Michael B. Jordan's 10 best performances
Like many Hollywood A-listers, Michael B. Jordan began his show business career working as a child model before making the transition to acting at age 12. The actor, producer, and now director — thanks to the release of Creed III — made a name for himself on the small screen with stints on three critically acclaimed television dramas of the past two decades: The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Parenthood. His undeniable charisma and sheer talent carried him far, making him a TV favorite.
Once he jumped to the big screen, it didn't take long for Jordan to become a major movie star as well. The 36-year-old actor's brilliance has been consistent, and with over 40 film and TV credits to his name, choosing his best performances is a difficult task. After a thorough review of Jordan's superb résumé, we pulled together a list (in chronological order) of his best roles.
Two years after making his acting debut in a 1999 episode of The Sopranos, Jordan delivered his first significant film performance in the sports dramedy Hardball.
Starring Keanu Reeves as a gambling addict who takes a gig coaching a Little League team (the Kekambas) from a Chicago housing project in order to pay off his debts, Jordan plays one of the kids he coaches. When it's revealed Jamal's birth certificate has been altered and he's too old to play in the league, he's kicked off the team. Jamal's devastated and goes from being a funny kid who just wants to play baseball to a hardened kid who gets caught up in a gang. Though Jordan's role is minor, it demonstrated the vast dramatic potential he had at the age of 13.
<i>The Wire</i> (2002)
Jordan continued to grow as an actor appearing in 13 gritty episodes in season 1 of HBO's The Wire as Wallace, a young, naive drug who works for drug kingpin Stringer Bell (Idris Elba). His character's downfall is his moral conscience, as he attempts to leave the drug trade and serves as an informant to the police. Spoiler alert (in case you missed it 20 years ago): He was killed under orders from Bell.
Wallace's murder shocked viewers and served as the emotional apex of the show's first season, thanks to Jordan's moving performance, which he drew from his own experience growing up in a rougher part of Newark, N.J., to inform his character and lure the audience into his doomed dilemma.
<i>All My Children</i> (2003-2006)
Following The Wire, Jordan had a chance to prove his versatility as a regular on the ABC daytime drama All My Children for three years in the early 2000s.
Jordan portrayed Reggie Porter Montgomery, a troubled teen who was adopted by former district attorney Jackson Montgomery (Walt Willey). Chadwick Boseman originated the role, but was fired after voicing concerns about Reggie's "thuggish" racial stereotyping. Still, his speaking up did lead to producers revising the way the character was written once Jordan took over — a change Jordan credits his Black Panther costar for.
"I was playing this role not knowing that a lot of the things I was going through were because of what [Boseman had] already done for me," Jordan said in a 2019 interview TheWrap conducted with both actors. "It's hard to speak in the moment about how things we do can affect other people. But this is a pure example, right here on the spot — we ain't never talked about this before a day in our lives — to understand how what people do now can directly affect what other people do in the future. And the work that we're doing on Black Panther is hopefully doing the same thing for the next group of actors that are coming up, just like our predecessors opened up doors and made things easier for us."
<i>Friday Night Lights</i> (2009-2011)
Jordan returned to pulling heartstrings in the Emmy Award-winning series Friday Night Lights as Vince Howard, the star quarterback of one of the nation's best high school football teams in Texas.
Once again, Jordan appears as an undisciplined youth who avoids going to juvenile detention by joining East Dillon High's team despite never playing football before. Introduced in season 4 and continuing through the final fifth season, Vince is a naturally gifted athlete who struggles with an inflated ego when colleges start recruiting him. The situation is compounded when his father gets out of jail, and starts offering up advice that contradicts Coach Taylor's (Kyle Chandler). Vince is benched for his arrogance, but eventually turns his attitude around and leads East Dillon to the state championship — while Jordan's stellar performance in the compelling story arc cemented his rising-star status.
Jordan delivered another deeply powerful television performance in the NBC family dramedy Parenthood, with a recurring role in seasons 2 and 3 as Haddie's (Sarah Ramos) boyfriend Alex. Haddie's parents (Peter Krause and Monica Potter) initially object to her relationship with Alex, as they feel he's too mature for their teenage daughter— he lives alone and is a recovering alcoholic. But the soup kitchen manager is a good guy with a good heart, who ultimately breaks up with Haddie because they are from different worlds. Thanks to Jordan's riveting portrayal, viewers were just as upset over the breakup as Haddie and her family were.
Jordan first worked with Fantastic Four director Josh Trank on Chronicle, an independent superhero movie featuring three high school friends who gained special powers after encountering a mysterious object near their homes in Seattle.
The film explores the dark side of superpowers through a found-footage-style lens with Jordan starring as Steve Montgomery, a popular high school student who, along with his peers, develops telekinetic abilities with dire consequences. His role is pivotal as a heroic and charismatic young man who inspires his friends to use their powers for more than just their own amusement. And his pathos, along with the film's excellent special effects, are deeply affecting. As EW's critic writes, "We're not just staring at another visually glib high-flying fantasy — we're drawn, through the ingenuity of the staging, right into the middle of it."
<i>Fruitvale Station</i> (2013)
One year after Chronicle, Jordan's breakthrough performance came in Fruitvale Station as Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed Black man who was fatally shot in the back by a BART police officer in 2009. The film — which tells the true story of the last 24 hours in Oscar's life — also shed light on how much still needs to be done in the fight for racial justice.
EW's review of the film praises Jordan's performance as being "grippingly subtle. He shows us the despair that's ruling Oscar, the street 'tude he puts on like armor, and the joy that comes out only when he's at the home of his mother (Octavia Spencer)."
In addition to being Jordan's first lead film role, Fruitvale Station also marked the beginning of Jordan's special partnership with Ryan Coogler, who made his directorial debut with the film — and would go on to work with Jordan again.
<i>Creed</i> (2015), <i>Creed II</i> (2018), and <i>Creed III</i> (2023)
After the disappointment that was Fantastic Four, Jordan reunited with Coogler, who directed the film the actor is arguably best known for: Creed. Though critics had low expectations for this Rocky spin-off, it became one of the most surprising hits of the year.
Jordan stars as Adonis "Donnie" Creed, son of former heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed, previously portrayed by Carl Weathers in the Rocky franchise. Adonis is trained and mentored by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the former rival turned friend of his late father.
"Jordan and Stallone (looser and more vulnerable than he's been in 30 years) give the film an undeniable, lump-in-the-throat poignancy," reads EW's review, which declared the movie to be the best Rocky installment since the 1976 original.
Now considered to be one of the best boxing movies of all time, Creed earned Stallone a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and reinvigorated the franchise, leading to Creed II in 2018 and Creed III in 2023 (this time directed by Jordan himself).
<i>Black Panther</i> (2018)
Jordan and Coogler's success with Fruitvale Station and Creed set the stage for their historic third collaboration, Black Panther, in which Jordan portrays archvillain Erik Killmonger (a.k.a. N'Jadaka).
A former U.S. Navy SEAL lieutenant and the cousin of T'Challa (the titular superhero), Killmonger returns to Wakanda to challenge him for the throne. Jordan is magnetic in the role and eventually becomes king before T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns from his apparent death for their climatic duel.
One of Marvel's most compelling villains, Jordan's portrayal of the scarred warrior earned him an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain. "Jordan's kinetic Killmonger is no cat-stroking cartoon villain," reads EW's review of the film. "He's a genuinely tragic figure, a self-appointed warden of social justice irreparably warped by the wrongs done to him."
10. <i>Just Mercy</i> (2019)
From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the boxing ring, Jordan continued to showcase his ability to embrace a broad spectrum of characters when he stepped into the courtroom for Just Mercy. In the emotional legal drama — based on Bryan Stevenson's best-selling 2014 memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption — Jordan stars as Stevenson, a young defense attorney who represents inmates on death row in Alabama —including Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), a Black man wrongfully convicted of murdering a young white woman. Following a four-year legal battle, including winning an appeal retrial in the Supreme Court, Stevenson's determination leads to the murder conviction being overturned.
Jordan, who also served as a producer on the conventional-yet-compelling film, once again delivers a raw, moving performance, with EW's critic remarking: "What continually floats the film is the commitment of its excellent cast, and the intrinsic truth at its core: that justice shouldn't be divided by Black and white, even if the message that delivers it sometimes is."