Beyoncé has been dominating the music industry since the ’90s, but day-one fans recall her timeless film run from 2001 until 2009 before returning a decade later to star in the live-action version of The Lion King.
In nearly every role, Queen Bey put her impressive vocals to use as she bellowed out her frustrations in “Listen” from Dreamgirls, put her rap alter ego on display in Robert Townsend’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera, or transformed a classic like Etta James’ “At Last” into what felt like an original recording.
However, she wasn’t alone in her on-screen success. With the help of her scene partners—which included the likes of Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mekhi Phifer, yasiin bey, Joy Bryant, Rah Digga, Ali Larter, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Steve Martin, and Mike Myers—the Houston native was able to showcase that she can connect to varying audiences and spotlight her range of talent.
As the singer, who is still at the top of her game with the Renaissance World Tour celebrates her 42nd birthday, we reflect on the eight films she starred in and definitively rank her performances, from good to the best of her on-screen career.
Note: This list will not be discussing her musical films for Beyoncé, Lemonade, Homecoming, or Black Is King. That conversation will be revisited once the RENAISSANCE visuals are released.
‘The Lion King’ (2019)
Live-action Disney movies can be hit-or-miss. Case in point, 2019’s Aladdin, starring Will Smith, garnered mixed reviews, but 2023’s The Little Mermaid was welcomed with caution until Halle Bailey’s performance of “Part Of Your World” ceased most negative commentary.
Yet, when it was announced that Beyoncé and Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover would be starring as Nala and Simba in the remake of The Lion King, many didn’t know what to expect. The animation is a revered classic and like its fellow releases a of similar nature, it lacked a bit of pizazz that CGI just can’t recreate. It wasn’t terrible, but many preferred Bey’s visual companion to 2020’s The Lion King: The Gift album, Black Is King.
‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’ (2002)
In the third installment of the Austin Powers franchise, Bey stars as Foxxy Cleopatra. The cult classic follows the beloved retro spy, whose father has been kidnapped by his apparent brother, Dr. Evil. Foxxy is an old flame and streetwise detective who partners with Powers to defeat Goldmember and Dr. Evil.
The movie is comedic gold—no pun intended. It shows a silly side of the singer that fans catch glimpses of during her performances and within rare, on-camera interviews. When paired against its predecessors, Goldmember is definitely the best film in the Austin Powers series and we’re sure Bey had something to do with that.
‘The Pink Panther’ (2006)
In Pink Panther, Beyoncé played Xania, the girlfriend of a famed athlete who was killed in front of a massive crowd at a major sporting event. Not only was she suspected of murder, she was also accused of stealing the Pink Panther diamond.
Naturally, her beauty was the true scene stealer as she subtly wooed Steve Martin’s character, Jacques Clouseau, who was tasked to solve the case. Hope may seem lost, but all of his mishaps ultimately lead to his success.
The satirical film was a fun watch for all ages. Two standout moments surrounding the movie were Bey explaining how the Pink Panther diamond came to be in her possession, and its promo run which also led to her legendary “Check On It” video. For that alone, her Pink Panther run can loosely rival the recent Barbie promo tour.
‘The Fighting Temptations’ (2003)
As Lilly, Beyoncé channeled her inner church girl with her innate seductress capabilities to portray a single mother in a small town doing her best with her God-given vocal talent.
After captivating Darrin (Cuba Gooding Jr.) because she reminds him of his late mother, Maryann (Faith Evans), Bey is brought on to lead his newly-former church choir of misfits as they hone in on the “come as you are” biblical rhetoric and the prodigal son returns home.
The cult comedy is where Chlöe Bailey made her film debut as young Lilly—a foreshadow into her current destiny—and had one of the best ensemble casts of the early 2000s, as the IVY Park founder starred alongside Eddie LeVert and Walter Williams Sr. of The O’Jays, Steve Harvey, Angie Stone, Mike Epps, Melba Moore, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson, Wendell Pierce, Lou Myers, Lil Zane, Shirley Caesar, Montell Jordan, and more. Standing out with this lineup around her could’ve been hard, but Bey made it seem effortless. She was a calming presence and even induced strong emotions in select scenes.
Not to mention, fans were also blessed with its immaculate soundtrack, including the relatable “He Still Loves Me,” “Fever,” and the underrated gem, “Summertime.”
‘Carmen: A Hip Hopera’ (2001)
Say whatever you want about Beyoncé’s feature film debut, but Carmen: A Hip Hopera deserves its flowers. Directed by Robert Townsend and written by Michael Elliott, the reimagined adaptation of the the vintage play was perfect for 2001.
As Carmen, it seemed like second nature for the then-Destiny’s Child member to command the attention of potential male suitors and fully pursue whatever she wanted. Her execution as a struggling Black actress was accurate for what Hollywood was back then for Black women, but how she handled Derrick Hill (Mekhi Phifer) was ruthless. Even though she once stated that Carmen is the exact opposite of who she is, the part about dodging the slew of men vying for her attention seemed very much like art imitating life.
Carmen was a girl’s girl—a real-life depiction of how she is with her close friends, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, and sister, Solange Knowles. Bey also did all her own stunts in the film and it may have been the birthplace of her rapping alter ego. Most of all, Carmen Brown walked so her portrayal of Deena Jones in Dreamgirls could run.
As Deena Jones, Beyoncé was able to pull elements from her time in all versions of Destiny’s Child. She didn’t intentionally set out to steal her best friend’s boyfriend or become said-man’s puppet once they were married. Jones was shy, naive, obedient and submissive and one thing about Beyoncé—she’s not anyone’s puppet. She doesn’t hold back on her opinion and may be coy, but that adds to her mystique.
She is the boss and leader in real life, so stepping into this role was truly remarkable. Dreamgirls is compelling and is one of those films that makes you feel like you’re watching a biopic and not a fictional tale of a girl group navigating the music industry at the height of racial tension and a dated beauty standard, though it is loosely based on the story of The Supremes and original member, Florence Ballard.
Paired with Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, and Eddie Murphy, Beyoncé still shines bright among her talented (and Oscar-winning) peers. This was just a preview of her true range before she starred in an actual biopic centered around Chess Records and the careers of Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, and Etta James.
Beyoncé didn’t utter a single note in the film—not even a lullaby to her young son—but she was acting. In the 2009 thriller, she stars as Sharon, alongside Idris Elba as her husband, Derek, and Ali Larter, as the antagonist, Lisa.
Unbeknownst to her, the “Pray You Catch Me” singer finds herself in a fatal attraction scenario after Lisa falls for Derek in a one-sided workplace romance. The movie delivered countless quotables, especially in the scene where the “affair” gets revealed and Sharon confronts Derek about his secrets.
Once she throws a plate across the room, it was over. With tears filling her eyes, she angrily shouts, “First, I suggest you pack your toothbrush. And then, I want you to get your socks, your shaving kit, your underwear, your prophylactics if you think you need them and get your a** out! [And go where?] To hell! But, until then, I suggest maybe the Four Seasons.” Perfect delivery.
Also, the film’s climax where Bey drags Larter across the floor for staging a kidnapping and seducing her husband is her best action scene of all time. No question or contest.
‘Cadillac Records’ (2008)
It should come as no surprise that Beyoncé’s best acting role by far was her portrayal as Etta James in Cadillac Records.
Her layered depiction of James wholly captured the complexities of the singer’s rise to fame and harrowing substance abuse struggles.
The music biopic tells the story of Chess Records, its owner, Leonard Chess, and the Black artists whose careers were catapulted into meteoric success while being signed there. Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and Little Walter were all part of the label’s historic roster.
The role was Bey’s most audacious. It wasn’t something to be laughed at or quickly dismissed. It was direct, challenging, and earnest. Back in 2008 when speaking with Entertainment Weekly about the role, she expressed, “She was really the opposite of what people’s perception of me is. She was by no means the sweetheart. She was bold and unapologetic and spoke her mind. I didn’t know if I was even ready for a role like this.”
However, the then 27-year-old stepped up to the plate and knocked this role out of the park. She wound up performing her cover of James’ “At Last” at President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Ball, but the final scene of her singing “I’d Rather Go Blind” was really the one that needs more recognition. Nonetheless, this is absolutely her career-defining and most impactful movie role.