I don’t want to be that person…I really don’t. I don’t want to be the writer who publicly shames another writer, the publication they work for, and the editor they answer to…but I’m gonna do it anyway…because…well…some things just need to called out. With the release of DOLEMITE IS MY NAME on Netflix, someone at Variety thought it would be cool to do a list of 12 Blaxploitation Films to Know. The problem with this list…or at least one of the problems…is that most of these films are not truly blaxploitation. Blaxploitation is both an era and a genre. Only two of these films are from the actual blaxploitation era, which for the record is 1970 to 1979. As for the genre…well…that’s where things get a bit complicated. Sure, we could consider THE LAST DRAGON and NEW JACK CITY to be blaxploitation, but only if we’re willing to consider AMERICAN GANGSTER and BLACK PANTHER and GET OUT blaxploitation as well (and that’s a discussion for another time). All of this is my way of saying that this Variety list is garbage, the writer who put it together did a terrible job (if they were one of my students, they’d have received a failing grade), and the editor didn’t do their job. I say all of this as a former film critic, newspaper editor, and freelance writer who earned a living for years creating lists like “The Essential Films of Jason Statham” and “Top Horror Movies Inspired by Ed Gein” (seriously). And for those of you that don’t know…I’m also the guy who made a documentary about blaxploitation, published a magazine about blaxploitation, and wrote a book about blaxploitation. All of that out of the way…here is an actual list of 12 Blaxploitation Films to REALLY Know.
Before I start, here’s two things to keep in mind. First, I’ve left off COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and FOXY BROWN (because they were on the Variety list). Second, this list is alphabetical, and not in order of preference (because I know some of you will be wondering).
ACROSS 110th STREET – one of the best crime thrillers of the 1970s. Yaphet Kotto is brilliant in this, and Bobby Womack’s soundtrack is pure fire.
BLACKENSTEIN – this movie is a piece of shit. Seriously, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. But I included it so you all could see an example of blaxploitation at its worst. There are other truly terrible movies, but this is the one that always captures the imagination, and then leads to painful disappointment. If you want to see a good blaxploitation horror movie, check out JD’s REVENGE, BLACULA (I did the audio commentary for the bluray), SUGAR HILL, or the bizarre arthouse/blaxploitation flick GANGA & HESS.
BUCK AND THE PREACHER – the best of all the blaxploitation westerns, followed by TAKE A HARD RIDE and BOSS NIGGER (see how I snuck more titles on the list).
COFFY – Pam Grier at her best, and second only to FOXY BROWN (which I’m not listing here…though technically I just listed it).
COOLEY HIGH – everything about this movie is brilliant and beautiful (not to mention the fact that BOYZ N THE ‘HOOD is essentially a remake).
THE HUMAN TORNADO – Well, I figure there has to be at least one Rudy Ray Moore movie on the list (after all, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is the reason blaxploitation is relevant at the moment).
THE MACK – yes, I’ve included a movie about a pimp. But honestly, that’s not what this movie is about. It’s actually about the ideological conflict in the ghetto between criminals and activists, and the struggle for the heart and soul of the black community.
THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR – not just one of the best blaxploitation movies, but one of the greatest movies of all time, period.
SUPER FLY – Variety put the remake on their list. I’m putting the original. Ron O’Neal deserved an Oscar. Check out my interview with O’Neal. Curtis Mayfield also deserved an Oscar. I never interviewed him.
SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAAADASS SONG – Melvin Van Peebles’ revolutionary film. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan, but I recognize its importance on many levels, and no list of blaxploitation should leave this film off.
THREE THE HARD WAY – since there’s only twelve films on this list, I figured I’d included this one since it stars Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Fred Williamson – the Three Kings of blaxploitation. This way, I kill three birds with one stone, instead of separately listing Brown in SLAUGHTER, Kelly in BLACK BELT JONES, and Williamson in BLACK CAESAR (see what I did there).
TRUCK TURNER – Isaac Hayes kicking ass. Nichelle Nichols swearing up a storm. The pimp funeral. This is pure fun.
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