Just to give you a sense of where movies are right now, consider some current box office “hits”: a 3-D food movie, Bruce Willis in a hairpiece, a rehash of an ’80s musical, and two white people with chin dimples falling in love. You know what Hollywood needs right about now? Some BLAXPLOITATION, bitches! Thankfully, the beloved ’70s genre is poised for a comeback thanks to Michael Jai White, whose new movie Black Dynamite blasts its way into theaters in a couple of weeks. To give the kids a refresher, Complex put together an in-depth countdown of the genre’s best flicks, so you can know what’s really going down. Keep it pimpin’, pimpin’!
Shaft In Africa
A late-era Rudy Ray Moore joint (like he's Picasso or something) about a retired cop who becomes a DJ and brings down the local PCP kingpin. Notable for indulging DJs' delusions of grandeur-as well as their fantasies of inhaling angel dust through a gas mask. Fuck a sherm stick, that's that new style!
Black Mama, White Mama
Why bother seeing The Defiant Ones with Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier when you can choose this ripoff set in (and out of) a women's prison? The buxom leads bust out of the penitentiary while still chained together, making for plenty of racial sass talk and lots and LOTS of running (thank you, Russ Meyer!). The cinematic equivalent of a black and white cookie—oh, so sweet.
Hell Up In Harlem
It pales in comparison to Black Caesar, but this mob-movie sequel has too many kick-ass scenes to ignore. Rags-to-riches bossman Tommy Gibbs inexplicably comes back to life and regains his power (and faux-Italian accent) with a little help from his ruthless pops.
The Human Tornado
The original rapper is back! Dolemite comes back with more fake kung-fu and questionably metered rhyming couplets than any bad guy could withstand--and he'll need 'em when his friend's nightclub comes under attack from the Mafia. Racist cops we can understand, but what IS it with blaxploitation and the mob? At least we know where all the shitty Italian surnames in mid-’90s rap came from.
Yes, it's the movie where Wu-Tang got the title for its worst song ever. A photonegative ripoff of the Warren Beatty hairstylist-slash-cocksman movie Shampoo, except the blaxpo version features 117% more gangsters, chopsocky, and chainsaws. And we wouldn't have it any other way.
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde
A black doctor with racial identity issues and a grudge against the sex trade tests an experimental serum on himself and becomes a white hooker-killing monster. Seriously, though—what do we REALLY think about white people?
If Hitler wasn't so small-minded, he might have co-signed the People's Army of Watts and joined their fight to drive the evil whites out of the ghetto. Problem is, once the crackers are gone, the Nazi-fitted black rebels turn on their own people. Not to be confused with the current state of the rap industry.
If your name is Black Samson and you're known for carrying around a big stick, owning a titty bar and having a motherfucking lion at your service, what self-respecting mafioso would sell drugs on your corner? The dummies in this movie, evidently. Learn to read the Bible, bitches.
Legendary animator Ralph Bakshi teamed up with a ridiculously talented voice cast to turn in an absolutely scathing satire of blaxploitation movies—think Song of the South x 1970s Harlem—and the stereotypes that too many tightass folks thought they reinforced. After it was demonized for being racist (come again?), the movie was dropped by the studio, only to resurface as a cult favorite years later.
A gang of bank robbers don masks depicting former presidents to pull off a diamond heist and finance a black people's bank. You like how the Hollywood establishment basically lifted this whole plot for Point Break, only substituting surfing for black self-empowermen? Honkies.
The eponymous first blaxploitation film for former NFL athlete and genre mainstay (sensing a theme yet? Blaxploitation gave more former athletes work then Dancing With the Stars) Fred "Hammer" Williamson, about a dockworker who becomes a boxer beholden to the mob. The climactic fight scene comes to a gruesome end when the hero breaks out his top-secret "Pumps and a Bump" move. Too legit!
When his Black Revolutionary brother is killed for robbing the white mob of money and incriminating payoff records, tough-ass L.A. nightclub owner Gunn has to put a foot to the Man's ass. That's if the white man had an ass. Assless-ass cave beasts.
An African prince asks Count Dracula's racist ass to help him end the slave trade, but instead gets turned into a vampire and sealed in a coffin for 300 years. When he awakens, he finds himself in 1970s Los Angeles—just in time to found the Bloods.
A potty-mouthed demon forces a preacher's wife to disco her way into men's pants. Unfortunately for her victims, she looks like an unholy hybrid of Tyler Perry and Spock. This Exorcist ripoff was so much like its "inspiration" that a lawsuit prevailed and yanked Abby's ass out of theaters.
Live and Let Die
With the help of a Chinese karate expert named Joe, former Playmate Jeannie Bell briefly throws some clothes on while she uses her hand and foot skills to track down the druglord who had her brother murdered. Let's see Holly or Kendra do that!
Sweet Jesus, Preacherman
Cops vs. robbers, call girls, and corrupt politicians in war-torn ’70s Detroit (not, as is commonly believed, Detroit in the distant future). One of the few blaxploitation joints that centers on a honky—and a pig honky at that—but don't worry, there are pimps and hoes too.
When detective Kicks (yes, Kicks) Carter discovers a LA hotel is being used as a front to promote prostitution and sell drugs and illegal guns, he sets out to shut it down. Right after he gives the promiscuous reporter a tip she could really use.
Five on the Black Hand Side
Not your usual blaxploitation fare, this lighthearted comedy about a struggling barber sought to make audiences feel proud about, and laugh at, their culture (sound familiar, Cube fans?). The film is notable for an ill freestyle in the barbershop—well, that and a character named "Sweet Meat." Ayo!
High-fashion drug enforcement agent Cleo Jones takes on shrill, fat cave bitch Mommy and her gang of drug-pushin' crackers. After seeing CJ, the C.I.A. decided to quit fucking around with shrill, fat cave bitches and start running drugs themselves, holla atcha crack epidemic.
Duke Johnson heads down South with his girl Aretha to bury his brother. The couple stays longer than expected and wind up reopening the brother's old nightclub—but when the corrupt redneck pigs get involved, Duke and his crew show them who the real original gun clappers are.
That Man Bolt
The poster's lurid headline-'Wham, Bam. Here comes Pam!"-pimps Pam Grier's notoriety as a shit-talkin', bra-bustin' hellcat. While the title character does have her moments (check her milk delivery), this is actually one of Grier's more dynamic roles: a fashion photographer who uncovers a white-supremacist conspiracy to assassinate a black politico. Based on the ’70s comics strip, the first in mainstream papers to feature a black lead character. Plus Isaac from the motherfuckin' Love Boat!
Jail doesn't sound like a good place for a dude who calls himself "Too Sweet," but the film's hero fits his moniker as an innocent man sent to prison. After Too Sweet learns to defend himself, he's convinced to join the prison boxing tourney to fight for his freedom—but prison goon Half Dead stands in his way. D-Block!
The Legend of Nigger Charley
Starring defensive back Fred Williamson in his first lead role—well, pretty much simultaneously with Hammer—this pioneering fusion of blaxploitation and westerns was a huge hit despite having the n-word in the title (it was even rated PG—take that, Nas!). Who doesn't love horseback shootouts with whitey?
No, it's not a documentary about Drake's hair. Growing up as a young thug on the streets of Harlem, Tommy Gibbs aspires to be a kingpin. Racism, conniving partners, and the law stand in his way but nothing can stop Gibbs' rise to the top of the city's underworld—all to the tune of some funky James Brown classics.
First off: Yes, that is Gordon from Sesame Street playing the pimptagonist. Second of all: Yes, the pimptagonist learns some heavy lessons, thanks in no small part to his astonishing wardrobe and a script that's often overlooked. How this didn't win an Oscar for Best Candy-Cane-Themed Fur Coat, we'll never know.
Sure, this tale of a bounty hunter on the run from a vengeful hooker boasts an incredible cast, but more importantly it features the greatest villain henchman in the history of blaxploitation: a white dude with mutton chops, a neckerchief, and a motherfucking BEADAZZLED EYE PATCH. Holla atcha cinematic watershed moment!
Three the Hard Way
Two former football stars and a Kung-Fu master—it's like Battle of the Network Stars up in here!—team up to stop a white supremacist plot to poison America's black population through the water supply. Think of it as the bromantic version of Erin Brockovich.
The movie that gave us What's Happening!! (nice "adaptation," TV execs) looked at the lives of black inner-city high school kids without getting bogged down in slapstick or melodrama. Definitely one of of those funny-because-it's-true deals, and has given us plenty of pop culture touchstones because of it (to wit: the movie theater scene that the Fugees jacked for their "Killing Me Softly" video).
Pam Grier's breakout role has her seducing and blowing (away) local drug pushers in attempts to find the one responsible for selling her sister bad dope. If you don't watch for the action, watch for the debut of the most famous twos of the ’70s.
Uptown Saturday Night
Poitier and a bearded Cosby (back when he was cool) go on a wild goose chase through a series of gangsters and con men while searching for a stolen lottery ticket. The movie Camp Lo took their whole style from—this is it, what?
The Spook Who Sat By the Door
The C.I.A. reluctantly hires their first black agent, but it turns out he's actually an undercover militant black nationalist who uses everything he learned from the government to start his own guerilla army of hood kids. Reportedly released in the South under the title Glenn Beck's Nightmare.
Cotton Comes to Harlem
Ganja & Hess
What started as Rudy Ray's alter ego become one of the most well-known characters in movie history. After a 20-year prison bid, the pimp/hustler sets out to find the ones that set him up. But not before getting his, uh, affairs (read: stable) in order. Pimpin' was never easy, word to Scoob and Scrap.
Black Belt Jones
The best part of Enter the Dragon comes back to kick ass and take names when the Mafia kills his mentor (whose karate studio stands in the way of their land development). What's his black belt in, you ask? Oh, just something called Punch-A-Motherfucker-In-The-Nuts-Fu.
Across 110th Street
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
A gigolo with a magical penis runs from the police after being set up for a murder he didn't commit. Sweetback was the Big Bang of blaxploitation—a revolutionary independent movie that showed Hollywood that bad-ass, political black cinema could make bank. It also made the Van Peebles family forever unfuckwittable, so don't even think about bringing up Sonny Spoon.
The perma-conked O'Neal is a cocaine dealer with that good hair who's trying to get out of the biz before he winds up dead or in prison. To do so, he needs to pull off the biggest coke deal he's ever undertaken. Obviously. Whether you think it exposes harsh reality or glorifies the drug trade, Super Fly is uncut dope, daddy.
It might be a re-hash of Coffy, but for our money it's the winner. Who else is bad enough to pack a gun in her Afro? Only the finest woman alive, when she infiltrates a prostitution ring in order to find out who killed her husband. Kicking ass, taking names, and wearing hooker clothes? Yes, please.
Shaft is that black dick you need to know about. What? We're just talking about Shaft, the badass private detective who's hired to find a crime lord's kidnapped daughter and ends up in the middle of a Harlem gang war that could spark a race war. Trust us, you need some Shaft for your funky ass.
Goldie returns from San Quentin to run the pimp game in Oakland. Top to bottom and front to back one of the best films of the decade, in any genre—it's a classic for the Player's Ball alone, not to mention Richard Pryor trying to act serious and not doing such a great job of it ("You white nigger!"). Attention rappers and "entertainment company" CEOs: if you want to learn what real game is, take a lesson from the original and ask yourself…who's the mack?