DCI John Luther in the BBC One series Luther, and Nelson Mandela in the biographical film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013).
In 1995, he landed his first significant role on a series called Bramwell, a medical drama set in 1890s England.
He played a central character in an episode of Season 1, an African petty thief named Charlie Carter, who lost his (white) wife to childbirth and had to figure out how to support his newborn daughter.
His first named role arrived earlier in 1995, when he was cast as a gigolo on the "Sex" episode of Absolutely Fabulous.
Many supporting roles on British television followed, including series such as The Bill and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries.
At the 69th Golden Globe Awards telecast on 15 January 2012, Elba won the Award for Best Actor in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television for his role on the BBC crime thriller series Luther.
In 2007, Elba signed on as the lead role of the film Daddy's Little Girls, playing Monty, a blue-collar mechanic who falls in love with an attorney helping him gain custody of his kids, and finds the relationship and his custody hopes threatened by the return of his former wife.
He joined the cast of the soap opera Family Affairs He returned to England occasionally for a television role, such as a part in one of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries.
In 2001, Elba played Achilles in a stage production of Troilus and Cressida in New York City.
In 2016, he had several voice roles: the cape buffalo chief of police, Chief Bogo, in Disney's Zootopia, alongside Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman; villainous tiger Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (2016), a live-action remake of the animated 1967 film of the same name; and sea lion Fluke in Pixar's Finding Dory, alongside Ellen De Generes and Albert Brooks, both reprising their roles from Finding Nemo (2003).
Also that year, he played the main antagonist, Krall, in the sequel Star Trek Beyond.
He also starred in Pacific Rim (2013), Beasts of No Nation (2015), for which he received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor, and Molly's Game (2017).