From the 1970s to the present, numerous action movies have celebrated black power. They have told the stories of struggle, survival, acceptance, and achievement.
Famous Black action movies involve characters that often use their hands or feet to beat their enemies. Some use guns, knives, or other weapons of choice. In the following Black adventure movies, main characters also use their brains to win.
Many of the movies on this list use violence to help tell bigger stories of the Black experience. These include drugs, prostitution, gang lifestyles, and racism. Others are simple comedies.
Yet, they all share one thing in common: If you have a couple of hours to spare, they will entertain you.
Here is our list of the best Black action movies of all time. They are listed from oldest to newest.
The first movie on our list is one that every fan of Black action movies should see even though it is now more than 50 years old.
Richard Roundtree plays John Shaft, a cool private eye on the case of a kidnapped child. A Harlem mobster hires Shaft to find his daughter after rival gang members abduct her. The action doesn’t all take part in the streets of New York, though. There’s quite a bit of action in the bedroom as well.
In addition, to being one of the most power-packed Black action movies, Shaft is well known for its musical score. The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (“The Theme from Shaft”) and two Grammy awards.
Shaft is now included in the National Film Registry’s list of preserved American films for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.
Wesley Snipes returns to our list of the best Black adventure movies with the first Black superhero movie based on a Marvel Comics character. Blade is a human with positive vampire qualities enlisted to fight against all the mean vampires.
He gained his vampiric strengths due to his mother’s tainted blood. A vampire attacked her during pregnancy.
Blade uses his friendship with a local hematologist to develop a serum that allows him to continue fighting his secret war against vampires. Sunlight, garlic, and silver are his other tools of war. So are his fists.
In the 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon to see a strong female Black action movie star, especially if her name was Pam Grier. And the action movie that started it all was called “Coffy.”
The plot of this Black adventure movie centered around a female vigilante who decides to seek revenge on the very people that she feels are responsible for hooking her younger sister on heroin.
Coffy is the nickname for Grier’s character Flower Child Coffin, a nurse who is tired of the drugs and violence in her city. She decides to go undercover and fight the violence with more extreme violence.
Coffy portrays a prostitute looking for her next fix when she begins to kill the people she deems responsible for street violence and drugs. When she concludes her killing spree, Coffy returns to her nursing job as if nothing had happened.
Beverly Hills Cop, 1984
The most financially successful movie of the mid-1980s featured Eddie Murphy as a streetwise police officer from Detroit named Axel Foley. Axel decided to take some time off from his regular job to find the person who murdered his childhood friend in Los Angeles.
After driving cross-country, he meets up with another old friend, an art dealer in Beverly Hills. It turns out her art dealing boss is also a major drug smuggler who had Axel’s childhood friend killed.
With the help of a pair of bumbling Beverly Hills police detectives, Axel solves both the drug smuggling case and avenges his friend’s murder.
Beverly Hills Cop was one of Eddie Murphy’s first movies, and his comedic skills are put to good use. It did so well at the box office that two more sequels followed it.
This is also another movie known for its electronic soundtrack.
It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Musical or Comedy of 1984.
Black Panther, 2018
No list of the best Black action movies would be complete without this one. Hollywood waited 30 years before returning to the Black superhero movie. This time it was Black Panther, also adapted from the Marvel Comics universe.
Good thing, too. Black Panther was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and grossed more than $1.3 billion at the box office. That is by far more than any of the other Black adventure movies.
After thousands of years using the fictional metal vibranium, the African nation of Wakanda is at a crossroads. Ancestors found the metal in a meteorite that struck Africa thousands of years ago. Now, some vibranium has been stolen and used to assist black-market arms dealers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This leads Wakanda elders to engage in modern-day warfare to regain their historical artifacts and kill their oppressors.
Chadwick Boseman starred as Black Panther shortly before his untimely death at 43 from colon cancer.
New Jack City, 1991
The explosion of crack cocaine within Black neighborhoods in the late 1980s was the subject of New Jack City, one of the grittiest Black adventure movies on our list. Young Wesley Snipes starred as an up-and-coming drug lord in New York City, named Nino Brown.
Nino’s gang, the Cash Money Brothers, begins taking over the streets by dealing crack to down and out Black neighborhoods. They hole up in an old apartment complex where they use force to maintain their edge on the street and count their growing stash of dollar bills.
Ice-T plays undercover detective Scotty Appleton. He agrees to infiltrate the Cash Money Boys and bring down the gang. He gains Nino’s trust by informing the drug lord that one of his confidants is skimming drugs and money.
We won’t reveal the rest of the plot because there are several twists. We will say that street justice is served at the end.
Another Harlem-based crime thriller, Juice, introduced Tupac Shakur to mainstream movie-going audiences. Starring Shakur and Omar Epps, this Black adventure movie looks at the daily lives of four young Black men who struggle with police brutality, rival street gangs, and family issues.
After getting to know the main characters, the plot begins in earnest when the four youths rob a convenience store. In the process they end up shooting the proprietor in the head. The incident leads the young friends to turn on each other. More shootings and fighting ensue.
The one left standing at the end is said to “have the juice now,” which is the basis of the movie’s title.
Bad Boys, 1995
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith star in this buddy cop Black action movie set in Miami that was so successful it produced two sequels.
Lawrence plays Marcus Burnett, and Smith plays Mike Lowrey, lifelong friends and partner detectives. They investigate how $100 million worth of heroin was stolen from inside the police’s secure vault.
Most think it was an inside job, and the pair are tasked with finding out who pulled off the heist within one week of the robbery.
Several scenes of gunplay and murder take place in this Black action movie. It’s also another movie with a famous soundtrack that includes the song “Bad Boys” by Inner Circle.
Enemy of the State, 1998
Will Smith is back on our list of the best Black action movies with this thriller involving espionage, national security secrets, and a congressional murder coverup.
Certain forces within the intelligence community want a new bill passed in Congress that will allow the U.S. government to spy on ordinary citizens. One lawmaker balks, and he is killed in a way that makes it look like a heart attack.
But someone finds a home video recording of the murder, and it is up to lawyer Bobby Dean (Smith) to disclose the murderer’s identity and bring everyone to justice. A deadly shootout occurs after a case of mistaken identity.
Rush Hour, 1998
As you might tell by now, 1998 was a big year for Black action movies. Rush Hour is another comedic crime action film that revolves around two police officers with nothing in common. This time, the actors are Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
The plot involves rescuing the abducted teenage daughter of a Chinese diplomat in Los Angeles.
Chan’s character is a detective in Hong Kong who knows the diplomat. He is asked to come to the U.S. to help locate the missing child. But the LAPD doesn’t want the bad press of needing a foreign police officer’s assistance.
So, local law enforcement passes the Asian detective off on Tucker, who is in trouble for spoiling a previous sting operation.
Chan uses his comedic martial arts skills, and Tucker uses his wits and guns to solve the crime.
Training Day, 2001
It took some time, but Hollywood legend Denzel Washington finally appeared in Black action movies just after the turn of the century. Training day is a widely acclaimed movie about a police officer’s first day of training from a hardened narcotics cop that won Washington a Best Actor Academy Award.
His partner, Ethan Hawke, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the trainee.
Washington’s character uses street smarts, street violence, and corruption to keep L.A. streets safe and apprehend the most notorious drug kingpins. Some of these practices chafe at Hawk’s sensibilities, as he has always been a by-the-book policeman.
It turns out that Washington has a bounty on his head, and he is setting up Hawke’s life instead to pay off the debt. Only a stroke of luck saves Hawke during this day-in-the-life story.
John Q, 2002
Denzel Washington was back one year later playing a distraught everyman, John Quincy Archibald, who takes matters into his own hands. His son has a rare heart condition, but the HMO won’t pay for the surgery.
He decides to take the hospital’s emergency room hostage until someone agrees to perform the life-saving surgery on his son. He uses the alias John Q, as in “John Q Public,” when speaking with SWAT team members and hostage negotiators.
As he releases some of the hospital hostages, they all applaud his efforts to save his son’s life. At one point, John Q says he will commit suicide so his heart can be transplanted into his son. But another heart is found in the nick of time.
Creed is the seventh movie of the Rocky franchise, and it centers around the son of former World Champion Apollo Creed. Michael B. Jordan plays Donnie Johnson, Creed’s son from an extramarital affair.
After several brush-ups with law enforcement, Donnie enlists the help of Apollo Creed’s former nemesis and friend Rocky Balboa to train him for upcoming fights. The relationship between Donnie and Rocky also helps the young man deal with his attitude toward his deceased father.
Boxing sequences are expertly filmed, and Donnie’s shot at the title is reminiscent of the original Rocky.
Fittingly, this movie was released 40 years to the day after its franchise predecessor.
Best Black Action Movies Ever, Final Thoughts
Black action movies have been a staple of the cinematic experience for more than 50 years. Most Black adventure movies are gritty crime stories that center on drugs and prostitution in familiar neighborhoods of New York City and Los Angeles.
But there have also been some comedic takes on the Black action genre and a couple of formidable superhero movies.
If you’re in the mood for a Black action movie, any one of these listed above will prove to be a good choice for a couple of hours of entertainment.