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Chiwetel Ejiofor's Best Movies, Ranked by Metacritic

From Oscar-winning historical dramas to Marvel movies, Chiwetel Ejiofor's career has something for every film fan. Discover his best titles, ranked by Metascore.
by Danielle Turchiano — 
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Chiwetel Ejiofor

Jeff Spicer / Getty Images

English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor began acting when he was still in school, first appearing in plays such as William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Although he planned to focus his performance studies at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, he only ended up spending a year there because he was cast in Amistad, Steven Spielberg's 1997 film about the titular Spanish slave ship. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ejiofor went on to switch between theater, TV, and film for the next two-and-a-half decades of his career. Historical dramas have proven to be extremely fruitful for the dramatic actor, from the aforementioned Amistad to 12 Years a Slave and American Gangster. But he has also broken out in such lighter fan-favorites as Firefly, Love Actually, and Doctor Strange, and in his collaborations with director Spike Lee (She Hate Me and Inside Man).

Recently, Ejiofor also turned his attention to writing and directing features. He has Rob Peace, starring Stephan James coming soon, but his debut was with 2019's The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which is adapted from William Kamkwamba's memoir of the same title and tells the story of a teenager who found a new way to bring water to his East African village. With a Metascore of 68, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was very close to making it onto the list of Ejiofor's best films.

The Oscar and Emmy-nominated and BAFTA- and Laurence Olivier Award-winner will next be seen in Showtime's limited series adaptation of The Man Who Fell to Earth and the Doctor Strange sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But until then, Metacritic highlights his best films so far, ranked by Metascore. While we usually stick to the top 10, this time there are 11 because two tied for that final spot.


12 Years a Slave

Metascore: 96
Best for: Fans of character-driven dramas and the darker side of history
Where to watch: 

Google PlayHBO MaxiTunesVudu
Runtime: 134 minutes

Ejiofor plays Solomon, a Black man who was born free but gets kidnapped and sold into slavery in Steve McQueen and John Ridley's 2013 Oscar-winning period drama. Based on Solomon Northrup's memoir titled Twelve Years, the story follows Solomon as he works on a plantation where he is abused and ignored when he tries to speak his truth. Although he is in a lot of danger, he never gives up, which makes the movie a tale of resilience, in addition to an unflinching look at the conditions Black Americans experienced under slavery.

"The genius of 12 Years a Slave is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price." — Manohla Dargis, The New York Times


Children of Men

Metascore: 84
Best for: Fans of dystopian dramas and everyman heroes
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 109 minutes

In the first of two 2006 films that see collaborations between Clive Owen and Ejiofor (the second, Inside Man, is lower down on this list), comes from writer-director Alfonso Cuarón. Set in 2027, the Oscar-nominated film is a surprisingly timely look at post-pandemic life, although in this world, it was a flu pandemic mixed with war, infertility issues, and global depression that is pushing humans toward extinction and therefore society towards collapse. Theo Faron (Owen) leads the fight for humanity's survival against all odds, including the one remaining government's shocking willingness to eliminate humanity faster by killing immigrants trying to cross borders. But while fighting for all, he is specifically fighting for one — Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), the first pregnant woman in almost two decades. Ejiofor plays Luke, a member of an immigrant-rights group who helps Theo and Kee.

"Made with palpable energy, intensity and excitement, it compellingly creates a world gone mad that is uncomfortably close to the one we live in." — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times


The Martian

Metascore: 80
Best for: Fans of space dramas
Where to watch: 

Google PlayiTunesVudu
Runtime: 144 minutes

Matt Damon stars in this 2015 Oscar-nominated space drama from director Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard. In it, his character, Mark Watney, gets left behind on a mission to Mars, which leads a lot of people in NASA to initially believe he did not survive. However, once they realize he did, they have to find a way to help him stay alive until a new mission can go out to get him. Ejiofor plays NASA director Vincent Kapoor, who is instrumental in trying to send Mark food in space.

"A movie of innumerable delightful moments and small discoveries." — Andrew O'Hehir, Salon


Dirty Pretty Things

Metascore: 78
Best for: Fans of crime thrillers with heavy doses of social and political commentary
Where to watch:

, Google Play, HBO MaxiTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 97 minutes

Ejiofor stars as Okwe, a West African doctor who fled from his home country after being accused of murdering his wife and now holds down two jobs in London in Steven Knight and Stephen Frears' Oscar- and BAFTA-nominated 2002 thriller. One of those jobs is working at a hotel, and it is there that he is introduced to the seedy underbelly of his new home. Juliette (Sophie Okonedo), a prostitute at the hotel, alerts Okwe to a clogged toilet, but when he goes to the room to fix it, he sees what is causing the clog is a human organ. He then learns that the hotel has a deal where immigrants will trade organs (usually kidneys) for passports. Due to his own status and that of his friend Senay (Audrey Tautou), Okwe gets more involved in this trade than he would like.

"It's best appraised as a strong ensemble piece, a darkly dreamy slab of social commentary." — Gregory Weinkauf, Dallas Observer


American Gangster

Metascore: 76
Best for: Fans of drug-related crime dramas
Where to watch: 

Google PlayiTunesVudu
Runtime: 157 minutes

Real-life drug lord Frank Lucas gets the biopic treatment in Ridley Scott and Steven Zaillian's 2007 film, starring Denzel Washington as Frank and Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts, a lawyer trying to bring Frank (and his associates) down. The film is set in the 1960s when Frank uses Vietnam War veterans to smuggle heroin into the United States. His unique hold on the business garners him power within his community, but it also puts many targets on this back. Ejiofor plays Huey Lucas, Frank's brother.

"Washington [is] charming, intense, and charismatic as ever." — Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club


Inside Man

Metascore: 76
Best for: Fans of heist movies
Where to watch:

, Google Play, , iTunes,
Runtime: 129 minutes

The 2007 AFI winner for Movie of the Year takes place over the course of a Wall Street heist. Owen plays Dalton Russell, a man claiming responsibility for what he calls the "perfect" bank robbery, which includes dressing the hostages up like the disguised robbers to cause confusion among the police. The cast also includes Denzel Washington, Willem Dafoe, and Ejiofor as detectives brought in to assess and rectify the situation; Jodie Foster as a fixer hired by the bank to protect specific assets; and Christopher Plummer as the founder of the bank who has dark secrets about those assets and how he started the bank in the first place.

"As with all of Lee's films, there's much more going on beneath the surface than is immediately apparent." — Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle 


Serenity

Metascore: 74
Best for: Fans of Firefly, sci-fi space dramas and twists on Westerns
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, , Vudu
Runtime: 119 minutes

After Fox canceled Firefly in 2002, Joss Whedon tweaked his space drama for the big screen, reuniting his television cast and continuing the story in this 2005 feature. Set in the 2500s, Serenity stars Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, the leader of the rebels onboard a the titular spaceship that travels just outside the reach of the new regime that controls most of their universe. However, after the ship takes River (Summer Glau), a psychic who accidentally read the minds of government officials, and her brother Simon (Sean Maher), it is pursued by a sinister agent known as the Operative (Ejiofor), determined to capture River himself and make sure she can't spill the government's secrets.

"A brash, funny, action-packed bit of sci-fi ecstasy — and a giant raspberry to the execs who let Firefly fall out of the sky." — Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune


Doctor Strange

Metascore: 72
Best for: Fans of Marvel Comics, mind-bending magic, and movies that include time travel plots
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 115 minutes

Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the title role, a doctor (well, a neurosurgeon, to be more precise) whose own healing journey leads him to learn about magic and other dimensions through Karl Mordo (Ejiofor), a master of the mystic arts who acts as a mentor to the doctor. While they are studying together, though, there is a dangerous plot occurring around the theft of pieces of the Ancient One's (Tilda Swinton) text that also involves drawing power from the Dark Dimension. The titular doctor has to get involved, using his newfound knowledge to save the Earth. This 2016 Marvel adaptation earned an Oscar nomination in the visual effects category and is spawning a 2022 sequel.

"A mind-blowing special-effects extravaganza, and the most exciting comic-book flick since Deadpool." — Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch


The Old Guard

Metascore: 70
Best for: Fans of sci-fi infused teamwork and revenge tales
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 125 minutes

Charlize Theron stars as Andy, aka Andromache of Scythia, in director Gina Prince-Bythewood's 2020 adaptation of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández's comics of the same title. Andy is an immortal warrior who leads a group of similarly-able mercenaries that take people all across the globe. Because of their unique condition, they travel a lot and try to avoid coming into contact with the same people from previous missions, but when former CIA agent James Copley (Ejiofor) calls upon them to help rescue a group of young women, they think the cause outweighs their concerns and take the job. It proves to be a setup, revealing their abilities to the audience as well as Copley, who is working with a shady executive to try to capture these immortals. While they set out to track down James, there is a new one out there who needs to be taught who she really is and what she can do.

"Very grounded and very entertaining, a marriage of expectations and twists unlike little else the genre has inspired even during its most fruitful times." — Kate Erbland, IndieWire


Redbelt

Metascore: 69
Best for: Fans of morally-conflicted protagonists, stories set in Hollywood, and martial arts 
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, , Vudu
Runtime: 99 minutes

Writer-director David Mamet explores the world of martial arts in this 2008 film starring Ejiofor as Mike Terry, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teacher whose life is forever altered after he agrees to keep the truth of a shooting from the police and his insurance company. Although his intentions may have been good (to help out a woman who was in distress), the decision costs him financially, an area of his life in which he was already struggling. But another chance encounter, this time at a nightclub, presents him a new business opportunity that puts his training to use within Hollywood. Here is where things turn a bit meta, as he has to reconcile his strict code of ethics and integrity with new opportunities to fight.

"It's certainly not Mamet's signature rapid-fire dialogue, but it's an intriguing and engrossing departure." — Claudia Puig, USA Today


Talk to Me

Metascore: 69
Best for: Fans of socially- and politically-conscious dramas
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 118 minutes

Yet another biopic, this time Ejiofor stars as Dewey Hughes opposite Don Cheadle as Ralph "Petey" Greene. Kasi Lemmons directed the 2007 film that follows ex-con Petey as he hosts a popular radio talk show, giving a voice to activism in his community from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. Spanning so much of the man's life allows many different facets and achievements to be covered, from his success to his struggles and ultimately his death. Dewey is by his side throughout the film as his friend and manager, and Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer, Martin Sheen, and Mike Epps also star in the film.

"A rowdy, richly offbeat biopic." — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly