Blaxploitation films comprise one of the many sub-genres that fall under the “Grindhouse” umbrella — exploitation films made throughout the late ’60s and ’70s. The term “blaxploitation film” itself is a portmanteau of the words “black” and “exploitation.” Black exploitation films were arguably the most important sub-genre to come out of the entire Grindhouse film movement. The films of the black exploitation movie era hold a special place in history. Join us in celebrating the best blaxploitation films ever made.
Blaxploitation horror movies
10. Ganja and Hess (1973)
Within the broader blaxploitation movie subgenre, there exists a number of blaxploitation horror movies. Ganja and Hess is not just an important film of the blaxploitation genre, but also undeniably important to black horror as a whole. The film is a creative twist on the tropes and archetypes of vampire films.
Be careful when selecting which version to watch as there are many alternate cuts and titles. Heavily edited versions of Ganja and Hess can be found going under the titles of Blood Couple and Double Possession.
For a more modern take on the story you can look to Spike Lee’s maligned 2014 remake of Ganja and Hess titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The remake brings a fresh take to the material and is one of Spike Lee's best movies.
Blaxploitation movies list
9. Blacula (1972)
Blacula might be rougher around the edges than the most popular Dracula movies, but don’t let that scare you off. The character of Blacula, played brilliantly by William Marshall, was African royalty in the 1700s until he was bit by the one and only Count Dracula. Now he stalks the streets of modern day Los Angeles in search of fresh blood.
If you’re in the mood for more horror, be sure to check out our list of the Best Horror Films of All Time.
70s blaxploitation movies list
8. Cleopatra Jones (1973)
Cleopatra Jones is one of many blaxploitation films that cast black women in badass starring roles at a time when Hollywood was still largely hesitant to offer major roles to women or African Americans.
The film follows the titular character as a U.S. special agent taking on the war on drugs with violent flare. Cleopatra Jones isn’t particularly well made on a technical level, but it is a classic example of an empowering message elevating a film as a whole.
Top blaxploitation movies
7. The Mack (1973)
The Mack tells the story of an ex-con who rises to the top of the pimping game. The narrative is wrapped up in socially relevant issues including prostitution, drug use, street crime, and even the Civil Rights Movement. The Mack is sometimes called the crown jewel of pimp movies, a subject often featured in other blaxploitation films of the era.
Black exploitation movies
6. Truck Turner (1974)
Legendary soul singer Isaac Hayes stars as Mac ‘Truck’ Turner, a ex-football player turned bounty hunter who carries out his brand of justice on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Though best known for his music career, Isaac Hayes’ connection to blaxploitation cinema runs deep. See him in action again in Tough Guys or hear his dulcet tones in the iconic theme song for Shaft.
Dolemite is Rudy Ray Moore’s endlessly entertaining pimp vs. police action comedy. The film recently received a signal boost from the Eddie Murphy led Dolemite is My Name biopic, which is also worth watching. Dolemite is quite poorly made, but in the best possible way.
The shortcomings of Dolemite add immensely to the film’s already overwhelming sense of charm. Rudy Ray Moore’s other efforts in the blaxploitation genre are also worth seeking out; The Human Tornado, Petey Wheatstraw and a number of others.
It would be a crime against cinema to make a blaxploitation movies of the '70s list without a high-ranking Pam Grier entry. Coffy is one of many '70s Pam Grier vehicles that could land a spot on this list. A few other Pam Grier blaxploitation films worth seeking out are Foxy Brown, Black Mama White Mama, and Friday Foster among at least a half-dozen others. Coffy tells the violent revenge story of a nurse seeking vigilante justice for the death of her little sister.
Super Fly is a classic story of a man vs. “the man.” Ron O’Neal plays Priest, a coke dealer on the run from the mob and up against the powers that be, scrounging for “one last score.” Easily one of the most iconic blaxploitation films of all time, and a great representation of the genre’s best qualities.
Gordon Parks’ classic story of New York private eye John Shaft taking on the white mafia. Richard Roundtree is perfect in the iconic role that spawned two direct sequels AND two reboots. This is a character that is deservingly engrained in popular culture and transcends the common trappings of the blaxploitation genre.
The best blaxploitation movies
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) is often considered the progenitor of the entire blaxploitation film movement. Every single blaxploitation film of the 1970s owes a debt to Sweet Sweetback. Hitting grindhouse theaters just months before Shaft, Sweetback broke new cinematic ground in a number of areas. A great deal of cinematic history stems from and is owed to Sweetback. Melvin Van Peebles didn’t just star in the film, he also wrote, directed, produced, edited, and composed the soundtrack.
The film is wildly assembled and has a somewhat experimental aesthetic, but it is impossible to overlook how important Sweetback was to cinematic history. The director’s son, Mario Van Peebles, would go on to make Baadasssss more than three decades later, a half-biopic, half-tribute to his father and the making of Sweetback. Baadasssss also comes highly recommended.
Best Crime movies ever made
Blaxploitation movies often fall under the larger Crime Movie genre. Despite Blaxploitation's lower budgets and production values, the themes of vigilante justice hold true. Up next, we'll dive deeper into the seedy underbelly of the best Crime Movies ever made from directors like Scorsese, Tarantino, and Coppola.