The 12 Best Angela Bassett Movies, Ranked

Angela Bassett is now one of the most revered and respected actresses in Hollywood after multiple decades in the business. There were only two years between her breakthrough role in "Boyz n the Hood," to her Oscar-nominated role as Tina Turner in "What's Love Got to Do with It." Bassett not winning that year has long been considered one of the worst snubs in Oscar history. Despite Bassett's deserved stature in the industry, being tasked with finding substantial roles in 12 good movies was harder than anticipated. This goes to show that however talented and skilled a Black actress is, she will not necessarily get the opportunities for leading roles that she should rightfully have.

Despite this, Bassett has still worked with a wide range of filmmakers, including John Sayles, Wes Craven, John Singleton, Forest Whitaker, and Spike Lee, and has taken on a wide range of roles. She has worked with Laurence Fishburne three times, as well as other respected actors such as Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Eddie Murphy, and in a surprising piece of casting; Ralph Fiennes. Bassett has been introduced to a new generation by playing Queen Ramonda of Wakanda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a role which very much relies on how respected she is within the industry. As can be seen in "Boyz n the Hood," Bassett has been a commanding, powerful presence from the jump — and she always makes a big impression, no matter how small the role is. Here are 12 of Angela Bassett's best movies.

12. Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Angela Bassett hasn't done too many genre movies, or comedies, where she gets to let her hair down and have fun. While Wes Craven's "Vampire in Brooklyn" may not be one of the best vampire movies of all time, it does provide Bassett with a substantial role and it shows a different side to her. Eddie Murphy plays the titular vampire Max, who comes to Brooklyn from the Caribbean seeking a Dhampir (daughter of a vampire and human). 

Kadeem Hardison ("A Different World") plays Julius, who is bitten by Max early on and spends the rest of the movie slowly decaying, providing the funniest moments. Murphy does his usual schtick of playing other characters — including a preacher and an Italian-American gangster. Allen Payne ("The Cosby Show") plays the partner of Bassett's detective Rita Veder, and the film is surprisingly sexy at times. Bassett gets to wear a stunning outfit on a date with Max, which is particularly jaw-dropping.

Not all of the humor in "Vampire in Brooklyn" lands, and it belongs to Murphy's messier batch of movies, rather than his classics. Bassett takes the role seriously, and there is emotion provided when her roommate is murdered, and when she believes her partner has betrayed her. "Vampire in Brooklyn" is a fun horror-comedy, but Bassett's acting is as impressive as ever, even while things around her are so chaotic and a mixture of tones.

11. Waiting to Exhale (1995)

Four exceptional actresses — Lela Rochon, Loretta Devine, Whitney Houston, and Angela Bassett — were brought together for actor Forest Whitaker's directorial debut in the mid-1990s for a film about four friends and their romantic entanglements. Two of the characters (Houston's Savannah and Rochon's Robin) are having affairs with married men, and Devine's Gloria is a single mother whose new neighbor Marvin (Gregory Hines) brightens up her life. In "Waiting to Exhale," Bassett plays Bernie, a woman who has given up on her own career ambitions to raise children so her husband John (Michael Beach) can have a high-powered business career. When he confesses that he has been having an affair and is leaving her, Bernie becomes a classic scorned woman, bent on revenge.

Giancarlo Esposito plays Gloria's ex-husband, who comes out as gay, and Wesley Snipes plays a potential new love interest for Bassett's Bernie — a lawyer whose wife is dying. Although the film is very much concerned with the many no-good men in their lives, the best scenes in "Waiting to Exhale" involve the four women coming together to support one another. Bassett and Snipes do have great chemistry though. This would be higher up the list, but it feels like Houston is wasted as the blandest of the four central characters, and it can be frustrating to watch four beautiful, intelligent women wrap up their feelings of worth in the (mostly worthless) men in their lives. By the end, most of them have gone on journeys of self-fulfillment and have extricated themselves from bad situations, so there is a happy ending.

10. Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

Bassett has a small, but mighty, role in the sixth installment of the long-running action franchise led by Tom Cruise. "Mission: Impossible – Fallout" upped the game yet again, with absolutely mind-blowing action sequences — from the HALO jump to the car chase through the heart of Paris to the helicopter chase in the mountains. Henry Cavill (who was famously also filming "Justice League" at the time) swapped the heroic red cape for a villainous mustache and played August Walker — who consistently rubs up against Cruise's Ethan Hunt. Walker's boss is CIA Director Erika Sloane (Bassett) — and she gets a couple of memorable scenes with Cavill, one of which takes place with a stunning Eiffel Tower backdrop.

Given the twisty nature of these movies, no one knows who to trust, Hunt is framed, betrayals abound, and loyalties consistently shift. Bassett brings the requisite amount of authority to the role, with her sharp Pixie cut, pearl necklace, gold hoops, and killer heels. She gets some cutthroat lines including calling Hunt's team; "a bunch of grown men in rubber masks playing trick or treat." There also seems to be some sexual tension with Cavill's Walker, but that may be wishful thinking. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Bassett is not in "Mission: Impossible – Fallout" enough, and the film doesn't utilize her gifts fully. It is one of the best action movies of the 2010s though, so definitely worth watching.

9. Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Angela Bassett was already 33 years old when she had one of her first movie roles (after appearing in theatre and on several television shows from 1985 onwards) in John Singleton's seminal "Boyz n the Hood." She plays the mother of Tre Styles — who at the start of the movie is 10 years old, then there is a time-jump to following Tre at 17 years old (when he is played by Cuba Gooding Jr.). With this being Bassett's first prominent movie credit, and it being a supporting role as a mother (followed quickly by the supporting role of Malcolm X's wife), she would frequently be cast in similar parts for the rest of her career. 

After getting into a fight at school, and there being many shootings in the area, Tre is sent to be raised mainly by his father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne, in his first movie collaboration with Bassett), so Bassett only really gets two main scenes. But the character of Reva Devereaux already has many Bassett hallmarks — a fierce conviction and a strong sense of right and wrong, especially when it comes to what is best for her children. Reva has a job and is attending college, and is determined that she and Tre will both rise above their circumstances and get out of South Central LA, which could be a dangerous place in the early '90s. It makes a good companion piece to "Akeelah and the Bee" which is set in the same area and shows a slightly different approach to motherhood from Bassett's character.

8. Chi-Raq (2015)

Theatricality has long been a major element of Spike Lee's movies — with his characters frequently breaking the fourth wall, and him often using narration or a Greek chorus to comment on the action. This came to a head in 2015's "Chi-Raq," which is based on the Ancient Greek play "Lysistrata," in which women withhold sex from their husbands in an effort to stop a war. Lee transports the action to the modern-day South Side of Chicago, where Miss Helen Worthy (Bassett) inspires Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) to withhold sex from gang leader Chi-Raq (a brilliantly cast Nick Cannon). The movement gains national awareness and leads to a widespread strike-slash-sex boycott.

Bassett has the role of wise sage and mentor to the younger women of her community. Miss Worthy is extremely well-read and owns a bookshop. She gathers the mothers who have lost children and advocates for peaceful protest. Music has always been an integral element of Lee's work as well, and "Chi-Raq" could be described as a musical, with much of the dialogue spoken in verse. Miss Worthy's initial conversation with Lysistrata, in which she introduces her to Leymah Gbowee (who used the threat of a sex strike to help end the Liberian Civil War), is an incredible back-and-forth of rhyming couplets, with both actresses firing on all cylinders. Bassett gets a moment at the end, where she finally reveals her tragic backstory in Cabrini-Green, which is also award-worthy. "Chi-Raq" has been largely overlooked in the Lee canon, but deserves way more attention.

7. Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Before Keke Palmer found renewed movie fame in 2022's "Nope," she was a child star on Nickelodeon, a talk show host, and an R&B singer. Her breakthrough movie role was in 2006's "Akeelah and the Bee," when she was just 12 years old. Palmer plays a gifted student in Crenshaw, who has a love of spelling instilled by her father, who was murdered. Bassett plays her mother Tanya, who has a busy life as a nurse, plus constant worries about Akeelah's older brother. Akeelah begins to train with Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne, co-starring with Bassett for a third time) to compete in the National Spelling Bee but hides it from her mother.

Things come to a head at the movie's halfway point, when Akeelah attends the regional bee, and Tanya pulls her off the stage. There is a resulting stand-off between Akeelah's principal and Larabee. Bassett is typically blistering, portraying determination and stubbornness, but it's masking the fear and love she has for her child. Bassett and Palmer have several tender scenes together, and Tanya's backstory of dropping out of college is revealed. Akeelah's community ends up banding together to help coach her all the way to the nationals.

It's clear that Palmer learned a lot from being lucky enough to work with Bassett and Fishburne at such a young age, as can be seen in a video where they discussed the movie. It's great to see Bassett and Fishburne reunite with such a different dynamic to "What's Love Got To Do With It" as well, proving both actors' incredible range.

6. How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)

At age 40, Bassett played Stella, a successful stockbroker from San Francisco who is persuaded to take a rare vacation to Jamaica by her best friend Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg). There, Stella meets the impossibly-named Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs), who is 20, and they have a holiday romance in "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." The movie follows Stella's resistance to the love affair, thinking that it cannot possibly work, even after Winston pursues her to San Francisco and starts to bond with her son Quincy. Stella has two sisters, who are like an angel and a devil on her shoulder — played by Suzzanne Douglas and Regina King.

As can often be the case, the relationships between the women in this romantic movie run the gamut of emotions just as much, if not more so, than the romance itself. Goldberg is an absolute scene-stealer as Delilah, and her friendship with Stella is extremely moving, especially as it takes a more tragic turn. King is also really fun as Stella's wild younger sister, who doesn't let her job as an EMT get in the way of her social life. Diggs is almost impossibly sultry as the Jamaican charmer, and it's very easy to understand why Stella falls under his spell. More of a romantic drama than a rom-com (although there are funny moments), "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" is elevated by a strong script and even better performances. Stella's gorgeous house is also a real highlight.

5. Sunshine State (2002)

Angela Bassett collaborated with writer-director John Sayles three times, and each of these movies is an ensemble drama full of well-rounded characters. Sayles is adept at portraying a wide range of Black and white, rich and poor characters with a strong sense of place — each of the three films depicts recognizable, relatable people who are absolutely a product of their specific circumstances. In their third collaboration, "Sunshine State," Bassett plays Desiree, a woman in her 40s returning to her hometown with her new young husband. It has been many years since Desiree last visited her mother, for reasons which gradually become apparent over the course of the film.

"Sunshine State" is set on an island community in Florida and was filmed on Amelia Island. Much of the land and property are under threat from developers who are looking to exploit the beachfront. Edie Falco co-stars as a motel owner, feeling under pressure to keep the family business afloat. Her mother runs a community theater, and a young relative of Desiree's is sent to the theater as community service. The intertwining lives of the people in this small community, and how their actions have ripple effects on others, are sensitively portrayed by the strong ensemble of actors who adeptly interpret Sayles' nuanced script. Bassett and Mary Alice, who plays her mother, are particularly great in their scenes together — it's the kind of complicated relationship that we don't see enough of in movies today.

4. Malcolm X (1992)

Spike Lee had already made five well-received movies by the time he was 35 years old, and almost all of them had a rich vein of humor in them, even when tackling dark subject matters. For his sixth movie, he took on something very different — a biopic of civil rights leader Malcolm X — a three-hour, 20-minute epic starring Denzel Washington in the lead role. Malcolm X was a much more complicated and controversial figure than Martin Luther King Jr., and his story is entwined with the Nation of Islam. Angela Bassett plays Malcolm's wife, Betty Shabazz, and there is an important scene where she tries to alert him that his hero Elijah Muhammad is perhaps not as perfect as he seems, and doesn't practice what he preaches. Malcolm rejects her claims, but would later realize that Betty was right.

The scene where Malcolm X is gunned down in front of a large crowd, which included his wife and children, is obviously a major moment for Bassett. She climbs onto the stage wailing, "They killed him, they killed him" and Washington and Bassett are filmed from directly overhead by cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson. The shadow that Betty casts over Malcolm's body looks like a giant pool of blood. Bassett plays the difficult role well — as a loyal wife and mother, and one committed to the religion and cause that her husband believed in so fiercely. However, she was also prepared to stand up for herself and her children when necessary. An important early role for Bassett, with one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

3. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

2018's "Black Panther" is one of the very best Marvel movies, but Angela Bassett gets more to do in its sequel, finally released after much delay in late 2022. Due to lead actor Chadwick Boseman's tragic passing, Bassett's Ramonda steps up as ruler of Wakanda in the wake of T'Challa's death. Queen Ramonda has to go before the UN, contend with her daughter Shuri's doubts and struggles, and deal with a new threat to Wakanda — all while navigating her own grief. 

Bassett bounces off the other actors brilliantly — particularly Winston Duke (M'Baku) and Danai Gurira (Okoye) — the latter of whom provides Bassett's big moment. Ruth E. Carter's costume design has a huge role to play in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" across the board, but especially in defining Ramonda. Her funeral robes, and her stately queen's garb (complete with structured headdresses) all aid Bassett's gravitas. Bassett has been playing mothers since her breakthrough role in 1991's "Boyz in the Hood," and Queen Ramonda feels like the culmination of this — she is grief-stricken at the loss of T'Challa, but must become the mother of Wakanda. She is willing to sacrifice everything in order to protect her remaining child and her country. Bassett is unparalleled in her ability to deliver righteous fury, and no one would want to be on the receiving end of one of her takedowns. She is a powerful force, and the MCU is lucky to have her.

2. Strange Days (1995)

The casting for Kathryn Bigelow's mid-'90s cyberpunk cult classic is inexplicable but somehow works. In "Strange Days," Ralph Fiennes plays completely against type as Lenny — a Los Angeles dirt-bag grifter who is obsessed with his ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis). Angela Bassett plays his equally unlikely best friend Mace, who is a chauffeur and bodyguard. The setting is New Year's Eve 1999 (only a few years after the film was made) but is portrayed as a futuristic dystopia with constant rioting on the streets, criminality running rampant, and many people being addicted to an illegal electronic device called a SQUID. The SQUID allows the recording and playback of memories that allows the wearer to experience all of the sensations that come with that memory and is unsurprisingly mainly used for porn.

In the best tradition of "Blade Runner," the film blends film noir with sci-fi, as well as social commentary — as Bigelow and writer James Cameron were influenced by the 1992 LA riots. The cast is rounded out by some great '90s character actors including Tom Sizemore, Vincent D'Onofrio, and William Fichtner. The degree to which the film, and especially the central partnership of Fiennes and Bassett, absolutely should not work on any level cannot be overstated. It's a testament to the writing and their performances that they pull it off. One of the best lines is Mace saying to Lenny, "Don't use the time while I'm talking thinking about what you're going to say next." A critical and commercial failure upon release, "Strange Days" has rightfully been reclaimed as one of the '90s' best movies.

1. What's Love Got To Do With It (1993)

Famously considered one of the most egregious Oscar snubs in history, Angela Bassett gave the performance of her life playing Tina Turner in the early '90s. The biopic of a music star is now often considered formulaic and cliched ("Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" has a lot to answer for), and rewarding biopic performances has become increasingly passé, but in 1993 there hadn't been as many in the genre. Bassett also starred in 1992's "The Jacksons" miniseries as their mother and in 2009's "Notorious" as the mother of Biggie Smalls. In "What's Love Got to Do with It" — it was Bassett's turn in the spotlight, for once.

Bassett plays Anna Mae, who travels from Nutbush to St. Louis, where she meets Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne), who brings different girls on stage to sing with his band every night. When Anna Mae opens her mouth to sing, she astonishes Ike and the audience with her unique and powerful voice. Fishburne has the difficult task of portraying Ike's undeniable charisma but transforming into a monster once Ike and Anna marry. He gives her the stage name Tina Turner without her knowledge while she is giving birth.

Although Bassett doesn't do her own singing, she gained the physique and the physicality of Turner for the role — with her impressive dance moves being a highlight. The film doesn't pull its punches when it comes to the violence and abuse enacted by Ike Turner, so is not the easiest, breeziest of biopics, but Bassett deserves all of the plaudits for her performance.