Total Recall

Morgan Freeman's 10 Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Dolphin Tale 2 star.

by | September 10, 2014 | Comments

Morgan Freeman
If you were asked to name one actor capable of playing ex-cons, hitmen, and God, you’d be hard pressed to do any better than Morgan Freeman — which is, probably not coincidentally, why he’s played all those characters (among many others) over the course of his distinguished, nearly 50-year career. And even as he reaches the half-century mark as a professional actor, Freeman shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, this weekend’s Dolphin Tale 2 is just one of an incredible six films he’s slated to appear in this year. All of which explains why we were shocked and appalled to realize Mr. Freeman was overdue for the Total Recall treatment, and knew we needed to seize upon this opportunity to repent. Hey you guys, it’s time for Total Recall!


10. Nurse Betty

He’s often called upon for roles that require kindliness, wisdom, and/or kindly wisdom, but Morgan Freeman can also be vaguely threatening when the script calls for it. Take, for example, Nurse Betty, a dark comedy from director Neil LaBute about a deluded soap opera fanatic (Renee Zellweger) who gets herself mixed up in some nasty business and ends up the unwitting target of a pair of hit men (Freeman and Chris Rock). The end result isn’t Freeman’s most family-friendly film by a long shot, but it all adds up to what Margaret A. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer called “A highly unlikely blend of savage violence, farcical humor and impossible romantic yearning, acted out with sometimes awe-inspiring precision.”


9. Batman Begins

Handed the keys to the moribund Batman film franchise, director Christopher Nolan shucked off the cartoonish overtones of recent big-screen incarnations and boiled the character’s mythos down to its essence, resulting in one of the most realistic superhero movies ever. Thankfully, Nolan didn’t skimp on action-packed pyrotechnics, and as the suitably suave and tortured Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale added a greater emotional heft to the Caped Crusader, but he was also ably abetted by the likes of Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, and, as the brilliant inventor Lucius Fox, Morgan Freeman. Batman Begins signaled a bold new beginning for the franchise, and was a huge hit with audiences and pundits alike. “It’s a wake-up call to the people who keep giving us cute capers about men in tights,” wrote Kyle Smith of the New York Post. “It wipes the smirk off the face of the superhero movie.”


8. The Dark Knight Rises

It goes without saying that pretty much nobody ever bought a ticket to one of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies because Morgan Freeman was part of the cast, but by the time the highly anticipated conclusion The Dark Knight Rises rolled around in 2012, it came as something of a comforting relief to see Freeman on the screen — especially given the somewhat harrowing bleakness of Rises‘ storyline, which pitted Batman (Christian Bale) against a psychotic, freakishly strong supervillain named Bane (Tom Hardy). “Yes, The Dark Knight Rises,” applauded Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News. “And rises. And rises some more.”


7. Eyewitness

It isn’t especially well-remembered today — and for Freeman fans, it offers our hero the mostly thankless role of a police lieutenant who’s embroiled in a murder case that’s also being investigated by a TV reporter (Sigourney Weaver) and a janitor (William Hurt) — but with that killer cast and a bit of expert late-period direction from Bullitt director Peter Yates, 1981’s Eyewitness is the sort of perfectly serviceable cat-and-mouse mystery thriller that’ll help you pass a painless 103 minutes on your next lazy Saturday afternoon. “Every scene develops characters,” mused Roger Ebert. “And they’re developed in such offbeat fidelity to the way people do behave that we get all the more involved in the mystery, just because, for once, we halfway believe it could really be happening.”


6. The Shawshank Redemption

For Morgan Freeman fans, The Shawshank Redemption is the one movie that has it all: Plenty of kindly old wisdom for his character to impart, lots of meaningful drama prompting deep sighs and knowing smiles, and — of course — Freeman’s expert narration tying the whole thing together. Oh, and also? This Frank Darabont adaptation of a Stephen King short story about a wrongfully imprisoned convict (Tim Robbins) whose years in lockup aren’t enough to break his indomitable spirit is also really, really good. It wasn’t a huge hit during its initial release, but from its painful opening act to its triumphant closing moments, Shawshank is an acknowledged classic — and a longtime favorite for critics like Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who sighed, “Without a single riot scene or horrific effect, it tells a slow, gentle story of camaraderie and growth, with an ending that abruptly finds poetic justice in what has come before.”


5. Million Dollar Baby

A dozen years after they collaborated for the critical and commercial smash Unforgiven, Freeman and Clint Eastwood reunited for Million Dollar Baby, another pensive drama that — although it took place in the present day rather than their previous collaboration’s Old West setting — offered another brutally revisionist take on commonly accepted institutions and practices. The subject, in this case, was boxing, examined through the tale of a young female fighter (Hilary Swank) who browbeats a veteran trainer (Eastwood) into taking her on against his better judgment (with some help from his assistant, played by Freeman — who also narrates the movie, of course). Things get rough in the ring, but in theaters, critics were overwhelmingly kind; as Joe Morgenstern wrote for the Wall Street Journal, “It is thoughtful, unfashionable, measured, mostly honest, sometimes clumsy or remote, often exciting, occasionally moving and eventually surprising. It’s correct.”


4. Glory

Matthew Broderick is such a skilled cinematic nebbish that the idea of him toplining in a serious Civil War film (and playing a colonel, no less) might have seemed ludicrous, but he and his elite cast of co-stars — including Freeman and an Oscar-winning Denzel Washington — shouldered the burden of Glory‘s weighty, fact-based story admirably. Aided by historian Shelby Foote, director Edward Zwick brought filmgoers to the front lines with the first all-black unit in the United States Army, telling their story with sensitivity and grace. Critics responded with almost universal praise — including James Berardinelli of ReelViews, who enthused, “Glory is, without question, one of the best movies ever made about the American Civil War.”


3. Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck made his directorial debut with this pitch-black thriller, adapted from the Dennis Lehane novel about a private investigator (Casey Affleck) who finds himself mixed up in the exceedingly shady case of a kidnapped girl. As he works with the cops (including Freeman and Ed Harris) and his girlfriend/partner (Michelle Monaghan), it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. It’s a basic framework that pretty much any filmgoer will be familiar with, but in Affleck’s hands, Gone Baby Gone came alive; as Bruce Westbrook wrote for the Houston Chronicle, “A love-tolerate valentine to the city, it feels more real than the gangster-gorged mean streets of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and just as tortured as Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River.”


2. The Dark Knight

Having already brought an end to the candy-colored, Schumacher-wrought nightmare that gripped the Batman franchise in the late 1990s, Christopher Nolan had fans primed for a successful second act — but even after the smashing success of Batman Begins, few could have guessed just how popular The Dark Knight would be in the summer of 2008. A sprawling superhero epic that somehow managed to make room for jaw-dropping visuals, a compelling storyline, and stellar performances from a cast that included returning vets Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and of course, Morgan Freeman, Knight climbed out from under months of intense speculation — not to mention the shadow cast by Heath Ledger’s shocking death — with a worldwide gross in excess of $1 billion, a towering stack of positive reviews, and a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ledger. Richard Roeper joined the chorus of near-universal critical praise, calling it “a rich, complex, visually thrilling piece of pop entertainment, as strong as any superhero epic we’ve ever seen.”


1. Unforgiven

Periodic half-hearted revivals notwithstanding, the Western was in pretty poor shape by the early 1990s, its blinkered view of the past discredited by generations of filmgoers raised on gritty screenplays and flawed antiheroes. Clint Eastwood, who made one of the few well-received Westerns of the 1980s with Pale Rider, was just the guy to fix that — and so he did with 1992’s Unforgiven, a bitterly bleak rumination on the addictive futility of vengeance that united an impeccable cast (including Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman) and reaped a bounty of Oscars along the way. Observed Roger Ebert, “That implacable moral balance, in which good eventually silences evil, is at the heart of the Western, and Eastwood is not shy about saying so.”

In case you were wondering, here are Freeman’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Shawshank Redemption — 98%
2. Se7en — 95%
3. The Dark Knight — 94%
4. Batman Begins — 94%
5. Unforgiven — 94%
6. Glory — 93%
7. The Dark Knight Rises — 90%
8. Million Dollar Baby — 90%
9. The Power of One — 88%
10. Lucky Number Slevin — 87%

Take a look through Freeman’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Dolphin Tale 2.


  • kean bosch

    Morgan Freeman the legend

  • david miller

    You squeeze in every batman movie you can but you skipped Lean on Me??????? He wasn’t even a lead role!

  • Richard D. Socrates

    Putting all 3 Batman movies on this list is just a testament to unfamiliarity with his career, none of them are even in Freeman’s top 20. He’s not asked to do anything in them.

    Check out Street Smart for an amazing, scary performance from Freeman. Christopher Reeve is also great in it.

    • Lester Quick

      Same thing I was thinking, his character “Fast Black” was great

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