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A Guide to Morgan Freeman’s Best Work — From ‘Electric Company’ to ‘Shawshank Redemption’

It’s that calm, cool and silky-smooth voice that immediately identifies Morgan Freeman, legendary actor, producer and narrator. Playing God in two movies, you have to wonder if God actually has a similar mellifluous sound.

The Academy Award winning actor’s first narration was in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption, in which he co-starred with Tim Robbins. His voiceover was one of the reasons why the movie endures as one of the most beloved films ever, even though it clocks in at three hours. But his acting career began long before this prison buddy movie was released.

young morgan freeman with oscar
Morgan Freeman wins an Oscar (2005)Getty

Throughout a career spanning five decades and multiple film genres, Freeman has received numerous accolades, including an Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG Award. He has also been awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008 and several lifetime achievement awards over the years.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, a young Morgan Freeman was raised in Mississippi where he began acting in school plays at age nine — playing the lead role. Three years later, he won a statewide drama competition, seeming to indicate that he had found his passion. But after high school graduation, he turned down a partial drama scholarship, choosing to enlist in the U.S. Air Force instead.

Morgan Freeman smiling
Morgan Freeman (2012)Getty

When I was getting close to being accepted for pilot training, I was allowed to get in a jet airplane,” Freeman explained. “I sat there looking at all those switches and dials and I got the distinct feeling that I was sitting in the nose of a bomb. I realized my fantasies of flying and fighting were just that — fantasies. They had nothing to do with reality. What I wanted was the movie version. So that was the end of the whole idea of doing anything other than acting for me.”

Serving four years as an Air Force mechanic, Freeman’s first dramatic arts exposure was on the stage, including an appearance in an all-Black production of the musical, Hello, Dolly. He continued working on stage from there, receiving high praise and awards for his theatrical performances.

morgan freeman
Morgan Freeman (2011)Frazer Harrison / Staff

Since then, Freeman has grown into one of the most respected actors of our time and has become a formidable force in cinema, television and the stage. Here’s a look at some of Morgan Freeman’s earlier roles.

The Electric Company (1971): Young Morgan Freeman

Easy Reader, Mel Mounds and Count Dracula on the Children’s TV Workshop were Freeman’s characters on this show. This marked Freeman’s first screen appearance, providing him with financial stability and recognition among American audiences, which would lead to his accepting prominent supporting roles in feature films.

Attica (1980)

Freeman played Hap Richards in this TV film re-creation of the tragic events that led up to the Attica Prison riot in 1971 and its aftermath.

Brubaker (1980): Young Morgan Freeman

Freeman took on another prison drama in this small role as Walter. The film stars Robert Redford as the new warden who comes in disguised as an inmate to help implement reforms desdigned to stop corruption at the prison.

Eyewitness (1981)

This time out he plays Lt. Black in this crime drama mystery. Black sets out to solve the whodunnit after a woman’s body is discovered in a building.

Death of a Prophet (1981): Young Morgan Freeman

Freeman portrayed the final 24 hours of slain Malcolm X in this film where Malcolm X continued to spread the word of equality and brotherhood right up until this untimely assassination.

Another World

From 1982 to 1984, Freeman was part of the soap opera Another World, playing architect Roy Bingham.

Street Smart (1987): Young Morgan Freeman

Freeman received an Oscar nomination for his performance as Fast Black, an unforgettable violent street hustler, which was quite a departure from his earlier roles. Black was a tough villain who could also be charming. Freeman has said that this movie was his breakthrough role. It also stars Christopher Reeve, best known, of course, as Superman.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

A second Oscar nomination came Freeman’s way for for his role of Hoke Colburn, chauffeur for a Jewish widow. Based on Alfred Uhry’s play of the same name in which Freeman had appeared previously, the film version had him reprise the role. The movie was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Freeman.

Glory (1989): Young Morgan Freeman

Freeman teamed up with Denzel Washington and a young Matthew Broderick in this epic Civil War drama about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army’s 2nd African American regiment in the Civil War. His role as Sergeant Major John Rawlins was highly praised. The actor has said that this movie was one of his favorites. “The Black legacy is as noble, is as heroic, is as filled with adventure and conquest and discovery as anybody else’s. It’s just that nobody knows it.”

Lean On Me (1989)

The biographical drama has Freeman playing Joe Clark, no-nonsense principal of an under-performing and drug and crime-ridden New Jersey high school.

Johnny Handsome (1989): Young Morgan Freeman

The crime drama set in New Orleans saw Freeman as a local police officer. From here, Freeman’s career would only continued to rise throughout the 1990s, scoring a wide variety of strong roles in different films.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

A disappointing critical and box office film about a culture clash marred by tragedy. Despite the presence of Freeman, Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis, it simply did not work.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991): Young Morgan Freeman

The action-adventure film stars Kevin Costner in the title role and saw Freeman cast as Azeem. Robin and Azeem join forces with Little John (Nick Brimble) and Will Scarlett (Christian Slater) to save the kingdom from the vicious sheriff’s villainy.

Unforgiven (1992)

In this Oscar winning film for Best Picture directed by Clint Eastwood, Freeman plays gunman Ned Logan, who was wooed out of retirement by friend William Munny (Eastwood) to avenge several prostitutes in the wild west town of Big Whiskey.

Bopha! (1993): Young Morgan Freeman

Taking cues from Eastwood, Freeman made his directorial debut with this film and formed his own production company, Revelations Entertainment. The story tells of a black policeman (Danny Glover) during South African’s apartheid era.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Then came the film that put Freeman back behind bars and gave him his third Oscar nomination for playing Red, the redeemed convict in this acclaimed drama, based on Stephen King’s novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. While Red’s character was originally written as a white Irishman, it’s difficult to imagine this role not being written exclusively for Freeman. His moving and quietly impressive performance carried things from beginning to end.

Deep Impact (1995): Young Morgan Freeman

Freeman portrays President Beck in this action/sci-fi film in which a comet is discovered hurdling towards Earth, with the human race preparing for the worst.

Under Suspicion (2000)

The thriller remake of a 1981 French film had been making the Hollywood rounds for about a dozen years. Freeman finally snatched it up and was able to produce it under his Revelations Entertainment banner. The film co-stars Gene Hackman.

Along Came a Spider (2001): Young Morgan Freeman

In this thriller, Freeman portrays detective Alex Cross, who is investigating the kidnapping of a Senator’s daughter.

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Based on Tom Clancy’s novel of the same name, the spy thriller cast Freeman opposite Ben Affleck in a plot about triggerring a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. The film became a big commercial success.

Million Dollar Baby (2004): Young Morgan Freeman

Freeman and Eastwood reteamed for Million Dollar Baby. In this sports drama, Freeman is cast as ex-prize fighter Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris, who works in a run-down boxing gym alongside grizzled trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) to hone the skills of a female boxer (Hilary Swank). It not only garnered Freeman his fourth Oscar nomination, but also his first win.

Batman Begins (2005)

The year 2005 proved to be a big one for Freeman when he began his Batman trilogy as Lucius Fox, an ally of Bruce Wayne/Batman and in its two sequels, 2008’s Batman Begins and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.

With Freeman’s career and narration projects still very much happening, the actor waxes philosophical about his career, looking back at what could have been and what might be. “Should, Woulda, coulda — it’s all the twilight zone of the subjunctive mood.’ I read that somewhere. That sums it up very well for me.”

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