Sidney Poitier gave the world some of the most iconic on-screen performances of all time, easily cementing himself as a figure upcoming generations of artists would forever look up to.
The course of history took an unexpected turn in 1946 when a dark-skinned, Bahamian teenager walked into New York’s American Negro Theatre in search of an acting job.
Although the industry did not immediately embrace him, they gave him a chance to groom himself into a desirable actor in exchange for being a janitor.
He embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly, and months later, the world experienced its first taste of raw talent pulled off by a black man. Thus began the success story of Sidney Poitier.
Sidney Poitier’s Movies
Poitier would go on to star in 53 movies, all of which became hits in their own rights, directed nine iconic films, and carved a noble path for the black race in Hollywood.
So how exactly did Sidney Poitier change the world? He did so by breaking many Hollywood records, taking roles that portrayed the black race positively, becoming the first black man to snag an Oscar win for Best Actor, and showing the world African-Americans didn’t have to be relegated to only insignificant roles in movies.
Ultimately, he taught generations of African-American entertainers to reach for the sky, just like he did throughout his career.
Today, one only needs to ask “who is Sidney Poitier?” or “where is Sidney Poitier originally from?” before tons of people offer to recount the tale of his escapades and sing odes to his name. Such was his impact here on earth before passing on at 94.
In honor of a life well-lived, here is a list of Sidney Poitier’s nine most memorable movie performances in no particular order.
1. “A Patch Of Blue”
Rated 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, the 1965 film, “A Patch Of Blue,” is one of Sidney Poitier’s most-recognized movies. The legend played an educated black man Gordon Ralf who developed a deep connection to an illiterate blind white woman, Selina after meeting her in a park.
Following their first meeting, the twosome continued meeting at the park daily, with Selina, who lived with her mom in Los Angeles, becoming drawn to her new friend’s kindness and compassion.
Ultimately, they fell in love with each other, even before the blind woman realized her fortress of solace was in fact a black man.
Like the professional he was, Poitier played his character so well, capturing the audience with the charisma, kindness, and intellect of an ideal prince charming.
2. “No way Out”
Sidney Poitier forayed into the Hollywood movie scenes with his rendition of black surgeon Dr. Luther Brooks in the 1950 movie, “No Way Out.”
His character somehow depicted the struggle faced by a black professional in a racist world as his resilience was continuously tested by a racist and bigot patient.
But between upholding his medical ethics by treating his patient without prejudice and facing a lawsuit for supposedly murdering a patient, Poitier’s character gave millions of viewers over 90 minutes of binge-worthy moments.
Additionally, it marked the first time the world got to see an African-American play a lead role in a feature film.
3. “In The Heat Of The Night“
Another notable movie role Sidney Poitier played in his career was 1967s “In The Heat Of The Night,” staring as Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia Police detective.
The film explored the racial dynamics between white people and people of color. Poitier’s character found himself caught in the middle of a slew of racial hate following the death of a wealthy white businessman.
However, he proved that it took more than being racially profiled by the white population in Sparta, Mississippi, to lose his spirit.
“In The Heat Of The Night” was yet another movie through which Poitier addressed questionable racial dynamics, bringing the world closer to open-ended liberalism.
4. “Lilies Of the Field“
“Lilies Of The Field” earned Sidney Poitier his first Academy Award, ultimately marking the first time a black man and a Bahamian took home the win.
In the movie, the entertainment icon starred as wanderer Homer Smith who stumbles upon a ranch occupied by European nuns in the desert.
The nuns, led by Sister Maria, mistook him as a messiah sent by God to build them a church. Despite not being a fan of their wild imaginations, he obliged the sisters, all the same, to set up the first place of worship in the neighborhood.
5. “The Defiant Ones”
Nothing screams “making a political statement” like two escaped prisoners of different races shackled together despite their difference and forced to work together.
Poitier’s role as teenager Noah Cullen in “The Defiant Ones,” proved just how alike humans could be irrespective of color, an affirmation the world desperately needed at the time.
The drama followed the two escaped prisoners, Cullen and John “Joker” Jackson, who had grievances at first, but soon realized how alike they were as they worked together to attain their freedom, alive.
The role earned Poitier his first Oscar nod for best actor in 1958, making him the first black entertainer to achieve the feat.
6. “To Sir, With Love“
Starring as Mark Thackeray, an immigrant forced to temporarily work as a teacher at London’s east end to make a living, Sidney Poitier cemented his name in people’s hearts with 1967s “To Sir, With Love.”
As the first of three blockbusters the actor worked on that year, the movie easily made it into the most-viewed list of every movie lover, who found themselves wondering, “Who’s Sidney Poitier?”
They didn’t need to search for long, as two other back-to-back hits followed, and then over 50 iconic films the world can hardly get over to date.
7. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”
“Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” released in 1967, saw Poitier star alongside four-time Oscar winner Kathrine Hepburn and actor Spencer Tracy.
While the drama did not win the legend an Oscar, he still basks in its reverberating success, immortalized by Hepburn’s Oscar win for her role as the mother of his love interest in the film.
Set in a time when inter-racial marriages were taboo, and deemed illegal in many countries, the love pair of Dr. John Wade Prentice, (Poitier), and his white lover Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton), struggled through everyone’s disapproval to make their relationship work.
The first step in their journey was to seek their families’ approval, which set the premise for the movie.
8. “Shoot To Kill”
Sidney Poitier co-starred alongside Tom Berenger in 1988 to make one of the greatest hits of his career, “Shoot To Kill.”
The Roger Spottiswoode-directed movie followed FBI agent Warren Stantin, tasked with catching a notorious murderer. Following his target’s flight to the mountainous terrain of the Pacific Northwest, Stantin knew he needed to up his game.
Hence, he hired professional tracker John Knox to fish out the killer who was hiding in plain sight all along as part of a hiking group.
9. “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart”
Even in his nineties, Sidney Poitier still had what it took to offer one of his most beautiful performances yet.
Appearing alongside Harry Belafonte in the 2017 film “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” the then-90-year-old and other iconic figures in showbiz celebrated the works of playwright Lorraine Hansberry.
The film in itself brought the story of Lorraine, the brain behind the 1960s “A Raisin In The Sun,” to life. It celebrated the life and career of the playwright, who was the first woman to have her landmark play hit Broadway.
With a star-studded cast comprising icons from the original film, the 2017 film was destined for the skies right from the onset.