Actor, director, and activist Sidney Poitier is no longer with us, and while fans of classic film stars know these days are fated to come it’s never easy. With a man like Poitier, especially, it was hoped he’d have more years (though 94 is no small feat). He was a trailblazer from the moment he made his debut in 1950’s “No Way Out.”
From there, Poitier had a string of features that didn’t just shake up Hollywood but were thought-provoking and entertaining. The 1960s were when Poitier truly came into his own, with hit after hit that cemented him as an A-list leading man, a groundbreaking achievement for a Black actor. His features allowed him to play characters who were ambitious, intelligent, and romantic. The latter trait is especially poignant considering Hollywood’s long-standing avoidance of presenting interracial romances on the screen.
It’s shocking to realize that Poitier was only nominated twice, in his entire career, for an Academy award, once in 1959 for “The Defiant Ones” and again in 1964 for “Lilies of the Field,” for which he won Best Actor (becoming the first Black man to do so). Yes, he wasn’t even nominated for the pivotal 1967 drama “In the Heat of the Night,” though his white co-star Rod Steiger was and then won that year. Poitier would be given an honorary Oscar in 2002. In the 1970s, he turned to directing with “Buck and the Preacher.” Though Poitier was far from the first Black director, he was able to transition from acting to directing, working in both roles throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Here are 13 of Poitier’s best acting performances and where you can stream them. The features here are the strongest of Poitier’s career, as well as among the best of their respective eras.