The 10 best Black films of the 1990s

·5-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Welcome to The Black List, a new series where we delve into the best of Black entertainment across the decades. Each week we’ll be exploring the world of Black cinema and highlighting ten movies you should be watching.

This week we're heading all the way back to the heady days of the 1990s.

House Party

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

It’s not the '90s without a house party, so of course we had to kick things off with this Kid 'n' Play classic. Christopher Martin’s Play sets out to have the house party to end all house parties, while Christopher Reid’s Kid, who’s grounded after a fight at school, sneaks out to attend the unmissable event.

Everything from the brightly coloured, baggy clothes to the high tops and gold hoops makes this movie special. And let’s not forget the iconic dance offset to Full Force's 'Ain’t My Type of Hype'. House Party is a fun-filled watch that’ll have you busting the moves every chance you get – there really ain’t no party like a house party.

New Jack City

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

Wesley Snipes delivers a badass performance in New Jack City as Nino Brown, a drug lord whose crew the Cash Money Brothers controls the streets of 1980s Harlem.

The movie set the pace for the explosion of the 'hood' genre in Black cinema, and shed a spotlight on the marginalization and poverty that distinctly plagued African-American youth.

Boyz N The Hood

Photo credit: Sony Pictures
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

John Singleton’s directorial debut depicts the harsh realities of life in South Central LA.

The movie draws much-needed attention to police intimidation, racism, substance abuse, drive-by shootings and looming gentrification in the Crenshaw ghetto. On top of that Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr and NWA’s Ice Cube all give amazing performances in this gritty coming-of-age drama.

Sister Act 2

Photo credit: Disney
Photo credit: Disney

Of course we love the original Sister Act, but (in our opinion) nothing beats watching Whoopi Goldberg whip the unruly teens at St Francis Academy in San Francisco into shape.

The sequel incorporated an already existing Black hip-hop gospel scene and brought it to a mainstream audience, and also features a standout debut role from the one and only Lauryn Hill.

Poetic Justice

Photo credit: Sony Pictures
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

John Singleton does it again with this gorgeous '90s romantic drama based in South Central LA.

Janet Jackson plays Justice, a young woman who, after witnessing the death of her boyfriend, uses poetry as a coping mechanism for her depression. She embarks on a journey to Oakland where she’s stuck on a road trip with Lucky, played by the late Tupac Shakur.

The movie lives up to its name as Justice recites 'Alone' and 'Phenomenal Woman' by Maya Angelou, with the poet also appearing in a cameo role.

Waiting to Exhale

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Waiting to Exhale, adapted from Terry McMillan’s novel, stars Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon as a group of friends who support each other through various relationship troubles.

Focussing on Black female empowerment and sisterhood, Waiting to Exhale was a breath of fresh air in the '90s.

Friday

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

In the movie responsible for 'Bye Felicia', we follow Ice Cube’s Craig and his best friend Smokey, played by Chris Tucker. Craig goes through one hell of a Friday as he (famously) 'Ain’t got shit to do', and spends the day trying to make ends meet while avoiding a run-in with arch-rival Deebo.

With an incredible cast including Nia Long, Regina King, Mike Epps and the late John Witherspoon, Friday is the perfect movie to set your weekend off right. It is worth noting though that the film is a product of its time and does feature some homophobic language.

Set It Off

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Before Ocean’s 8 and Widows there was Set it Off, a film about four women who plan and execute a series of successful bank heists. Tired of their jobs, and after one of the women’s younger brothers is gunned down by police in a case of mistaken identity, the women carry out the robberies and hide the stolen loot in the air vents at work.

Things don’t go so smoothly, as their employer and janitor Luther finds the stash and hits the road. To recoup their loss the ladies decide to hit up the Downtown Federal bank, but will they live to enjoy the fruits of their labor?

Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A Fox and Kimberly Elise star in this all-guns-blazing tale.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

If, like us, you’re in need of some sun, then How Stella Got Her Groove Back is the perfect movie for you.

Stella, played by Angela Bassett, jets off to Jamaica with her friend Delilah, played by Whoopi Goldberg, for some fun in the sun. There she meets Taye Digg's Winston and the two end up having a fling. When the holiday romance is over, Stella returns to California and realizes she has feelings for her Caribbean lover, but does their long-distance relationship stand a chance? This summery romantic-comedy is a great break from the grey and gloom of the UK.

The Best Man

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

1999's hit sees Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, Terrance Howard, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, and Regina Hall get together for the wedding of the century.

The movie's drama kicks off when the group of college friends realise that a book written by the groom's best man, titled Unfinished Business, reveals (among other things) the affairs and darkest secrets held by the group.

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