Regina King has appeared on screen for so long that people often underestimate her. Since starting out as Brenda, daughter of the Jenkins clan on the sitcom 227, King has worked with some of her generation's best storytellers, including Barry Jenkins and John Singleton. She has won every major award, including an Oscar and an Emmy. She’s even become a great director herself, helming the feature film One Night and Miami….
Over the course of her four-decade career, King has worked in almost every genre, as her impressive filmography demonstrates. Find here the definitive Regina King movies and TV series.
1. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
King’s Academy Award came for her supporting turn as mother Sharon Rivers in writer Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk. As Sharon, King must show grace and support for her daughter Tish (KiKi Layne), who gets pregnant by her boyfriend Fonny (Stephan James), and resilience in fighting for her family.
While the sequence in which Sharon goes to Mexico to find Fonny’s grabbed the attention of awards voters, Jenkins finds notes of humor and humanity for King to play throughout the film.
2. Watchmen (2019)
As demonstrated by every other adaptation of the groundbreaking miniseries by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the 2019 HBO series Watchmen should have been a disaster. But somehow, showrunner Damon Lindelof and director Nicole Kassell build on Moore and Gibbons’s themes while staying true to the roots of the original.
At the center of the project is King as Angela Abar, a policewoman who fights crime as the masked vigilante Sister Night. Over the series’ nine episodes, Abar channels rage toward those who killed her fellow officers, tenderness toward her adopted children, and wonder at her husband (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is far more than he first appears.
3. The Leftovers (2015, 2018)
King began working with Damon Lindelof on The Leftovers, an HBO series about the aftermath of a Rapture-like event in which 2% of the world population disappears. King joins the cast in the series’ second season, which moves away from the source novel by Tom Perrotta to explore other aspects of the world.
As the mother Erika Murphy, King plays someone who lost no family or neighbors in the event, but who experiences tragedy when her daughter Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown) goes missing. King brings real pathos to the part, which threatens to get buried under the show’s absurd premise.
4. One Night in Miami… (2020)
Before directing her first feature film, King already had a few credits under her belt, having helmed a few TV episodes and some music videos. But those seem like inadequate training for bringing the play One Night in Miami… to the big screen.
Written by Kemp Powers, who also provided the film’s screenplay, One Night in Miami… imagines a meeting between icons Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). Despite the tremendous weight of these figures, King has a light directorial tough, encouraging her actors to play with the personalities they represent. Though she never appears on screen, it still ranks as one of the best Regina King movies.
5. American Crime (2015 – 2017)
Created by multifaceted writer John Ridley, the anthology series American Crime devotes each season to a different story about the complex forces that inform American ideas about justice. And in each season, Ridley keeps King and others in the cast, tasking them with playing different characters each time.
The approach underscores inconsistencies in the application of justice, while also highlighting King’s range as a performer. No wonder the series got King three Emmy nominations and two wins.
6. Southland (2009 – 2013)
King could have mailed in her performance on Southland. After all, she already had several movie projects to her name, and police procedurals do not often reward creativity from their casts. But as Detective Lydia Adams, King manages to bring human complexity to a rigid genre.
Southland showrunner Ann Biderman puts a variety of pressures on Adams, from a complex relationship with her intellectual mother to her role as a single mother of a child sired by a married man. Instead of avoiding the melodrama of these plots, King embraced and perfected them.
7. The Boondocks (2005 – 2014)
For the animated series The Boondocks, King puts in a dual performance, voicing the politically minded adolescent Huey Freeman and his baser younger brother Riley. Based on the comic strip by Aaron McGruder, who co-created the animated series with Reginald Hudlin, The Boondocks presents an exaggerated and biting look at race in America.
By casting King as both Freeman brothers, the series emphasizes the similarities between both responses to American racism, albeit in an exaggerated and hilarious way.
8. Poetic Justice (1993)
Playing a supporting role behind legends Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice, it would be easy for King’s character to get overlooked. But Iesha, the best friend of Jackson’s Justice, is not one to go unnoticed.
King rides all of the competing tones in writer and director John Singleton’s story of the budding love affair between Justice and Lucky (Shakur). When needed, she emphasizes the comic energy of Iesha’s volatile relationship with her boyfriend Chicago (Joe Torry). But she also uncovers a genuine longing in her character, as when she pretends that she and Chicago are married.
9. Seven Seconds (2018)
Although based on the Russian crime film The Major, the Netflix series Seven Seconds is without question an American story. It stars Beau Knapp as white police officer Peter Jablonski, who hits a Black teenager with his car. The resulting coverup sheds light on racist and brutal police tactics, presented with an uncompromising frankness by showrunner Veena Sud.
As the boy’s mother, Regina holds the entire story together, refusing to let viewers forget the human stakes of the police’s actions.
10. 24 (2007)
King’s first notable work on television dramas came on 24, the hit thriller of the mid-2000s. She joins the cast in the sixth season of the series, playing lawyer Sandra Palmer, the sister of Presidents David Palmer and Wayne Palmer.
As a character with such serious weight, it would be easy for King to smother the pulpy fun of the series, giving in to the urge to connect the show to real-world concerns. Although Palmer’s arguments do mirror some debates occurring in the 2000s, King never forgets the genre in which she’s working, playing up the entertaining aspects of her character.
11. Our Family Wedding (2010)
Given the complex characters that she played in her award-winning parts, Regina King sometimes doesn’t get enough attention for her talents as a comedic actor.
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, who wrote the screenplay with Wayne Conley and Malcolm Spellman, Our Family Wedding lets King get broad and funny. As the lawyer and assistant to Forrest Whitikaer’s Brad Boyd, who dislikes his son Marcus’s (Lance Gross) future father-in-law Miguel (Carlos Mencia), King adds some sweetness to the proceeding while playing along with the rest of the cast’s antics.
12. Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Boyz n the Hood remains one of the most auspicious debut movies of all time. The bold look at life in South Central Los Angeles earned writer and director John Singleton nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Boyz n the Hood devotes most of its attention to Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), his father Furious (Laurence Fishburne), and his friends Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Doughboy (Ice-T). But King makes the most of her screen time as neighborhood girl Shalika, proving that her talents extend far beyond the realm of sitcoms. A modern classic, it also ranks as one of the best Regina King movies.
13. Down to Earth (2001)
Based on the Warren Beatty and Elaine May comedy Heaven Can Wait, Down to Earth stars Chris Rock as a Black comedian who dies, only to return to Earth in the body of a rich older white man.
Directed by brothers Chris Wietz and Paul Weitz, and written by a quartet including Rock, Lance Crouther, Ali LeRoi, and Louis C.K., Down to Earth gets a lot of mileage out of the separation between white body and Black soul. But the hardest part belongs to King, who must play the comedian’s love interest, a woman who sees the man she loves in a very different form.
14. 227 (1985 – 1990)
227 may not have the same popularity today as its contemporaries Cheers, Golden Girls, or Night Court. But at the time, it showcased some of the best Black comedians of the era. Marla Gibbs, Jackée Harry, and Hal Williams starred in the show about families living in an apartment complex, created by C.J. Banks and Bill Boulware and based on the stage play Two Twenty Seven by Christine Houston.
King emerged from this pool of talent in her first on-screen role, playing Brenda, the daughter of Gibbs and Williams’s Mary and Lester Jenkins.
15. The Harder They Fall (2021)
Rich with style and talent, The Harder They Fall takes a music video look at Black icons of the American West. Directed by Jeymes Samuel, who co-wrote the movie with Boaz Yakin, The Harder They Fall follows gunslinger Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) on his mission of vengeance against Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), the man who killed his father.
As Buck’s right-hand woman Trudy Smith, King gets to play the rare villainous figure. The energy she gives Smith, contrasted with her more stoic compatriots Buck and Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield) makes the outlaw one of the most frightening characters in the movie.
16. Ray (2004)
Directed by Taylor Hackford and written by James L. White, the Ray Charles biopic Ray earned numerous accolades in the year of its release. However, sincre then, the movie’s esteem has dropped, with modern viewers dismissing it as maudlin and formulaic.
Whether or not the movie deserves its current reputation, Ray at least boasts a powerful performance from King as singer Margie Hendrix, a rising member of Charles’s backing group. Margie’s rise and fall occur in the middle section of the movie, bringing a level of tension and tragedy that remains moving today.
17. This Christmas (2007)
King first worked with Elba on the seasonal classic This Christmas, written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II.
The film looks at the tensions that arrive when all the members of the Whitfield family, headed by matriarch Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine), reconvenes for the first time in several years. Ma’Dere’s oldest daughter Lisa (King) threatens to buckle under the expectation that her family places upon her, driving her to ignore problems such as her husband Malcolm’s (Laz Alonso) indiscretions. The mixture of melodrama, hijinks, and familial affirmations provides King with a showcase for her many talents.
18. A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996)
Many of the works on this list play with genre and tone, but few do so with the aplomb of comedian Martin Lawrence’s directorial debut, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. Cowritten by Martin, Bentley Kyle Evans, Kenny Buford, and Kim Bass, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate stars Lawrence as a womanizer who gets stalked by his unstable former flame Brandi (Lynn Whitfield).
From Brandi’s perspective, King’s Mia is the other woman, the childhood sweetheart and true love of Darnell (Lawrence). But in the movie’s perspective, Mia is Darnell’s redemption, making her a complex part that requires an actor of King’s talent to pull off.
19. Friday (1995)
Written by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh and directed by F. Gary Gray, the slice-of-life comedy Friday plays like a humorous counterpart to Boyz n the Hood. Not only does Friday also take place in South Central Los Angeles, but it also has a small but memorable part for King. She plays Dana, the younger sister of Ice Cube’s Craig, a snotty sibling who takes pleasure in her brother’s mistakes.
The small role lets King call upon the comic timing she developed on 227, enriching the movie’s exaggerated world.
20. If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)
Like its 1996 predecessor, If These Walls Could Talk 2 is an HBO anthology film that looks at the lives of various American women. This sequel chronicles the lives of lesbian women in three different periods, with King’s character Allie appearing in the final section, set in 2000.
Most of the section involves couple Kal (Ellen DeGeneres) and Fran’s (Sharon Stone) attempts to start a family. King helps emphasize the playful tone of that final section, adding humor to the film’s heavy stakes.
21. Year of the Dog (2007)
The brainchild of The White Lotus and School of Rock creator Mike White, Year of the Dog takes place in an off-kilter world, very different from the one most viewers know. The absurd story follows the slow radicalization of nondescript 40-something Peggy (Molly Shannon) after the death of her beloved dog. King’s character Layla, Peggy’s disapproving best friend, tries to encourage the protagonist to move on from her pet’s demise, a position that the film may not endorse.
22. Enemy of the State (1998)
A pseudo-sequel to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Enemy of the State stars Will Smith as lawyer Robert Clayton Dean, who gets embroiled in a larger conspiracy. He gets help from outsider Brill Lyle (Gene Hackman), who bears more than a small resemblance to The Conversation’s Harry Caul.
Director Tony Scott and screenwriter David Marconi don’t give King much to do, relegating her to Dean’s mistrusting wife. But King plays the part with both electricity and humor.
23. Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005)
The action comedy Miss Congeniality won over audiences thanks to star Sandra Bullock’s take on an FBI agent masquerading as a beauty queen. The sequel gives Bullocks’s Gracie Hart a new mission and a partner in the hard case Sam Fuller (King), who has no interest in the pageantry of her assignment.
Miss Congeniality 2 earned back its budget at the box office, but critics and audiences found it a poor companion to the original, despite returning screenwriter Marc Lawrence, whose script is directed by comedy vet John Pasquin. Against these shortcomings, King makes Fuller an interesting character.
24. Higher Learning (1995)
John Singleton’s third movie Higher Learning has a lot of big ideas. The campus drama deals with race, gender identity, economics, and a host of other issues, resulting in a sometimes scattered perspective. Thanks to this broad approach, King’s character Monet doesn’t get much of a chance to stand out, too often overshadowed by her roommate Kristen (Kristy Swanson). King wins every scene that Singleton gives her, but there just aren’t enough to put Higher Learning among her better outings.