Beginning in the 1970s, a large presence of African American films started, in which at the time that all there was for the country’s black population in many of the urban communities across the United States.
The term Blaxploitation allegedly came from a key member of Los Angeles’ NAACP branch, due to the movies that Hollywood was constantly producing were in an attempt to capitalize off of stereotypes of the black community.
Some might reference that the influx of Blaxploitation was propaganda, meaning a way to brainwash the community with believing it is acceptable to be a gangster, drug pusher or a pimp, similar to the idea of Hip-Hop music during the early 90s with the rise of Gangster Rap.
While some can have their thoughts and ideas, there were some quality movies that were released and not all played the racial stereotype as some actually had a proper message, like Spook Who Sat by The Door.
The biggest standouts of the era were the rise of African American actors like Pam Grier, Fred Williamson, Vonetta McGee, Paul Winfield, Richard Roundtree, Raymond St. Jacques, Jim Kelly, Yaphet Kotto, or Calvin Lockhart, despite many beginning their career before the start of the Blaxploitation era and not solely starring in the genre.
Other lesser known actors of the genre that starred and feature in some of the Blaxploitation biggest films included Rudy Ray Moore, Godfrey Cambridge, Paula Kelly, Julius Harris, Thalmus Rasulala, Diana Sands, Rosalind Cash, D’Urville Martin, Bernie Casey, Don Pedro Colley, and Richard Lawson.
While famous actors and comedians like Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor or even Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones are not considered to be part of the Blaxploitation genre, they did star in a few famous films that catered to the urban population during this period.
Brains like Berry Gordy, Melvin Van Peebles, and Michael Schultz are just to name a few of the producers and directors of the genre that lasted for about a decade, mainly through the 1970s.
While many of the films were classics, the soundtracks were also classics. Some of the greatest soul singers of our time, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Bobby Womack, The Staples and others, created timeless music.
The era officially lasted from the very beginning of the 1970s and ceased by the beginning of the 1980s as all actors in the genre either went on to do other type of films or careers came to a halt, with only the likes of Fred Williamson somewhat continuing the genre.
With dozens of Blaxploitation films based on the African American community during the 1970s, this list below shows not only the greatest Blaxploitation movies produced, but the best African American films that were created during the era that some may say does not quite fit the Blaxploitation definition.
Top 50 Blaxploitation Films
1. Shaft, Richard Roundtree depicts a private investigator who tries to solve a kidnapping. This movie is one of the leading films that spearheaded the black film and the whole Blaxploitation movie genre.
2. Coffy, the featured movie that truly started Pam Grier’s career as a star, despite having numerous of films before, this movie led to her becoming one of the greatest actresses of the era.
3. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, the film that some say started the whole movement of Blaxploitation films due to its success by Melvin Van Peebles, father of Mario Van Peebles.
4. Superfly, Ron O’Neal’s performance as Priest, a drug pusher, lead to this movie as one of the greatest Blaxploitation films of all time and extremely popular upon its release.
5. Foxy Brown, another classic Pam Grier film as she seeks revenge in an iconic film that can be debated as the greatest of the generation.
6. The Mack, another instant classic featuring a film based on a pimp who finds himself having his share of trouble.
7. Dolemite, starring Rudy Ray Moore as a pimp whose sole purpose is to seek revenge.
8. Black Caesar, starring Fred Williamson as the boss of Harlem’s underworld who has to battle his rivals.
9. Spook Who Sat by the Door, not necessarily a Blaxploitation film but this film was based on the African American community with a revolutionary twist of the community uprising against oppression.
10. Shaft’s Big Score, sequel to the successful classic Shaft as Richard Roundtree is back to help a friend who is murdered.
11. Let’s Do It Again, a star-studded cast of Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Calvin Lockhart, Jimmie Walker, Ossie Davis and John Amos as this movie is based on two people (Cosby and Poitier) who try to rig a boxing match but get into trouble.
12. Cotton Comes to Harlem, a comedy action film that is based on the classic novel by Chester Himes is one of the more entertaining Blaxploitation films of the era.
13. The Bingo Lingo Traveling All Stars, an all-star cast with James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams and others, while this comedy is based around Negro Baseball.
14. Uptown Saturday Night, featuring Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte and Calvin Lockhart as Poitier and Cosby play two guys who were just robbed for their lottery ticket and try to obtain help from a local gangster to get back their winnings.
15. Across 110th Street, a movie based on Harlem that depicts the Mafia, black gangsters, and racial tension, along with much suspense.
16. Cleopatra Jones, starring another action female star by the name of Tamara Dobson which became a very iconic film.
17. Hell Up in Harlem, Fred Williamson goes to the extremes to save his love one from gangsters.
18. Friday Foster, featuring Pam Grier who plays a photographer who happens to become involved in an assassination.
19. Blacula, the most famous Blaxploitation horror film starring the beautiful and talented Vonetta McGee. There is a sequel known as “Scream Blacula Scream” that featured Pam Grier.
20. Shaft in Africa, the last feature film of the Shaft series as this time his affairs takes him to Africa to put an end to modern day slavery.
21. Willie Dynamite, a classic pimp Blaxploitation film but seems to have positive twist as Diana Sands character is trying to change Willie Dynamite played by Roscoe Orman.
22. Boss N*****, somewhat a third installment of the N**** Charley series but different and probably the best western of the Blaxploitation genre, which also features Fred Williamson.
23. Watermelon Man, produced by Melvin Van Peebles and starring Godfrey Cambridge about a white man who is very critical of black people who happens to one day wake up as a black man.
24. Greased Lightning, while more than likely not a Blaxploitation film, this classic movie featuring Richard Pryor and Pam Grier was produced during the era and it depicted a black man trying to survive as a race car driver, an actual true story.
25. A Piece of Action, features Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, and James Earl Jones is a comedy based around two thieves.
26. The Human Tornado, the sequel to the classic film of Dolemite.
27. Three the Hard Way, starring Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly who come together to fight a group of white supremacists who try to destroy the black community.
28. Black Belt Jones, after starring in the “Enter the Dragon”, Jim Kelly makes his star-studded debut as a karate tough guy.
29. Bucktown, an action featuring Fred Williamson and Pam Grier as a group of blacks fight corrupted cops who try to extort them.
30. Truck Turner, Isaac Hayes stars in this film as a bounty hunter who comes into trouble.
31. Sugar Hill, after Blacula, the greatest Blaxploitation horror film as it is based on zombies and the suspense of revenge.
32. Sheba Baby, not as popular as her other films but in this movie, Pam Grier helps fight local gangsters.
33. Disco Godfather, another popular film featuring Rudy Ray Moore is based on the idea of the rise of the drug of PCP.
34. Penitentiary, a controversial film about a man that is sent to prison where he must fight for survival.
35. Hit Man, costarring Pam Grier and based around a man seeking to find answers on who killed his brother.
36. Slaughter, another Jim Brown action flick that has him on the rage of revenge.
37. Detroit 9000, a movie with much action and violence with police trying to fight crime and corruption in the city of Detroit.
38. UpTight, not necessarily a Blaxploitation film but it was iconic during the time as this film is based on revolutionism in the black community featuring Ruby Dee, Raymond St Jacques, and Max Julien, who starred in The Mack.
39. Trouble Man, an action-packed filmed featuring Paul Winfield who is asked to fight trouble.
40. Gordon’s War, starring Paul Winfield is a movie based around a group of Army Vets in Harlem who try to take back their community from crime.
41. Petey Wheatstraw, starring Rudy Ray Moor who is resurrected from the dead only after he makes a deal with the devil.
42. Black Samurai, Jim Kelly travels abroad displaying his karate skills.
43. Slaughter’s Big Rip Off, a sequel that is based on people seeking revenge against Jim Brown’s character of Slaughter.
44. Cool Breeze, a 1972 film featuring Thalmus Rasulala that is based around heist of stolen diamonds and somewhat is the true definition of Blaxploitation.
45. The Legend of N***** Charley, a movie based on escaped slaves who are determined to stay free, starring Fred Williamson.
46. Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold, a sequel that was not as successful and iconic as the original.
47. Three Tough Guys, featuring Isaac Hayes and Fred Williamson is another action packed filmed during the era.
48. Hit!, starring Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams in a film based on a federal agent determined to seek revenge and put an end to drugs in a community.
49. The Monkey Hustle, a fight against urban renewal and gentrification during the 1970s.
50. Five on the Black Hand Side, a film that somewhat depicts domestic abuse as women finally wants better for herself.
Honorable Mention Blaxploitation Films/Movies
Brothers, despite a star-studded cast of Ron O’Neal, Vonetta McGee, and Bernie Casey this film received very little recognition, while being based on “Black Power” and revolution.
Take A Hard Ride, Jim Brown stars in another Blaxploitation western film.
The Final Comedown, another revolutionary film, but this time starring Billy Dee Williams.
Hammer, featuring Fred Williamson is film based on a boxer and his relations with the Mafia.
Black Gunn, Jim Brown stars in this action film as he takes on the Mafia.
Come Back, Charleston Blue, a sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem, though not as successful or as iconic as the previous film.
Halls of Anger, starring Calvin Lockhart in a film that is similar to Morgan Freeman’s Lean on Me, but dealing with integration.
Hot Potato, Jim Kelly travels abroad to Asia to save the day, again in another action film with much karate.
Melinda, featuring Calvin Lockhart along with Vonetta McGee and Rosalind Cash in a film based on a lady’s man who falls for a woman that is killed and he is blamed for it.
Death Dimension, Jim Kelly stops an evil plan from coming through.
Lady Cocoa, an action film based around Lola Falana’s character with much suspense, along with much sexuality and action.
Death Journey, featuring Fred Williamson in this action thriller about a former cop who is asked to accomplish a difficult task.
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, a not so successful horror film that featured Bernie Casey and Rosalind Cash as movie that is supposed to be the black version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde based in the Los Angeles community of Watts.
The Slams, Jim Brown stars in a film about his survival and escaped from prison.