After a supporting turn on a 2001 episode of Law & Order, Elba landed a starring role on the 2002 HBO drama series The Wire.
From 2002 to 2004, Elba portrayed Russell "Stringer" Bell in the series, perhaps his best-known role in the United States.
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.
In 1995, Elba 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.
Elba hosted The Best FIFA Football Awards 2017 at the London Palladium on 23 October 2017.