Content warning: The following contains discussions of drug addiction
In addition to being one of the most celebrated rappers of all time, the late Tupac Shakur was also a fine actor in his own right. After making his screen debut as a background player in the star-studded comedy Nothing But Trouble in 1991, Tupac earned critical acclaim for his villainous role as Bishop in his follow-up film, Juice.
In 1993, Tupac once again shifted gears by playing a soft-hearted mailman opposite Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice. In total, Tupac starred in seven feature films and two television episodes prior to his death, not counting appearing in archived footage or as himself on various TV shows.
Updated on October 14th, 2021 by Kevin Pantoja: Whenever Tupac Shakur’s is mentioned, everyone thinks about his music career. That makes sense as he’s considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. However, his acting career likely deserves more credit. While he wasn’t someone who was going to win an Oscar, he typically delivered quality performances. The movies Tupac was in were often met with pretty good acclaim, as was his acting and the same goes for his television appearances. Many fans believe that he would’ve branched out into even bigger roles had he lived longer since he was still on the rise at the time of his death.
9 Nothing But Trouble (1991) – 5.1
● Available to rent on Apple TV
As part of the Digital Underground rap crew, Tupac appeared along with Shock-G (aka Humpty Hump) in the Dan Aykroyd-directed farce Nothing But Trouble.
The film stars Chevy Chase as financial advisor Chris Thorne who, along with his girlfriend Diane (Demi Moore), takes a wrong turn in a dilapidated backwater. Upon being arrested for speeding, Chris and Diane are taken to a creepy mansion full of strange traps designed by a lecherous judge (Aykroyd). When Chris is forced to marry the judge’s daughter, Tupac helps ring in the festivities through song, putting his two best talents on display.
8 Poetic Justice (1993) – 6.1
● Available on Hulu and The Roku Channel
In writer and director John Singleton‘s Poetic Justice, Janet Jackson plays a soulful poet who goes on a cross-country road trip with her best friend Iesha (Regina King), Iesha’s boyfriend Chicago (Joe Torry), and his mailman pal Lucky (Tupac).
Reeling from the murder of her boyfriend, Justice (Jackson) wants nothing to do with Lucky’s flirtations. However, as the two get to know each other on the trip, Justice learns Lucky has his own issues with an ex who’s addicted to drugs and their young daughter Keisha. The more time they spend together, the closer Lucky and Justice become.
7 Gang Related (1997) – 6.5
● Available on Max Go
The final film of Tupac’s to be released posthumously was Gang Related, a drug-themed action-thriller costarring James Belushi, Dennis Quaid, James Earl Jones, Gary Cole, and Lela Rochon.
Written and directed by Jim Kouf, the film revolves around Detectives Divinci (Belushi) and Rodriguez (Tupac), two dirty cops who get in way over their heads when accidentally murdering a DEA agent. As the two men scramble to conceal the crime by framing a homeless man, they end up creating more harm than good.
6 Bullet (1996) – 6.5
Co-written by and starring Mickey Rourke, who also served as the music supervisor, Bullet was released in theaters three weeks after Tupac’s death in 1996. However, the film was shot in 1994 under the direction of Julien Temple.
Plot-wise, the film follows Butch “Bullet” Stein (Rourke), a Jewish heroin addict fresh out of an eight-year jail sentence. Upon his release, Bullet steals from a rival drug dealer named Tank (Tupac) who in turn hires a hitman to kill Bullet as soon as possible. The film also stars names such as Adrien Brody, Ted Levine, Peter Dinklage, and Michael K. Williams.
5 Above The Rim (1994) – 6.6
● Available on Max Go
After playing a semisweet-natured protagonist in Poetic Justice, Tupac returned to the big screen a year later as the main villain in the inner-city basketball movie Above the Rim.
The plot concerns Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin), a high-school basketball star with his eye on playing for Georgetown University. When Kyle’s coach suggests his mother’s boyfriend Shep (Leon) take over as the new coach, Kyle opts to participate in a basketball street tournament instead. Shep’s younger brother Birdie (Tupac) is a ruthless gang-leader who coaches a rival basketball team in the tournament and recruits Kyle. In the end, Kyle plays against Birdie’s team in the high-stakes tournament.
4 Gridlock’d (1997) – 6.9
● Available on Starz
In Gridlock’d, Tupac and Tim Roth star as a pair of best friends and heroin addicts desperate to kick the drugs in the wake of a friend’s fatal overdose. Upon entering a detox program, Stretch (Roth) and Spoon (Tupac) experience far more bureaucratic trouble than it’s worth.
Written and directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall, the movie also stars Thandie Newton, Charles Fleischer, John Sayles, and Lucy Liu. The film won a Special Recognition Award for Excellence in Filmmaking by the National Board of Review.
3 Juice (1992) – 7.1
● Available on Prime Video
Ernest Dickerson’s Juice follows a foursome of inner-city friends in New York who, in the wake of peer pressure, decide to rob a liquor store to gain neighborhood notoriety. When the plan backfires with lethal results, the fabric of their friendship erodes in a quick hurry.
Tupac plays Bishop in the film, one of the four friends alongside Q (Omar Epps), Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), and Raheem (Khalil Kain). Once Bishop gets a taste of power with the possession of a firearm, he turns into a merciless killing machine who his closest friends no longer recognize. In the end, the “juice” Bishop accrues comes at the highest of costs.
2 Drexell’s Class, S1E17 (1992) – 7.4
In the short-lived sitcom Drexell’s Class, which ran for one season and eighteen episodes from 1991-1992, Tupac made an appearance as himself in the penultimate episode of the series.
The show revolves around white-collar criminal Otis Drexell (Dabney Coleman), a businessman caught evading taxes. As punishment, Drexell is forced to teach an elementary class until the back taxes are paid in full. Tupac makes a cameo in the episode entitled “Cruisin‘” which also featured Jason Priestly and Brittany Murphy.
1 A Different World, S6E21 (1993) – 8.6
● Available on HBO Max
The highest-rated acting credit of Tupac Shakur, according to IMDb, is the episode “Homey, Don’t You Know” from the ’90s sitcom A Different World. Rather than appearing as himself or part of the Digital Underground rap group, Tupac plays a character named Piccolo in the show. His longtime friend Jada Pinkett Smith also appears in the episode.
The episode concerns Lena’s (Pinkett Smith) ex-boyfriend Piccolo (Tupac) and his friends arriving in her new neighborhood to pay her a visit. However, it becomes clear that Piccolo and his crew do not fit in among Lena’s new environment.