Home Features Entertainment Essential Martin Luther King, Jr. Movies to Watch

Essential Martin Luther King, Jr. Movies to Watch

This January 16 marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day set aside to pay homage to the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s life-affirming legacy of nonviolent activism. Whether you’re looking to brush up on your history, or explain his significance to America to your children, these films offer an insightful, powerful look at Dr. King’s integral role in the civil rights movement.

King’s inspiring story of social activism, which was pivotal to ending segregation in the South, has been recapped countless times on the big screen. Here, we spotlight five of our favorite films honoring the memory of the legendary civil rights leader; of course, these films can all be purchased with the click of a button.


Selma MovieThe Stars: David Oyelowo, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Oprah Winfrey
The Synopsis: This star-studded drama was famously snubbed for Best Picture at the Academy Awards despite widespread acclaim from critics. (The Washington Post called it an epic picture that “carries viewers along on a tide of breathtaking events”). In particular, the film chronicles King’s epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
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King MovieThe Stars: Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and Ossie Davis
The Synopsis: Paul Winfield’s performance as the civil rights activist in this six-hour miniseries is spot-on, following King from his humble beginnings as a modest Baptist minister in 1950 to his heartbreaking assassination in 1968. Several key figures from the civil rights movement appear in the film, including King’s sister Christine King Farris.
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Boycott MovieThe Stars: Jeffrey Wright and Terrence Howard
The Synopsis: This 2001 HBO movie, based on the book Daybreak of Freedom by Stewart Burns, won a Peabody Award for its chronicling of King’s early rise to fame during the Montgomery Bus Boycott — after a young girl named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white man.
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Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Lee Daniels' The ButlerThe Stars: Forest Whitaker, Nelsan Ellis, John Cusack and Oprah Winfrey
The Synopsis: This 2013 box-office hit provides a unique perspective of the Civil Rights movement when Cecil Gaines, a butler at the White House who served eight presidents over three decades, interacts with notable figures like Martin Luther King during his 30-year tenure. Gaines was based on real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, who tended to presidents for 34 years before retiring.
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The March

The March Movie about Martin Luther KingThe Star: Denzel Washington
The Synopsis: Denzel Washington narrates this riveting documentary about the March on Washington where Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The hour-long film uses archival footage to illustrate how King’s inspiring words literally changed the face of history forever. If you’re only going to watch one film about Martin Luther King, make it The March.
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Hero (Top) Feature Image: Wikimedia Commons
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Selma / Amazon
King / Amazon
Boycott / Amazon
The Butler / Amazon
The March / Amazon