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Move over, Denzel: Up-and-coming black actors

In 1967, Sidney Poitier starred in three hit films — “To Sir With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — that made him the No. 1 box-office star that year. In 1987, Eddie Murphy ruled the box-office rankings on the strength of “Beverly Hills Cop II.” In 2008, Will Smith reigned as the champ, thanks to “Hancock” and “Seven Pounds.” So wh
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

In 1967, Sidney Poitier starred in three hit films — “To Sir With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — that made him the No. 1 box-office star that year.

In 1987, Eddie Murphy ruled the box-office rankings on the strength of “Beverly Hills Cop II.”

In 2008, Will Smith reigned as the champ, thanks to “Hancock” and “Seven Pounds.”

So who will be the next breakout black actor?

While Smith, Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry continue to stand among Hollywood’s top earners, there are a few actors hovering on the radar who might someday give the heavyweights a run for their money.

“Anthony Mackie,” said Michael J. Phillips, film critic for the Chicago Tribune, referring to the actor who lit up the screen opposite Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker.”

“If he gets the roles he deserves,” Phillips added, “there’s no telling where this crucial ‘Hurt Locker’ ensemble player will end up in a decade or two.”

Mackie will soon be seen in several high-profile films, notably “The Adjustment Bureau” with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

Mary F. Pols, a film critic for Time.com and MSN Movies, nominates Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose breakout performance in 2002’s “Dirty Pretty Things” led him down the path of plum roles in prestige films such as “Children of Men” and “American Gangster.”

“He’s so talented and versatile,” said Pols, who is also the acclaimed author of “Accidentally on Purpose,” which was adapted into a CBS sitcom. “He can do the dumb action movie, like a ‘2012,’ which you’ve really got to do to make the big time, and bring some class to it, or show up in a cutesy ensemble romantic comedy like ‘Love Actually.’

Don Cheadle is already a bona fide movie star, with such credits as the “Ocean’s Eleven” series as well as more thoughtful fare such as “Crash” and “Hotel Rwanda.” But Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News predicts even bigger things for Cheadle.

“After ‘Iron Man 2,’ he’ll break out of character greatness to be a star,” Knowles said. “At least that’s my bet.”

And on the distaff side, while she isn’t African-American — born to a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother — Zoe Saldana is a woman of color, and she’s on the rise after major roles in “Avatar” and “Star Trek.”

“She has always been a good actress,” noted James Berardinelli, film critic for Reelviews.net, “but has been largely overlooked. This has given her the exposure necessary to leap into the spotlight, which is where she will probably reside if she makes shrewd choices.

“Stardom is usually about talent, exposure and luck. She appears to have all three, so it’s hard to imagine her not breaking through.”