DAR Films: The Best Black Actors Of The 90's

By @TrueGodImmortal

The 90's were an excellent time in film for sure. We'll get more into the golden era of black film soon in a few weeks, but for now, today we will discuss the actors of the decade that made the most impact. There were a number of great films through the decade, but the thing that stuck out the most for us as moviegoers had to be the cast and who starred in the movie. Seeing their name billed on the credits was a sure sign that we would be witnessing cinematic gold and today, I wanted to rank the top 10 actors of that decade. The actors who shined the brightest in dramas or comedy, and made sure they were a presence throughout the 90's will be discussed and some of the all time greatest will miss the list (Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx, etc). Let's take a look at the top 10 black actors of the 90's. 

10. Chris Tucker
(Notable Roles: Rush Hour, Money Talks, Friday, The Fifth Element, House Party 3)

-I was unsure of whether to really put Chris Tucker on the list, but honestly.... his only decade of true relevance was the 90's. After making a splash with his sets on Def Comedy Jam, Chris would get his first shot on the big screen with House Party 3 before stealing the show as Smokey in the cult classic Friday. He would have smaller roles in films like Dead Presidents, Jackie Brown,  and The Fifth Element, before a successful turn in the moderately profitable film Money Talks and he would have his biggest career moment in the surprise mega hit Rush Hour with Jackie Chan. Simply put, Chris Tucker was one of the most viable names in the decade at the box office in black cinema.

9. Larenz Tate
(Notable Roles: Menace II Society, The Inkwell, Love Jones, Why Do Fools Fall In Love)

-I wanted to put Larenz higher because his body of work in the 90's is among my favorite, but I think he fits well in the 9th spot. He was a formidable actor and quite possibly one of the most popular (not in the mainstream world) black actors during the decade. His biggest breakout role would come as O-Dog in Menace II Society, a role that would stick with him for his entire career. Larenz had been working in television prior to that role, but after Menace II Society, his stock would rise. After major  appearances in Dead Presidents and The Inkwell, Larenz would star as Darius in Love Jones before closing the decade with an underrated role of his, as the legendary Frankie Lymon in Why Do Fools Fall In Love. He might not be the most famous on this list, but he was definitely a top tier actor in the 90's.

8. Laurence Fishburne
(Notable Roles: Boyz N The Hood, What's Love Got To Do It, Hoodlum, Higher Learning)

-It dawns on me that Laurence Fishburne might deserve to be higher on this list.... however, with my criteria for ranking these actors, he's in a perfect spot. This just shows you how great the era of black cinema was when some of the greatest actors ever aren't even cracking the top 5. Laurence was a part of a number of movies during the decade, like Deep Cover, Just Cause, and Bad Company, but his most notable roles came as Furious Styles in Boyz N The Hood, as Professor Phipps in Higher Learning, as Bumpy Johnson in Hoodlum (a great performance from him), and of course, his best performance in What's Love Got To Do With It as the incomparable Ike Turner. Truthfully, those performances are among my favorite throughout the 90's, with his portrayal of Ike being my all time favorite personally. I've never seen someone own a role quite like Laurence owned his role as Ike Turner. For that, and the other roles listed, he was a sure shot for the top 10.

7. Samuel L. Jackson
(Notable Roles: Jungle Fever, Juice, Jurassic Park, A Time To Kill, Fresh, Pulp Fiction, Eve's Bayou)

-I would have ranked Samuel a little bit higher honestly, but the truth is, a lot of his roles were smaller through the decade. Add that to the fact that he was all over the place in terms of films (especially after the midway point of the decade) and the reason why he missed the top 5 is clear. Still, this was the decade that Samuel L. Jackson came to true prominence, and with noteworthy roles in Juice, Jungle Fever, Jurassic Park, A Time To Kill, Pulp Fiction, Fresh, as well as a hilarious scene in Menace II Society, Sam was able to show his acting prowess in multiple ways during the decade. I think an underrated role of his career is his role in Eve's Bayou, though that movie was a bit weird in all honesty. Still, his consistency through the decade makes it a clear cut decision to put Sam on this list. He's one of the greatest to ever do it.

6. Eddie Murphy 
(Notable Roles: Boomerang, The Nutty Professor, Life, Mulan, Dr. Dolittle)

-Eddie had a very up and down decade, but his highlights are all classics, earning him this spot near the top 5. I struggled with putting Eddie above some of the other names on this list, but I'll be honest, Eddie was at his best in the 80's and the 90's would begin to see a sharp decline in his success. Still, he would have successful films like Another 48 Hrs, Vampire In Brooklyn, and even the moderately successful Bowfinger, but those aren't the biggest moments of his decade. Whether doing voiceover work in Mulan, playing the role of a doctor who understands animals in Dr. Dolittle, or as multiple characters in The Nutty Professor, Eddie excelled with roles that fit him perfectly. His two best roles came as Ray in the classic Life and of course, one of my favorite movie of the 90's, Boomerang, where he played the role of Marcus Graham. His best roles were iconic and despite some bad turns (The Distinguished Gentleman and Metro come to mind), he was a top tier actor after having the best decade of his career in the 80's.

5. Martin Lawrence
(Notable Roles: Bad Boys, House Party 2, A Thin Line Between Love And Hate, Nothing To Lose, Life, Boomerang, Blue Streak)

-There aren't many actors that impacted the culture quite like Martin. His sitcom is still the most popular of them all, but his film work also provided the groundwork for his legend status in the game. With roles in House Party 2, Boomerang, and other films, Martin would stake his claim as one of the funniest actors in that era. His biggest role would come alongside Will Smith in Bad Boys, and we would then see Martin go on a nice run that includes A Thin Line Between Love And Hate, Nothing To Lose, Blue Streak, and my personal favorite, Life with Eddie Murphy. In my opinion, Martin overtook Eddie as the go to comedic actor during the decade, and for that, he finds his way into the top 5 of this list. Black comedy was at the highest peak in the 90's and Martin was a huge reason for that.

4. Omar Epps
(Notable Roles: The Wood, Higher Learning, Juice, In Too Deep, Scream 2, The Mod Squad)

-While his roles weren't as plentiful as some of the other actors who are below him on the list, Omar Epps made a true name for himself this decade and because of that, he cracks the top 5. It was something about the quality of his roles that garners him a slot in the top 5, as he came of age with his role in Juice as Q, before following that up with yet another role in Higher Learning. Those two roles are among the best of the decade, but he didn't stop there. As the 90's came to a close, Omar would finish with two big roles in The Wood and In Too Deep, affirming his status as one of the top actors of the time. While Omar doesn't have the film catalog of some of the other names here, his role and impact as an actor in the decade is impossible to deny.

3. Wesley Snipes
(Notable Roles: Passenger 57, New Jack City, White Man Can't Jump, Blade, Jungle Fever, Sugar Hill)

-There is no denying that Wesley Snipes is one of the most popular black actors period. He would gain a large amount of popularity after a number of solid roles, and with his name buzzing, he took full advantage. Everywhere you looked during the early 90's, you saw Wesley. He was a leading man in black cinema at the time, with starring roles in Jungle Fever, White Men Can't Jump, Boiling Point, Passenger 57, Money Train, and more. Sure, there were a few clunkers in his catalog (Demolition Man and To Wong Foo), but the highlights outweighed the bad. In addition to the aforementioned starring roles, his best performances came in the underrated Sugar Hill, his infamous role as Blade, and his greatest moment, playing Nino Brown in New Jack City. Wesley was a pioneer in the 90's and there aren't too many that can compete with his catalog through the decade.

2. Will Smith 
(Notable Roles: Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men In Black, Enemy Of The State)

-If the early 90's were all about Wesley, then the mid 90's and beyond were all about Will. As an actor on television via his hugely successful sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Will showed that he could carry various types of roles, and by 1995, he was in prime position to be the next leading man. What followed was a string of successful blockbusters that made him one of the hottest actors, not just in the black cinema, but period. It was impossible to find a more viable name than Will at the time, as he would help push Bad Boys to huge numbers, make Independence Day a success, start a new franchise with Men In Black, and drop an underrated gem yet still successful movie with Enemy Of The State. His catalog wasn't extensive, but Will didn't miss once with his films (minus Wild Wild West, which was still a success at the box office mostly).

1. Denzel Washington
(Notable Roles: Malcolm X, Mo' Better Blues, Philadelphia, The Hurricane, The Preacher's Wife, He Got Game)

-The greatest actor of all time rose to his throne in the 90's and he did so by making himself a true leading man in Hollywood. Denzel in the 90's rarely took a small role, and he was the focal point of every film he was in during the decade. With excellent roles in Mo' Better Blues, Philadelphia, Devil In A Blue Dress, The Siege, The Pelican Brief, The Preacher's Wife (underrated IMO), and He Got Game, Denzel would excel in any movie he starred in. However, his two best roles of the 90's came from him playing real life figures that we knew and loved. His portrayal in The Hurricane is one of his greatest roles, and came at the end of the decade, but his greatest role ever saw Denzel tackle the tough task of playing Malcolm X. That role is what led me to make Denzel the no. 1 choice on this entire list. Simply put, Denzel was the man in the 90's and there is no one else that deserves the no. 1 spot here. The GOAT showed why he is that through a majority of the film he starred in. Denzel is no. 1.



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