Updated on August 8th, 2022 by Mark Birrell: Though once almost exclusively a supporting actor, Idris Elba has grown to be too big of a star to be anything other than a leading man in movies. His upcoming role in Beast shows that, whether he's the next 007 or not, the actor is just getting started as an action star.
While Idris Elba may seem more familiar now to audiences when he's playing the hero, he, like many British actors, has had an accomplished career playing the villain also.
Even when his monstrous character requires extensive makeup, Elba's performance always shines through, allowing him to fit comfortably the ranks of many other memorable Star Trek movie villain actors, from Tom Hardy to Christopher Lloyd.
Elba stars as Janek, the captain of the titular deep space exploration vessel in this science-fiction horror blockbuster set in the same universe as director Ridley Scott's classic film Alien.
Though it's one of Elba's numerous blockbuster supporting roles, and it's in a franchise famous for its main character deaths, Janek does get some great lines and the opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory.
Nowadays, just about every major actor out there has been in a superhero movie at one time or another. Whether they be the titular character, the big bad, or a noteworthy side character, being in superhero films can boost an actor's reputation.
When Idris Elba popped up in the sci-fi superhero epic Thor, as the all-seeing Heimdal, many were delighted by his reserved yet enjoyable performance. So much so that Elba would appear again as the character in all of the Thor sequels as well as several of the Avengers movies.
To portray a fictional character in a film isn't an easy feat, yet it can be far less difficult than trying to portray a real-life icon in a biopic.
When Idris Elba played the role of Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom, he did a fantastic job in bringing the former president of South Africa to life in a fearless performance, earning him a Best Actor nomination at the 71st Golden Globes.
Few film directors seem to understand the crime genre quite as well as Guy Ritchie, who redefined modern British gangster movies in the late 90s and early 2000s, so it would've been odd for his path to not cross with one of London's most famous actors at some point or another.
RocknRolla sees Elba playing a supporting role as a gang member named Mumbles, making up just one part of one of Ritchie's widest and richest ensembles to date.
A sequel to the 2016 DCEU movie Suicide Squad, James Gunn's The Suicide Squad was a retooling of the franchise for the big screen whilst carrying over several characters and actors from the original film. This confusing relationship between the two movies perhaps contributed to the sequel grossing far less at the box office than the original despite faring considerably better with critics.
Elba takes a leading role as Bloodsport, a reluctant leader to the ragtag group of supervillains as they embark on a shady block-ops mission on a fictional South American island, becoming one of the few actors to find success in both the DCEU and the MCU.
Yet another role that the actor took in a major blockbuster released in 2016, Elba has a small cameo as the voice of a sea lion named Fluke in this hit sequel to Pixar's original film Finding Nemo.
It's a memorable part of the film, particularly for older viewers, as Elba is joined by his fellow Wire alum Dominic West, who plays fellow sea lion Rudder, and the pair put their native British accents to good use for a gag that likens the sounds made by sea lions to a chant made by soccer fans.
While Elba didn't get the chance to make an appearance in the huge ensemble of the first Avengers movie, he did get a small role to play in the second installment.
Though brief, it's an important appearance, as it happens during a vision scene with Thor which teases many events in the later Thor and Avengers movies, including the Infinity Stone and Infinity Gauntlet plotlines that tied the initial MCU movies together.
There are moments in some films when there are no good guys or bad guys - when the characters aren't in the right but they're in the wrong in such a way that the audience can't help but root for them.
Molly's Game, which follows the head of an underground poker empire, sees Elba playing the titular character's lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. While Jaffey's trying to protect a bad person, the way Elba portrays the character will leave anyone cheering for both characters.
Elba took his second major villain role of 2016 in the form of the famous villain Shere Khan, the fearsome tiger from The Jungle Book, adding his talents to an impressive voice cast that includes Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, amongst many others.
A billion-dollar success that heralded a new wave of live-action Disney remakes of their older animated titles, The Jungle Book was as much a hit with critics as it was with audiences, winning an Oscar for its extensive visual effects work used to integrate a live-action performance with animated animal characters.
While, in recent years, Netflix has managed to amass a catalog of noteworthy films, they don't always hit the mark as well as the streaming juggernaut's long-running original shows.
Beasts of No Nation, a harrowing story about a child soldier, is one of Netflix's more well-respected films by both critics and audiences, as Elba, once again, takes the role of the villain, playing a brutal commandant with such intensity that it earned him another Golden Globe nomination.
Sometimes an actor can only appear in a movie for a few moments and they are still able to leave a lasting impression on the audience, needing only one scene to shine.
American Gangster focuses on the real-life criminal empire of Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, and Elba only has a small role as a gangster named Tango, who is shot and killed by Lucas not long into the film. Nevertheless, it was one of Elba's earliest standout roles.
The third Thor movie in the MCU is the highest-rated yet amongst both fans and critics, with director Taika Waititi's distinct brand of humor adding a much-needed shakeup to the franchise's formula.
Though absent for a large portion of the movie, Elba's Heimdall is as important as ever to the plot as he must help Thor step up and become the leader that he's always avoided being.
The second of the small voice roles that Elba took in Disney animated movies in 2016 next to his cameo in Pixar's Finding Dory was in Disney Animation's Zootopia.
Though only a small supporting role, Elba elevated the quality of the movie through his character, Chief Bogo. He's a stern yet well-meaning cop and it's a role that Elba is a perfect fit for.
Though Elba's Heimdall only appears in the opening scene of the third Avengers movie, his short time on screen leaves a big impression on the audience as he's one of two big characters from the Thor franchise who shockingly die during the film's pre-title sequence.
As is the case with most fan-favorite characters who suffer untimely ends in the MCU, Elba wasn't gone from the franchise for that long, reprising his role once again in 2022's Thor: Love and Thunder.