An Introduction To UK Hood Movies

Get educated on the British films inspired by grime and UK rap.

bullet boy
Image via Bullet Boy
bullet boy

With grime currently capturing the attention of music lovers the world over, now is the perfect time for British hood movies to get some much-needed international shine. You might be aware of British gangster flicks such as The Krays and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, but there’s a whole load of grime-influenced, London-set hood films that non-British audiences are basically unaware of, just waiting to be discovered.

The easiest way to explain UK hood movies to an international audience would be to describe them as London’s take on ‘90s classics like Juice, Boyz N The Hood, Menace II Society and New Jack City. It is important to note that there’s a lot more to the genre than just aping an American style, though, and the wave of hood movies definitely take as much from British social realist cinema as they do US hip-hop. But just as the explosion of gangsta rap found itself onto the big screen in the early ‘90s, the early days of grime (and its predecessor, UK garage) soon started influencing low-budget British crime films—often starring artists themselves. 

The first notable movie from the genre was 2004’s Bullet Boy, a serious and powerful tale of a young man returning to his East London home after serving time for gun crime. But it was 2006’s Kidulthood that really sparked the genre. The success of this film meant that every little UK film distributor went scrambling trying to find their own hit about bratty kids doing crime. For the next half a decade or so, cinemas and DVD stores were filled with knock-offs, not unlike the psuedo-Snatch cockney gangster movies that followed in Guy Ritchie’s wake.

Pretty quickly though, the market was flooded with sub-par imitators. Hood movies became a bit of a punchline in the British film industry, and the fall in DVD sales really hurt where these films normally made their profit. They are still being made, but they don’t have anything like the impact they used to. Kidulthood turns ten this year, and that generation has now grown up, but sadly these films still don’t seem to get the respect they deserve. Now though, with the culture that created them beginning to get international interest, let us be your spiritual guide.


Bullet Boy (2004)

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Director: Saul Dibb

Stars: Ashley Walters, Luke Fraser, Claire Perkins

Before he was in Top Boy, Ashley Walters’ defining role was in Bullet Boy. South London-born Walters started out as a child actor, starring in school soap opera Grange Hill (think Drake in Degrassi). But in his late teens he started MCing in UK garage’s biggest breakout stars, So Solid Crew. The sprawling collective of MCs and DJs eventually hit number one with their iconic track “21 Seconds”, yet were dogged by violence and controversy, with the police shutting down their shows and effectively ending their momentum. And in 2001, Walters was imprisoned for 18 months in a young offenders’ institute, after being found in possession of a firearm. 

Upon his release, it looked as though his career was all but over, but he was given a lifeline by UK director Saul Dibb, who cast him as the lead in Bullet Boy. The film almost mimicked Ashley’s real life—he played a young man released from prison, trying to keep on the strait and narrow, and not go back to a life of crime. While filming on location in Hackney, East London, South Londoner Walters needed his own security on set to keep him safe, and it’s the raw authenticity and vulnerability that he brings to the role that makes the film so effective. 

He told Complex UK: “I zombied through that film. I weren’t even awake through half of it. My own life experience was guiding me through it, but the technical side of the acting I had no understanding of at that time. I was quite depressed. It was a hard movie to shoot—there was a lot of territorial beef going on at the time between East London and South. So we had a lot of problems on set, I had a lot of security, just a lot of measures were taken. It just stopped being about the movie at some points; it just became about staying alive! But luckily we got it done, and I’m so glad that we did it.”

Kidulthood (2006)

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Director: Menhaj Huda 

Stars: Aml Ameen, Red Madrell, Adam Deacon, Jaime Winstone, Femi Oyeniran, Noel Clarke

While Bullet Boy might have come first, it was Kidulthood that became the definitive UK hood movie. It did for London what Kids did for New York or La Haine for Paris: following one day in the lives of the city’s kids, fighting, fucking, getting high and getting into trouble. When one of their classmates commits suicide, the students of a West London school are given the day off to grieve—but instead they roam the city, preparing for a big party at the home of one of the school’s rich kids, and getting mixed up with the city’s criminal underworld. 

Writer Noel Clarke (who played the main bad guy in the movie) based the script on his youth growing up around Labroke Grove. It noticeably stands apart from East or South London postcodes usually repped by grime artists, and what makes the film so great is that it really captures the mix of ethnic and economic backgrounds that all attend the same state school in the inner city (Nicholas Hoult made an early appearance as the rich party host). It’s also a film bursting with energy that launched the careers of many of it’s young cast, and features a perfect 00s British mixtape with tracks from The Streets, Dizzee Rascal and Lethal Bizzle’s era defining grime banger “Pow.” If you’re only going to see one UK hood film, this is it.

Adulthood (2008)

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Director: Noel Clarke

Stars: Noel Clarke, Scarlett Alice Johnson, Adam Deacon, Femi Oyeniran, Red Madrell, Ben Drew

Kidulthood came out of nowhere to be a national controversy, with tabloids saying it encouraged violence and future Prime Minister David Cameron even name-checking it when he was pretending that he was down with the kids. It also made a decent amount of money, so a sequel was kind of inevitable. This time Noel Clarke took both the lead and the director’s chair, as his character Sam comes out of prison, having been locked up following the events of part one, and is trying to get his life back in order. Whereas the first one was a day in a life, this is much more of a straight thriller, with Sam being chased by his many enemies on the outside, but it’s no less effective because of it. A third chapter, Brotherhood, drops this year to close out the trilogy.


Anuvahood (2011)

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Directors: Adam Deacon, Daniel Toland, Najama Dahir, S.Aminu

Stars: Adam Deacon, Jazzie Zonzolo, Femi Oyeniran, Ollie Barbieri, Wil Johnson

You know a genre has made it when it gets its own Scary Movie style parody, but thankfully, Anuvahood is more Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice than 50 Shades of Black. Kidulthood star Adam Deacon starred, wrote and co-directed this very unique film. It’s obviously very cheap, but it’s also full of energy and colour, packed with cameos and appearances from a bizarre mix of grime MCs, black British comedians and old BBC sitcom stars (if you’re not familiar with modern British culture, prepare to be frequently baffled). It’s also a rare film that shows people on a British council estate actually having fun and enjoying life, as opposed to being deep in kitchen-sink misery. The film was a surprise hit (partially due to an innovative social media campaign that gave away free sweet- and- fried chicken). Adam Deacon’s recent career has been blighted by legal and personal troubles, but let’s hope we see him back on screen soon.

Shank (2010)

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Director: Mo Ali

Stars: Adam Deacon, Kaya Scodelario, Bashy, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Michael Socha

As the hood movies evolved—and proved to be profitable—there were attempts to twist it into different genres. Shank is one of the most successful. It’s a bit of a Mad Max style gang action movie, kind of like a cross between The Warriors and the early bits of Akira. In a near future of 2015 (don’t laugh), London has descended into lawless violence and a gang of youths (led by Adam Deacon and UK MC Bashy, who’s soon to be seen in the new series of 24) have to fight to survive. It’s all shot in an over-the-top music video style which sometimes obscures the action, but is never boring, and there’s also a great cameo from grime legend D Double E. Its depiction of London youth running amuck also proved somewhat precedent, coming only a year before the London riots of 2011.

Attack The Block (2011)

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Director: Joe Cornish

Stars: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Nick Frost

Attack The Block will forever be remembered as the film that introduced the world to Star Wars’ John Boyega. But there’s far more to it than just that. For starters, it adds a sci-fi twist into the genre, as a gang of estate kids (led by Boyega) have to fight off alien monsters after they crash-land in their endz. It achieves a lot on small budget for this type of movie, with the fantastic looking brutalist architecture of British council blocks as the kids race around them, and there’s some genuinely fantastic set pieces and monster design.

The film was written and directed by cult comedian and privately-educated South London native, Joe Cornish, and definitely has a different feel to the other films that it gets compared to. He came up with the idea after being robbed by a group of kids similar to those in the film, and used the genre setting as an attempt to understand them instead of vilifying them. It definitely lacks the authenticity of something like Kidulthood (but then again, anything with aliens in it would), but it’s a genuine attempt to engage with society’s problems through a sci-fi lens. As well as a being a pretty sick monster movie.

Ill Manors (2012)

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Director: Ben Drew

Stars: Riz Ahmed, Ed Skrein, Nathalie Press

British rapper Plan B (real name Ben Drew) had a mainstream breakthrough with his second album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, and when he announced his intentions to direct a film, people were excited; the record was a concept album that showed a real vision for storytelling that you would think would translate onto the big screen. Film distributors Revolver (a key name in the rise and fall of these films) were banking on a mainstream hit, but what Drew produced was far from a feel-good smash. Ill Manors was a not entirely successful, but very interesting sprawling anthology of London’s dirtiest corners, set in his birthplace of Forest Gate. The stories of drug dealers, gangsters and sex-trafficked prostitutes intertwine in a film without a real overarching plot. There’s lot of good stuff in there, including great performances from Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) and Nathalie Press, and Plan B himself rapping the narration—even if as a whole it is too ambitious, and depressing, to really work. It does have a sick theme track, though.

Top Boy (2011-2013)

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Stars: Ashley Walters, Kano

Also known as that show Drake keeps going on about. After many years forging a career away from the clichés of hood films, Ashley Walters returned to the subject matter to star in this excellent TV series about drug dealers and street kids trying to stay alive on a Hackney housing estate. After two short four-episode series, it looked like it was gone for good, despite critical acclaim and a cliffhanger ending. But since then it’s become a cult show internationally thanks to streaming services like Netflix, and now it looks like Drizzy might be making series three actually happen.

Hood Documentary (2015)

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Director: Tyrell Williams

Stars: Kayode Ewumi

The hood movie wave has sort of fizzled out for the time being—the success of Kidulthood and Adulthood led to plenty of low budget, inferior clones flooding the market, and the kids that were teenagers in 2005 have now grown up and moved on to other things. Their influence is still being felt though, and one of the best things to come recently isn’t a movie or even a TV show—it’s a web series called Hood Documentary. Despite the title, it’s not really a hood movie at all, but the title shows a clear reference of what came before. The mockumentary follows wannabe MC-slash-actor Roll Safe aka R.S. (played brilliantly by newcomer Kayode Ewumi) as he incompetently leads a documentary crew around his endz, and it’s really fucking funny.

Much like how the early hood movies gave kids who weren’t represented in the media a chance to see themselves on screen, Ewumi is doing the same, but he’s using the technology available to do it himself. In an interview with Vice, Ewumi said: “I guess because some networks are afraid to commission work of black origin, because they are afraid they're not going to make their money back—and I find that absurd.” Now, following the fan base he has built up, Hood Documentary has just been picked up by the BBC.

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