Total Recall

Sidney Poitier's 7 Most Memorable Performances

On his 92nd birthday, we look back at the films of the history-making Hollywood great.

by | February 20, 2019 | Comments

(Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)

The great Sidney Poitier turns 92 on February 20, 2019, just shy of 55 years since he became the first Black man to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards. As one of the first African-American film stars, Poitier boasts a career littered with accolades, historical moments, and iconic performances too numerous count. To celebrate the actor’s 92nd year, we at RT thought it the perfect time to single out just a few of our favorite performances from the iconic actor. With 60-plus credits spanning over 60 years, it was a near impossible feat, but here are our seven favorite Sidney Poitier performances.


Blackboard Jungle (1955) 76%

This was the role that put Poitier on the map. The struggles of educators and students are well documented in this violent and controversial film, based on Evan Hunter’s seminal novel about inner-city school conditions. Modern audiences might struggle to sympathize with the tactics employed by Poitier’s character, Gregory Miller, but the cultural impact his performance had on both society and education are undeniable.


The Defiant Ones (1958) 83%

Poitier garnered his first Oscar Nomination for his portrayal of Noah Cullen, an escaped black convict shackled to white fellow escapee John “Joker” Jackson, played by Tony Curtis. Motivated to survive and escape, the foes are forced to work together and eventually come to respect one another. The conflict and eventual cooperation between the two men plays out against the backdrop of Jim Crow, underscoring the institutions of oppression that existed at the time that would have prevented their friendship from developing. The final scene of Noah defiantly singing to Joker remains a near perfect ending to the prison break caper.


A Raisin in the Sun (1961) 94%

In the film adaptation of the eponymous stage play, Poitier plays Walter, the patriarch of the Youngers, a young black family living in 1950s Southside Chicago, trying to better themselves through family and a commitment to give their children a better life. Acting as a cinematic counterpoint to the idealized American dream, the Youngers struggle to combat institutions and individuals dead set on never allowing them to rise above. Walter is met with hostility and apprehension from those outside and within his community as he strives to achieve, but through it all, he and his family persevere.


Lilies of the Field (1963) 91%

In this Oscar-winning role, Poitier plays Homer Smith, a traveling handyman who stumbles upon a group of German nuns. The nuns believe Homer was sent by God to help them build a chapel, and by the final frames, the audience is all but convinced of the same. Even Queen Oprah Winfrey found herself without words during her Golden Globe acceptance speech as she tried to explain what it was like watching Poitier win that Oscar. Instead, she opted to quote his line from the film and simply said, “Amen, amen, amen, amen.” To which, I say no one could have put it better.


Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) 70%

If the first role you most closely associate with Poitier is not In the Heat of the Night, the likely winner is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Playing a black man meeting his white fiancée’s liberal and affluent parents, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was one of the first positive portrayals of interracial marriage to hit the big screen. Acting alongside Hollywood legends Spencer Tracey nd Kathleen Hepburn, Poitier made his mark on a verifiable American cinematic masterpiece. The influences and themes of Guess Who Coming to Dinner can be seen in several modern-day adaptations — Jordan Peele brilliantly subverted those themes for social commentary and comedic effect in Get Out.


In the Heat of the Night (1967) 95%

“They call me Mister Tibbs!” Poitier spoke those words in In the Heat of the Night, and both the film and the line have become synonymous with the actor’s career. Sitting at number 16 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes” list, the rebuke to racist Mississippi Police Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) is a thing of beauty. Playing Virgil Tibbs, a Pittsburgh detective charged with solving a homicide in the Deep South, Poitier navigates prejudice and incompetence to gain the respect of his would-be adversary. And with his help, the police attempt to solve the suspenseful, complicated whodunit.


Sneakers (1992) 79%

(Photo by Universal Pictures)

In a refreshing change of pace later in his career, Poitier starred in this ensemble suspense comedy. Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn, River Phoenix, and Poitier all play former spies working as security consultants. The crew inadvertently get caught up in a web of deception involving a former associate (Ben Kingsley) when they’re tasked with the high stakes retrieval of a very powerful piece of government equipment. Playing Donald Crease as an aging, more-than-over-it former CIA agent and the team’s voice of reason, Poitier showed us that he can be, in fact, quite hilarious.

Tag Cloud

thriller dceu Travel Channel sequels Disney Winners Netflix Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt space Awards Cannes Shudder 21st Century Fox australia reboot sitcom WarnerMedia Tomatazos emmy awards classics films CW Seed Rocketman GoT Film Festival Discovery Channel Lionsgate Superheroes indiana jones hist Mary Poppins Returns rotten movies we love Tumblr The Academy NYCC Ellie Kemper south america supernatural Funimation HBO MSNBC binge Star Wars TV Land golden globes GLAAD political drama Dark Horse Comics cancelled TV series Amazon Studios discovery Pet Sematary San Diego Comic-Con Country Comedy zombies unscripted Pixar Mary Tyler Moore finale aliens toy story Esquire Writers Guild of America Podcast SXSW serial killer Spike Biopics FOX Hear Us Out Year in Review documentaries Turner Pop A&E Television Academy Fantasy Song of Ice and Fire slashers CNN RT History See It Skip It boxing NBC YouTube Red E! The CW concert President zero dark thirty Mystery Tarantino Masterpiece SDCC Grammys Fox News LGBTQ Countdown 45 stand-up comedy TIFF A24 E3 ITV video TV renewals animated PBS Hallmark Christmas movies Horror spanish IFC dogs breaking bad New York Comic Con cancelled TV shows festival ratings green book news cults MCU award winner Rom-Com Marvel Academy Awards Toys renewed TV shows comedies OneApp child's play BAFTA Elton John chucky 99% Apple TV Plus criterion Anna Paquin Disney Channel Britbox VH1 fast and furious versus twilight Pop TV Stephen King Logo critics comic books Premiere Dates witnail Rock 2016 Nat Geo reviews singing competition crossover DirecTV YouTube sag awards 007 french anthology cinemax ghosts OWN documentary Schedule romantic comedy Animation quibi mockumentary Comic Book Emmy Nominations Opinion Infographic TCA Awards Walt Disney Pictures comic cooking USA Network Lucasfilm YouTube Premium American Society of Cinematographers travel AMC japanese Star Trek Sci-Fi adaptation crime drama PlayStation Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Sony Pictures The Walking Dead The Witch venice Sundance game of thrones Endgame Best and Worst 2018 Adult Swim superhero joker Hallmark Apple TV+ composers Sundance TV christmas movies DC Comics Disney+ Disney Plus Spectrum Originals Brie Larson Calendar Creative Arts Emmys 72 Emmy Awards spain Tubi Trailer El Rey true crime theme song nfl docudrama CBS All Access Holiday tv talk Cartoon Network Winter TV Pride Month ESPN Drama name the review Red Carpet Classic Film DC streaming service Video Games casting Syfy Lifetime Trophy Talk Character Guide nature harry potter dark Marathons Captain marvel CBS jamie lee curtis scary movies cops boxoffice best strong female leads sports universal monsters Fall TV Comics on TV Pirates technology dc Summer APB spinoff halloween tv Box Office RT21 IFC Films Amazon Prime revenge 2015 Family video on demand mutant Women's History Month justice league satire Super Bowl TNT facebook blockbuster Chernobyl die hard Epix Hulu TBS FX Superheroe talk show nbcuniversal spanish language halloween BBC One Columbia Pictures Mindy Kaling james bond rt archives X-Men cars politics worst blaxploitation Food Network Television Critics Association Warner Bros. sequel cartoon 24 frames Nominations Fox Searchlight Paramount Network spider-man crime Musicals Photos 2017 Crackle BET Awards ABC Martial Arts Apple spy thriller doctor who Paramount SundanceTV archives book canceled TV shows YA 71st Emmy Awards ID Comedy Central remakes Black Mirror First Reviews comiccon teaser Film First Look richard e. Grant dramedy WGN black Marvel Studios canceled BBC Awards Tour Trivia Quiz parents VOD Ghostbusters stop motion foreign hispanic free movies FXX crime thriller Amazon Prime Video football series TruTV Thanksgiving Western indie Musical TCM TCA Winter 2020 rotten festivals Interview VICE movie latino MTV Amazon Sundance Now independent PaleyFest Mary poppins LGBT Cosplay The Purge laika batman DC Universe Certified Fresh Rocky werewolf Kids & Family Acorn TV ABC Family Starz Binge Guide History Action 2020 Extras Music screen actors guild TV Peacock adventure Christmas historical drama medical drama Disney streaming service 20th Century Fox TCA Holidays directors miniseries zombie Polls and Games franchise BET cats Bravo Disney Plus Mudbound kids vampires HBO Go GIFs DGA TLC italian Freeform Universal deadpool National Geographic Vudu disaster diversity game show biography transformers dragons movies screenings television Teen Lifetime Christmas movies TCA 2017 USA FX on Hulu Ovation Sneak Peek science fiction Crunchyroll Alien Arrowverse Showtime The Arrangement HBO Max Set visit what to watch toronto cancelled obituary streaming Black History Month 4/20 Valentine's Day period drama fresh psychological thriller all-time BBC America CMT hollywood war Baby Yoda Reality Competition Watching Series comics Spring TV worst movies natural history Shondaland police drama Emmys Nickelodeon Turner Classic Movies anime Reality Netflix Christmas movies cancelled television asian-american mission: impossible children's TV Election Marvel Television social media Avengers based on movie scorecard Oscars a nightmare on elm street 2019 elevated horror stoner romance Heroines psycho robots