On Thursday night, football legend Jim Brown passed away in Los Angeles. Brown was 87 years old, and he was widely regarded as one of the greatest football players to ever play the game. In nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965, Brown won the MVP award three times, broke several of the NFL’s rushing records, and brought an NFL championship home to the city before retiring in his prime at only 30 years old.
Perhaps more impressively, Brown was also a force for civil rights who reinvented himself as one the first African American action stars in Hollywood. Brown’s acting career includes a handful of all-time great movies, including The Dirty Dozen, to a few bizarre selections. But the one thing that Brown’s films had in common was that he was great in all of them. In celebration of Brown’s life, we’ve put together this list of five of his best movies. Unfortunately, none of these titles are available for streaming. However, they are available to rent on digital outlets.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
In Brown’s second Hollywood film, The Dirty Dozen, he played Robert Jefferson, a college-educated soldier who was sentenced to death for killing the white soldier who attacked him. Under the command of Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), Jefferson and 11 other convicts are given the chance to walk free if they can survive a suicide mission behind enemy lines during the waning days of World War II.
The legendary cast included Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker, and Robert Webber. Together, they became an unconventional fighting squad. But the odds are stacked against any of them returning home alive.
You can rent or buy The Dirty Dozen on digital platforms like Prime Video.
Ice Station Zebra (1968)
Brown’s star continued to rise in Ice Station Zebra, an espionage thriller in which he portrayed Marine Captain Leslie Anders. During the Cold War, the British arctic research facility, Ice Station Zebra. has been decimated with few survivors. Anders is sent to investigate the incident with Boris Vaslov as they join Commander James Ferraday (Rock Hudson) and British secret agent David Jones (Patrick McGoohan).
Soon enough, it becomes clear that there is a saboteur among the crew, and suspicion makes the survivors paranoid. With good reason too, because the wolf among them is all too willing to kill to protect himself.
You can rent or buy Ice Station Zebra on digital platforms like Prime Video.
The Split (1968)
The Split gave Brown one of his first starring roles as McClain, a man who engineered a successful heist during a football game with Walter Brill (Gene Hackman), Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman), Marty Gough (Warren Oates), and Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland). But stealing the money was the easy part. Splitting it up proves to be difficult when someone murders McClain’s ex-wife, Ellie Kennedy (Diahann Carroll), and steals the money.
Who betrayed the group? The answer to that question is far less important once the men decide that they have to kill their partners in order to get their cut. And the man they blame for their problem is none other than McClain.
You can rent or buy The Split on digital platforms like Apple TV+.
During the blaxploitation era in the early ‘70s, Brown got to headline Slaughter as the title character. Within the film, Slaughter is an ex-Green Beret who is out for blood after the murder of his father. While Slaughter kills one of the mafia bosses for his role in his father’s death, the real murderer, Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn), eludes justice by fleeing to South America.
In exchange for the government dropping all charges against him, Slaughter goes after Hoffo and his boss. Felice (Norman Alfe). And once Slaughter begins the mission, he won’t stop until it’s done.
You can rent or buy Slaughter on digital platforms like Apple TV+.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Director Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! is a very strange and bizarre adaptation of the Topps trading cards of the same name. Brown had a small, yet pivotal role as Byron Williams, a former boxing champion who now works for a casino. All Byron wants to do is reunite with his ex-wife, Louise Williams (Pam Grier). But first, Byron has to escape Nevada alongside Barbara Land (Annette Bening), Cindy (Janice Rivera), and the world-famous Las Vegas singer, Tom Jones, who played himself.
In Brown’s most famous scene in the film, Byron literally boxes the Martians in order to let the rest of his group escape. We won’t spoil the rest, but Burton, now more famous as the director of the hit Netflix series Wednesday, gave Brown a modern showcase for his natural charisma that few directors (with the notable exception of Spike Lee) in the ’90s and 2000s were willing to do.
You can rent or buy Mars Attacks! on digital platforms like Apple TV+.