10 Best Mahershala Ali Movies, According to Rotten Tomatoes

Movies


An actor of unbelievable versatility who has become one of Hollywood’s most reliably phenomenal performers, Mahershala Ali has appeared in everything from major blockbuster franchises to Academy Award-winning indie masterpieces. Having started his acting career in the 2000s, debuting in the largely unseen 2003 comedy Making Revolution, Ali would begin his quite drastic ascent to stardom through the early part of the 2010s.


With supporting roles in Netflix’s House of Cards and the latter part of The Hunger Games movie series, Ali kickstarted his rise to prominence before becoming an international sensation with his Oscar-winning work in Moonlight. Nowadays, Mahershala Ali is widely considered an A-list talent, starring in multiple acclaimed movies, many of which have received high rankings on Rotten Tomatoes.


10 ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

Image via Netflix

One of the better musical biopics to come out in recent years, even with its underrated standing, Roxanne Roxanne excelled as an introspective look into the life of Roxanne Shanté (Chanté Adams). It follows the rap artist as, at the age of just 14, she became one of the most notorious and formidable battle emcees in 80s New York. The film tracks her rampant rise toward hip-hop stardom while documenting her desperation to provide for her family while navigating the dangers of the streets.

Ali co-stars as Cross, a drug dealer who Roxanne becomes romantically involved with, only for him to become abusive towards her as their relationship evolves. He brought great power and a disarming suaveness to the supporting role, while Roxanne Roxanne was lauded as being an effective and insightful biopic grounded by its strong dramatic story.

roxanne roxanne

Release Date
January 22, 2017

Director
Michael Larnell

Runtime
98

Watch on Netflix

9 ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (2008)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%

Tizzy Weathers (Mahershala Ali) stands up with his arms out wide in 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'.
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

As a bizarre story realized with technical mastery and surprising warmth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has become a cult classic of modern cinema and an uncharacteristic standout in David Fincher’s directorial career. It famously follows the life of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a man who is born elderly and ages backward, as his life comes to be defined by his complicated relationship with Daisy (Cate Blanchett).

The film saw Mahershala Ali portray Mr. Weathers, the cook at the nursing home where a newborn but aged-looking Benjamin Button is abandoned and, subsequently, cared for by caretaker Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). Receiving a staggering 13 Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Art Direction, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button became a success with both critics and audiences and an early highlight in Ali’s career.

Watch on Showtime

8 ‘Leave the World Behind’ (2023)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Myha’la, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, and Julia Roberts as Ruth, George, Clay, and Amanda standing in a line in a house at night looking at something out of frame in Leave the World Behind
Image via Netflix

A recent release rife with contemplative, apocalyptic drama and suspense, Leave the World Behind is a Netflix original picture written and directed by Sam Esmail, creator of the hit series Mr. Robot. The film follows a vacationing family who trek to Long Island for a weekend getaway. Their apparent tranquility is disrupted at night by two strangers, G.H. (Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la Herrold), who inform them of a massive cyberattack while also claiming the holiday house to be their own.

With Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke playing the parents of the vacationing Sandford family, Leave the World Behind runs as a well-acted thriller with a mystery appeal as gripping as it’s thought-provoking. The ending may frustrate some viewers, but the film sees Esmail lean into his trademark social commentary with an impressive punchiness that aims to spark ideological debate.

leave-the-world-behind-poster

Leave the World Behind

Release Date
December 8, 2023

Director
Sam Esmail

Watch on Netflix

7 ‘Green Book’ (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%

Viggo Mortsensen and Mahershala Ali as Tony and Don talking and having a snack at a picnic table.
Image via Universal Pictures

A biographical drama that ran as a feel-good road comedy with a certain sensitivity to America’s racist history, Green Book was a divisive success upon release. It earned $321.7 million at the box office but sparked conversations about its content, which has only aged worse in recent years. The story follows Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American bouncer who is hired by African-American musician Dr. Don Shirley (Ali) to work as a driver and bodyguard throughout his tour of America’s southern states.

While the film won Best Picture among three Oscar wins from five nominations, many have since debated its approach to its subject and themes and its validity as an Oscar-winning film. One thing that shouldn’t be debated, though, is the earnestness and heart of the lead performances and the chemistry between the two actors, with Ali winning his second Academy Award for his portrayal of Shirley.

Green Book

Release Date
November 16, 2018

Director
Peter Farrelly

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
130

Watch on DirecTV

6 ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ (2012)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%

 Kofi, Romina, and Jason stand with their legal advisor in court in The Place Beyond the Pines.
Image via Focus Features

A concentrated crime drama focusing on how one’s actions impact those around them for years to come, The Place Beyond the Pines is an intriguing viewing, to say the least. Set across 15 years, it follows Luke (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcycle rider who takes to a life of crime to support his family, and Avery (Bradley Cooper), a young cop who gets involved in a shootout with Luke. The film analyzes the impact the aftermath of the violent altercation has on each of the men’s families.

The Place Beyond the Pines is among the most underrated movies in Gosling and Cooper’s careers. The film was loaded with meaningful support roles, including Mahershala Ali’s performance as Kofi, a particularly vital role as Luke’s son’s stepfather, who tells the angry young man the truth about his father.

Watch on Apple TV+

5 ‘Swan Song’ (2021)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Mahershala Ali as Cameron confronting his clone, Jack, in Swan Song
Image via Apple TV+

A sadly overlooked sci-fi drama, Swan Song features what is likely the best performance of Ali’s career. The film is a powerful exploration of family values and loss, starring Ali as Cameron, a loving husband and father diagnosed with a terminal illness. He is then presented with the opportunity to replace himself with an exact clone to spare his family the grief and heartbreak of his death.

Ali played both Cameron and his clone magnificently, imbuing each part with distinct traits to distinguish the man from the creation. Propelling itself from Ali’s brilliant central performance, Swan Song is a criminally underrated sci-fi film laced with romantic heartache and contemplative drama as it explores a complex dilemma with abundant intelligence and humanity.

Mahershala Ali in the Swan Song poster

Swan Song

Release Date
December 17, 2021

Director
Benjamin Cleary

Runtime
112 minutes

Watch on Apple TV+

4 ‘Kicks’ (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

A man sits in a room with a contemplative look on his face.
Image via Focus World

Blending drama, social commentary, and comedy into a modern fairy tale of sorts, Kicks proved to be an engrossing and enlightening film about life in the hood. It follows Brandon (Jahking Guillory), a teenager who works to buy a new pair of shoes, convinced they will make him cool. When stolen by a local thug, Brandon sets out to retrieve them no matter the cost, a decision that puts his life and the lives of his friends in jeopardy.

A brilliant tale of contained drama, Kicks is a thought-provoking and rewarding coming-of-age movie. Brandon’s motivations seem easy to support, but the film’s astute ability to keep audiences aware of the dangers makes for a complex viewing experience as it becomes a struggle to justify the prize with the potential cost. In his brief appearance, Mahershala Ali plays Marlon, Brandon’s uncle, who, as an ex-con, tries to warn the kid of the attitude of the streets and the risk he is taking.

Kicks

Release Date
September 9, 2016

Director
Justin Tipping

Cast
Jahking Guillory , Christopher Jordan Wallace , Christopher Meyer , Kofi Siriboe , Mahershala Ali , Molly Shaiken

Rating
R

Runtime
80

Rent on Apple TV+

3 ‘Hidden Figures’ (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Katherine Johnson and Jim Johnson standing and smiling while looking in the same direction in Hidden Figures.
Image via 20th Century Fox

One of the best films of 2016, Hidden Figures proved to be a resounding, crowd-pleasing success with its brilliant true story of historical significance. It follows Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three African-American mathematicians who worked with NASA in the 1960s and played a pivotal role in John Glenn (Glen Powell) being sent into orbit. The historic event marked a galvanizing success for America in the space race.

Hidden Figures was a significant triumph as a rousing true story that shed light on the three women’s achievements. It went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards, but many would argue it should have fared even better at the ceremony—Henson’s snub remains particularly egregious. Ali portrayed Lt. Col. Jim Johnson, a military officer who forms a romantic relationship with Katherine.

Hidden Figures

Release Date
December 10, 2016

Director
Theodore Melfi

Rating
PG

Runtime
126

Watch on Disney+

2 ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Aaron Davis, aka The Prowler crouched with his claw on the gorund in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

Of all the superhero movies released in recent years, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands tall among the best of them. It follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), A Brooklyn teenager who develops superpowers akin to Spider-Man’s (Chris Pine) after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Soon, he finds himself at the center of a multiverse mix-up as Spider-People from parallel universes converge in his world after Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) uses a dailytoptimeswith hopes of bringing back his dead family.

Earning widespread critical acclaim and becoming a pop-culture sensation, Into the Spider-Verse had a rich and arresting entertainment value with its spellbinding and refreshing visuals and engrossing narrative. Mahershala Ali voiced Miles’ uncle, Aaron Davis, who shares a close bond with his nephew despite moonlighting as Prowler, a masked enforcer for Kingpin.

Watch on Fubo

1 ‘Moonlight’ (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Juan holds Chiron on the ocean in Moonlight.
Image via A24 

Heralded by many as the greatest picture of the 2010s, Moonlight proved to be a harrowing, eye-opening, and profoundly affecting coming-of-age movie dealing with modern issues with outstanding power. It follows a black youth in Miami through three essential phases in his life, starting as a child being brought up by a drug-addicted mother through to his adult life as a repressed homosexual drug dealer.

In addition to telling a compelling and tragic life story, Moonlight also served as a brilliant thematic exploration of masculinity and blackness and how those two ideas intersect with homosexuality. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three, including the first for Mahershala Ali, who won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Juan, a drug dealer who looks out for Chiron when he is a young child.

moonlight-movie-poster

Moonlight

Release Date
October 21, 2016

Director
Barry Jenkins

Rating
R

Runtime
110

Watch on MAX

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