There’s nothing like settling in with a blast from the past, so we wanted to take some time to explore Black movies 90s that most marked one of the more progressive decades in Black history. For Black professionals with Hollywood dreams, the 1990s were a boom period for Black media. From the golden age of Black sitcoms to the many unforgettable Black movies, we got a lot of great entertainment that still holds up today. Here are 8 of our favorite Black movies that will make you feel just like you did the first time you saw them.
1. “Boyz N The Hood” (1991)
This Oscar-nominated coming-of-age drama was many people’s first exposure to Black movies. The Black movies of this era were often grittier than earlier films and strove to portray a more nuanced, but realistic, picture of Black life than the movies of earlier generations. “Boyz N The Hood” tells the story of Trey, played by Cuba Gooding Junior, as he grows up with a strict father who tries to protect him from the impervious street violence of South-Central LA. Director John Singleton was the first Black person to be nominated for Best Director, as well as the youngest at the time, for his work on this movie.
2. “Dead Presidents” (1995)
“Dead Presidents” is an action crime movie based on the real-life experiences of Haywood Kirkland, a Black Vietnam veteran. It’s the story of Anthony Curtis (played by Larenz Tate) as he struggles to readjust to civilian life after facing horrors in Vietnam. The folks he left behind are also struggling upon his return, and together they formulate a plan to rob an armored truck. This is also loosely based on a true event – the Brinks truck robbery of 1981. The movie’s action will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time, and it is reflective of the tumultuous period of civil unrest that predated the 90s.
3. “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (1998)
Action isn’t the only feature of Black movies! 90s Black rom coms and romantic dramas also ruled the silver screen, and one of the most beloved is “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Featuring the incomparable Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs in his film debut, it’s a story about how not only is there still life after 40, but those can be some of your best years. The movie will have you laughing, crying, and swooning. The movie won each of the 4 NAACP Image Awards it was nominated for, including Outstanding Motion Picture, Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Supporting Actress, and Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress.
4. “Malcolm X” (1992)
This biopic of famed civil rights activist and leader Malcolm X stars Denzel Washington in the title role, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Spike Lee considered adapting “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as his dream project and fought hard to get the directorship. The result is nothing short of stunning; the film received widespread critical acclaim, and both Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese named it a top 10 film of the 1990s. The movie examines Malcolm X as both a political and spiritual figure and was the first non-documentary and the first American film to be given permission to film in Mecca – although they had to hire a second unit crew and director because non-Muslims like Spike Lee aren’t allowed in the city. The film’s powerful political statements are just as relevant today as they were in 1992, especially the end sequence with Nelson Mandela reading one of Malcolm’s last speeches.
5. “Set It Off” (1996)
When you think of the lead characters of a heist movie, most folks don’t normally think of women. That’s just what “Set It Off” sets out to subvert, making it one of our favorite films. As 90s Black movies were often willing to take major risks to tell a good story, “Set It Off” stayed within that trend, becoming a groundbreaking movie for the way it portrayed its often ill-intentioned characters. The women aren’t common criminals; each has extremely compelling reasons for planning and enacting the heists. The cast is led by a quartet of powerhouse actresses: Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise in her first film role. The strength of the characters and their development were integral in changing the way Black women were portrayed on film in the 1990s, and the movie’s legacy and fully-realized characters have inspired a generation of Black actresses.
6. “Soul Food” (1997)
So many of the best Black movies feature family stories because, let’s face it, clashing family personalities are one of the truly universal human experiences. In “Soul Food,” we see how an extended family struggles together after the family matriarch’s death. Their feelings and relationships change dramatically, but in the end, everything comes down to one simple fact. They’re a family. That means they stick together, and even though traditions and people change, it doesn’t mean they’re gone for good. The film also features a lush backdrop of Black cuisine, as much of the action centers around family meals.
7. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (1993)
Angela Basset won a Golden Globe for her performance in the Tina Turner biopic “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” While the film does take a few liberties with Turner’s story, it saw incredible critical acclaim and is beloved by many – even today, it still has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Turner herself recorded the soundtrack album, revitalizing her 70s and 80s hits for a new decade of listeners.
8. “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992)
“White Men Can’t Jump” is one of our favorite funny Black movies. 90s comedies can be pretty hit or miss today, but so much of the humor here comes from the chemistry and dialogue between the two lead actors, Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. The two seem to be having a genuinely good time together as they riff off of their streetball hustler characters’ experiences. The movie is a fun look at streetball culture in the early 1990s, and the soundtrack is like a who’s who of 90s hip hop.
What were your favorite 90s Black movies? If you’re looking for more nostalgia, check out our BlackOakTV streaming catalog! And for more trips down memory lane, be sure to follow our Black Content Review blog!