70 Classic Black Films Everyone Should See At Least Once

♬ “Do you know where you’re going to?”♬ Here are 70 of the most iconic black films, through the year 2000.

1. Carmen Jones (1954)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Harry Kleiner, based off of the stage play written by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by: Otto Preminger
What it’s about: It’s a version of the opera Carmen, set in World War II.
Why you need to see it: It stars Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte (Diahann Carroll is also in this!) and it was a major studio film that featured an all-black cast. Also, it’s one of the most amazing musicals ever. Ever.

2. Imitation of Life (1959)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Based on the novel by Fannie Hurst, adapted in 1934 and 1959 by Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott
Directed by: Douglas Sirk
What it’s about: A black domestic’s lighter-skinned daughter rejects her mother and passes for white.
Why you need to see it: It’ll make you cry — hard — and it will be the source of great conversations because everyone else in the world has seen this film many, many times. So should you.

3. A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by: Daniel Petrie
What it’s about: A struggling black family awaits news on an insurance check that may very well change the course of their lives.
Why you need to see it: It’s written by Hansberry, who was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. And it stars Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, two of Hollywood’s greatest and most celebrated actors.

4. Shaft (1971)


Written by: Ernest Tidyman and John D.F. Black
Directed by: Gordon Parks
What it’s about: One of the most well-known films to come out of the blaxploitation era, this tells the story of John Shaft, a black detective who takes on the Italian mob.
Why you need to see it: It’s one of the first black action movies and it made a star of Richard Roundtree. The film also features one of the best film scores ever, by Isaac Hayes.

5. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

Melvin Van Peebles

Written by: Melvin Van Peebles
Directed by: Melvin Van Peebles
What it’s about: It’s a story of a poor black male prostitute who saves a Black Panther from racist white cops — so he goes on the run!
Why you need to see it: The entire film was written, directed, produced, scored — you name it — by Van Peebles; no studio would touch it, so he did it all himself. He spent $150,000 to do it and it ended up earning $15.2 million at the box office despite showing on very few screens.

6. Super Fly (1972)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Phillip Fenty
Directed by: Gordon Parks Jr.
What it’s about: A New York cocaine dealer wants to make one last deal before leaving the drug game altogether.
Why you need to see it: The soundtrack — by Curtis Mayfield — is reason enough; it made more money than the actual movie did, and it got the legendary soul singer more soundtrack work. The car is perhaps one of the most famous characters in the controversial movie (criticized for its glorifying of drug dealers): It’s a 1971 Cadillac Eldorado that ~inspired~ many drug dealers, gangsters, and pimps to redo their rides in homage to it.

7. Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Suzanne de Passe, Chris Clark, Terence McCloy
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
What it’s about: It’s a biopic telling the troubled, sad story of blues legend Billie Holiday.
Why you need to see it: It’s one of the best musical biopics around, and Diana Ross absolutely nails the singer’s short life. Rightly, it was nominated for five Academy Awards. Also: Billy Dee Williams will make you swoon.

8. The Mack (1973)

Cinerama Releasing Corporation / New Line

Written by: Robert J. Poole
Directed by: Michael Campus
What it’s about: A small-time drug dealer gets released from prison and becomes the king of the pimp game in Oakland. He encounters two corrupt, racist white police detectives and a crime lord who want him to go back to the small time.
Why you need to see it: This was the highest-grossing blaxploitation film of its time — though the filmmakers would prefer viewers not loop it in that particular category. Instead, they thought of this as a social commentary of the era. Either way, it’s responsible for many references in pop culture today.

9. Coffy (1973)

American International Pictures

Written by: Jack Hill
Directed by: Jack Hill
What it’s about: Pam Grier is a vigilante nurse who is looking to even the score after her younger sister gets hooked on drugs and has to be institutionalized.
Why you need to see it: Grier is a badass heroine. She uses her sexuality to seduce the bad guys and kill them, all in the name of sweet street justice. This is the film that established Grier as the blaxploitation era’s female star.

10. Black Caesar (1973)

American International Pictures

Written by: Larry Cohen
Directed by: Larry Cohen
What it’s about: After being brutally assaulted by a white cop as a kid, Tommy Gibbs (era star Fred Williamson) turns to a life of crime. Under the director of the mafia, he becomes the head of a black crime unit in Harlem.
Why you need to see this: James Brown provided the soundtrack for this classic blaxplotation film that’s centered on a bad guy (he rapes his wife, among other crimes) who gets his just due in the end.

11. Cleopatra Jones (1974)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Max Julien and Sheldon Keller
Directed by: Jack Starrett
What it’s about: The late Tamara Dobson stars as Cleo, a badass undercover special agent for the U.S. government. She works overseas, but her real mission is to get the drugs out of her neighborhood back home in the States.
Why you need to see this: Her character was designed to be a black, female version of Bond — she even rode around in a 1973 Corvette Stingray (it had automatic weapons!). She masquerades as an international model, but what keeps this story grounded is her quest to take down an underworld drug business in L.A.’s black community. (Her nemesis is played by the late Shelley Winters.)

12. Foxy Brown (1974)

American International Pictures

Written by: Jack Hill
Directed by: Jack Hill
What it’s about: Once again, Pam Grier turns up the sexy while fighting villains. Foxy Brown is seeking revenge on a drug syndicate that murdered her boyfriend. She pretends to be a prostitute to get inside of a modeling agency (not-so-much-of-a-spoiler alert: it’s not a modeling agency) and saves black women from spending their lives becoming sex slaves and lost in the world of drugs.
Why you need to see this: This is perhaps the definitive Pam Grier movie — she’s best known for this role — and it’s clearly inspired modern-day pop culture (Beyoncé’s character Foxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers in Goldmember was modeled after both Cleopatra Jones and Foxy Brown, down to the “whole lot of woman” line, and ’90s rapper Foxy Brown plucked her stage name from Grier’s character).

13. Claudine (1974)

Third World Cinema

Written by: Lester Pine and Tina Pine
Directed by: John Berry
What it’s about: Claudine (Diahann Carroll) is a single mother of six on welfare who falls in love with Roop (James Earl Jones). The welfare theme runs rampant in the film: If the two marry, they’ll lose money and not be able to take care of the kids. Also in this film: Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Roxie Roker (mother of Lenny Kravitz!).
Why you need to see this: It’s one of the few films with an African-American cast made during this time that was not a blaxploitation film.

14. Uptown Saturday Night (1974)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Richard Wesley
Directed by: Sidney Poitier
What it’s about: Poitier pulls double-duty by both directing and starring in this comedy that pairs him with Bill Cosby (their first of three films together). Everything goes wrong when the two are robbed at a Saturday night party and Poitier’s character realizes that he’s won the lottery — but the crooks made off with his wallet the night before. This circumstance sets off a tailspin of funny as the two friends run across fake detectives, crooked politicians, and underworld crime lords.
Why you need to see this: The cast is inspired — Harry Belafonte, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, and Rosalind Cash all have roles in this as well.

15. Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975)

American International Pictures

Written by: Ronald Fair and Leonard Lamensdorf
Directed by: Joseph Manduke
What it’s about: Cornbread is the local hero — he’s a star basketball player who is about to be the first from his neighborhood to go to college on an athletic scholarship. His younger friends are Earl and Wilford (Laurence Fishburne in his first role!) and…tragedy strikes.
Why you need to see this: It’s a coming-of-age story that no one wants to be real: An innocent kid loses his life in a senseless way, at the hand of police involvement.

16. Dolemite (1975)

Dimension Pictures

Written by: Rudy Ray Moore and Jerry Jones
Directed by: D’Urville Martin
What it’s about: Based on the stand-up comedy of Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite is a pimp who is set up and is looking for his friends — who include a group of karate-literate call girls — to help spring him out.
Why you need to see this: Moore was a widely influential comedic genius (his material was profane and sexually explicit) and is considered to be an early pioneer of rap music.

17. Cooley High (1975)


Written by: Eric Monte
Directed by: Michael Schultz
What it’s about: The film follows the adventures of Preach and Cochise and their crew, high school friends in 1960s Chicago, and the twists and turns their lives take.
Why you need to see this: The writer of the film actually attended Cooley High and also co-created hit TV series Good Times, which was also set in the Cabrini-Green Chicago housing projects. Monte has said that he wrote this film to help dispel misconceptions of what life in the projects was really like. (Also: The 1991 Boyz II Men cover “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” was originally recorded by G.C. Cameron for this film. In fact, the group’s debut album is called Cooleyhighharmony in homage of the film.)

18. Mahogany (1975)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Toni Amber, Bob Merrill, and Stan Lee
Directed by: Berry Gordy
What it’s about: This film came out of the success of Lady Sings the Blues, and it brings Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams back together. Ross is Tracy Chambers, a poor black woman who ultimately becomes a sought-after fashion model in Italy.
Why you need to see this: Ross and Williams aside, this is a film that dares to follow the dreams of a little girl from Chicago. At the end, after amassing more success than even she could imagine, she realizes what’s really important — a lesson we all can learn from.

19. Sparkle (1976)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Joel Schumacher and Howard Rosenman
Directed by: Sam O’Steen
What it’s about: The original movie follows the rise of the Williams sisters in Harlem, as they set out to be the best big thing in music.
Why you need to see this: The cast is ridiculous: Irene Cara, Philip Michael Thomas, Lonette McKee, Dwan Smith, and Mary Alice; the music is even better, with original material scored by the legendary Curtis Mayfield and recorded by Aretha Franklin. It was a cultural moment to see black women dressed elegantly in shimmering gowns while performing onstage and was wholly influential to folks like Whitney Houston, who later pushed for a remake of the film, which was released in 2012, her last project before her untimely death.

20. Car Wash (1976)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Joel Schumacher
Directed by: Michael Schultz
What it’s about: A hilarious film about a day in the life of a multiracial group of co-workers at a Los Angeles car wash.
Why you need to see this: The cameo appearances are phenomenal — Richard Pryor is Daddy Rich, a money-hungry preacher with an all-female entourage played by the Pointer Sisters, and Bill Duke is a young revolutionary.

21. The Wiz (1978)

Universal Studios

Written by: Joel Schumacher
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
What it’s about: This is a soulful take on the musical based on The Wizard of Oz. The music is Motown official, and soon it’ll be an upcoming holiday musical live on NBC.
Why you need to see this: Thanks to the fantastic Motown-centric cast — Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, among others — the soundtrack is amazing and funky and it stays with you decades later.

22. Breakin’ (1984)

Cannon Pictures

Written by: Charles Parker, Allen DeBevoise, and Gerald Scaife
Directed by: Joel Silberg
What it’s about: Ozone, Turbo, and Special K meet and become a multiracial breakdance troupe that takes the Los Angeles street dance scene by storm.
Why you need to see this: It hits hard on the rising popularity of breakdancing by integrating the pristine white world of jazz dance with the pop-locking unpredictability of breakdancing.

23. Beat Street (1984)

Orion Pictures

Written by: Andy Davis, David Gilbert, Paul Golding, Steven Hager, and Richard Lee Sisco
Directed by: Stan Lathan
What it’s about: It’s a drama that expertly chronicles New York City (specifically, the South Bronx) hip-hop culture — breakdancing, graffiti, and DJ battles — in the early ’80s.
Why you need to see this: It was released in the thick of the rise of hip-hop, yet it really gives a great look at the heart of a cultural shift. Plus, Rae Dawn Chong was the era It girl for brown girls everywhere.

24. A Soldier’s Story (1984)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: Charles Fuller
Directed by: Norman Jewison
What it’s about: Based on a Pulitzer Prize–winning play, a black officer is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant near the end of World War II.
Why you need to see this: This twisty film dives deep into the struggle with racism in the armed services and boasts a phenomenal cast, including Howard E. Rollins Jr. and Adolph Caesar. And it introduced us to the brilliance of Denzel Washington — it was his second film, but his first meaty role.

25. Purple Rain (1984)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Albert Magnoli and William Blinn
Directed by: Albert Magnoli
What it’s about: The Kid (Prince!) is ready to rule the Minneapolis music scene — and escape his troubled home life while finding love with the beautiful Apollonia at the same damn time.
Why you need to see this: Is it not enough that Prince is in this? Listen: It’s horrible — like really bad. But it’s wildly entertaining (best musical performances in a movie, ever!) and produced the best soundtrack of all time.

26. Krush Groove (1985)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Ralph Farquhar
Directed by: Michael Schultz
What it’s about: The film is loosely based on how Def Jam Records got its start. Blair Underwood is Russell Walker (the Russell Simmons character), who has inked deals for all of New York’s best acts, including Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C., and the romantic tension comes from both Russell and Run vying for the love of Sheila E.
Why you need to see this: Pretty much everyone who helped to define hip-hop and R&B in the ’80s has an appearance in this: LL Cool J as a teenager, New Edition, the Fat Boys, and the Beastie Boys. Also, if you look REALLY hard in one scene, you’ll see a teenage Chris Rock holding up the wall at the club.

27. The Color Purple (1985)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Written by: Menno Meyjes and Alice Walker
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
What it’s about: Based on Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel of the same name, this follows the story of Celie Harris (Whoopi Goldberg) and what life was like being a black woman in the early 1900s. Over the course of her life, she deals with racism, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and poverty.
Why you need to see this: This marked Oprah Winfrey’s film debut and featured remarkable work by an insanely talented cast, including Goldberg, Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, Margaret Avery, and Danny Glover. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

28. Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Written by: Keenen Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend
Directed by: Robert Townsend
What it’s about: It’s a satirical take on stereotypes of black people! Townsend has said it’s semiautobiographical in that it follows a middle-class black guy, Bobby Taylor, who constantly gets told he’s not black enough to make it.
Why you need to see this: As funny as it is, it really drives home the very serious point of the lack of roles and the skewed representation of black people in Hollywood.

29. Raw (1987)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Eddie Murphy
Directed by: Robert Townsend
What it’s about: Murphy gives a grade-A stand-up performance and takes on a variety of subjects including STDs, his humble background, and romantic relationships.
Why you need to see this: It’s a definitive film that takes a look at the man who was wildly influenced by Richard Pryor and who went on to have a pretty successful run at the box office in the late ’80s and ’90s. Also, there are fun cameos in flashback scenes, including Samuel L. Jackson, Tatyana Ali, and Kim Wayans.

30. School Daze (1988)

40 Acres and a Mule

Written by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
What it’s about: We get to see what life is like at a historically black college over homecoming weekend: Greek life, colorism, and a fight for Apartheid and pushing the school to divest from South Africa set the film’s pace.
Why you need to see this: It’s one of Lee’s best films ever — loosely based off of what he saw as a college student in Atlanta at an HBCU (historically black college or university), he taps into life all too well in the film. He also jam-packed it with a powerful cast: Ossie Davis, Tisha Campbell, Larry Fishburne, and Giancarlo Esposito (as Dean Big Brother Almighty!).

31. Coming to America (1988)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein (story by Eddie Murphy)
Directed by: John Landis
What it’s about: The heir to the throne of Zamunda (Eddie Murphy) wants to sow his royal oats and debunk tradition by searching for his own queen. Naturally, he and his trusted manservant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) head to Queens, New York, to live as impoverished college students who work as custodians at a McDonald’s rip-off while he woos the woman of his dreams.
Why you need to see this: You’ll finally understand the Sexual Chocolate meme you see circulating the interwebs.

32. Lean On Me (1989)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Michael Schiffer
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
What it’s about: It’s loosely based on Joe Clark, a principal at an inner-city high school in New Jersey. Clark (Morgan Freeman) wants to prevent his school from being taken over by the state and ensure the students get a proper education while ridding the school of drug dealers and gang members.
Why you need to see this: You’ll finally understand that this line — “You smoke crack, don’t you?!” — was actually serious. It’s also a good look at a real-life educator who went the extra mile to make sure his kids were getting the education they deserved.

33. Glory (1989)

TriStar Pictures

Written by: Kevin Jarre
Directed by: Edward Zwick
What it’s about: The story was based off of a number of sources — personal letters and a novel — about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on Boston Common, the first official African-American units in the United States during the Civil War. It’s primarily told from the viewpoint of Col. Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the white commanding officer.
Why you need to see this: It sheds light on the work the men did to eventually get the Union to accept black men for combat. And Denzel Washington won his first Supporting Actor Oscar for the portrayal of Pvt. Trip in this well-acted drama.

34. Do the Right Thing (1989)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
What it’s about: It’s the hottest day of the year in New York, and the colorful characters that pizza delivery dude Mookie (Lee) encounters in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood set the day in motion. Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) doesn’t like that local pizzeria owner Sal doesn’t have any black folks on his wall of fame. He starts a protest that’s supported by Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith), and, well, let’s just say that the neighborhood isn’t the same after.
Why you need to see this: It’s one of Lee’s best films, and it earned him and Danny Aiello Academy Award nominations. It also tapped into the cultural undercurrent of inner-city neighborhoods.

35. Harlem Nights (1989)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Eddie Murphy
Directed by: Eddie Murphy
What it’s about: This crime comedy stars three generations of black comedic excellence: Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, and Redd Foxx. The period piece is set in the early 1900s: Think gangsters and heroin and brothels and trickery.
Why you need to see this: Even though it didn’t do ~that~ badly, it was considered a flop compared to Murphy’s other successes. But it’s responsible for so much pop culture fun, all the same. “Sunshine!”

36. Mo’ Better Blues (1989)

40 Acres and a Mule

Written by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
What it’s about: It’s a film that’s centered on the life of fictional jazz trumpet player Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) and all of the horrible choices he makes with regards to his life.
Why you need to see this: Per usual, Lee stacks his cast with some heavy hitters: This time Washington gets support from actors including Wesley Snipes, Cynda Williams, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Samuel L. Jackson.

37. House Party (1990)

New Line Cinema

Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
What it’s about: Kid ’n Play co-star as high school BFFs who throw the ultimate house party while Play’s parents are away for the night. Kid gets grounded by his dad (played by the late, great Robin Harris) but sneaks out to make sure he doesn’t miss out on the rap battle, the dance-off, and, of course, the hot girls.
Why you need to see this: One of the greatest rap duos of all time prove they have some pretty decent acting chops. Plus, they teach us all a lesson on safer sex.

38. The Five Heartbeats (1991)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans
Directed by: Robert Townsend
What it’s about: In flashback sequence, we see the rise of a Motown-like singing group and all of the heartache and turmoil that they endure — racism, drug use, philandering, and more — on their struggle to rise to the top.
Why you need to see this: It’s a fictional account of what groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops endured — some things that happened in the film actually happened in real life for those pioneering groups — and the music is absolutely incredible. Dare you not to doo-wop.

39. Jungle Fever (1991)

40 Acres and a Mule

Written by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
What it’s about: Lee packs a great deal into this film: interracial relationships, marital infidelity, racism, drug-addicted relatives, and more. Flipper (Wesley Snipes) is a happily married architect who happens to be the lone black professional in his office. His new secretary Angie (Annabella Sciorra) isn’t exactly what he asked his associates for, but turns out, after working late at the office one night, they hit it off and begin a sexual affair that turns both of their worlds upside down.
Why you need to see this: Samuel L. Jackson delivers a breakout performance as Gator, the crackhead brother who can’t quite get it together.

40. Strictly Business (1991)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Pam Gibson and Nelson George
Directed by: Kevin Hooks
What it’s about: The friendship between mail clerk Bobby Johnson (Tommy Davidson) and a would-be partner Waymon Tinsdale III (Joseph C. Phillips) kicks into high gear after Waymon reveals his crush on a popular club girl (Halle Berry). Bobby teaches Waymon how to be cool, while Waymon teaches Bobby how to be more corporate.
Why you need to see this: Check this out for Berry’s haircut alone: Her crop inspired brown girls throughout the ’90s to adopt this funky mushroom ‘do. (Also, it’s pretty funny, and a chance to see Jodeci before they blew up as the go-to ’90s R&B group.)

41. Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: John Singleton
Directed by: John Singleton
What it’s about: Wholly inspired by N.W.A’s debut album Straight Outta Compton, Singleton writes what life is like for black kids in South Central L.A. in the 1990s.
Why you need to see this: Smartly, Singleton cast Ice Cube (who penned many of the lyrics on that first album) as Doughboy, the neighborhood dope dealer, and gave budding actor Cuba Gooding Jr. a shot at Tre, a teenager whose parents (Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett) are trying to keep him on track. The film’s success — Singleton earned Oscar nominations for both writing and directing — inspired several movies based on this same neighborhood to come later in the decade. Have your tissues ready for the ending; you’ve been warned. The cast also introduced us to Nia Long and Morris Chestnut.

42. New Jack City (1991)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Thomas Lee Wright and Barry Michael Cooper
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles
What it’s about: Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) is a New York City drug lord whose reign gets even bigger when his gang, the Cash Money Brothers, starts pushing crack, a new street drug in this fantastic crime story.
Why you need to see this: One of the film’s writers, Cooper, wrote an impactful piece about the rise of the crack epidemic for Spin magazine in the ’80s — so much so, his bosses thought he made the drug and the pandemic up — and it all makes for a very realistic portrayal of how the drug infiltrated and crippled the community. Plus ’80s R&B heartthrob Christopher Williams is in it. And Chris Rock stars as Pookie, a crackhead. (Snipes delivers this classic line: “Sit yo five-dollar ass down before I make change.”)

43. White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Ron Shelton
Directed by: Ron Shelton
What it’s about: Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) are street ball hustlers who clean up on the courts in California. There’s crossing and good double-crossing throughout the movie before the two realize that they need to stick together in order to win the big bucks.
Why you need to see this: It’s a good buddy comedy, Rosie Perez is Harrelson’s girlfriend who’s on a quest to get on Jeopardy! (spoiler, she does), and there’s plenty of good hoops.

44. Bebe’s Kids (1992)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Directed by: Bruce W. Smith
What it’s about: Based on the comedy of Robin Harris — he died tragically two years prior of a heart attack — it’s about a man who agrees to take the woman he’s wooing, her son, and her friend Bebe’s kids on an amusement park date. Everything goes wrong, all in the name of comedy.
Why you need to see this: If you missed out on the brilliance of hearing Harris talk about Bebe’s kids (imagine the worst kids on planet Earth who misbehave constantly in public), then you’ll want to see this film, which also was the first animated feature with an entirely African-American main cast.

45. Boomerang (1992)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield (story by Eddie Murphy)
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
What it’s about: A single, womanizing advertising executive (Murphy) gets the script flipped on him after he links up with Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens), who teaches that dog a new trick!
Why you need to see this: A phenomenal cast — Murphy, Givens, Halle Berry, David Alan Grier, Martin Lawrence, Eartha Kitt, Chris Rock, and more — helps tell such a great, funny story with a fantastic, semi-storybook ending.

46. Malcolm X (1992)

40 Acres and a Mule

Written by: Spike Lee and Arnold Perl
Directed by: Spike Lee
What it’s about: In this film based on Alex Haley’s celebrated The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Denzel Washington takes the title role and turns in one of the best biographical performances of all time. Through the course of the film, we get to see what turned Malcolm Little into Malcolm X: his childhood, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his rise to power, and his ultimate death.
Why you need to see this: The film was extremely well-reviewed, largely due to Washington’s compelling performance as the civil rights leader.

47. Juice (1992)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Ernest R. Dickerson and Gerard Brown
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
What it’s about: “The Wrecking Crew” – four friends growing up in Harlem — skip school, steal music from a local store, and get into it with a Puerto Rican gang. Roland Bishop (Tupac, in his first film role) decides the teens need to step it up a bit to gain respect, and start robbing and killing.
Why you need to see this: It’s a hard coming-of-age story to watch, seeing four kids going down the wrong path, but it has a timeless feel to it.

48. Class Act (1992)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Written by: Cynthia Friedlob and John Semper
Directed by: Randall Miller
What it’s about: It’s a modern-day black version of The Prince and the Pauper, and it’s the third film that pairs ’90s rap duo Kid ’n Play together. This time their identities get switched and the well-off smarty-pants has to learn how to be the school’s tough-as-nails street kid. And vice versa.
Why you need to see this: It’s another fun movie set in high school, and the two rap their way out of trouble, much to all of our delight.

49. What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)

Touchstone Pictures

Written by: Kate Lanier
Directed by: Brian Gibson
What it’s about: A biopic of the woman born Anna Mae Bullock who became the rock goddess we now know as Tina Turner. Through the course of the film, we get to see how Turner navigated an impoverished background from Nutbush, Tennessee, surviving domestic violence at the hand of her husband, rock ’n’ roll pioneer Ike Turner, and charted her own path to become an icon.
Why you need to see this: Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne more than deserved the Academy Award nominations they earned for their roles as Ike and Tina Turner. It was an honest and gripping portrayal, adapted from Kurt Loder’s I, Tina. Plus, the music! The music, naturally, is incredible!

50. CB4 (1993)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Chris Rock, Nelson George, and Robert LoCash
Directed by: Tamra Davis
What it’s about: A group of young men (Rock, Allen Payne, and Deezer D) who really want to be successful in the rap music business finally find their footing — as gangsta rappers. Only problem is that they’re from working-class neighborhoods and have never even so much as stolen a pack of gum.
Why you need to see this: The comedy pokes fun at the fallout from the rise of N.W.A — the government involvement, the backlash from feminists — and produces some pretty funny mock rap music in the process. (Eazy-E even has a cameo.)

51. Posse (1993)

Gramercy Pictures

Written by: Sy Richardson and Dario Scardapane
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles
What it’s about: It’s a good old Western that focuses on a group of black soldiers (a posse!) and their lone white compadre, who are all betrayed by a racist colonel.
Why you need to see this: Big Daddy Kane is in this, which should be reason enough, but the rest of the cast is a nice mix too: Peebles, Stephen Baldwin, Tiny Lister, Tone Loc, Blair Underwood, Pam Grier, Salli Richardson, and Billy Zane.

52. Poetic Justice (1993)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: John Singleton
Directed by: John Singleton
What it’s about: Justice (Janet Jackson) is unnerved when her boyfriend (Q-Tip) is killed at a drive-in while sitting next to her. She’s deeply depressed and writes original poetry as her solace. She meets and immediately dislikes Lucky (Tupac Shakur) and argues with him when the two find themselves stuck in a postal van on a road trip to Oakland with their friends (Regina King and Joe Torry). They eventually fall for one another.
Why you need to see this: Jackson and Tupac kiss! And it’s glorious! They also make some interesting stops along the way to Oakland — they stumble upon a family reunion and Lucky encourages them to just pretend they’re part of the family.

53. Menace II Society (1993)

New Line Cinema

Written by: Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes, and Tyger Williams
Directed by: The Hughes Brothers
What it’s about: The cycle continues for one young man living in South Central L.A. Caine’s father was a dope dealer who died in a deal gone wrong, his mother a heroin addict, and he lives with his straight and narrow grandparents. Still, even their watchful eyes can’t keep him away from going the route of his dad, as he moves through Los Angeles with his troublesome friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate).
Why you need to see this: The film didn’t gloss over violence and was a gritty portrayal of the life of a young drug dealer and the environment surrounding him.

54. Jason’s Lyric (1994)

Gramercy Pictures

Written by: Bobby Smith Jr.
Directed by: Doug McHenry
What it’s about: It’s ultimately a love story between Jason (Allen Payne) and Lyric (Jada Pinkett Smith), who live in Houston and both dream of leaving and starting a new life. Jason’s younger brother Joshua (Bokeem Woodbine) is freshly released from prison and can’t seem to leave whatever landed him there alone — and neither can Lyric’s brother Alonzo (Treach).
Why you need to see this: It’s about how loving someone can inspire you to not give up on your dreams, even when they seem impossible.

55. A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994)

Buena Vista Pictures

Written by: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Directed by: Keenen Ivory Wayans
What it’s about: Former LAPD detective Shame becomes a private investigator. His business is just about to go under, until he gets hired by a former colleague (Charles S. Dutton) who now works for the DEA. The new case is a chance to reunite with a former lover, Angela (Salli Richardson), and a chance to finally bring a big drug lord to justice.
Why you need to see this: Jada Pinkett Smith is Shame’s assistant — he busted her a few years earlier for a petty crime — and she just about steals the show as the hilarious and ridiculously smart Peaches.

56. Tales From the Hood (1995)

40 Acres and a Mule

Written by: Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
What it’s about: It’s an interesting anthology of four black-themed horror stories — what sets the stories in motion is three modern-day South Central drug dealers who are looking to make a deal with an eccentric mortician.
Why you need to see this: As much as it is a series of horror stories, there’s comedy and at times serious tones to be found in the individual stories; you’ll find yourself cheering by the time you get to the end.

57. Bad Boys (1995)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, and Doug Richardson
Directed by: Michael Bay
What it’s about: Best friends and Miami narcotics detectives Marcus (Martin Lawrence) and Mike (Will Smith) go back into action after their career bust — $100 million in heroin — is stolen while locked up in a vault.
Why you need to see this: The action and comedy compete with one another quite nicely in one of the finest buddy cop films ever made.

58. Friday (1995)

New Line Cinema

Written by: Ice Cube and DJ Pooh
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
What it’s about: Two slackers (Ice Cube and Chris Tucker) spend much of their day on a porch and interact with their zany neighbors in South Central L.A.
Why you need to see this: After writing music for N.W.A and co-starring in films like Boyz n the Hood, Ice Cube realized that folks thought the ‘hood was a scary place to be. He wanted to show a lighter side of a day in South Central L.A.

59. Waiting to Exhale (1995)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Terry McMillan and Ronald Bass
Directed by: Forest Whitaker
What it’s about: In this film adapted from McMillan’s groundbreaking novel of the same name, Whitaker brings to life the friendship and love of four best friends all hoping to finally reach that point where they can just…exhale.
Why you need to see this: Fans of the novel thought the film was perfectly cast — Angela Bassett as Bernie, Whitney Houston as Savannah, Loretta Devine as Gloria, and Lela Rochon as Robin. Even when the film doesn’t stick exactly to the novel, the changes aren’t so striking.

60. Higher Learning (1995)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: John Singleton
Directed by: John Singleton
What it’s about: It’s a dramatic look at a year on a fictional California college campus, seen through the prism of various eyes, including a freshman white woman who gets date-raped (Kristy Swanson), a freshman black man (Omar Epps) who doesn’t take his athletic scholarship seriously, and a freshmen white man (Michael Rapaport) who teams up with a local skinhead group.
Why you need to see this: It’s a provocative look at life on an American university campus. The ending is dramatic and sad, but the stories that lead up to it are thought-provoking. Plus Ice Cube is super-senior Fudge in this, and as you might expect, he doesn’t take any mess.

61. Set It Off (1996)

New Line Cinema

Written by: Takashi Bufford and Kate Lanier
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
What it’s about: After a bank teller (Vivica A. Fox) wrongfully gets fired from her job, she and her three friends — played by Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Kimberly Elise — all of whom have their own reasons for needing quick cash, decide to rob banks.
Why you need to see this: Four black women as bank robbers, who, when faced with adversity — a thieving boss, police brutality, or the perils of their neighborhood — don’t back down.

62. Hav Plenty (1998)

Miramax Films

Written by: Christopher Scott Cherot
Directed by: Christopher Scott Cherot
What it’s about: A crazy series of events happens during the course of a weekend for Lee Plenty while he attempts to woo the woman of his dreams, Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell).
Why you need to see this: This ended up being the first film ever screened at what is now known as the American Black Film Festival, back in 1997. And filmmaker Cherot worked hard to get this black love story made — he financed it by working as a cab driver in New York City and by taking out a third mortgage on his mom’s house. It all paid off and then some: Miramax ultimately purchased and distributed it.

63. Eve’s Bayou (1997)

Trimark Pictures

Written by: Kasi Lemmons
Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
What it’s about: A 10-year-old Louisiana girl (Jurnee Smollett) grows up in a prosperous black family and seeks out a witch to do voodoo on her own father (Samuel L. Jackson) after discovering something horrific about him.
Why you need to see this: This was Lemmons’ directorial debut, and the film is considered one of the most important films about race, as it dives into the intersection of color, class, and coming of age.

64. Love Jones (1997)

New Line Cinema

Written by: Theodore Witcher
Directed by: Theodore Witcher
What it’s about: One of the greatest modern love stories — Nina Mosley (Nia Long) and Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) will frustrate the hell out of you as they attempt to get together and make it work, but you’ll stick by them while they try to figure it out.
Why you need to see this: It’s a story about post-collegiate black life that centers on love and not violence or drugs, something that wasn’t exactly commonplace for black cinema in the 1990s. The movie also sparked an interest in coffeehouse performance poetry.

65. Soul Food (1997)

20th Century Fox

Written by: George Tillman Jr.
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
What it’s about: The trials and romantic entanglements of a Chicago family play out in this drama that centers around three sisters, played by Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, and Nia Long. Their worlds fall apart without the guidance of Big Mama, who slips into a coma and is unable to help them sort out their problems, or attempt to hold the family together at the weekly Sunday night soul food dinners she hosts.
Why you need to see this: Excellent storytelling from Tillman inspired Showtime to spin off a series with the same name a few years later.

66. Belly (1998)

Artisan Entertainment

Written by: Hype Williams
Directed by: Hype Williams
What it’s about: Bundy (DMX) and Sin (Nas) are two longtime friends and New York criminals who soon learn about a new form of heroin they think will take the streets by storm. Things go very wrong, friendships are damaged, and a move to Africa is pondered.
Why you need to see this: Williams was a go-to music video guy, and this was his directorial debut. It’s one of those movies that — despite not being the greatest — you much watch again and again. Preferably with Twitter friends.

67. How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Terry McMillan and Ron Bass
Directed by: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
What it’s about: Based off another McMillan best-seller, this film follows a high-powered divorcée, Stella (Angela Bassett), who has a fling with young premed student Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs), who is 20 years her junior.
Why you need to see this: The two unlikely lovers try to turn their sexy Jamaican love tryst into something that might work in the real world. It also drums down on the beauty of longtime female friendships — in the novel, Stella’s BFF is already dead; in the film Whoopi Goldberg portrays Delilah, who, in true BFF fashion, encourages Stella to throw a lot of caution to the wind.

68. The Best Man (1999)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Malcolm D. Lee
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
What it’s about: Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) is a first-time novelist who is nervous when he learns that his not-yet-released book is being circulated among his group of college friends. His pals inspired the book, which also reveals a thinly veiled dark secret about him and his best friend’s longtime girlfriend. Naturally, this all unfolds over the weekend of the couple’s wedding.
Why you need to see this: It’s incredibly well cast — Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, and Regina Hall — and the story resonated for so many years after its release that the studio smartly commissioned a sequel (The Best Man Holiday) 14 years later. And that did so well that a third film is on the way — maybe.

69. The Wood (1999)

Paramount Pictures

Written by: Rick Famuyiwa and Todd Boyd
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa
What it’s about: Three childhood best friends — Roland (Taye Diggs), Slim (Richard T. Jones), and Mike (Omar Epps) — come of age in Inglewood, California. The younger versions of the friends are played by Trent Cameron, Duane Finley, and Sean Nelson.
Why you need to see this: The environment around them isn’t always pristine — a big brother of one of their love interests is in a gang — but we see three black teens just do normal teenage stuff (explore sex, go to homecoming dances, and eat pizza) and become reasonably responsible adults. The brotherhood is to be admired — years later as one of the fellas is about to get married, he freaks out and goes missing, and the other two find him and reminisce, reminding one another why their friendship is so strong.

70. Love & Basketball (2000)

New Line Cinema

Written by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
What it’s about: A little girl dares to dream to be the first female to play in the NBA. But bigger than the strong “girl power” message Prince-Bythewood drops into her debut film is that she set this undeniably black film in an all-black, upper-class neighborhood.
Why you need to see this: The coming-of-age love story (Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan co-starred) introduced us to two things we’d never seen on the big screen before: unpretentious black wealth and a female athlete who was no less of a woman because of her strength.

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