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Chadwick Boseman's Best Onscreen Performances

On August 28, 2020, acclaimed actor and Marvel Cinematic Universe star Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer at just 43 years old. In a stunning announcement from Boseman's family — the actor had kept his four-year diagnosis a secret from the world at large — it was revealed that after years of making films during his fight against the disease, Boseman died at his home with his family and loved ones by his side.

Boseman's big-screen career lasted for less than a decade after he earned his big break at the age of 36 in 2013's 42, but his impact on the film industry — and the millions worldwide who loved his work — is undeniable. In the days after his passing, tributes from fellow performers, critics, and fans spread across the internet, celebrating Boseman's powerful screen presence, his grace under pressure, his persistence and resilience in the face of a painful illness, and memories of his most famous roles.

Throughout his short yet illustrious career, Boseman proved he had the talent to inhabit a wide array of roles, and though he richly deserved a much longer run, his dedication to keep going even after his diagnosis further cemented his legacy. It's a gutting loss to lose such a talented star so early in his career, but if there's any comfort to be had, it's the incredible and indelible performances Boseman left behind. Here's a look back at Chadwick Boseman's best onscreen performances.


After booking small television roles for a number of years, Boseman finally scored a leading role in 42, a biopic about the rise and life of baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Director Brian Helgeland may ultimately have been largely responsible for Boseman's illustrious career, considering that Boseman considered giving up acting before he was cast in 42. Thankfully, the future star beat out a large group of contenders to play Robinson.

Hewing to the standard biopic format, the movie chronicles Robinson's historic rise in the sports world and his groundbreaking time with the Brooklyn Dodgers, including their run-up to the 1947 World Series (despite a heroic fight, they ultimately lost to the New York Yankees). Boseman won raves for his performance — Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson's widow who collaborated on the project and provided advice, even said that watching the movie was like seeing her late husband all over again — proving that he was a star to watch, and cementing himself as a new leading man on the rise.

Draft Day

Shortly after his appearance in 42, Boseman collaborated with Kevin Costner in 2014's Draft Day, another sports drama. Focusing on the world of professional football, Draft Day tells the story of fictional Cleveland Browns coach Sonny Weaver Jr., whose team has the number one pick in the NFL's draft and is eyeing Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). But a challenger, Vontae Mack (Boseman), surfaces — another top draft pick who asks Weaver to let him prove that he, not Callahan, should be the first person signed by the Browns during the draft. As Bo's character proves questionable, a path is cleared for Mack to be the Browns' new star.

Boseman may not headline Draft Day, but as the challenger to the presumed first pick, he plays an extraordinarily vital role in the story, showing off his talent as a supporting player in his second sports film. Draft Day received middling reviews overall, but it kept Boseman in the public eye, setting him up for even bigger roles.

Get on Up

Starring in the second biopic of his career, Boseman played music sensation James Brown in Get on Up, released in 2014. Using a non-linear narrative and fourth-wall breaks, Get on Up — directed by The Help's Tate Taylor — dramatizes the stranger-than-fiction story of the trailblazing performer's life, from the amazing highs to the ugly lows. By beginning and ending with a true incident from Brown's life, when the star fired a shotgun at a trespasser while under the influence, Get on Up smartly plays with time and truth by only giving us Brown's point of view, constantly letting the audience wonder what's real and even where and when we are in the story.

In addition to his carefully considered, thoughtful central performance as Brown, Boseman went above and beyond for the role, doing all of his own dancing (a pretty spectacular feat considering that Brown was known for his legendary dance skills) and some of his own vocals to boot. Unsurprisingly, Boseman received rave reviews for the role, adding to his legacy of portraying beloved Black Americans on the big screen.

Captain America: Civil War

The Wakandan superhero Black Panther made his debut in the ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe crossover film Captain America: Civil War in 2016, and the MCU was never the same again. As the Avengers split into factions over how they should handle their international duties and reputation, with Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) leading separate groups, Black Panther (Boseman) joins the fray, seeking revenge for his father's death. Under his mask, Boseman is T'Challa, the prince of Wakanda, who loses his father during an explosion at the United Nations and ends up joining the Avengers while hunting the perpetrator, the long-assumed-dead Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

With so many superheroes in the MCU, it can be hard to keep track of everybody, and easy for a character's debut to fly under the radar. That was never going to happen with Black Panther, who immediately became a fan favorite, with fans clamoring for his first standalone film. As the MCU's most prominent Black superhero, Boseman's T'Challa was one of the most meaningful additions to the cinematic universe, and it was clear right away that the powers that be at the MCU, who only wanted Boseman for the role, made the right choice.


In between MCU appearances, Boseman returned to his biopic roots with 2017's Marshall, which focused on the early life and career of Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to become the first Black justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. In the film, Boseman plays a younger Marshall, who is just beginning his career as a lawyer with the NAACP when he ends up with an incredibly difficult case on his hands. Called to Bridgeport, Connecticut, Marshall must defend a Black man accused of sexually assaulting a wealthy white woman, and he discovers that the details of the case simply don't hold up.

As he did in Get on Up and 42, Boseman brings a quiet elegance and gravitas to the role of Thurgood Marshall, but it's important to note that he put plenty of thought into taking this hugely important part in the first place. Before agreeing to appear in Marshall at all, he asked Marshall's son John for his permission; ultimately, John sent a letter giving Boseman his blessing to play his father, and Boseman went on to honor yet another historically significant and vitally influential Black life.

Black Panther

After he made his sensational debut in Civil War, fans were thrilled and excited for T'Challa's first big standalone film, and 2018's Black Panther certainly didn't disappoint. Helmed by Creed director Ryan Coogler, Black Panther took audiences to the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which hides its incredible technological superiority from the rest of the world and lives in near-total isolation. As Black Panther opens, T'Challa is poised to assume the throne in the wake of his father T'Chaka's (John Kani) death, but when his secret cousin Erik "Killmonger" Stevens arrives, a challenge presents itself. A former black-ops soldier, Killmonger is hellbent on sharing Wakanda's gifts with the world to allow Black citizens across the globe to fight oppression, and also seeks revenge over the death of his own father, Prince N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown). Alongside his family, T'Challa must grapple with his father's suddenly complicated legacy, all while trying to figure out how to take down Killmonger and restore order to Wakanda.

Black Panther proved to be an enormous critical and commercial success, earning well over a billion dollars at the box office and earning glowing reviews across the board. Eventually, it became the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars — even becoming the first MCU film to win when it took home statues for its score and costumes — and thanks in large part to Boseman's thoughtful and graceful performance as T'Challa, it earned its place as one of the MCU's best films.

Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame

A two-part cinematic event that was filmed simultaneously and released a year apart, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame quickly earned their place in pop culture history as the most ambitious crossover comic book films of all time. As Infinity War kicks off, the Avengers discover that Thanos (Josh Brolin), the galaxy's most powerful supervillain, has concocted a plan to wipe out half of all life in a deeply misguided attempt to restore balance to the universe; unfortunately, by the end of the film, he succeeds and takes out many of the Avengers in the process. Thankfully, the remaining members of the team figure out a way to fiddle with time and space, and as Endgame reaches its climax, their fallen comrades rejoin them on the battlefield to take down Thanos once and for all.

Considering that Infinity War's huge final battle takes place in Wakanda itself, it's no surprise that Boseman's T'Challa plays an integral part in the film, but unfortunately, he's one of the superheroes that gets "dusted" by Thanos' game-changing snap. He's the first of the dead heroes to return in Endgame and plays a huge part in taking down Thanos for good; in the end, it's nothing short of impressive that Boseman was able to have such an enormous impact in a pair of films packed with some of Marvel's — and Hollywood's — biggest stars.

Da 5 Bloods

While audiences were stuck at home during the beginning of 2020 as COVID-19 raged throughout the world and kept moviegoers isolated, legendary director Spike Lee gave cinema buffs an enormous gift with Da 5 Bloods, a sprawling new story about Vietnam veterans who return to the battlefield years after the war. Within their mission to find buried treasure in Vietnam, they're also searching for the remains of their lost squad leader, "Stormin'" Norman Earl Holloway, played in flashback sequences by Boseman.

After Boseman's impressive string of success in and out of the MCU, it's not an enormous surprise that a venerated filmmaker like Lee would want to work with him. In fact, the Oscar-winning writer and director told writer David Sims that Boseman was really the only choice for the role in an interview in The Atlantic. As Lee put it, "Here's the thing for me. This character is heroic; he's a superhero. Who do we cast? We cast Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and we cast T'Challa. Chad is a superhero! That character is Christlike! Notice the way [the cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel] shot him. There's light from heaven coming down from above on him." Audiences across the world will miss Boseman for years, but he'll always live on in unforgettable films like Da 5 Bloods.

SNL's Black Jeopardy

Boseman spent much of his career on the big screen, but one of his only television appearances proved utterly unforgettable. He hosted NBC's weekly sketch show Saturday Night Live in April of 2018 to promote Black Panther alongside musical guest Cardi B, and though he only reprised the role of T'Challa for a single sketch, the Wakandan king's appearance on Black Jeopardy! ended up creating one of the funniest moments in recent SNL history.

Hosted by Kenan Thompson's Darnell Hayes, Black Jeopardy! usually serves as an opportunity to mock clueless white characters, but in this particular round, two Black Americans are paired with T'Challa's confused foreign king. As a resident of the wealthy, sheltered nation of Wakanda, T'Challa gets pretty much every answer wrong until he's asked what he would do if "Karen," his imaginary white friend, offered to bring potato salad to his cookout. Announcing that he thinks he's getting the hang of the game, T'Challa spends some time thinking out loud about Karen's likely under-seasoned potato salad — while making sure to note that he has never actually eaten potato salad — and wonders if she would end up adding something "unnecessary" to the dish, like "raisins." 

Boseman's largely remembered as a serious actor, but in this segment, he proved he was a comedic talent as well as a dramatic powerhouse — and delighted audiences with an uproariously funny take on T'Challa.