5. Driving Miss Daisy
The film that earned Freeman his first Academy Award nomination in a leading role. Throughout the course of his career, Freeman has been noted for the chemistry he develops with his on-screen colleagues, his performance with Jessica Tandy being no exception to his vaunted repertoire. Despite not winning the Oscar (that pesky Daniel Day-Lewis, starring in My Left Foot, is a fine actor in his own right), Freeman would go on to be nominated for two more Oscars beyond 1990 (Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby, the latter of which he won as a 'we finally have to give this guy credit' distinction of pity).
4. March of the Penguins
Face it: in biology class, penguin migration would have been the last topic you'd wish to write about, outside of glacial shift patterns and polar bear mating behavior. Morgan Freeman, lending his sonorous voice to the documentary March of the Penguins, took a topic that was seemingly lackluster and breathed life into it through first-class narration. As far as I am concerned, all major book publishing houses should collaborate on crafting a multi-billion dollar deal that allows Morgan Freeman to voice every book-on-tape ever, and yet to be, produced. Hands down, Freeman's voice is the most iconic in Hollywood (sorry, James Earl Jones). Even so (perhaps it wasn't written into his script), when it comes to Penguins, Freeman tended to glaze over moments in which a young penguin gets sacked by an albatross or a mother becomes porpoise fodder, instead allowing nature to run its awe-inspiring course. Hell, even Spielberg recruited Freeman's voice for a 30-second clip in War of the Worlds; now that's drawing power!
As one of the most spellbinding psychological thrillers of this era, Seven combined the accolades of Brad Pitt, Freeman, and Kevin Spacey, an ensemble cast that chilled countless fans of American cinema as they played out David Fincher's masterwork. As Detective William Somerset, a cop on the verge of retirement, Freeman portrayed a crime specialist with one last case left to lead, one that he'd regret signing up for. Freeman masterfully shows Pitt (David Mills) the ropes throughout the pursuit of a serial killer (Kevin Spacey's John Doe) obsessed with the seven deadly sins, only to watch all that he does for Mills come tumbling down. The anguish in Freeman's voice as the sins of Envy and Wrath are revealed to Mills and Somerset is absolutely haunting, leading one to believe that Freeman, just as he always has, fully embraced his role. In addition to Freeman's portrayal, Kevin Spacey's performance was Oscar-worthy, even in spite of appearing in the film for a mere twenty-five minutes.
2. Lean on Me
This film is a must-see for educators everywhere, as it shows that, even in the most dire of circumstances, an educator can rise above to instruct, lead, and inspire. As Eastside High's Principal Joe Clark, Freeman rid a Patterson, New Jersey high school of miscreants of all sorts, calling on even the not-so ably-minded to pass a mandatory state assessment. Freeman's passion and vigor jump off the screen through each and every scene of 1989's Lean on Me, one of a trio of films that surfaced in Freeman's most successful year in Hollywood. Clark got kids to quit drugs and rallied his staff to extend beyond the normal duties of an educator, harboring a renaissance at Eastside High. If Morgan Freeman were my principal, Lord only knows I'd rush to work on a daily basis, just to see what he would do next. Although unorthodox and outright bizarre from time to time, Clark constantly pulled out all the stops. Needless to say, Freeman's role was one for his career and the ages.
1. Shawshank Redemption
The film by which the TNT network based the phrase "TNT Knows Drama," Shawshank Redemption, at first a Stephen King short story, is one of the greatest films of all time, one that stands as the movie by which Freeman and Tim Robbins may define their careers. By coining the phrase, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'," Morgan Freeman's Ellis 'Red' Redding was Shawshank's moral barometer, gauging each and every inmate that left and entered the prison's walls with impartial judgment and compassionate eyes.