Looking for the Best 80s Black Movies? The 1980s were a revolutionary time for Black cinema. Spanning across a wide range of genres, like everything from comedies to dramas, this era of film featured groundbreaking performances from talented Black actors who used their roles to showcase a side of African-American life that before then had rarely seen on the big screen.
7 Top Black Movies from the 80s
This nostalgic decade in cinema also had a huge influence on the world of filmmaking and shaped the film industry for years to come. Each of these one-of-a-kind films had a different unique story that was able to captivate viewers over and over again.
Wondering which movie to watch first? Here are seven of the very best Black movies from the 80s to help you decide!
1. The Color Purple (1985)
Based upon the book of the same name by Alice Walker, this bittersweet drama features a woman named Celie, who is played by Whoopi Goldberg. The film details her struggle against male chauvinism and poverty in rural Georgia in the early 20th century. Over four decades, she discovers her inner strength and finally finds the courage to break free from her abusive family.
The movie also stars Danny Glover as her husband and Oprah Winfrey as her friend and confidante, Sofia. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, (including one for Best Picture).
2. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Written and directed by Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American comedy-drama film that portrays social and racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood. After its release, it received critical acclaim and numerous accolades. In 2014, it was also selected by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for preservation due to its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.
Featuring Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee, the story occurs on the hottest day of the year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. An African-American man named Mookie (Esposito) works for his Korean-American boss Sal (Aiello) at the local pizza parlor as racial tensions between the two escalate throughout the day. Things boil over and result in a violent confrontation between Sal and other characters in the neighborhood.
3. A Soldier’s Story (1984)
Set during World War II, this intense drama tells the tale of a Black Army lawyer, Captain Davenport, who is played by Howard E. Rollins Jr. When he is sent to investigate the murder of a Black sergeant at a Southern army base, Captain Davenport unravels a complex web of racial prejudice and hate, as he conducts his interviews. He eventually uncovers a hard truth that no one wants to accept. Adolph Caesar plays Sergeant Waters, the murdered man, and Art Evans plays his former sergeant.
4. Coming to America (1988)
Starring the iconic Eddie Murphy, Coming to America (1988) tells the story of African prince Akeem, his loyal and wise sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and their search for true love. After discovering that potential brides are being lined up for him back home, Akeem and Semmi flee to America for a romantic adventure– one on their own terms, that is!
Along the way, they encounter colorful characters including a barber (Paul Bates), a fast food worker (Garcelle Beauvais), and a royal family planning to wipe out Akeem’s monarchy. With the help of his newfound friends, Akeem must save his true love and his kingdom. After you’ve enjoyed this classic cult hit, be sure to check out the 2021 sequel featuring much of the original cast, Coming 2 America.
5. Stir Crazy (1980)
In this American buddy comedy directed by Sidney Poitie, two friends, Skip Donahue (Gene Wilder) and Harry Monroe (Richard Pryor), are wrongfully sent to prison for a botched bank robbery. While in prison, they hatch a wild plan to busy out of jail by participating in an “endurance” rodeo, which offers a generous cash prize as its top prize. The movie follows their hairraising, comedic journey as they try to gain their freedom. The film features several other award-winning actors including Georg Stanford Brown and JoBeth Williams.
Grossing over $101,300,000, this is one of the most successful films of its time and genre!
6. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Also written and directed by Spike Lee, this movie follows the story of Nola Darling, who plays a young black Brooklyn-native aspiring artist. The film explores her personal dynamics and challenges she faces as she experiments with different men and relationships, while at the same time searching to find her own identity.
The film stars Tracy Camilla Johns as Nola, and Tommy Redmond Hicks, and John Canada Terrell as two of her three main love interests. Despite its controversial content surrounding multiple relationships, it was met with critical acclaim and was commercially successful, establishing Lee’s reputation as a prominent African American filmmaker. The film is largely considered to be one of Lee’s best works, so be sure not to skip this one.
7. Purple Rain (1984)
Purple Rain is a classic 80s musical drama film starring Prince as the troubled, aspiring musician, The Kid. The film follows his rise to fame and his tumultuous personal life, including his complicated relationships with his bandmates and his abusive father (who is played by Clarence Williams III). The movie’s famous climax occurs when The Kid performs “Purple Rain” at a battle of the bands competition.
While less critically successful than some of the other films of its time, it features truly legendary performances by Prince. For anyone who’s a fan of Black music or classic Black films, it’s a must-watch.
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