Special Report

Best Movies by Black Filmmakers

Racial representation in the movie industry — both in front of and behind the camera — has long been a topic of debate. And though the share of black filmmakers shooting major studio films has increased dramatically in recent years — 16 of the directors of the 100 top-grossing movies in 2018 are black, according to a study from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism — the number of black Americans working as movie directors has historically been low.

Still, African American filmmakers have made hundreds of critically acclaimed and culturally impactful films dating back to the early 20th century, when Oscar Micheaux became the first African American to make a film with “The Homesteader” (1919).

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the best movies by black filmmakers based on user and critic ratings on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and Rotten Tomatoes.

These movies vary significantly, ranging from underseen independent fare, such as “Killer of Sheep” and “Daughters of the Dust,” to modern blockbusters that draw fans worldwide such as “Black Panther.” And each offers a convincing argument for Hollywood to offer more support for black filmmakers. Some of the films listed here even rank among the best movies of all time.

Click here to see the best movies by black filmmakers.

To determine the best movies by black filmmakers, 24/7 Tempo created an index based on each film’s Rotten Tomatoes average critic rating, Rotten Tomatoes average audience rating, and IMDb average user rating for 750 movies directed or co-directed by black, American filmmakers compiled from multiple user-generated lists. Movies were required to have at least 1,000 user votes on IMDb and 10 critic ratings on Rotten Tomatoes to be considered.

We averaged the user ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb and weighted by the number of votes for each. The combined user rating was then averaged with the Rotten Tomatoes critic rating. Editorial discretion was then applied to include films that we felt deserved inclusion based on other metrics such as cult status or reputation.

Data on where to stream each movie comes from JustWatch and was collected June 15, 2020.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

25. The Best Man (1999)
> Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
> Starring: Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut
> Where to stream: Apple iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Starz, DIRECTV, Redbox, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, Starz Play Amazon Channel

A strong ensemble cast led by Taye Diggs, Nia Long, and Morris Chestnut helped boost Malcolm Lee’s directorial debut. The film is about four friends reunited for a wedding of one of their group. One of the friends, the best man, is a writer whose first novel contains some bombshells about their relationships. The film has a 72% Freshness rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences liked it better, with an 86% approval score.

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Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

24. The Great Debaters (2007)
> Directed by: Denzel Washington
> Starring: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise
> Where to stream: Google Play Movies, YouTube, Amazon Video, Amazon Prime Video

“The Great Debaters” (2007) is Oscar award-winning actor Denzel Washington’s second directorial effort (his debut was 2002’s “Antwone Fisher”). The film recounts the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, who oversaw the formation of the first debate team at the historically black Wiley College in 1935. The team eventually faces off against Harvard in the national championship. Washington’s movie — in which he also stars — was declared Best Picture in 2007 by the African American Film Critics Association and received positive reviews from 86% of audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

23. Straight Outta Compton (2015)
> Directed by: F. Gary Gray
> Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
> Where to stream: Vudu, Microsoft Store, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Apple iTunes, Amazon Video, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, FandangoNOW

F. Gary Gray’s biopic is about how the influential rap group NWA came out of the hardscrabble streets of Compton, California, near Los Angeles, to bring hip-hop music to the cultural forefront. Powerful performances by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (son of NWA member Ice Cube), Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell helped the film win an Oscar-nomination. “Straight Outta Compton” has a Freshness rating of 88% among Rotten Tomatoes critics.

Source: Courtesy of Lionsgate

22. Precious (2009)
> Directed by: Lee Daniels
> Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton
> Where to stream: Google Play Movies, YouTube, Apple iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Video, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, Redbox, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, HBO Go, HBO Now, HBO Max, HBO Now Amazon Channel, FlixFling

“Precious” tells the story of an abused and illiterate teenage girl living in Harlem. Pregnant with her second child, Precious enrolls in an alternative school and gets a chance at changing her life. The film marked the directorial debut of Lee Daniels who adapted the novel “Push” by Sapphire to the big screen. Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes lauded the “exceptional performances from its cast.” The movie won two Oscars and holds a Freshness rating among Rotten Tomatoes critics of 91%

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Source: Courtesy of Kino International

21. Daughters of the Dust (1991)
> Directed by: Julie Dash
> Starring: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbarao
> Where to stream: Kanopy, Amazon Video, Microsoft Store, Criterion Channel, Apple iTunes, YouTube, Google Play Movies

Julie Dash became the first female African American director to receive nationwide theatrical distribution of a feature film in 1991 with her feature debut, “Daughters of the Dust.” The artfully done drama looks at a multi-generational Gullah family living on one of South Carolina’s Sea Islands at the beginning of the 20th century. The film has an exceptional 98% Freshness rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, where it’s described as an “absorbing look at a largely unexplored corner of American culture.”

Source: Courtesy of Trimark Pictures

20. Eve’s Bayou (1997)
> Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
> Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Meagan Good
> Where to stream: Apple iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Video, DIRECTV, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Redbox, Microsoft Store, HBO Now, HBO Go, FandangoNOW, HBO Max, HBO Now Amazon Channel

Kasi Lemmons made a memorable directorial debut with the film “Eve’s Bayou” that stars Samuel L. Jackson and Jurnee Smollett-Bell. The film is about a daughter witnessing her father having an affair and the impact it has on their family. Critics lauded Lemmons’ take on disillusionment and forgiveness and gave the movie a Freshness score of 82%, while audiences gave it a 90% approval rating.

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Source: Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

19. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
> Directed by: Barry Jenkins
> Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
> Where to stream: Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Amazon Video, DIRECTV, Redbox, FandangoNOW, Microsoft Store, Apple iTunes, Hulu

Barry Jenkins directed and wrote the screenplay for this film based on the book by James Baldwin about a young expectant woman who tries to prove her lover is innocent of a crime he didn’t commit. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes awarded the film a Freshness rating of 95%, lauding its cinematography. Regina King won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Source: Courtesy of Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

18. I Like It Like That (1994)
> Directed by: Darnell Martin
> Starring: Luna Lauren Velez, Jon Seda, Tomas Melly
> Where to stream: Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Amazon Video, Microsoft Store, Pluto TV

Bronx-born filmmaker Darnell Martin wrote and directed this comedy-drama about a struggling married couple facing numerous life challenges. With this film, Darnell has become the first African American woman to have directed a studio feature. The Columbia Pictures production won over 91% of audience members and 80% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

17. Black Panther (2018)
> Directed by: Ryan Coogler
> Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
> Where to stream: Vudu, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, Amazon Video, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, Disney Plus, FandangoNOW, TNT, fuboTV, Sling TV

Ryan Coogler helmed the blockbuster film based on Marvel Comics characters that stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong’o. “Black Panther” was the box-office champion in 2018, grossing more than $700 million domestically. The action movie won three Academy Awards and currently holds a 97% Freshness rating among Rotten Tomatoes critics.

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Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

16. The Hate U Give (2018)
> Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
> Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby
> Where to stream: Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, Amazon Video, DIRECTV, Redbox, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Apple iTunes, HBO Now Amazon Channel, HBO Go, HBO Now

Director George Tillman Jr. — whose previous work includes “Men of Honor” (2000) and Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Faster” (2010) — addresses the issue of police violence in this film about a 16-year-old African American teenager struggling in the aftermath of the shooting death of her friend. Based on a novel by Angie Thomas, the movie won numerous awards and was voted third best film of the year by the African American Film Critics Association in 2018. The YA (young adult) movie earned positive reviews from 97% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with 83% of audiences enjoying it.

Source: Courtesy of Netflix

15. Mudbound (2017)
> Directed by: Dee Rees
> Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell
> Where to stream: Netflix

Dee Rees’ story is about two men, one white and one African American, who return to rural Mississippi after World War II to work on farms. The Oscar-nominated film deals with issues of racism and the struggles of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes hailed the movie as “well-acted and finely detailed.” It holds a 97% Freshness rating among Rotten Tomatoes critics, and 85% of audiences liked the movie.

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Source: Courtesy of New Line Cinema

14. Love Jones (1997)
> Directed by: Theodore Witcher
> Starring: Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington
> Where to stream: Vudu, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Amazon Video, DIRECTV, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, HBO Max

Filmmaker Theodore Witcher’s sole directorial feature is the 1997 romance film “Love Jones,” about the relationship between a young poet and a talented photographer in Chicago. Although the movie was not a major commercial success — it grossed just over $12 million at the box office — it received a 97% approval rating from the more than 25,000 users who have rated it on Rotten Tomatoes. Witcher cites the film’s limited success, in addition to his race, in a 2019 New York Times interview as the reasons he was unable to direct a second studio film.

Source: Courtesy of IRS Media

13. One False Move (1992)
> Directed by: Carl Franklin
> Starring: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams
> Where to stream: Google Play Movies, Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Video, Redbox, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes

Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton stars in Carl Franklin’s directorial debut. Thornton wrote this gripping story about a small-town police chief in Arkansas awaiting a confrontation with a group of killers from Los Angeles. Critics hailed the action and sly humor of the film, giving it a 96% Freshness score on Rotten Tomatoes, while audiences gave it a 75% approval rating.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

12. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
> Directed by: Peter Ramsey
> Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
> Where to stream: Microsoft Store, Amazon Video, Vudu, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Netflix, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, Fandango, FlixFling, Redbox, FandangoNOW

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the first animated Spider-Man feature. It was co-directed by African American filmmaker Peter Ramsey (of the 2012 “Rise of the Guardians”), Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman. The movie was praised by critics not only for its groundbreaking visuals, but also for its humor and storytelling, ultimately receiving a 97% Freshness rating from critics and 93% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.

In 2019, the movie took home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, making Ramsey the first black Oscar winner of that award.

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Source: Central Press / Getty Images

11. What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali (2019)
> Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
> Starring: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ossie Davis, Bill Cosby
> Where to stream: HBO Go, HBO Now, Apple iTunes, DIRECTV, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, Vudu, HBO Max, HBO Now Amazon Channel, Amazon Video

Antoine Fuqua’s absorbing documentary chronicles the life iconic world champion boxer and social activist who called himself “The Greatest.” Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes said the film is “as educational as it is inspiring.” The movie holds a 95% Freshness rating among Rotten Tomatoes critics, and it has an 8.5 rating out of 10 among IMDb users.

Source: Courtesy of New Line Cinema

10. Menace II Society (1993)
> Directed by: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
> Starring: Tyrin Turner, Larenz Tate, June Kyoto Lu
> Where to stream: Apple iTunes, Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Amazon Video, DIRECTV, Redbox, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW

Albert and Allen Hughes — credited as The Hughes Brothers — directed and co-wrote (along with Tyger Williams) this gritty drama about a young man trying to escape his hometown in the Los Angeles Watts neighborhood projects. The flick won positive reviews from 84% of critics and 93% of users on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hughes Brothers would go on to direct films, including “Dead Presidents” (1995) and “From Hell” (2001), and they currently have multiple projects in various stages of production that they are working on as individuals.

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

9. Creed (2015)
> Directed by: Ryan Coogler
> Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
> Where to stream: Apple iTunes, Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, Amazon Video, AMC on Demand, Redbox, FandangoNOW

Ryan Coogler put the gloves back on the Rocky franchise with this story about retired fighter Rocky Balboa training and mentoring Adonis Johnson, the son of his deceased friend and ex- rival Apollo Creed. Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes noted the film “extends the boxer’s saga in interesting new directions while staying true to its classic predecessors’ roots.” The movie has a Freshness rating among Rotten Tomatoes critics of 95%, and an 89% approval rating among audiences.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

8. Get Out (2017)
> Directed by: Jordan Peele
> Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
> Where to stream: Vudu, Amazon Video, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, AMC on Demand, FandangoNOW, DIRECTV, Fandango

“Get Out” is Jordan Peele’s biting and provocative social commentary that is, at turns, a comedy and a horror movie. Peele became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film, which stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, and Bradley Whitford, has a 98% Freshness rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and an 86% approval rating from audiences.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

7. Selma (2015)
> Directed by: Ava DuVernay
> Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey
> Where to stream: Vudu, Microsoft Store, Google Play Movies, YouTube, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, Redbox, FXNow, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes, Amazon Video

Directed by Ava DuVernay, the Oscar-winning film is a stirring retelling of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 by civil rights activists trying to gain voting rights. The march was led by Martin Luther King, Jr., played by David Oyelowo. “Selma” has a 99% Freshness rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and an 86% audience approval rating.

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Source: Courtesy of A24

6. Moonlight (2016)
> Directed by: Barry Jenkins
> Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes
> Where to stream: Amazon Video, Apple iTunes, Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, Kanopy, Netflix, DIRECTV, Redbox, FandangoNOW

Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age film about a gay black man was the first film with an all black cast to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It also won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali. The movie is a favorite among critics, receiving a Freshness rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Milestone Films

5. Killer of Sheep (1978)
> Directed by: Charles Burnett
> Starring: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy
> Where to stream: Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, YouTube, AMC on Demand, Microsoft Store, Redbox, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Hoopla, Apple iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, VUDU Free

Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” is a downbeat examination of the life of a slaughterhouse worker and his family living in the Los Angeles Watts neighborhood. The film was made while Burnett was still a student at UCLA for only $10,000, and it was eventually added to the U.S. National Film Registry in 1990. The movie has received near-universal praise from critics, earning a 97% Freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

4. Boyz n the Hood (1991)
> Directed by: John Singleton
> Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Hudhail Al-Amir
> Where to stream: Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Amazon Video, Microsoft Store, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, fuboTV, Showtime, Showtime Amazon Channel, Redbox, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes

John Singleton became the first African American nominated for a Best Director Oscar for the film about the experiences, relationships, and aspirations of three young black men living in the impoverished Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Laurence Fishburne star in the film. The Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes says the film “observes urban America with far more depth and compassion than many of the like-minded films its success inspired. “Boyz n the Hood” holds a 96% Freshness rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 93% approval rating among audiences.

Source: Courtesy of Netflix

3. 13th (2016)
> Directed by: Ava DuVernay
> Starring: Melina Abdullah, Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker
> Where to stream: Netflix

Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) directed this Netflix-produced documentary about the U.S. prison system and how it relates to the country’s history of racial inequality. Interview subjects range from Angela Davis to former New York Mayor David Dinkins. On Rotten Tomatoes, 97% of critics and 91% of audience members liked the Oscar-nominated “13th” — a reference to the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery.

Source: Courtesy of ESPN Films

2. O.J.: Made in America (2016)
> Directed by: Ezra Edelman
> Starring: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mike Albanese, Muhammad Ali
> Where to stream: Apple iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, Sling TV

Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The documentary tells the story of the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson, whose murder trial revealed the racial fissures in America. Edelman also won an Emmy for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming. The film has a perfect score among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 97% rating from audiences. It also has an 8.9 out of 10 rating among IMDb users.

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Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

1. Do the Right Thing (1989)
> Directed by: Spike Lee
> Starring: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee
> Where to stream: Google Play Movies, Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Video, AMC on Demand, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes, Fandango

“Do the Right Thing” is Spike Lee’s film about how hate and bigotry touch off violence in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year. Powered by a cast that included Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and John Turturro, the film has a Freshness rating of 92%, and a 90% rating from audiences. Lee received the first of his four Oscar nominations, this one for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

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