Published on April 25th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

With so many great African American movies to choose from, it wasn’t easy coming up with ten favorites. The ten that I chose as my favorites, are movies with plenty of drama, realism, and great acting. These are movies that I could watch over and over again, and still enjoy them as if I were watching them for the very first time. So, without further ado, here’s my list of Top 10 favorite African American movies of all time. Let the Top 10 debate begin!


10. Love & Basketball


Love & Basketball is a 2000 romantic drama film. The film stars Omar Epps, Sanaa Lathan, Debbie Morgan, Alfre Woodard, and Dennis Haysbert. It is the story of two next-door neighbors in Los Angeles, California who grew up loving basketball and, eventually, each other.


 9. What’s Love Got To Do With It


What’s Love Got to Do with It is a 1993 biopic which tells the life story of Tina Turner. The film stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, who both received Oscar nominations for their incredible performances.


8. The Five Heartbeats


The Five Heartbeats is a 1991 musical drama film directed by Robert Townsend, who co-wrote the script with Keenan Ivory Wayans. The film’s main cast includes Townsend, Michael Wright, Leon Robinson, Harry J. Lennix, Tico Wells, Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers, and Diahann Carroll. The plot of the film (which is loosely based on the lives of several artists; The Dells, The Temptations, Four Tops, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke and others) follows the three decade career of the fictional band The Five Heartbeats. The film depicts the rise and fall of a Motown inspired soul act through the eyes of the film’s main protagonist Donald “Duck” Matthews (portrayed by Townsend).


 7. A Soldier’s Story


A Soldier’s Story is a 1984 drama film, based upon Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Off Broadway production A Soldier’s Play. A black officer is sent to investigate the murder of a black sergeant in Louisiana near the end of World War II. It is a story about racism and segregation in a black U.S. Army regiment with white officers deep in the Jim Crow South, in a time and place where a black officer is unprecedented and bitterly resented by nearly everyone. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards: for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Adolph Caesar as the murder victim), and Screenplay Adaptation.


6. Cooley High


Cooley High is a 1975 feature film written by Eric Monte (co-creator of Good Times). The film, set in 1964 Chicago, Illinois, stars Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and featured a soundtrack made up primarily of 1960s Motown hits. The film is considered a classic of black cinema, and its soundtrack featured G.C. Cameron’s hit single “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”. The song was covered in 1991 by Boyz II Men on the group’s first LP, named Cooleyhighharmony in honor of this film. Cooley High is frequently compared favorably to the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti. ABC had planned a television adaptation of Cooley High, but the pilot was poorly received, and Fred Silverman, the head of the network, asked the pilot’s producers, to redo the show as a sitcom with new characters (Raj, Rerun and the rest) and with a new title so as not to confuse it with Monte’s “Cooley High.” New writers were hired, cast changes made and a switch from one-camera film to three-camera delivered “What’s Happening!” to the network where it ran from 1976 to ’79.



5. The Color Purple


The Color Purple is a 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The film tells the story of a young African American girl named Celie and shows the problems faced by African American women during the early 1900s; including poverty, racism, and sexism. The character Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions. Three of the film’s star’s, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Margaret  Avery were nominated  for Academy Awards for their brilliant performances.


4. Glory


Glory is a 1989 American drama war film. The film is the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as told from the point of view of its commanding officer, Robert Gould Shaw during the American Civil War. The 54th was one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men. The film stars Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Denzel Washington who won an Academy Award  for his role as a proud escaped slave named Trip.


3. Malcolm X


Malcolm X is a 1992 biographical film directed by Spike Lee about the African-American activist and Black Nationalist Malcolm X. The story is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Denzel Washington was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his stunning portrayal of Malcolm X. The film also starred Angela Bassett, Al Freeman Jr., and Delroy Lindo.


2. Do The Right Thing


Do the Right Thing is a 1989 film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee. Director Lee stars in the film, alongside Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, and Bill Nunn. The film is also notable in that it marks the feature film debuts for Martin Lawrence, and Rosie Perez. The film was a box office success, and received numerous accolades and awards. It was also the film that President Barack Obama took his then girlfriend, Michelle Obama to see on their first date.


1.  Boyz N The Hood


Boyz N The Hood is a 1991 film written and directed by John Singleton. Starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Angela Bassett, Regina King and Laurence Fishburne, the film depicts life in poor South Central Los Angeles, California and was filmed and released in the summer of 1991. It was nominated for both Best Director and Original Screenplay during the 1991 Academy Awards, making Singleton the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and the first African–American to be nominated for the award.

Entertainment | Comments (43)

43 Responses to “Top 10 African American Movies of All Time”

  1. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Leon I love this list…Where are Sparkle with Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas and Poetic Justice with Tupac, Janet Jackson and Regina King? Did you consider these? I do like the movies that you chose also. Overall, great job. I will let you know if/when I think of others.

  2. Leon Shepherd Says:

    Lenora, I did consider Sparkle, which happens to be a very good movie. It was close to making the list.
    Poetic Justice was not considered. I didn’t think it was a top-ten contender.

  3. Shack II Says:

    Another Wow – What an undertaking! Disagree slightly with the ranking but just like the TT Actors this represents a “balanced list!”

    Only differences I have are as follows:
    Do The Right Thing would be first closely followed by The Color Purple, I am shocked YOU don’t have Malcolm X first so I realize you took many factors into account!

    The reason I wouldn’t have BITH first is due to the inept talents of Cuba G. Jr. in the lead role. And as I recall, this film ran “neck and neck” with New Jack City in terms of popularity at the time so where would it rank on your list?
    AND THANK you for listing A Soldiers Story truly one of the most underrated movies of all time!

    Intersting fact about Glory and DTRT is they both “thecnically star” Anglo actors (Broderick and Aiello respectively) but these are clearly regarded as powerful films starring/featuring AAs as the primary characters!

    I also probably would have had In The Heat of The Night with Sidney P. in the TT. There will be others as they come to mind!!

  4. Shack II Says:

    Also think that Ray, Last King of Scotland and Training Day warrant consideration – All three yielded Academy Awards/Best Actors!

  5. Leon Says:

    Shack…New Jack was a good movie. It would probably be in my top 15.
    Last King of Scotland was definitely not a top-ten contender. Forrest Whitaker was excellent but the movie was average.
    Denzel was very good in Training Day, but the movie is not a top-ten contender.
    The movie Ray, because of the flawless performance by Jamie Foxx, might be a top 15 contender.
    And I’m sure that you’ll agree that because a movie has an Academy Award winner, doesn’t mean that the movie is great. Case in point, Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball.

  6. Roy Says:

    I am touched.

  7. Shack II Says:

    Don’t think ANYTHING or aspect of those movies was “average” particularly if LKOS was based on a true story (which I don’t beleive is the case). Not to compare them but all three are more powerful than No.10! Although your point about H.B. is valid, please don’t compare that M.Ball crap to these three films!

    I also think Waiting To Exhale might be due some consideration particularly from a female perspective. You didn’t comment on In The Heat of The Night??

  8. grapevine Says:

    Leon, great list , unlike Shack II, I didn’t think that Cuba G. Jr. talents were inept in Boyz In The Hood.

  9. Terrance Says:

    This is a good list of movies, but there are some older ones that paved the way like The Wiz,Uptown Saturday Night/Lets do it Again, Sounder,Claudine,Which way is up,Sparkle,Heat of the Night,Shaft,Mahogony,Bingo Long’s Traveling Allstars and Motor Kings,Menace2Society,New Jack City,

  10. Shack II Says:

    Oops made a mistake I meant How Stella Got Her Groove back and not WTE (brothers easily get these two mixed up)!

  11. rod moore Says:

    What Malcolm X not # 1!!?? Any way here are some to consider Lady sings the blues Sounder The Great white hope Shaft In the heat of the night American Gangster Jungle Fever The Mack New Jack city & The best man.

  12. Leon Says:

    Thanks Roy!

  13. Leon Says:

    Shack …I don’t think “In The Heat of The Night” qualifies as an African American movie.

  14. grapevine Says:

    Leon, don’t you think 48 Hrs ( the first one) deserves some consideration?

  15. Leon Says:

    Thanks Grapevine! And I agree. Cuba C. was good in “Boyz N The Hood.”

  16. Leon Says:

    Terrance…It’s hard to go wrong with any of the movies you mentioned. All of them are great movies.
    And by the way, stay tuned. Some of the movies you mentioned will have a top ten of their own.

  17. Leon Says:

    Rod…Malcolm X could easily be number 1. It’s an incredible piece of work that is often overlooked despite it’s greatness.
    Lady Sings The Blues, Shaft, New Jack City, and The Best Man were considered for the top 10. As a matter of fact, I had The Best Man at number 10, but changed my mind at the last minute.
    The others you mentioned were good movies, but not great ones.

  18. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    The first thing that I thought of when I read the list was most of the movies that most of the movies that Terrance mentioned. Also, Cornbread Earl and Me. To Shack: Is there any movie or performance by Cuba Jr. that you have liked or enjoyed?

  19. Leon Says:

    Grapevine…48 hours is a very good movie. But I don’t think it qualifies as an African American movie.

  20. Leon Says:

    Lenora, “Cornbread, Earl and Me” is another very good movie.
    And by the way, I’m pretty sure that I know the answer to the question that you proposed to Shack.

  21. Lenora Dorsey Says:


  22. Shack II Says:

    Okay – We’ve discussed this before but to me ANY MOVIE that STARS an African American qualifies as an AA Movie but there are exceptions such as Men In Black, Pulp Fiction etc. So since that is too debatable, here is one you must not have considered since it would surely knock Love & Basketball out of the TT. Is everyone ready?

    A Raisin In The Sun – Now tell me that doesn’t qualify and isn’t better/more powerful than The No. 10 selection – Shack Is About To Rest!!

    Ms. Lenora – Leon indicated correctly – Hell To The NO! I honestly beleive my 18 y.o. has more talent than CGJ!!

    To G.G. and Leon what else has he (GCJ) done? Oh yes Snow Dogs. (Honestly I gave him a D+ in Men of Honor) but he was by far the weakest link (F-)in BITH! I Cube and Chestnut out performed CGJ and their talent is average at best! GG/Leon would you agree with that?

  23. Shonee Says:

    Great list Leon but I would have to put Color Purple as #1 and replace Love & Basketball with one of Tyler Perry’s movies (my opinion)

  24. Leon Says:

    Shack…Even with it’s great cast & great acting, if you google best African American movies, “A Raisin In The Sun is not mentioned on any of the top 10 lists; nor top 20 lists. It might make my top 20.

    I think Chestnut & Cube are above average actors.
    Cuba may have been the weakest link in Boyz, but he did a nice job in “Men of Honor,” and he was very good in his Oscar winning role of Rod Tidwell in Jerry McGuire.
    Keep in mind that it’s no way in the world that he would have won an Oscar if he was not good in that particular role.
    Also, Jamie Foxx read for the role, but the part went to Cuba.

  25. Leon Shepherd Says:

    Shonee…thanks for sharing!

  26. Trisha Says:

    Leon, very good list but you did forget Waiting to Exhale and DreamGirls, chick flicks but good movies. The Tuskegee Airmen with Laurence Fishburne deserves a mention. Overall good choices and must see movies.

  27. Leon Says:

    Trisha, you’re right. Waiting to Exhale, DreamGirls, and The Tuskegee Airmen are all good movies.
    Thanks for sharing!

  28. Shack Says:

    SAD – As Reagan told Carter “There You Go Again” I don’t care how anyone tries to justify it, CGJ is worthless!

    To your point on “its no way in the world etc.” need I bring up the screw job that Out of Africa did to The Color Purple so “the Academy” is also worthless! Don’t recall who CGJ competed against but it had to be a weak field and the Tidwell role, please!

    Jamie Foxx has more talent in his pinkie than CGJ has in his whole body! He is also a top five AA actor and Cuba, an alsoran/afterthought. Omar more talented.

    Last Point – Google is not the final word on top tens and “common sense consensus” should rule!

  29. Shack Says:

    All – Shack apologizes for coming on too strong pertinent to comments on Cuba G. Also I have since read several (of over 100) comments on Love & Basketball. After reading most of them I must honestly look at the film again and re-evaluate it since I don’t remember much about it!

    But ARITS (A Raisin in The Sun) is one of, if not the most, classic Black dramas ever produced. Its impact and ALL Performances in the movie are “crystal clear” in my mind so I admit my bias!

    “Raisin” is similar in content to To Kill A Mockingbird – a movie about Blacks/racsim but different in that it stars an Anglo (G.Peck). I can watch either film over & over as I would most of the movies on the list but Raisin (as well as Heat ITN) are two of my favorite Sidney P. movies and I guess I’m trying too hard to get one them on the list!!!

  30. grapevine Says:

    Shack, why do you problem with Cuba Gooding Jr? He was great in Coming To America.

  31. Trisha Says:

    Shack….please re-watch Love and Basketball…..for a lot of people they remeber their first loves….the person and BASKETBALL…it is a great coming of age movie

  32. Shack Says:

    GG – You got me, I really had to think about that! I thought you didn’t know what you were talking about then I remembered him in the barber chair – Good one – probably one of his BEST roles!

    Ms. Trisha – will do…let me know via this blog if you see it coming on anytime soon. Thx. Shack

  33. BCDeBow Says:

    I am going to date myself and recommend Imitation of Life 1959. One of my all time favorites. Also, A Rasin in The Sun, the original.

  34. Leon Says:

    Both are very good movies. But I don’t think “Imitation of Life,” would be considered a black movie. even though Juanita Moore was nominated for an Academy Award for her outstanding performance.

  35. Shack II Says:

    Mr./Ms. BCDeBOW – THANK YOU – My mom considered IOL her favorite movie and my feeling about A Raisin In The Sun (there is only one although I understand D.Glover also has a version-P.Diddy’s was forgettable except for P. Rashad)is well documented above!

    This has/will continue to stir debate because of the subjective nature/designation/definition of what is considered an AA/Black Movie.

  36. Shack Says:

    Didn’t realize it but did everyone know that Juanita Mooore also played Max J. and Roger Moseley’s mother in The Mack?

  37. Leon Says:

    Shack…Recently I saw The Mack again, and I couldn’t figure out where I had seen her before.
    Great recognition!

  38. mediamavin Says:

    Loved Devil In A Blue Dress. AA writer AAA star Denzel! Boyz, really, #1. Maybe if you’re born after 1970, but this is all time. How could a list of all time AA movies not have 1 with Sidney P??? I think that’s the version to consider of Raisin.Not the one with Puffy. He is just what his name implies.

  39. Shack II Says:

    To Mediamavin – and your comment on A Raisin In The Sun “Amen…My sentiments exactly” Thanks!

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  41. D Says:

    Consider AA cast in the original “Carmen Jones” with Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey and if you didn’t recognize her before she became the AA other than Bill Cosby (I Spy) on television, a young Diahann Carroll

  42. Leon Says:

    Good comments & feedback, D.
    And yes I did recognize Diahann Carroll in Carmen Jones.

  43. Williroe Says:

    What about Ray, Lady sings the blues, and Dream Girls? They are certainly worthy. Each of them had an Oscar winner or nominee and And also Something New is an exception film.