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Idris Elba's Best Onscreen Performances

Over the last couple decades, Idris Elba has transformed from a solid character actor into one of the most magnetic actors out there. He has shown remarkable versatility over the years as well, something he chalks up to his own needs as an actor. He told The Guardian, "People have criticized me for doing a lot of things. For doing this, that and the other, for doing too much. But creativity's a real balancer for me."

Elba's star only continues to grow: he's a part of some seriously massive franchises, and he's shown more than enough talent to take on more understated roles when it suits him. Of course, there's the ongoing rumor that he'll take up the mantle of James Bond once Daniel Craig finally hangs up his pistol, but that role could be passing Elba by — Elba is only five years younger than Craig, so it seems unlikely he'd be able to play the role for long.

If you're an Idris Elba superfan, you owe it to yourself to see him at his best. Here are Elba's top performances.

Stacker Pentecost -- Pacific Rim

"Pacific Rim" is a divisive movie: people tend to either love its over-the-top take on giant monsters fighting giant robots, or they're wrong. However, even those very, very wrong people usually accept that Idris Elba's performance as Stacker Pentecost is one of the movie's most inspired aspects.

Nearly every critical review of "Pacific Rim" cites Elba's performance as the best in the film, and director Guillermo del Toro smartly sits back on several occasions and just allows Elba to be ... Elba. Brent McKnight from The Last Thing I See put it nicely when he said, "You would totally follow him into battle." Elba even gets an inspirational speech akin to President Bill Pullman's in "Independence Day." The way Elba's carefully maintained American accent cracks when shouting the final, dramatic line makes it all the more memorable: "Today we are canceling the apocalypse!"

Sure, without Elba, "Pacific Rim" would probably still be full of fun monster battles. But, too often, giant monster movies lack any sort of reason to care about the little people scurrying around under their feet. Stacker Pentecost absolutely lends a rooting interest to the film — and his name is fantastic.

Russell 'Stringer' Bell -- The Wire

Like a lot of actors, Idris Elba bided his time as he searched for his big break. He had worked on British television for a while, but The Guardian writes that he had bigger aspirations: "Elba idolized Denzel Washington, Taye Diggs and Wesley Snipes. He wanted to take a shot at a career in the US." He packed his bags and moved to New York, working as a bouncer and auditioning. A few roles eventually got him a part in a little show called "The Wire."

At the time, HBO's forays into "prestige TV" were still in their infancy: "The Sopranos" started airing in 1999, and "The Wire" kicked off a few years later. Elba's character on the show, Russell "Stringer" Bell, started as a small, recurring one. However, Elba rapidly became one of the most compelling and likable characters on the series, and the showrunners made him a larger presence over time.

Idris Elba's performance as Bell launched his career in the States, and helped transform "The Wire" into a series that is still heralded as one of the best to ever air. Creator David Simon even recalls that his wife called him an idiot for killing off Elba's character before the show concluded.

John Luther -- Luther

When people discuss Idris Elba's television roles, their minds instantly gravitate towards "The Wire." However, you could argue that his performance in the title role of the BBC's "Luther" is every bit as impressive, if not more so. "Luther" has a fine ensemble cast, but it is 100% Elba's show, and he absolutely crushes it as Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther.

Like a lot of BBC shows, the only real complaint that exists about "Luther" is that there isn't enough of it. The first season aired in 2010, and it's still going. However, there are only 20 episodes across five seasons of "Luther," including a completely agonizing fourth season that only consists of two episodes!

That said, John Luther is a role that perfectly suits Elba's talents and strengths as an actor. His character is powerful and good-hearted, but dangerously obsessive and skeptical of everything. "Luther" has a ton of twists throughout its run, and it puts its star through the wringer in every episode. Elba has repeatedly said that Season 5 was not the end, and that a "Luther" film is next in the plans. However, when John Luther will return is still up in the air.

Commandant -- Beasts of No Nation

One of the ghosts that haunts Elba's career so far is that he is a blockbuster actor: most of his roles come in tentpole franchises, and he rarely gets a chance to show off his talents in emotional, critically-lauded films. This is where "Beasts of No Nation" comes in. This powerful and violent film deals with the plight of African child soldiers, and the role of the terrifying Commandant is perfect for a magnetic presence like Idris Elba.

"Beasts of No Nation" has a cast made of several newcomers, like the central child soldier named Agu. This makes Elba's charisma and screen presence even more impressive: just as the characters in the film are drawn to the Commandant, the audience is drawn to Elba. The Commandant is exactly what you'd expect of a warlord who takes advantage of child soldiers: he's charming, he's persuasive and he's terrifying.

"Beasts of No Nation" is a hard watch, but it's easily one of the best performances in Elba's career thus far. Birth.Movies.Death. lauded the film for expertly capturing the dangers of charismatic leaders in a power vacuum alongside the horrors of PTSD. It may be a difficult film, but it's worth it.

Nelson Mandela -- Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" is a difficult film to recommend — there are a lot of movies out there (many of them better than this one) about Nelson Mandela, one of the most captivating and influential people of the last century. Even though the film can be a bit of a slog, it's tough to deny that Elba puts on an incredible performance as the revolutionary leader and statesman.

The movie's attempts to transform Elba into Mandela through makeup are ... not good. Elba doesn't look anything like Nelson Mandela at any age. However, Elba more than makes up for that by bringing his own unique characteristics to the South African freedom fighter. In Metro's review of the film, Larushka Ivan-Zadeh praises a "towering" performance from Elba, suggesting that he should have been nominated for an Oscar for the role. Elba has been nominated for several awards over the years, but has yet to receive an Oscar nod.

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" boasts some other strong performances, including Naomie Harris as Mandela's wife Winnie. However, if you're looking for a dynamic performance from Idris Elba himself, you'll find it here.

Charlie Jaffey -- Molly's Game

Aaron Sorkin is generally best known as a writer, and his motor-mouth screenplays have won plenty of fans in shows like "The West Wing" and "The Newsroom" and films like "The Social Network" and "Moneyball." Sorkin's first attempt at directing came in 2017, when he tackled "Molly's Game," which brought together an incredible cast of Jessica Chastain, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner and, of course, Idris Elba.

Based on a true story, "Molly's Game" tells the tale of Molly Bloom, a former Olympian who eventually comes to run a high-stakes poker contest in Los Angeles that attracts some seriously high rollers. As Molly gets deeper into things, she enlists the help of a powerful lawyer named Charlie Jaffey, played by Elba. Writer-director Sorkin is known as a master of dialogue, and several reviews note that the scenes between Chastain and Elba are the best in the film. NME writes: "[Chastain's] chemistry with Elba [...] is magnetic. Their dialogue-heavy scenes in Jaffey's office crackle with electricity as they trade barbed lines."

Elba has some of his most charismatic dialogue ever courtesy of Sorkin. "Molly's Game" would have already been a lot of fun, but he takes it to another level.

Krall -- Star Trek Beyond

It can be easy to forget that the latest "Star Trek" films are a trilogy: a lot of attention was paid to "Star Trek Into Darkness" and the question of whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan. As such, "Star Trek Beyond," the third film in the series, is easy to overlook. This is an absolute crime, as it's arguably the best in the trilogy, and Idris Elba's villainous Krall is a big reason why.

Krall is an excellent modern recreation of a classic "Star Trek" villain: you understand where he's coming from and sympathize with him as you learn his backstory, but Elba plays him with enough scenery-chewing, stage villain grandiosity that you still can't wait to see Kirk and the rest of the crew kick his ass.

"Star Trek Beyond" focuses more on the crew of the Enterprise than its dastardly villain – NME's review isn't alone in noting that Elba only gets a chance to shine at the film's climax. However, "Star Trek" has always been more about the crew's relationships and trust in each other primarily, and Elba's Krall is a perfect vessel to test those relationships and make them stand out.

Heimdall -- Thor and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

One of the big reasons the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been so successful is its casting: whether characters are big or small, the MCU has filled them with actors who can really take the role and run with it. Idris Elba is a perfect example: his Heimdall, the all-seeing guardian of the Bifrost first appearing in "Thor," is a great combination of Elba's wry humor and powerful screen presence, and he's peppered just enough throughout the MCU to make him memorable.

Heimdall, like many of Elba's best roles, is a conflicted character. He is duty-bound to protect Asgard, but that has frequently meant betraying Asgardian leadership. He committed treason against Odin, conspiring with Thor in order to hide Jane Foster from Malekith in "Thor: The Dark World." However, he only did this knowing it was necessary to protect Asgard from an even greater threat. Elba also has a memorable turn in "Thor: Ragnarok," where he hides the people of Asgard from Hela and works to bring Thor back from Sakaar to stop his sister.

Elba's role in the MCU rarely took center stage, and he met his end in "Avengers: Infinity War," but his frequent appearances and charisma always left us wanting more from the all-seeing one.

Charles Miner -- The Office

It's a shame that Idris Elba doesn't get to flex his comedic chops too often, as he's shown he's more than up to the task when given the opportunity. Take his short run on the American version of "The Office," where he played the cutthroat executive Charles Miner. Though Elba doesn't get to be as wacky as a lot of his castmates, he more than proves he has the comedic talent to keep up.

Characters like Charles Miner were essential to "The Office" maintaining a somewhat plausible premise. Despite actors like Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson getting more and more cartoonish as the series moved forward, Miner's cost-cutting attitude and willingness to destroy anything in the way of his ambitions is an all-too-real reminder of the seedy underbelly of office politics.

That isn't to say Elba doesn't get to be funny. His understated, dry delivery is a perfect fit for "The Office," as when he mentions the effect he has on women like Angela and Kelly, or his responses to Jim's attempts to win him over. Elba was a great addition as a villainous manager to the ensemble of "The Office."

Shere Khan -- The Jungle Book

One of Elba's most notable characteristics is his deep, authoritative voice, so it should come as no surprise that he has a few impressive animated works on his resume. One of his best came in a "live action" remake of a Disney classic: "The Jungle Book." Idris Elba lent his voice to the terrifying tiger Shere Khan, who stalks Mowgli throughout the film.

When "The Jungle Book" was released, it got rave reviews for its reimagining of the classic story and the incredible CGI that brought most of its characters to life. Even though the film came out in 2016, it's still an extremely impressive visual feat: all the animals fit seamlessly into the world and alongside actor Neel Sithi, who plays Mowgli. Shere Khan himself is an amazing villain: rage and menace bubble just under the surface of his calm, collected demeanor. He's essentially a James Bond villain who also happens to be a gigantic tiger. Elba clearly had a blast with the role, as critics have described it as "intense" and "unnerving."

Chief Bogo -- Zootopia

"Zootopia" has an absolutely dynamite cast. Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman tend to be the two that people remember as the lead odd couple Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde. However, plenty of other major actors — like Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer and, naturally, Idris Elba — are all part of the cast.

Elba plays Chief Bogo, the water buffalo who runs the police department that Judy joins as the first rabbit officer. At first, Bogo is miffed that the mayor would assign a rabbit to his unit without consulting him first, and Elba plays Bogo with a gruff, antagonistic attitude. As Judy shows her skills and starts winning him over, Bogo's tough exterior starts to slide away, and his joy and admiration start to shine through. Elba does an excellent job of transforming within the role, and Bogo is one of the more memorable secondary characters in the film due to his performance.

Janek -- Prometheus

"Prometheus" is a divisive film. Some loved the return to grandiose sci-fi storytelling, with an impressive cast and a plot that doesn't hold your hand. Others felt it was disjointed and heavy-handed: not enough of a true "Alien" film or a standalone feature. That said, few knocked the film's incredible cast: Idris Elba was a standout as, essentially, an audience surrogate, but other greats included Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and more.

Elba's character, Janek, helps to anchor "Prometheus" a bit, which is absolutely necessary for a sci-fi film with the lofty ideals that this one has. Elba also gets to perform a classic heroic monologue, introducing a few important plot points and making a hero's sacrifice to stop the human race from being wiped out. In the hands of a lesser actor, Janek could be a forgettable role that exists only to serve the plot. Instead, Elba lends some gravity to Janek, and makes him one of the standouts in a film full of great actors.