is unapologetic in its portrayal of racial violence, and unlike other films that tried to use more intellectual or emotional routes, this film leans into the ugliness of racism. Ultimately, this made it a groundbreaking movie and started Poitier’s association with socially important films.

5 To Sir, With Love (1967)

A British Inner-City School Drama

Mr Mark Thackeray teaching a class in To Sir With Love.

In 1967, Sidney Poitier’s role in Blackboard Jungle was essentially flipped when he starred in To Sir, With Love as a fictional teacher character facing the antics of rebellious inner-city high school students. Yet again, this film doesn’t shy away from broaching important social and political topics, though it certainly isn’t the most hard-hitting of Poitier’s works.

In fact, To Sir, With Love has a much more sentimental feeling to it that, though unrealistic, makes audiences feel good. Ultimately, the film was a critical success, and despite its rather soft approach, still comes head-to-head with the civil rights issues of the time.

To Sir, With Love is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.


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4 Buck And The Preacher (1972)

Sidney Poitier’s First Directorial Effort

Buck and Preacher laugh in Buck and the Preacher

One of the first Western movies to not only cast black actors in leading roles, but also to explore the relationship between African Americans and Native Americans

The first film Sidney Poitier directed was 1972’s Western, Buck and the Preacher. Poitier starred in the film as Buck, a former Civil War soldier attempting to get a series of wagon trains of African Americans from Louisiana to Kansas. While on this trip, Buck meets Harry Belafonte’s Preacher, and the two begin working together in the face of racism.

Buck and the Preacher is a groundbreaking film because it is one of the first Western movies to not only cast black actors in leading roles, but also to explore the relationship between African Americans and Native Americans. It also offers an easy and lovable humor that Poitier’s previous films lacked.

3 The Defiant Ones (1958)

Two Escaped Prisoners Who Fight For Survival

Noah and John on the run in The Defiant Ones.

1958’s The Defiant Ones considers what would happen if a black man and a white man were forced to work together to survive in a time when such relationships were more than unlikely. Starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones follows two prisoners, a black man and a white man, who are chained together and escape prison during a car accident.

Poitier won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Despite hating each other, the two men must cooperate to save their own lives, and eventually learn to respect and like each other. The film’s premise is enough for it to stand out, especially at the time of its release. However, Poitier and Curtis’ performances are also unforgettable. Poitier won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival and both lead actors picked up Oscar nominations.


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2 Lilies Of The Field (1963)

Sidney Poitier Won The Oscar For Best Actor

Homer with the mother superior in Lilies of the Field.

Lilies of the Field is a kind hearted film that led to Sidney Poitier becoming the first black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Lead Actor. The film stars Poitier as Homer Smith, a jack-of-all-trades who begins helping a group of German nuns, although they have no money to offer him. Today, it is easy to see that Poitier’s role in this film is stereotypical, making him the savior of a group of white people to the detriment of their development.

However, in 1963, this film told a solid, heartwarming story that secured Poitier’s reputation as an actor and offered him the accolades he deserved. In 2020, the movie was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Lilies of the Field is available to stream on Roku.

1 In The Heat Of The Night (1967)

The Movie Won Five Oscars With Seven Nominations

In the Heat of the Night

Norman Jewison

Release Date
August 2, 1967

Stirling Silliphant , John Ball

Sidney Poitier , Rod Steiger , Warren Oates , Lee Grant , Larry Gates , James Patterson

Sidney Poitier made waves with his role in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night. Namely, this was because his character, homicide detective Virgil Tibbs, was not the submissive black character that audiences were familiar with, and instead, became the hero in a story about racial prejudice. In the Heat of the Night follows Tibbs as he is pulled into a murder mystery in the American South.

This film easily takes on issues of racial justice and has become a defining role for Sidney Poitier to this day, as it proved that black characters do not have to fit into a single comfortable mold. The movie won five Oscars, including Best Picture, with seven nominations. In 2002, the movie was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

In the Heat of the Night is available to stream on MGM+

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