Best Black Movies of the 90s: An Era of Black Excellence

Best Black Movies of the 90s: An Era of Black Excellence

If you haven’t watched Boyz n the Hood then you have been living under a rock and need to educate...

If you haven’t watched Boyz n the Hood then you have been living under a rock and need to educate...

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If you haven’t watched Boyz n the Hood then you have been living under a rock and need to educate yourself!

The explosion of ‘90s black movies was an important time as it introduced black stories and lived experiences to the world. In the face of discrimination, directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton created movies that showcased black talent. Through gritty determination, they fought against the odds and made movies that entertained and informed.

From thrillers and comedies to action and romance, black movies from the ‘90s have been entertaining global audiences for years.

 It is true that there is still a serious lack of representation and diversity in film today, even after the boom of the ‘90s. If the classic black movies from the ‘90s have shown us anything, it is that the world wants more diverse films.

The winds of change have been forcefully sweeping the globe, rightfully so, and with it we hope to see an upsurge in inclusivity. It would be wrong to look to the future though, without considering the giants who came before. The men and women of color who fought for their place in the film industry, paving the way for the present generation.

With that in mind, let’s dive into 30 of the best black ‘90s movies.

‘90s Black Drama Movies

1. Boyz n the Hood

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This 1991 coming-of-age hood drama is a classic. In his feature directorial debut, John Singleton drew on his own life experiences when writing the script.

The story follows Tre Styles who moves to live with his father in South Central Los Angeles. In the midst of gang activity, his father tries to keep him out of a life of crime and conflict.

John Singleton was nominated for an Oscar for his directorial efforts, making him the first black person and the youngest ever Academy Award nominee for best director.

2. Menace II Society

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This critically-acclaimed 1993 movie portrays the gritty world of urban conflict, substance abuse, and crime.

It unflinchingly looks at the reality of life for those caught in the spiral of gang conflict and crime. The Hughes brothers created a film that is raw and impactful, set to the beat of rap and gunfire.

The tragedy of perpetual cycles of conflict is shown in the way that the main character, Caine, tries to make a better life for himself but gets pulled back into the harsh street life.

The conflict and explicit language are jarring, but only serve to reinforce the message of the danger of hopelessness and apathy.

3. Malcolm X

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This biographical drama is based on the life of the human rights activist Malcolm X. He is a controversial man who is undeniably one of the greatest forces of the US Civil Rights Movement.

Spike Lee directed and co-wrote the 1992 film and Denzel Washington was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

Split into three parts, the movie tells the story from Malcolm X’s days as a bank thief, to his transformative time in jail, and finally his evocative journey to human rights activist and orator.

It was an important film as it shared the life of a black man who was directly opposed to the white ideals of America. The multi-faceted portrayal of his complex life is an epic piece of film history.

4. Eve’s Bayou

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This 1997 gothic drama explores the complicated dynamics of the Batiste family. Explored through the eyes and impressionable mind of the youngest daughter, Eve, this story is not what it seems.

The family is prominent in the community and lives in a large mansion. Here the womanizing father, beautiful mother, conflicted sister, and gifted aunt are drawn into a dangerous web of deceit and doubt.

Eve sees her father in a clandestine tryst with a married woman one night but her sister, Cisely convinces her she is mistaken. Years later, that moment will haunt the sisters.

The interplay between past and present, real and imagined, makes this film a masterful depiction of the danger of misinformation and deception.

5. How Stella Got Her Groove Back

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On a lighter note, How Stella Got Her Groove Back is a delightful take on a traditional romantic drama.

Both heartfelt and comedic, this 1998 film tells the story of Stella, a 40-year-old divorced mother. She has built an impressive career and is financially secure. She has a group of friends and a son she adores.

Yet something is missing.

Her crazy friend (because there always is one!) invites Stella to Jamaica for a week while her son is away. It is here, on the hot Caribbean sand, that Stella meets and falls in love with a much younger man. 

The movie beautifully shows the difficulty in balancing life, romance, work, and self-fulfillment. Angela Basset (Stella) and Whoopi Goldberg (Delilah) are a dynamic duo who give us a sassy, saucy, and sumptuous performance.

6. Jungle Fever 

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Another Spike Lee classic tackling some controversial issues is Jungle Fever. The title is how Lee describes the attraction between different races based on societal stereotypes. This unhealthy view of interracial relationships is confronted in the movie.

The magic of this 1991 romantic drama, however, is not the main characters, but rather the communities they come from. Their reactions to the relationship between Africa-American Flipper, and Italian-American Angie, uncover some hard truths about racism and colorism.

Lee has the ability to force discussions about complex topics. He weaves side stories into his main plot and these bring a realness to his stories. The ability of substances to divide a family is brought into focus against the backdrop of religious beliefs and racial tensions.

Insightful, honest and real is the best way to describe Jungle Fever.

7. The Five Heartbeats

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This 1991 musical drama follows the rise to stardom of the rock band The Five Heartbeats. More importantly, it follows their lives after fame, giving audiences a glimpse of the hardships that can come with popularity.

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The story is not unique. An unknown group is plucked out of obscurity and pushed into a life of fame where they struggle to adjust to their new popularity and the fact that people in power want to take advantage of them.

What does set it apart is the fact that as a director, Robert Townsend has the ability to create human stories that resonate long after you have watched them. The band members experience love, heartbreak, pregnancy, death, and dependency and it is all viewed through a very human lens.

8. The Players Club

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A gritty portrayal of life in a gentleman’s club, it is written and directed by Ice Cube. It follows the story of Diana (LisaRaye) a young girl who leaves home after becoming pregnant.

She meets Ronnie and Tricks while working at a shoe store and they introduce her to the life of stripping. Through the dancers, the audience is given an inside look at the inner workings of a strip club and the relationships formed there.

The movie shows that the club is a job and a viable way of providing an income, although at a cost. Through Diana and her impressionable cousin Ebony, we see how fine the line is between employee and adult worker.

‘90s Black Comedy Movies

9. Boomerang

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This movie has all the classic elements that make for good viewing. Sharp one-liners, a sweet love story, and a womanizer who learns the error of his ways.

Eddie Murphy gives an amazing performance as Marcus Graham, a womanizing executive. He happily loves and leaves women, treating them in a callous way. When he finds out his new boss is a woman, he isn’t concerned.

Until he realizes that she is the female version of him! Graham finally gets a taste of his own medicine and realizes how poorly he treated people.

Murphy brings a softer touch to this role than we are used to seeing, to the credit of the movie.

10. Bad Boys

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This was Michael Bay’s directorial debut and was the first movie in a series that has a cult following. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence play two narcotic cops in this buddy cop action-comedy.

When substances from a massive bust go missing from the precinct, the narcotics team is jeopardized and the hunt is on for the missing substances. When the perpetrators realize they are in trouble, they kidnap a police informant. She is, of course, beautiful, and a good friend of Detective Mike Lowery (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence).

The action doesn’t stop in this movie with car chases, bad language, and comedic banter between Smith and Lawrence.

11. The Preacher’s Wife

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This feel-good Christmas comedy ticks all the boxes and has become a classic. When inner-city preacher Henry Biggs becomes despondent and asks for God’s help, he is sent an angel in the form of Dudley, played by Denzel Washington.

Henry’s wife Julia (Whitney Houston) welcomes Dudley into their home, thinking he is from the church council. She begins spending time with him and inevitably they develop feelings for each other.

It won two Image Awards for Best Actress (Whitney Houston) and best Supporting Actress (Loretta Devine) and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Music or Comedy Score.

12. Booty Call

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This romantic comedy has been entertaining audiences for years with its vulgar language and intimate antics.

Two couples, one already in a relationship and the other just meeting, go on a double date. The date itself is uneventful but the late-night activities will have you cringing and laughing at the same time.

Both couples are preparing for a night of fun intimacy when the ladies (Tamala Jones and Vivica Fox) insist on using protection. Their partners, played by Tommy Davidson and Jamie Foxx, and a dog, then head into the night in search of condoms and have a series of misadventures.

This raunchy comedy delivers exactly what it says it will, but maybe don’t watch it with your mom!

13. Strictly Business

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This 1991 comedy entertains with funny scenes and a love story, but it also asks some important questions.

When Bobby (Tommy Davidson) wants to join the trainee program at work, he propositions Waymon (Joseph. C. Phillips) who is about to make partner. Waymon wants to meet Natalie (Halle Berry), a party girl who happens to be friends with Bobby.

The idea that a lived black experience is only authentic when it is based on “street cred” is explored here. Waymon is a black professional with an Ivy League background and Bobby is from Harlem.

To get what they want, they both have to learn that one experience is not more valid than the other and that they are both going to have to make some adjustments to achieve success.

14. Life

Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy reunite for this 1999 comedy drama. Two men, Ray and Claude, are forced together through bad luck and to save their lives, agree to drive to Mississippi to pick up a load of moonshine.

Here, they get distracted by a sin city where Ray is cheated out of his money. The cheat is then found dead and Ray and Claude are framed for the murder by a crooked sheriff. They are sentenced to life imprisonment and have to try and prove their innocence while surviving each other.

15. House Party

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This classic black movie from the ‘90s is important because it shows that being a teenager is universal. It showed audiences that black teenagers were like any other.

The plot is not a new one. A young boy gets in trouble at school and is grounded, stopping him from going to a party and meeting the girl he likes. He then sneaks out and spends the rest of the movie being chased by his father, racist police, and aggressive jocks from school.

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What does set it apart though, is the normality of the situation but depicted by black teenagers. The music is also incredible.

16. Soul Food

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This is such a great depiction of working, middle-class African American families. So many black movies from the ‘90s involved gang conflict and substances but this is a very limited view of African American society.

Soul Food shows the importance of family and how large black families stay in touch across the generations. There is usually a matriarch who heads up the family and, in the film, this was Big Mama. The stories of three sisters with very different lives are weaved through the plot, and seen through the eyes of Ahmad, Big Mama’s grandson.

Family is at the heart of this comedy-drama and the characters feel familiar and relatable.

17. White Men Can’t Jump

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This might be one of the best sports comedy movies ever, not just from the ‘90s. The ribald banter between Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) set the tone for the friendship that develops between the men.

Set on the streets of the Blue Line in southern California, Ron Shelton created a gritty movie about friendship, gambling, and love. The frenetic pace of the movie mirrors a basketball game and keeps the audience glued to the screen.

It is an honest portrayal of gambling dependency and the lengths some people have to go to get by. Sports have a way of showing a person’s true character and this film strips the main characters bare while keeping audiences laughing with hilarious ‘Yo Mama’ jokes.

18. The Nutty Professor

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The 1996 film starring Eddie Murphy in numerous roles, is a classic comedy with a sweet storyline. Murphy reminds us that he is a masterful comedic actor as he swaps between the various characters seamlessly.

The portrayal of brilliant but obese professor Sherman Klump (Murphy) as he tries to start a relationship with the lovely Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett) is comical and heart-warming.

When he creates a miracle weight-loss substance, he tests it out on himself in the hopes of winning Carla’s heart. All doesn’t go to plan though, as the substance creates an alter ego, Buddy Love.

The message of self-acceptance is an important one and the film leaves you warm and fuzzy while providing non-stop laughs.

19. Vampire in Brooklyn

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Made in 1995, this comedy horror was an interesting mix of humor and horror. Eddie Murphy plays the role of Maximillian, a vampire who fled Europe and landed in the Caribbean. He has to find a mate or risk dying and has arrived in Brooklyn looking for a specific one.

The lady in question is NYPD detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett). She is a dhampir, meaning her mother was human but her father a vampire. Max is out to convert her and uses his deceit and cunning to achieve his goal.

Rita’s partner Justice (Allen Payne) realises something is going on and tries to save her from turning vampire because he loves her.

20. Bebe’s Kids

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Bebe’s Kids is an animated adult comedy that has reached cult hit status. Based on the stand-up routine of Robin Harris, the movie was the first animated film with a predominately black cast.

It has all the elements of a good animation but also shares an important message about race and class differences. Harris and Jamika go on a date to an amusement park. She takes her son as well as her friend’s 6 kids. It is here that things go awry.

Bebe’s kids are notorious for being trouble-makers and soon they have destroyed the park. When dropping them at home, Harris sees the way they live and his feelings soften. Growing up with an absentee mom they are just kids wanting be loved and have fun.

21. Class Act

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A wacky comedy, this 1992 movie is set in the hallowed halls of high school. Two students, a studious academic and a rebellious delinquent switch places in a series of bizarre circumstances.

The Prince and Pauper theme sees the boys trading places and learning more about themselves in the process.

It explores the fact that schools stereotype students and it is extremely hard to break through people’s preconceived ideas. The idea that other people’s opinions affect how you see yourself is an important one for young adults to think about.

All in all, it is a goofy but comical commentary that is a classic ‘90s black movie.

22. Sister Act

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If you are wanting a good laugh and a heart-warming story, then Sister Act is the movie for you.

 A Vegas lounge singer, Deloris Wilson (Whoopi Goldberg) witnesses a murder and her casino-boss boyfriend puts out a hit on her. Put in witness protection, she finds herself in a convent, having to tone down her raunchy ways.

The Reverend Mother is not convinced and thinks she is a bad influence. She isn’t wrong, with Deloris taking over the choir and inspiring some more upbeat, risqué hymns.  Deloris has a good heart and bonds with her new friends leading to warm, fuzzy feelings for all.

23. Cool Runnings

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The plot of this 1993 movie is not unique but the story is still stirring. Based loosely on the Jamaican bobsled team and their inspiring 1988 Winter Olympics experience, Cool Runnings is a classic underdog story.

Coming from the tropics, the 4 athletes climb an uphill battle to learn about the reality of winter sports and grow from novices to capable competitors.

With a coach seeking redemption and an impossible dream, the team fight to earn their place as international competitors.

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With the usual series of setbacks and discrimination, this movie follows a well-worn path but still manages to inspire with its portrayal of determination and courage.

24. Friday

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Written by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh, Friday offers a refreshing view of hood life. Rather than conflict and death, they provide a comical story of two unemployed friends desperately trying to come up with the cash they need to pay a substance dealer.

This ‘90s black comedy movie has a cult following and subsequently the sequels, Next Friday and Friday After Next followed suit.

Ice Cube and Chris Tucker are a dynamic duo who not only bring a vulgar yet enjoyable humor, but also a chemistry that makes the crass dialogue hilarious to watch.

‘90s Black Crime Thrillers & Horrors

25. Juice

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Directed and co-written by Ernest Dickerson, Juice is an engaging and somber look at New York and the young people who walk its streets. Following the daily life of 4 youngsters, the idea that breaking free of poverty and crime is difficult but not impossible.

A nice departure from movies glamorizing urban conflict, Juice explores the idea that a gun commands respect. Without the handgun in the movie, the lives of the 4 boys would be very different.

From the time the gun is acquired, the tension builds to a scene of a corner shop robbery. It is here that the tragic reality of a gun’s power is realized.

26. New Jack City

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Based on the story of Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes), a cocaine kingpin, New jack City is a refreshing departure from other ‘90s action movies. The plot is interwoven with character stories that leave the audience completely invested.

Rather than glamorizing the life of a substance lord, it shows how evil their role is in the destruction of lives, livelihoods, and communities. 

It is one of the best black movies of the 90s as it deals with real issues in a sensitive and in-depth way rather than glossing over them with elaborate car chases and shootouts.

Addiction, recovery, and the indomitable human spirit make Juice a masterful depiction of the underbelly of the substance business.

27. Tales From The Hood

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This is a horror anthology that will not only scare you senseless but make you look at vital questions about modern life.

This ‘90s black movie moved out of the realm of white suburban slasher movies and created a terrifying landscape exploring racism, slavery, domestic and gang conflict, and the white supremacist agenda that still permeates modern America.

Three young gang members head to a mortuary to buy substances but end up on a horrifying journey depicting violent retribution for wrongs committed. 

Diverse representation in horror is still lacking and this movie deserves to be among the great horrors of our time, not just for its terrifying scenes, but for its commentary on vital issues.

28. In Too Deep

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Audiences will be unsure who to trust in this movie, as the lines between good and bad are blurred. With a predominantly black cast, In Too Deep, takes us deep undercover in the substance scene in Cincinnati.

Jeff Cole (Omar Epps) is a cop fresh out of the academy. Desperate to prove himself, he goes undercover, infiltrating the substance business of Dwayne Gittens (LL Cool J).  As J. Reid, he immerses himself in the substance lord’s world.

Nicknamed ‘God’, Gittens is a complex character. He is part family man who cares for the community and part ruthless killer.

This movie explores the difficulty of going undercover and shows the complexities of people.

29. Blade

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Black heroes are few and far between, making Blade a classic that only gets better the more you know about the genre.

Wesley snipes brings a vulnerability to the character that only endears him to the audience more. In an epic battle for Earth, the war between vampires and Blade is dazzlingly displayed in shots reminiscent of the comic book it is based on.

Blade is an unlikely hero who works tirelessly against the vampires, but also against his own nature. His mother was bitten by a vampire while pregnant and he was infected.

Now he fights against evil, in himself and on the streets, knowing that the ultimate battle is still to come.

30. Candy Man

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This terrifying movie explores the power of urban legends and poses an interesting question. Are they real or do we give power to them?

The Candyman is a figure who haunts the complex of Cabrini-Green. Helen Lyle, a graduate student, teams up with her friend Bernadette Walsh to research the legend of the Candyman.

The audience is left shaken as they explore the eery hallways and abandoned apartments of Cabrini-Green. When Lyle encounters the Candyman, she is framed for murder and locked in a psychiatric institution.

The interplay between the Candyman and Lyle is chilling and adds credence to the idea that urban legends could be vengeful figures from the past or imagined fears.

So, There You Have It, 30 of the Best Black Movies of the ‘90s

This list could have been longer and choosing the best movies is obviously subjective. In saying that, these 30 movies challenge our perception of the lived black experience and provide comic relief while grappling with hard-hitting issues.

The fight for representation in film came to the fore in the ‘90s and the caliber of the films produced during this time was impressive.

Gritty, real, honest, diverse, comical, and heart-warming are just some of the ways to describe the movies on this list. They created a platform for future films and have inspired not just the black community, but people around the world, to challenge accepted norms and strive for greatness.


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