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A look back at Sidney Poitier’s most memorable movie roles

As the world says goodbye to the groundbreaking actor, director and activist, revisit some of his most impressive and important film performances.

Hollywood has lost a true icon with the death of Sidney Poitier.

The beloved star, who would have turned 95 next month, was a groundbreaking force in the entertainment industry. He was the first Black actor to be nominated for the best actor Academy Award, and with his second nomination in that category, he went on to become the first to win.

As his career progressed, he added a Golden Globe, a Grammy, a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, the Kennedy Center Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his long list of accolades.

Sidney Poitier
Actor Sidney PoitierJohn Springer / Corbis via Getty Images

In short, he was unparalleled, and that’s largely due to his decades of unforgettable big screen performances.

Here are 10 of Poitier’s most memorable movie roles, and where you can watch or stream them now:

“No Way Out” (1950)

Sidney Poitier & Stephen Mcnally
"No Way Out": When Dr. Wharton (Stephen McNally) comments that Lefty didn't have a chance, Dr. Brooks (Sidney Poitier) adds "not since the day he was born." Bettmann Archive

This film noir piece, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, marked Poitier’s first foray into film. In it, he played the part of Dr. Luther Brooks, a trailblazer like Poitier himself, who served as the first Black doctor to work in his hospital.

Over the course of the film, Brooks faces bigotry and false blame from hospital staff and witnesses Black patients being underserved. And when racial violence breaks out, a white patient chastises him for trying to help her and spits in his face.

Where to watch "No Way Out": Amazon, Apple TV

“The Defiant Ones” (1958)

Sidney Poitier stars opposite Tony Curtis in 1958's "The Defiant Ones."
Sidney Poitier stars opposite Tony Curtis in 1958's "The Defiant Ones."Alamy

“The Defiant Ones” saw Poitier share leading credits with star Tony Curtis in a drama that follows the path of two escaped prisoners, forced to work together as they’re shackled to each other from their time in a chain gang.

Poitier’s remarkable performance as Noah Cullen earned him his first groundbreaking Oscar nomination. Curtis was also nominated for his part as John “Joker” Jackson. Neither man won that year.

Where to watch "The Defiant Ones": Amazon, Pluto

“A Raisin in the Sun” (1961)

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier is shown embracing the character who plays his mother in the movie "A Raisin in the Sun," released in 1961. George Rinhart / Corbis via Getty Images

 In 1961’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” Poitier took on a role that he already knew well after perfecting the part of leading man Walter Lee Younger in the Broadway play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry.

The story revolves around an impoverished Black family that gains an insurance check that could change their lives. Poitier was surrounded by his fellow stage stars in the film, including Ruby Dee, Diana Sands and Louis Gossett Jr. 

Where to watch "A Raisin in the Sun": Amazon

“Lilies of the Field” (1963)

Image: Sidney Poitier,  Lilia Skala
Sidney Poitier and Lilia Skala in scene from the film "Lilies of the Field," 1963.AP

Poitier broke a Tinseltown barrier when he took Oscar gold for his lead performance in “Lilies of the Field.”

The actor played Homer Smith in the dramedy in which a group of nuns believe God has sent him their way to build a new house of worship.

Where to watch “Lilies of the Field”: Amazon

“A Patch of Blue” (1965)

Elizabeth Hartman And Sidney Poitier In 'A Patch Of Blue'
Elizabeth Hartman feels Sidney Poitier face in a scene from the film "A Patch Of Blue," 1965. MGM Studios / Getty Images

Playing on the premise that “love is blind,” in “A Patch of Blue,” Poitier played a Black man who befriends a young white woman who is both illiterate and blind in a time of racial unrest. As their friendship grows, he works to ensure that she can receive an education, despite a number of odds that are stacked against her. Meanwhile she falls in love with the man who set out to save her.

Where to watch “A Patch of Blue”: Amazon

"The Slender Thread" (1965)

The Slender Thread, 1965
"The Slender Thread," 1965.Alamy

Poitier took on the role of Alan Newell in 1965’s “The Slender Thread,” a man working as a volunteer on a Crisis Clinic’s phone line when a suicidal woman, played by Anne Bancroft, calls and reveals that she’s already taken an overdose of sleeping pills. What follows in a tense and suspenseful performance as Poitier’s Newell tries to keep her on the line until help can arrive. 

Where to watch “The Slender Thread”: Amazon

"To Sir, With Love" (1967)

Image: Sidney Poitier In 'To Sir, With Love'
Sidney Poitier looks up in a scene from the film 'To Sir, With Love', 1967.Getty Images

While Hollywood's Golden Age was winding down by the late 1960s, Poitier's personal Golden Age was just getting into full swing by 1967. It was a year that saw him entertain moviegoers again and again, starting with "To Sir, With Love."

As immigrant Mark Thackeray, Poitier portrayed a man forced to temporarily become a teacher in London’s rough and tumble East End. He demanded respect amid social and racial woes and earned that and more from his students. 

Where to watch “To Sir, With Love”: Amazon, Apple TV

“In the Heat of the Night” (1967)

"In the Heat of the Night," starring Lee Grant and Sidney Poitier.
"In the Heat of the Night," starring Lee Grant and Sidney Poitier.Everett Collection

In this Oscar-winning mystery, Poitier stars as charismatic detective Virgil Tibbs, who becomes entrenched in a murder investigation in the deep south.

While Hollywood's Golden Age was winding down by the late 1960s, Poitier's personal Golden Age was just getting into full swing by 1967.

It’s a role he reprised in 1970’s “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!” and 1971’s “The Organization."

Where to watch “In the Heat of the Night”: Amazon, Hulu

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967)

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Sidney Poitier in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."Alamy

Another unforgettable entry from 1967. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a part rom-com, part drama that tackles interracial marriage in a time when it was still considered taboo.

Poitier played the part of Dr. John Wade Prentice, the man Joanna Drayton brings home to meet her parents (played by iconic Hollywood duo Spencer Tracy and Katharine Heburn). It follows the couple's attempt to seek approval from their families.

Where to watch “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”: Amazon, Hulu

"Buck and the Preacher" (1972) 

Buck and The Preacher, 1972
Buck and The Preacher, 1972Alamy

Like many leading men of his era, Poitier took on several roles in Hollywood Westerns, including one in 1972’s “Buck and the Preacher,” which saw him play former soldier Buck.

But he had another important role — as the film’s director. “Buck and the Preacher” marked his directorial debut. He went on to direct eight more movies, including the 1980 comedy “Stir Crazy.” 

Where to watch “Buck and the Preacher”: Amazon, Hulu