A Guide to the 26 Best Blaxploitation Movies for Black History Month

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American International Pictures

In honor of Black History Month, we are continuing our series of recognizing pivotal moments in entertainment that changed the course of history in the Black community. One of those moments is the Blaxploitation era, which emerged in the 1970s. Now you may be wondering what exactly is the Blaxploitation era. Allow us to explain. Prior to the 1970s, African Americans were mostly cast in what we’ll call stereotypical roles. For the most part, before the 70s, Black actors and actresses were mostly cast as maids, nannies, butlers, etc. Sure you had some exceptions such as Sydney Poitier and Lena Horne to name a couple, but those actors were the rarity so to speak, and despite their respective successes, it didn’t change the fact that most Black actors were being limited to those stereotypical roles. Many of the best blaxploitation movies that emerged in the '70s started to change the narrative.

RELATED: The 13 Best Morgan Freeman Movies, Ranked

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Pam Grier as Foxy Brown / American International Pictures

To put it succinctly, Black actors needed to show that they too were capable of being superheroes, super villains, detectives, etc., and Black directors (who were also being given very limited opportunities) needed to show that they were capable of directing those types of films. Thus emerged the Blaxploitation era, a time period where Black directors and actors teamed up to create the types of movies that they always wanted to direct and star in, proving to the world what the magic they could create when simply given a chance. Today, we’ll be taking a look at those films, and giving you a roundup of some that you can add to your watch list. You can check out the list below.

1. Coffy

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Jack Hill
  • Stars: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert Doqui
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Of course we’ve gotta kick things off with the Godmother of the Blaxploitation era Pam Grier. This is going to be the first of quite a few Pam Grier movies on the list because she was really a huge part of the movement. Released in 1973, Coffy was about a one-woman force to be reckoned with who looks to even the score with people who have made her sister become hooked on drugs. Nurse Coffy is on a mission to find those responsible as she navigates the streets of dealers, pimps, and deviants, all while kicking major butt while at it.

2. Dolemite

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Comedian Intl Enterprise Productions
  • Director: D’Urville Martin
  • Stars: Rudy Ray Moore, D’Urville Martin
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

Dolemite is an example of how Black actors and directors would sometimes have to do everything during the Blaxploitation era. Not only did D’Urville Martin direct this film, he was also one of the stars. And not only did Rudy Ray Moore star in this film, he was also a producer. Nowadays it isn’t uncommon to see actors directing and starring in their own movies once they reach a certain level, but back then it was a necessity to get the job done. Dolemite is a hilarious crime comedy film about a pimp, comedian, and nightclub owner named Dolemite (Ray Moore) serving 20 years in prison after being set up. After being released from the governor, Dolemite is out for revenge against those that put him in the slammer.

3. Cooley High

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Michael Schultz
  • Stars: Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, Leroy “Preach” Jackson
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Set in 1960s Chicago, Cooley High is about two high school student best friends coping with the challenges of everyday life and growing up in the projects. The two have similar interests such as hanging out with friends, chasing pretty girls, and listening to Motown music, but they also have big dreams. And as they pursue those dreams, they learn a tough lesson about not everybody having their best interests at heart. Cooley High was both a critical and commercial success, grossing $13 million at the box office, and providing inspiration for future films such as Boyz in the Hood.

4. Friday Foster

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Arthur Marks
  • Stars: Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

Starring Pam Grier, Friday Foster is about a photographer named Friday Foster (Grier) on assignment from her editor traveling through an airport to capture shots of the wealthiest Black man in the United States (Rasulala). However, there is a major plot twist when she discovers that she isn’t the only one taking pictures of her subject as she witnesses an assassination attempt. With photographic evidence of the crime in her hands, Foster sets out to find the truth.

5. Black Caesar

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Larry Cohen
  • Stars: Fred Williamson, Art Lund
  • Where to Watch: Youtube

Released in 1973, Black Caesar focuses on a young man named Tommy Gibbs (Williamson)  growing up on the tough streets of Harlem who has his life made even more difficult by crooked cop John McKinney (Art Lund) who breaks his leg, which in turn cripples him for life. Angered by the racism he encounters on a daily basis, Tommy Gibbs decides he isn’t playing Mr. Nice Guy any longer, becoming the crime Kingpin of Harlem. And now that he has power, he aims to take down both the New York Mafia, John McKinney regardless of the cost.

6. The Human Tornado

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Comedian Intl Enterprise Productions
  • Director: Cliff Roquemore
  • Stars: Rudy Ray Moore, Lady Reed
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

If you plan on watching Dolemite, then make sure to add The Human Tornado to the list as it is the official sequel to the film. Starring Rudy Ray Moore and Lady Reed once more, The Human Tornado is about a rhymer fleeing from California, and along the way he eventually meets and helps a madam (Lady Reed) and her female fighters battle a local gangster. 

7. Hell Up in Harlem

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Larry Cohen
  • Stars: Fred Williamson, Margaret Avery, Julius Harris, Gloria Hendry, D’Urville Martin
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

And if you plan on watching Black Caesar, make sure to follow it up with the 1973 sequel Hell Up in Harlem, which is about a new Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) adventure. Following an assassination attempt on his life, Tommy Gibbs is out to take on corrupt New York District Attorney DiAngelo, who had previously attempted to jail him and his father Papa Gibbs in order to monopolize the illicit drug trade. As Tommy attempts to fight for justice, he also falls in love with a beautiful lady making this a story of crime and love.

8. Bucktown

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Plitt Theater
  • Director: Arthur Marks
  • Stars: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Tony King, Thalmus Rasulala
  • Where to Watch: Youtube

If you haven’t already figured it out, Fred Williamson was kind of the man. This time around, Williamson starred as Duke Johnson in the 1975 film Bucktown, which centers around a young man traveling to his small southern hometown (Bucktown) to organize his brother’s funeral. While there, he decides to revive his brother’s nightclub, and quickly uncovers the corruption and racism running rampant within the town leading him to team up with his friend Aretha (Pam Grier) as they face multiple bribes and demands from the police.

9. Ganja & Hess

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Kelly-Jordan Enterprises
  • Director: Bill Gunn
  • Stars: Marlene Clark, Duane Jones
  • Where to Watch: Paramount+

The horror element of the Blaxploitation era was a crucial one, as it proved Black actors and actresses could very well indeed play ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. Starring Marlene Clark and Duane Jones, Ganja & Hess follows the adventures of anthropologist Dr. Hess Green (Jones) who becomes a vampire after his assistant stabs him with an ancient cursed dagger. The only other person who knows of Dr. Green’s secret is his assistant’s widow (Clark) whom he in turn falls in love with. Together they become immortal vampires.

10. Blacula

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American International Pictures
  • Director: William Crain
  • Stars: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Denise Nicholas, Gordon Pinsent, Charles Macaulay, Thalmus Rasulala
  • Where to Watch: YouTube

Okay boom. Next up is Blacula, whom many consider to be the best horror film of the Blaxploitation era. Starring William Marshall as an African prince that gets turned into a vampire by Count Dracula during a visit to Transylvania, Blacula is a horror adventure to the fullest as Count Dracula awakens to cause destruction in 1970s Los Angeles after being sealed in a coffin for multiple lifetimes. Despite mixed reviews, Blacula was a box office success, paving the way for other Black horror films.

As of June 2021, there is a Blacula reboot in development that is currently being planned. The film will be a co-production between MGM, Bron Studios and Hidden Empire Film Group, with Deon Taylor directing and Roxanne Avent producing.

11. Blackenstein

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Frisco Productions
  • Director: William A. Levey
  • Stars: Joe Desue, John Hart, Andrea King
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

And if Blacula was the Blaxploitation counterpart to Dracula, then Blackenstein is the counterpart to Frankenstein. Released in August 1973, Blackenstein is about a war veteran (Desue) who becomes a menace to society killer when a physician switches his medication. While not as critically and commercially successful as Blacula, this is a film that has since gone on to be more appreciated with time.

12. Black Shampoo

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World Amusement Company
  • Director: Greydon Clark
  • Stars: John Daniels, Tanya Boyd, Joe Ortiz, Skip E. Lowe
  • Where to Watch: Brown Sugar

First of all, shout out to the streaming app Brown Sugar, which is a streaming service where you can watch hit movies and TV shows along with the largest collection of classic black cinema. If you want to show your support for Black History Month, this is a great and affordable streaming service to subscribe to, and Black Shampoo is one of the many films in their catalog. Speaking of Black Shampoo, the film is about a promiscuous Black hair stylist and businessman (Daniels) who frequently has relations with his White female customers. However, when he begins a relationship with his Black secretary (Boyd), he soon finds out that her White mobster ex-boyfriend will go to any means necessary to get her back.

13. Slaughter

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Jack Starrett
  • Stars: Jim Brown, Stella Stevens, Rip Torn
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Starring Jim Brown as a former Green Beret captain named Slaughter seeking revenge for the murder of his parents, Slaughter is a movie all about settling the score. Slaughter wreaks havoc taking out many of the people he believed was involved in his parent’s murder, before being caught by the police. Now facing a murder charge, Slaughter has no other choice than to strike a deal with government officials in exchange for finding and killing another gangster who has since fled to Mexico. Slaughter was a hit at the box office, grossing $10 million on a $750,000 budget.

14. Super Fly

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Warner Bros
  • Director: Gordon Parks 
  • Stars: Ron O’Neal, Carl Lee
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Released in 1972, Super Fly is about a cocaine dealer named Priest who wants to score one more major deal before he retires. Working with his reluctant friend Eddie (Lee), Priest comes up with a grand scheme that will allow to make his deal before leaving the scene altogether. However, the plan gets thwarted when a desperate street dealer informs the police of Priest’s plans, leaving him to an uncomfortable arrangement with officers that he is intent on not obeying. 

15. Shaft

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  • Director: Gordon Parks 
  • Stars: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Starring Richard Roundtree, Shaft is about a smooth suave private detective who finds himself up against a series of enemies including Bumpy (Gunn), the leader of the Black crime mob. Through the film, Detective Shaft also battles the Black Nationals, and the White mafia who he learns is trying to blackmail Bumpy by kidnapping his daughter. Focusing on themes of the Black Power Movement, race, masculinity, and sexuality, Shaft was a success, grossing $12 million at the box office, along with its theme song winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

16. Sugar Hill

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Paul Maslansky 
  • Stars: Larry D. Johnson, Robert Quarry, Marki Bey
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

The moral of Sugar Hill is to never cross a woman who is already out for revenge under any circumstances. When a nightclub owner (Johnson) is beaten to death by a hired gang after refusal to sell out to local mob boss Morgan (Quarry), his grief-stricken fiancee turns to an aged voodoo authority Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully) to conjure up the demonic spirit of Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) to raise an army zombie with one simple instruction—get revenge.

17. Sheba, Baby

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American International Pictures
  • Director: William Girdler
  • Stars: Pam Grier, Rudy Challenger, Austin Stoker
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

When the loan business of her father is trashed by criminals looking to force a sale, Sheba Shayne (Grier) travels back to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to even the score. While there, she encounters her old flame Brick Williams (Austin Stoker), who helps her attack the henchmen of a local loan shark named Pilot (D’Urville Martin), but the attack takes a turn when Brick winds up being killed. Now filled with rage, Sheba is on a mission to take out Pilot’s boss, mob kingpin Shark.

18. Disco Godfather

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Generation International Pictures
  • Director: J. Robert Wagoner
  • Stars: Rudy Ray Moore, Theodore Toney
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

Released at the tail end of the disco movement, Disco Godfather is a fun movie about a retired cop (Ray Moore) who is now a disco owner known as the “Disco Godfather.” While things are fun at the disco, it takes a sharp turn when Disco Godfather declares war on a group of drug dealers after his nephew has a bad trip on angel dust.

19. Across 110th Street

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Film Guarantors
  • Director: Barry Shear
  • Stars: Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Franciosa, Paul Benjamin
  • Where to Watch: YouTube

Starring Yaphet Kotto as young Black police officer William Pope assigned to a case of a robbery turning into a mass murder in Harlem, Across 110th Street is full of action and tension as Pope teams up with prejudiced Italian-American cop Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn) whom he frequently clashes with during their investigation. If you are looking for a smooth lazy afternoon movie to watch, consider giving Across 110th Street a shot.

20. Cotton Comes to Harlem

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Samuel Goldwin Jr.
  • Director: Ossie Davis
  • Stars: Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, Redd Foxx
  • Where to Watch: Tubi

Cotton Comes to Harlem centers around Harlem’s African American population being ripped off by the Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart), who is dishonestly claiming that the donations of the community are being used to secure parcels of land in Africa. That said, when New York City police officers Gravedigger Jones (Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (St. Jacques) catches wind of what he is doing, they find that the cash/donations is actually being smuggled inside a bale of cotton. Though they have the plot figured out, the money suddenly goes missing leaving their investigation scrambling.

21. Three the Hard Way

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Allied Artist Pictures
  • Director: Gordon Parks
  • Stars: Jim Kelly, Fred Williamson, Jim Brown
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Set with a budget of $2 million, Three the Hard Way is the most expensive and ambitious Blaxploitation film ever produced. Starring football players Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, along with martial arts icon Jim Kelly aka “The Big Three,” Three the Hard Way is a non-stop thriller about three friends who combine forces to battle a mysterious organization bent on racial genocide. 

22. Truck Turner

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Jonathan Kaplan
  • Stars: Issac Hayes, Paul Harris, Nichelle Nichols
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Starring Issac Hayes as bounty hunter Mack “Truck” Turner, “Truck” is after a pimp named Gator (Harris) who gets killed as Truck is chasing him. Devastated by his death, Gator’s girlfriend Dorinda (Nichols) vows to avenge his death, offering ownership of her successful call girl operation to anyone who can knock off Truck, who makes it clear he isn’t going down without a fight.

23. Uptown Saturday Night

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First Artists
  • Director: Sydney Poitier
  • Stars: Sydney Poitier, Harry Belafonte
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Uptown Saturday Night is a funky detective film about two blue-collar pals searching the underworld for a winning lottery ticket lost in a nightclub holdup. The film spawned two indirect sequels, Let’s Do it Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977), and as of 2018, is set for a Kevin Hart remake written by Kenya Barris.

24. Which Way is Up?

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Universal Pictures
  • Director: Michael Schultz
  • Stars: Richard Pryor, Margaret Avery, Lonette McKee
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Which Way is Up kind of teeters on the line of being a Blaxploitation film, but for all intents and purposes we’ll put it here because Richard Pryor was a genius. A remake of the 1972 film The Seduction of Mimi, Pryor plays not one, not two, but three different roles: an orange picker who has two women at the same time, the orange picker's father, and a reverend who gets the orange picker's wife pregnant (insanity). If you want to catch just a glimpse of why Pryor is one of the best to do it, definitely check out Which Way is Up.

25. Cleopatra Jones

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Warner Bros.
  • Director: Jack Starrett
  • Stars: Tamara Dobson, Caro Kenyatta, Albert Popwell
  • Where to Watch: Brown Sugar

Starring Tamara Dobson as Federal Agent Jones, a young woman on a mission to rescue her framed boyfriend (Bernie Casey) from a drug-queen pervert known as Mommy (Shelley Winters), Cleopatra Jones is full of kick ass action.

26. Foxy Brown

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American International Pictures
  • Director: Jack Hill
  • Stars: Pam Grier
  • Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

And speaking of kick ass action films, nobody kicked more butt than Foxy Brown. Out for revenge after a mob kills an undercover cop she’s been dating, Brown takes on the identity of a prostitute using the help of neighborhood vigilantes to help track down the men responsible for taking out her boyfriend, their Mafia bosses, and even her own brother.

So there you have it! 26 of the best Blaxploitation movies to watch this month and beyond. Make sure to keep up with us for more entertainment content and updates.

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