What are the best black gangster movies? A few come to mind from past to present, and some recent flicks have come out, all-encompassing the rugged thrill that we’ve come to expect from black hood movies. Some are dramatic, some are comedic, but overall, they’re worth watching when you get a chance!
Paid in Full (2002)
Starring: Wood Harris, Mekhi Phifer, Cam’ron.
Director: Charles Stone lll
In a world where money, flashy cars, and betrayal rule the day, Ace (Wood Harris), a young man working a dead-end job at a dry cleaner, finds himself struggling to avoid it all.
It’s the late 80s – cocaine is king, and Ace falls victim to the enticing allure of what cocaine can afford him. Instead of performing his duties, he meets Lulu (Esai Morales), a drug dealer who ultimately convinces Ace to join him. Ace then recruits close friends Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) and Rico (Cam’ron).
The trio becomes quite successful in the Harlem drug underworld and challenges the major players for supremacy. In the end, greed, power, and envy begin to undermine the alliance, and the individuals have to make tough choices for the sake of their survival.
Starring: Nas, DMX, Method man
Director: Hype Williams
It’s Queens, and the year is 1999; Sincere (Nas) and Buns (DMX) are heavily entrenched in criminal activity. Living life on the edge, the tandem does whatever it takes to survive. The two have built their criminal enterprise on robbery and dealing drugs.
Despite their collective ambition, Sincere begins to loathe the criminal lifestyle he’s been leading, 1and he joins a black religious group and plans on relocating to Africa. On the other hand, Buns only intends to continue his criminal endeavors, leading down a ruthless path of agony, betrayal, and destruction.
Will Sincere’s and Buns’ paths diverge, or will they be able to navigate the treacheries of the criminal underworld and stay on top? Hopefully, their childhood friendship is enough to weather the storm. Sincere’s desire for a peaceful relationship with his family might ultimately determine their ultimate fate.
In Too Deep (1999)
Starring: Omar Epps, LL Cool J, and Nia Long
Director: Michael Rymer
A recent graduate of the Cincinnati Police Academy, Jeffery Cole (Omar Epps), aspires to go undercover. On the day of his graduation, he is given a covert assignment and has the task of taking down the notorious crack dealer Dwayne Gittens (LL Cool J).
Cole assumes the identity of J Reid and has the daunting task of gaining the trust of the most ruthless gangster in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cole can garner Gittens’s trust; however, his ability to do this doesn’t come without a cost. Cole begins to confuse his loyalties. Is he Jeffery Cole, the undercover police officer?
Or, is he J Reid, a proven gangster who has Gittens’ trust and the allegiance of an army of bonafide criminals? With the lines between his identity as a cop and a criminal blurred, who will Cole betray – Gittens or the badge?
Training Day (2001)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Snoop Dogg, Scott Glenn
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is an LAPD police officer in line for promotion to become a detective when he gets assigned to Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) for a one-day evaluation. What was supposed to be an ordinary day of training begins to turn into something more ominous.
As Jake shadows Alonzo, he soon learns that the detective’s methods are far from conventional and borderlines on criminals. As the once ordinary day continues to spiral out of control, Jake Hoyt soon learns that he is unwittingly a part of an elaborate plot that will undoubtedly land him in prison.
The veil that is the badge is slowly removed as a result of the day’s event, and Officer Hoyt begins to realize that Detective Alonzo’s tactics are not only questionable but far more nefarious than he once thought. Officer Hoyt must decide if he wants to hold on to his integrity as a law enforcer or be led astray by Detective Alonzo’s less than savory tactics…or worse.
New Jack City (1991)
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ice T, Chris Rock, Judd Nelson
Director: Mario Van Peebles
The story begins in the heart of Harlem, New York, in 1986, and Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) and his crew, the Cash Money Brothers (CMB), have become the dominant players in the drug trade with the introduction of crack cocaine to the streets.
Nino Brown ruthlessly leads the CMB to unrivaled preeminence, and he soon gets Scotty’s (Ice-T) and Nick’s (Judd Nelson) radar, two ambitious police officers who seek to bring Nino and his crew down. Using an undercover sting operation, the two cops use espionage to topple a cunning, powerful, and ruthless drug lord.
The question is – who, if anyone, will turn on Nino? Will someone that Nino had to step on and over to get where is come back with an ax to grind and foil all of his plans. Per usual, loyalty and betrayal feature prominently in this flick, and the main characters have to determine which one will reign supreme.
American Gangsters (2007)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director: Ridley Scott
Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) had been a long-time mob boss Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson’s right-hand man, and after he passes, Frank soon hatches a plan to sell heroin using the savvy he picked up from his predecessor over the years. Remarkably, through bribery, Frank can smuggle his heroin directly from the supplier in Thailand into the US using Vietnam service members returning from the war.
Mr. Lucas proves to be successful for some time while also avoiding the unwanted attention of narcotics agents. He achieves this by abstaining from shiny and expensive things, which only serves
to bring unwanted attention. Until one evening, he goes against his mantra at the behest of his wife, and he wears something flashy at a sporting event.
Here is where he catches the eye of Newark detective and aspiring lawyer Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), and he begins to investigate him, which could spell trouble for Frank’s unlikely empire.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Lawrence Fishburne, Morris Chestnut
Director: John Singleton
As an adolescent boy, Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) was constantly getting into altercations at school despite his apparent intellect. Raising him alone in Inglewood, California, his mother decides that it’s in Tre’s best interest to live with his father in Crenshaw. Tre reunites with some familiar friends in the neighborhood: Ricky (Morris Chestnut), Doughboy (Ice Cube), and Chris.
Over the years, Tre’s father, Furious (Lawrence Fishburne), is able to teach his son discipline and respect despite their ominous beginnings. The friends have grown up, and each of them has carved out their own niche over the course of 7 years. Tre is the academic out of the group who plans on going to college with his girlfriend.
Ricky is a high school football star with a good chance of making it to college on a scholarship. Finally, Doughboy and Chris are now Crip gang members who have regular run-ins with the rival gang, the Bloods. On the verge of becoming men, each must choose to either become a product of their environment or rise above it. Sadly, some won’t have a choice in the matter.
Menace II Society (1993)
Starring: Tyrin Turner, Jaida Pinkett Smith, Larenz Tate
Director: Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes
Caine Lawson (Tyrin Turner) is a product of the Los Angeles projects – all he knows is the gang lifestyle. At 18 years old, Caine realizes that he wants a way out of the perpetual cycle of criminality and heartache. However, his closest friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate) is at times a loose cannon, further complicating his ability to leave his lifestyle behind. Moreover, his crew all lead sketchy lives riddled with criminal behavior.
Caine can’t seem to escape his fate no matter what he does. Whether he’s a willing participant in the calamities that befall him or an innocent bystander, trouble always seems to find Caine.
But there’s hope in the form of his teacher (Charles Dutton) and his supportive girlfriend (Jada Pinkett), who convinces him that there’s a better path. Only time will tell if Caine can wise up in time to leave his circumstances; if not, he will fall victim to them.
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Tim Roth, Vanessa Williams, Chi McBride, Cicely Tyson
Director: Bill Duke
Hoodlum takes place during the 1920s and the 1930s. It portrays a fictional description of the infamous gang wars between the black gangsters of Harlem and the Jewish/Italian mafia alliance.
Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) is a black gangster recently released from prison and looking to get back into the game.
He has to fight the mafia boss Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia) and his right-hand man Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) for control over the illegal operations in Harlem. Along the way, Bumpy reunites with “Illinois” Gordon (Chi McBride) and meets Francine (Vanessa Williams), who becomes a love interest.
While wanting to work for Harlem’s crime queen (Cicely Tyson) and being pushed to stay on the straight and narrow, the stakes have never been higher for Bumpy as he and Dutch fight for position at the top.
Waist Deep (2006)
Starring: Tyrese Gibson, Meagan Good, Larenz Tate, The Game
Director: Vondie Curtis-Hall
Waist Deep shows the extent a father is willing to go for his son as he risks it all to save him from the hands of a vicious criminal. The movie is loosely based on the story of Bonnie and Clyde, with certain elements being similar.
The story starts with Otis “O2” Samuel Sr. (Tyrese Gibson), recently getting released from prison. He vows to his son Junior that he’ll never leave him again, as he tries to straighten up his life for his son’s sake.
After picking Junior up from school, O2 gets robbed at gunpoint, and his car gets stolen with his son in the backseat. O2 recruits the help of a savvy street hustler, Coco (Meagan Good), to help figure out where his son was taken. Lucky (Larenz Tate), O2’s friend, gets involved as he works for the gangster that is holding Junior.
Lucky informs him that O2’s old partner and crime boss, Meat (The Game), demands a ransom of $100,000 in exchange for his son. Coco helps O2 put a plan in action to turn rival gangsters against one another in a money heist while trying to rescue his son in the process.
Baby Boy (2001)
Starring: Tyrese Gibson, Taraji Henson, Ving Rhames, Omar Gooding, Tamara LaSeon Bass, A.J. Johnson
Director: John Singleton
Baby Boy is a coming-of-age black hood classic. Jody Summers (Tyrese Gibson) is a 20-year-old bicycle mechanic struggling to honor his commitments in life as he deals with everyday struggles in the slums of Los Angeles.
Jody has street smarts but no steady income. He also has two children by two different women; there’s Peanut (Tamara LaSeon Bass), and then there’s Yvette (Taraji Henson). Jody also still lives at home with his mother (A.J. Johnson), who has a new boyfriend named Melvin (Ving Rhames). Recently released from prison, Melvin and Jody don’t see eye to eye. However, his mother is happy and wants Jody to be a man and handle his responsibilities.
Through a lot of drama involving an on and off-again relationship with Yvette, Jody has to quickly make a decision when a terrible occurrence between Yvette and her new boyfriend takes place in front of their son. Making matters worse, Jody gets into a physical altercation with Melvin, which adds to the tension at his mom’s house. What will he do as the pressure builds in his chaotic life?
The Wood (1999)
Starring: Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, Richard T. Jones, Malinda Williams, Tamala Jones
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
The Wood is another coming-of-age film that follows three friends reminiscing on their lives as teenagers in Inglewood “The Wood,” California.
Roland (Taye Diggs) is about to get married, and he suddenly goes missing without notice. That leaves his two friends Slim (Richard T. Jones) and Mike (Omar Epps), to go out looking for him as Roland’s fiance awaits her groom. Swapping stories about life in the hood and the crazy situations they got into because of mischief is a way to pass the time while looking for their nervous friend.
Eventually, Roland’s ex-girlfriend (Tamala Jones) informs Mike and Slim that he is at her house, extremely drunk. Both men are furious with Roland for risking his relationship in this way. At this point, Roland has to decide as to whether he will meet his fiance at the altar or give in to his worries just hours before the ceremony.
All the while, the movie centers around memories of life lessons that the boys learned as teenagers, navigating life, relationships, the streets, and friendship.
Hustle & Flow (2005)
Starring: Terrence Howard, Taraji Henson, Taryn Manning, Anthony Anderson, Ludacris
Director: Craig Brewer
Hustle & Flow showcases the struggles of a pimp and Memphis hustler that wants to become a rapper. The movie was inspired by the lives of rappers from Memphis: Tommy Wright III and Kingpin Skinny Pimp.
DJay (Terrence Howard), a local drug dealer and pimp, finds himself discontent with the way his life has gone as he faces a midlife crisis. At this stage in his life, he gets in touch with an old friend (Anthony Anderson) that is now a sound technician. He owns a keyboard and decides to try creating hip-hop songs to improve his life.
With the help of Key and friends, DJay makes a few “flow” songs that indicate his frustrations as a hustler trying to survive in the hood. There are many bumps along the way that threaten to hinder DJay’s plans of getting his songs onto the radio.
During this time, one of his prostitutes, Shug (Taraji Henson), becomes a part of the process, as she songs the hooks on two of DJays more popular tracks. After they record these songs together, DJay and Shug fall in love.
Wanting to get his mixtape into the hands of famous rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris), DJay goes to a local party to ask for his blessing. When things go awry, DJay may find himself in a worse situation than before, as he still tries to claw his way to the top.
Set It Off (1996)
Starring: Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett
Director: F. Gary Gray.
Set It Off is set in Los Angeles and covers the lives of four women that are close friends wanting to carry out a bank robbery. They each have different reasons that they’re willing to participate, but the ultimate goal is to create a better life for their families and themselves.
Frankie (Vivica A. Fox) gets fired from her job as a bank teller when the bank she works at gets robbed, and she recognizes one of the armed robbers. She then begins to work in janitorial services alongside three of her best friends, Cleo (Queen Latifah), Stony (Jada Pinkett), and TT (Kimberly Elise).
They get paid poorly at this job by the manager, and Cleo devises a plan to rob a bank so that they no longer have to suffer from a lack of unreasonably low wages. The four begin robbing banks, and all seems well until an LAPD detective starts becoming suspicious of the girls for various reasons.
When their stash gets compromised and the detective continues to get closer to finding them out, they have to come up with a plan to keep the money safe. They face a series of police encounters that push them to the brink, and it’s now the survival of the fittest.
Starring: Tupac Shakur, Khalil Kain, Omar Epps, Jermaine Hopkins
Director: Ernest R. Dickerson
Juice reflects on the lives of four teenagers in Harlem that want to gain the respect of other members in the hood. They consistently face harassment from police and rival gang members, and they suffer through overall dangerous living conditions.
Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Raheem (Khalil Kain), Quincy “Q” (Omar Epps), and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins) are four friends trying to find their way in life. They skip school on a regular basis and hang out in various places throughout Harlem.
One day after getting harassed by the Puerto Rican rival gang, they decide to do something big to make it known that they want their respect. They settle on robbing the neighborhood convenience store.
Bishop ends up killing the store owner and urges his friends to keep quiet. The others are angry and try to confront Bishop about his actions. It results in a brawl that leaves one of the friends dead and the others questioning Bishop’s newfound love of murder.
As time goes on and the friendship gets more strained, their loyalty for one another gets tested, and they have to decide if this life of crime is all worth it.
State Property (2002)
Starring: Beanie Sigel, Damon Dash, Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek
Director: Abdul Malik Abbott
State Property is loosely inspired by Aaron Jones and his crew during the Philadelphia drug trade from the 1980s to the 1990s. It follows Beans (Beanie Sigel), a gangster tired of being broke who wants to take the American dream by force. He and his crew decide to take over the city, and they cause a lot of trouble as they build an empire.
The police and opposing gangsters threaten to uproot his family and his life as he struggles to maintain the responsibilities of it all. The drama comes to a head when Beans can’t get last the most formidable crew, led by Dame (Damon Dash) and Untouchable J (Jay-Z).
As things start to heat up, there are shootouts, kidnappings, and an all-out war that’s going to cost everyone involved a high price if they want to make it out alive.
Best Black Gangster Movies Ever, Final Thoughts
These are the best black gangster movies that can also be regarded as black hood movies. This is mainly because there’s some overlap between the lifestyle one leads as a gangster and somebody growing up in the hood.
One thing’s for sure, all of these are classic and timeless, always offering a good laugh, deep thought, or a little of both when you watch them again after years or for the first time.