Photos: Black Action Heroes

Black actors who changed the color of movie excitement.

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Jim Kelly  - On June 29, martial arts icon Jim Kelly, 67, died of cancer. With his passing American cinema lost the first Black action superhero of the big screen. Kelly became a superstar when he was hired to star alongside Bruce Lee in the karate classic Enter the Dragon. Afterwards, Kelly (literally) kicked down the doors for future Black action stars when he landed leading roles in '70s blaxploitation hits like Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way. Here's a look at other black actors who blazed a trail as action heroes. (Photo: Warner Bros Pictures)

Blade

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Wesley Snipes - More than becoming an action star,  Wesley Snipes became the first African-American to land a hit action hero film franchise when he landed the lead role in the successful Blade series. As Blade, a superhero based on the Marvel Comics character, Snipes played a human-vampire hybrid out to protect humans from vampires. (Photo: New Line Cinema)

Will Smith in Men in Black\r - Aliens are typical frightening creatures, but leave it to Will Smith to turn an extraterrestrial invasion into a feel-good film. The charming actor, along with his curmudgeon-y partner, Tommy Lee Jones, had us laughing so hard we nearly forget to be scared.\r(Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures)

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Will Smith - He'd proven he was hero material after taking down international criminals in Bad Boys and saving America from space creatures in Independence Day. But Will Smith will most definitely be remembered as an action star for the Men in Black franchise. Starring as Jay, an agent battling undercover aliens, Smith delivers hilarious one-liners while battling his celestial foes. (Photo: Columbia Pictures)

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Zoe Saldana  - While Zoe Saldana is considered one of Hollywood's sexiest actresses, she's also proven she can be a she-roic badass. After showing her battle chops in the crime action drama Colombiana, she brought Uhura back to life for this summer's outerspace blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness.  (Photo: Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions)

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Richard Roundtree - At the zenith of the Black Power movement, Richard Roundtree became an instant film star and one of Hollwood's first action heroes. Starring in the Oscar-winning blaxploitation film Shaft (1971), the actor played the afro-wearing, fist-throwing and lady-loving private eye John Shaft.  (Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

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Pam Grier - The actress found success in 1970s blaxploitation movies, where she played bold and badass chicks who didn't step down for anybody.  (Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

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Pam Grier - Before famed white action film sheroes like Sigourney Weaver, Angelina Jolie or Uma Thurman there was Pam Grier, who could be credited as America's first female action star. During the hey-day of blaxploitation, the actress terrorized drug kingpins in the hit films Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974).  (Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

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Carl Weathers - To fans of the boxing classic Rocky, Carl Weathers will always be known as Apollo Creed. But the New Orleans-born actor is also remembered for his role as the taxi-chasing Sergeant Jericho Jackson in the crime-fighting hit Action Jackson (1988).  (Photo: Lorimar Film Entertainment)

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Vin Diesel - After breaking onto Hollywood's A-list with his role in the Oscar-winning war movie Saving Private Ryan, Mr. Diesel proved his worth as a top action hero. For the last 16 years, he's played lead in blockbuster action franchises from The Chronicles of Riddick to the Fast and the Furious.  (Photo: Universal Pictures)

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Dwayne Johnson - When you're the biggest professional wrestler in the world and you decide to become an actor, you're destined to become an action hero. This was the case for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who's best known for playing the Scorpion King  in The Mummy Returns franchise.  (Photo: Universal Pictures)

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Fred Williamson and Jim Brown - These former NFL stars left the gridiron to break into movies in the late '60s. And both found themselves becoming super-bad leading men during the blaxploitation era. But the pinnacle of their action-packed stardom was when the two starred in Three the Hard Way, where they (along with Jim Kelly) save Black America from being poisoned to death by a racist scientist.  (Photo: Allied Artists Pictures)

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Tamara Dobson - While Pam Grier was slaying drug traffickers as a concerned citizen, actress Tamara Dobson emerged as a special agent battling them internationally (and with karate chops) in the blaxploitation hit Cleopatra Jones (1973). Two years later Dobson, who died in 2006, reprised her role for the sequel Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold.  (Photo: Warner Bros Pictures)