10 Movies to Watch to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr. This MLK Day

This list of movies about Martin Luther King, Jr. includes documentaries, civil rights movies and miniseries.

It is often said that one of the greatest ways to honor the past is to be mindful of the sacrifices made for our current civil liberties. If movies are your way of commemorating, we’re here to help you in remembrance on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The current political and social landscape has further confirmed that the attempt to press forward without a solid understanding of the history of a nation or a people only makes room to perpetuate patterns of behavior and thought that do more detriment than good. As we look to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy on Monday, January 16, 2023, it’s important to remember that he was not just a civil rights activist. He was a man of faith, a husband and a strategic visionary.

Looking at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life can’t be defined or represented by just examining the Civil Rights era, so with that in mind the selections below showcase both fiction and non-fiction depictions of the spectrum of King’s life as well as the impact of his legacy. From his childhood in Georgia to falling in love with Coretta Scott King while working on his doctorate in Boston, the selections below provide a multidimensional picture of a man who changed the face of America.

Related: Facts About MLK

Movies about Martin Luther King, Jr. to watch on MLK Day

King in the Wilderness (2018)

Directed by Peter Kunhardt, King in the Wilderness made its debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. This documentary does not aim to present a glorified perception of King, yet highlights his often misunderstood commitment to nonviolence. The visual aesthetic is raw and deliberate in its portrayal of a man who was torn and conflicted in the final chapters of his life. This documentary candidly shares how King was perceived by both leaders of the Black Power Movement and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Watch it on HBO.

I Am MLK Jr. (2018)

Directed by Michael Hamilton and John BarbisanI Am MLK Jr. is a feature documentary that examines the character of King. It features interviews from the late Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, CNN’s Van Jones, Rev. Al Sharpton, Civil Rights Activist Diane Nash and more. Set in the very churches that King preached in, the doc is a compilation of interviews that provide a vast spectrum of perspectives on why the legacy that King established is still so relevant today.

Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime Video.

The Boy King (1986)

Directed by Billy J. Parrot, The Boy King highlights a part of King’s life that is rarely showcased: his childhood. This drama shares some of the early forms of discrimination that King encountered and how it shaped him for his future. It shows how the loving and nurturing home environment that he was cultivated in shaped his ideologies.

Buy it on Amazon.

Related: Movies to Watch During Black History Month

Boycott (2001)

Based on Stewart Burn’s book Daybreak of Freedom, the movie Boycott centers on the historical event of the 1955-1956 boycott that took place in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, King was a 26-year-old husband and father. This movie shows a realistic portrayal of King’s life as a loving husband, and also provides a more intimate glimpse into his relationship with his father. The cinematography and plot of this film keenly depict the discrimination that Blacks experienced when using public transportation and beyond.

Watch Boycott on HBO Max.

Selma (2014)

Ava Duvernay’s Selma was a huge success and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture, amongst many others. The historical drama centers on King Jr. as a key figure, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the fight for suffrage, the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But most prominently, Selma chronicles the history-altering march that was led by King.

Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime Video. 

Related: Black History Month Quotes

Betty and Coretta (2013)

While we often see the men of the Civil Rights era highlighted, under the direction of Yves SimoneauBetty and Coretta provides a depiction of the friendship between Coretta Scott King and Dr. Betty Shabazz that developed after their husbands were assassinated. Starring Angela Bassett and Mary J. Blige as Scott King and Shabazz, respectively, this television movie showcases the inner strength and dignity of the women who were right there alongside their husbands in their fight for equality and civil rights in the Civil rights era. This movie is a tribute to these two beautiful and intelligent women, and how they continued to raise their families and fight for activism after their husbands’ deaths.

Watch it with the Lifetime Movie Club.

MLK/FBI (2021)

MLK/FBI centers heavily on newly declassified files. The documentary provides raw, unfiltered insight into the harassment by the government that King Jr experienced in the final years of his life as well as J. Edgar Hoover’s many attempts to disrupt and put a stop to King’s initiatives and work. With interviews from former FBI officials, King’s close confidantes and different scholars, the film suggests that the FBI may not be the “moral institution” that we have been conditioned to believe.

Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime Video.

Legacy of Love (2020)

Directed by Roberto Mighty, the documentary Legacy of Love chronicles how the love between King Jr. and Coretta Scott came to fruition. Had it not been for their fateful meeting in Boston, what we’ve come to know of King as a family man and husband may not have ever been a reality. The documentary shares some of the timeline of when King was working on his doctorate from Boston University, Scott was attending the New England Conservatory of Music. Legacy of Love not only shares the backstory of the two meeting and falling in love, but also highlights their pursuit of higher education as well.

Learn more about Legacy of Love.

Bonus: MLK Miniseries

King Miniseries (1978)

It's not a movie, but if you binge it all at once, it basically is one really long one. Plus, each episode is the length of a movie. King aired in 1978, and later won a Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Limited series. Directed by Abby Mann and starring the likes of Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and Ossie Davis, King showed the adult life of King, spanning his life as a preacher to his assassination in 1968. The miniseries features many of King’s real family members. It was met with controversy early on.

Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.

Eyes on the Prize (1990)

Narrated by Julian Bond, Eyes on the Prize is an American 14-part documentary that centers on the Civil Rights Movement. Its first episode aired in 1987, and gives a glimpse of the Civil Rights era from the perspective of men and women whose actions helped to reshape the course of American history. The documentary series showcases and chronicles the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the Selma Marches and more.

Buy it on Amazon Prime Video.

Next, see what Sterling K. Brown had to say about addressing Black Lives Matter on This Is Us.