Some people argue that the 90s was the best decade for music. The 90s was nice in terms of its musical offerings. But my money’s on a different decade. But that’s a conversation for another day. Right now, we want to show the 90s some love for another reason—its movies.
The 90s brought us some incredible, insane movie moments. I’m going to give you my Top 12. Holla at me if you agree. If you don’t, holla at me and share your list.
#12: New Jack City, 1991: This movie had so much star power, Chris Rock had a minor role as a crackhead. This movie gave us Wesley Snipes, Mario Van Peebles and Allen Payne at their height. This movie gave us a long-awaited second look on the big screen of Tracy Camilla Johns, the sister who played the lead role of Nola Darling in Spike Lee’s breakout classic, She’s Gotta Have It in 1986. However, she disappeared from movie roles. You know. Hollywood is hard on Black actors and actresses. Johns’ small, but memorable cameo appearance in this classic just adds to its power. Not to mention Ice T, Judd Nelson, Bill Nunn, Christopher Williams, Levert, Vanessa Williams (not the former Miss USA) and Vanessa Williams (the former Miss USA) rocked this funky joint. So much cool. So many memorable, quotable lines. So much relevance with crack being headline news throughout the early 90s. Playa, if you can’t recognize the greatness of this film, as New Jack City’s Keisha would say, “Rockabye Baby!”
#11: Deep Cover, 1992: This has to be one of the most under-appreciated great films of all time. It may very well be Laurence Fishburne’s greatest piece of work, playing a straight-laced, by-the-book, no drinking or drugging Cincinnati cop who goes so deep undercover as a drug dealer that by the middle of the movie, he doesn’t know which role is the real him. Plus, the late Clarence Williams III offers a performance for the ages, along with Jeff Goldblum, the grossly under-appreciated acting giant Roger Guenveur Smith and the absolutely stunning Victoria Dillard (Lord, have mercy!). Plus, the cool factor this movie so effortlessly exudes is off the charts. The cherry on top… It was directed by the legendary Bill Duke. And if you don’t know who he is, you better “ax” somebody.
#10: Friday, 1995: C’mon now. You already know. Hell, we’ve all seen this movie “eleventeen” million times because we love everything about it.
#9: House Party, 1990: It’s been over 30 years since the Hudlin Brothers blessed us with House Party, and folk are still, to this very day, trying to prove their dancing prowess by busting the moves Kid & Play (Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin) laid down at the house party for which the movie is named. But make no mistake, the actual party was just one aspect of this movie that made it a forever classic. And the Black reality it hit us with from start to finish? Mayne. Like the insanely gorgeous Sharane (A.J. Johnson) asking her little brother to make some kool-aid, to which he responds, “Grape or red?” Or Sharane’s 390lb Uncle Otis (Lou B. Washington) asking her to make him some “Dick Gregory.” Tisha Campbell, the late Robin Harris, George Clinton, Full Force, Martin Lawrence and others take this move over the top. And don’t get me started on the music!
#8: The Five Heartbeats, 1991: This movie, according to my wife, is one of those movies I watch every single time it comes on. And she’s right. The crazy thing is, the first time I saw it, I thought it was just okay. But by the second or third time in, I was hooked. There’s so much history this movie highlights in this fictional tale that it’s a must-see just for that. And if you’re Generation X like me (or older), you know several groups that made that transition from doo-wop to R&B to disco and beyond. This has to be one of the most quoted movies of all time, with so many memorable lines, you feel like calling Big Red on anyone who dares misquote any of Duck’s or Eddie Kane’s words.
#7: Boyz n the Hood, 1991: Pick a best scene brought to life by the late-great director John Singleton. I dare you to try. When the main characters as kids discover that dead body. The welcome back picnic for Doughboy (Ice Cube) coming home from prison where we’re introduced to an adult version of a child actress sweetheart Regina King (as Shalika) before she became a Hollywood Boss and global pehomenon who is now ruling ruling the world. All the father-son moments between Jason “Furious” Styles and Tre Styles aka Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. That scene where Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) gets shot. Or any time Angela Bassett or Nia Long graced the screen. And that soundtrack, though!
#6: Mo Betta Blues, 1990: Mo Better Blues is one of Spike Lee’s most under-appreciated masterpieces. The star-power alone in this movie is ridiculous: Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, Cynda Williams, Joie Lee, Robin Harris, John Turturro, Ruben Blades, Spike Lee, Charlie Murphy, Branford Marsalis and the angelic Abbey Lincoln (and singing and acting force who was white-balled from Hollywood for her involvement in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 60s and 70s and took on the African name Aminata Moseka). Visually, this is a gorgeous film. And as a brother, I appreciate the real interactions it shows between brothers. This is one of the few films where we actually see a grown Black man (Denzel) interacting with his grown father (“Big Stop Williams” played by legendary character actor Dick Anthony Williams). But it’s the music that takes this beautiful story over the top. You don’t even have to like jazz to appreciate this film that celebrates America’s classical music and the Black people and experiences that gave birth to it.
#5: Higher Learning, 1995: Another John Singleton classic. Though we give much love to HBCUs, as we should, there’s a lot of Blackfolk who matriculated at PWIs and appreciated seeing their experiences of daily campus micro- and macro-aggressions displayed for all the world to see. As well as their/our ability to endure, push through and overcome. Shout out to Omar Epps, Tyra Banks, Busta Rhymes, Regina King, Jennifer Connelly and Ice Cube for doing the d*mn thang!
#4: Dead Presidents,1995: This film is so beautiful, sad, uplifting and enraging that you’d be forgiven for forgetting just how much of the Black experience it covers. Or the mind-blowing cinematography. Or the over-abundance of Black beauty that sisters and brothers get to feast our eyes on. Larenz Tate, N’Bushe Wright, Rose Jackson, Chris Tucker, Jenifer Lewis, Keith David, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Bokeem Woodine, Chante Bowser, Clifton Powell, Alvaleta Guess, Terrence Howard, etc.
#3: Love Jones, 1997: Not only is Love Jones arguably, one of the greatest love stories put to film, this movie had er’body thinking they could do spoken word.
#2: Boomerang, 1992: In terms of pro-Blackness alone, this movie is insane. The artwork, the corporate leaders, the brotherhood and about a gazillion other things that made their way on the screen or in dialogue. While folk were clowning Eddie Murphy for not being Black enough, he was quietly making one of the Blackest movies ever. Joining Murphy in this masterpiece: Halle Berry, David Alan Grier, Robin Givens, Martin Lawrence, Eartha Kitt, Grace Jones, Lela Rochon, Chris Rock, Geoffrey Holder, Tisha Campbell, John Canada Terrell and the late John Witherspoon and Melvin Van Peebles.
#1: Malcolm X, 1992: Three words: Denzel as Malcolm!
Honorable Mention: Set it Off, 1996; The Inkwell, 1994