This week, Chadwick Boseman stars in
, a new drama chronicling an early case in the career of Thurgood Marshall, the man who would become the first African-American US Supreme Court Justice and preside over several milestone cases, including Marshall Brown v. Board of Education. To mark the occasion, we’ve put together a list of 10 more films about Americans whose monumental accomplishments and lasting legacies have impacted the country in immeasurable ways.
(1992, 91%) Malcolm X
Critics Consensus: Anchored by a powerful performance from Denzel Washington, Spike Lee’s biopic of the legendary civil rights leader brings his autobiography to life with an epic sweep and a nuanced message.
In Spike Lee’s epic drama, Denzel Washington portrays the late activist at several points in his life. A controversial figure during his lifetime, Malcolm X nevertheless helped to define the plight of African-Americans to society at large like few before him.
(2015, 99%) Selma
Critics Consensus: Fueled by a gripping performance from David Oyelowo, Selma draws inspiration and dramatic power from the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. — but doesn’t ignore how far we remain from the ideals his work embodied.
While Ava DuVernay’s film focuses on a brief but pivotal period in the American civil rights movement, the man at the center of it is inarguably one of the most influential figures in American history. David Oyelowo stars as Martin Luther King, Jr., who helped organize and lead a march from Selma to Montgomery that resulted in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But MLK’s desegregation efforts and methods of nonviolent protest have forged a lasting social and political legacy.
(2012, 90%) Lincoln
Critics Consensus: Daniel Day-Lewis characteristically delivers in this witty, dignified portrait that immerses the audience in its world and entertains even as it informs.
Daniel Day-Lewis took home a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic, which focuses on Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed in 1865. Lincoln is regularly cited as one of our greatest presidents, largely for his leadership role in the US Civil War and its immediate aftermath, and he remains an enduring symbol of hope in our country’s history.
(2015, 86%) Steve Jobs
Critics Consensus: Like the tech giant co-founded by its subject, Steve Jobs gathers brilliant people to deliver a product whose elegance belies the intricate complexities at its core.
It’s clear that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs — portrayed in Danny Boyle’s film by an Oscar-nominated Michael Fassbender — didn’t just influence America, but the entire world. That said, the story of Jobs is also the story of Silicon Valley and our current tech-based economy. And let’s not forget the fact that every consumer presentation these days is modeled after his trademark product unveilings.
(2017, 83%) The Founder
Critics Consensus: The Founder puts Michael Keaton’s magnetic performance at the center of a smart, satisfying biopic that traces the rise of one of America’s most influential businessmen — and the birth of one of its most far-reaching industries.
There’s nothing quite as American as fast food, and there’s no fast food establishment as ubiquitous as McDonald’s. Michael Keaton stars as entrepreneur Ray Kroc, who turned a popular family restaurant into an empire. While health concerns about the franchise are understandable, its effect on the food service industry and American eating habits is undeniable.
(2017, 92%) Hidden Figures
Critics Consensus: In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked — and crucial — contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.
Before Hidden Figures came along, few people knew the story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, three pioneering African-American female mathematicians employed by NASA who helped with the launch of the first manned spaceflight in American history. Thanks to their efforts, Project Mercury was a success, paving the way not only for our first trip to the moon but also for other young scientists like them.
(2007, 77%) I’m Not There
Critics Consensus: I’m Not There‘s unique editing, visuals, and multiple talented actors portraying Bob Dylan make for a deliciously unconventional experience. Each segment brings a new and fresh take on Dylan’s life.
When it comes to influence on the national zeitgeist, there are plenty of musical giants to choose from, but few artists are as quintessentially American as Bob Dylan. Dylan’s award-winning music made him an icon of the 1960s counterculture, helped redraw the lines of the pop genre, and secured his legacy as one of the most celebrated songwriters of the 20th century.
(2010, 96%) The Social Network
Critics Consensus: Impeccably scripted, beautifully directed, and filled with fine performances, The Social Network is a riveting, ambitious example of modern filmmaking at its finest.
Like a few others on this list, Mark Zuckerberg’s accomplishments changed the world as much as they changed America, but it all began here, on the campus of Harvard University. While Zuckerberg can’t take all the credit for the creation of Facebook, the way we as a society consume news and pop culture has changed dramatically since the social networking site fended off all challengers to rise to the top of th heap.
(2013, 79%) 42
Critics Consensus: 42 is an earnest, inspirational, and respectfully told biography of an influential American sports icon, though it might be a little too safe and old-fashioned for some.
Marshall will actually be the third film Chadwick Boseman has done about a real-life figure, but he first caught the world’s attention as another groundbreaking icon. As Jackie Robinson, Boseman brought to life the story of a gifted athlete who broke the color barrier in professional baseball and blazed the trail for an integrated league.
(2008, 94%) Milk
Critics Consensus: Anchored by Sean Penn’s powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America’s first openly gay man elected to public office.
It’s true that Harvey Milk — portrayed in Gus Van Sant’s film by an Oscar-winning Sean Penn — was the first openly gay politician elected to public office in California, and that’s a milestone in and of itself. But more importantly, Milk’s political work and his tragic subsequent assassination led to a shift in public sentiment and sowed the seeds for pro-LGBT acceptance on a wider scale.