Take 5: The essential (film) work of Morris Chestnut

Morris Chestnut When The Bough Breaks

Morris Chestnut is a national treasure. We would give you space below to provide an alternate opinion, but scroll to the very bottom of this page and you will find no such space because there is no debating cold hard fact. Morris Chestnut is among the greatest living talents we have, and for whatever reason he is continually overlooked by every single major studio whenever the time comes to cast the next major epic. He’s not in comic book movies or a single young adult adaptation. He’s also not in a single military film or anything directed by Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, or Clint Eastwood. None of this matters, however, because Morris Chestnut knows how to rise to the occasion. Give him anything—from a promising young football player, to an everyman struggling with his wife’s chronic illness, a doctor, a business man in love with a beautiful woman who cannot help attracting the attention of psychos, or the guy who adopts a young basketball prodigy played by Lil Bow Wow—and Chestnut can turn whatever you’re working with into something worth watching.

You may not like every movie or show Morris Chestnut appears in, and that’s okay. We don’t like them all, either. When you’re not an A-list talent or the top-billed cast member of a series you can sometimes find yourself in a position where any work is better than no work. We’re not saying that is how someone like Chestnut ends up in a movie like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, but we will say he’s typically the best—or among the best—parts of whatever he’s in. There is a consistency in Morris Chestnut’s work that is rare in any kind of talent, and long after he’s gone we will still be celebrating the characters he’s brought to life.

With When The Bough Breaks arriving in theaters this Friday, September 9, we decided it was time to reflect on some of Morris Chesnut’s best work to date. This is not everything you should see (we did not have the time needed to get into his work on television), but it should be the bare minimum of what you experience.

Boyz n The Hood (1991)

This is the role that made Morris Chestnut a household name. Playing the “good” son to Ice Cube’s bad boy in a film that would go on to be considered a true modern classic, a young Morris Chestnut was tasked with delivering a performance crucial to selling the arc of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s lead role that continues to draw tears out of people to this day. Ricky Baker is the promising everyman, rising above his surroundings, and his fate is enough to make everyone feel there is more we need to do to improve the lives of children everywhere.

The Best Man (1999)

Spoiler alert: Both of Malcolm D. Lee’s Best Man films make this list. The role of Lance has two very specific and integral arcs to the success of both films, and each presented Chestnut with a unique set of challenges. For this film the job asked him to find new ground in the well-worn territory of a groom on his wedding day, as well as the challenge of commanding the screen in the presence of equally talented actors with arguably more material to pull from. The foundation Chestnut lays for the character and his emotional resilience in this film laid the groundwork for the eventual sequel he had no idea would eventually be made. It’s a simple kind of genius to witness, but genius nonetheless.

Like Mike (2002)

A children’s film? Yes, a children’s film. With Like Mike Chestnut pulled off the feat of entering the family friendly fray without hurting his marketability to mainstream audience. If anything, Like Mike reignited the roles Chestnut received, and even though it’s a bit dated today it’s still a surprisingly fun watch. Remember when Bow Wow was just a kid rapping about loving basketball? Crazy how time flies.

The Cave (2005)

Is The Cave as good as The Descent? Obviously not. We assume some of you reading this now didn’t even know there was another movie released in the mid-2000s about cave monsters and the unfortunate tourists who become their prey. There isn’t much that makes The Cave worth watching, but Chestnut’s turn as Top Buchanan (an admittedly awful name) is memorable. This movie currently has an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, but trust us, it’s worth it.

The Best Man Holiday (2013)

The return of Lance is one intended to remind us that even the strongest men can be broken. The best part of Lee’s Best Man series is its reliance on simple, relatable life events that everyone has experienced or will experience in some way. The blows that are dealt to Lance at a time when things should be better than ever are the stuff very real nightmares are made of. It’s the kind of thing that keeps anyone in a committed relationship awake at night—especially the longer they are with someone. Chestnut not only rises to the challenge of carrying the responsibility of conveying these emotions, but he damn near breaks your heart doing so.