Since his feature-length debut in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee has remained one of the most important and innovative voices in the film industry. No one has had their pulse on the zeitgeist quite like Lee, and even when he flounders, you can’t help but be impressed with what he manages to get right.
For this list, we’re looking at the 22 feature-length narrative movies he’s directed over the years as well as a TV show based on one of his most famous films. Get ready for another StudioBinder joint because we’re ranking the best Spike Lee films of all time.
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Spike Lee Films
23. She Hate Me (2004)
Satire is hard to pull off, as evidenced by She Hate Me. It’s clear Spike Lee wanted to make a send-up of gender and sexual relations. But whatever that message may be ends up getting muddled. It has no cohesive message, and its characters are half-baked at best.
Spike Lee Movies Ranked
22. Red Hook Summer (2012)
Plot twists can make or break a story. In this instance, the plot twist in Red Hook Summer breaks everything we’ve seen before. The final act’s revelation forces you to question the motivations of characters throughout the film, and many of them end up not adding up or making sense. It could’ve been a good film, but it ends up feeling aimless and not thought out.
Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows
21. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2015)
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus may not make for a spooky horror film or one of Lee’s most thoughtful critiques on race, but you can’t help but be fascinated by the backstory. Lee secured funding for the film on Kickstarter, and Lee got music from unsigned artists to go on the soundtrack.
It all makes for the kind of film only Spike Lee could have made, and while it works more like a social thesis than a compelling narrative, it still shows how far style can take you.
Spike Lee Movies List
20. Oldboy (2013)
The fact that two of the lowest films on this list are remakes suggests something interesting. Spike Lee is such an idiosyncratic filmmaker that when he tries to adapt to someone else’s storytelling and filmmaking style, it feels disingenuous. When he tried to remake Oldboy in 2013, it felt shallow and something that he was forced to do rather than something he felt like he needed to tell. You can tell there must have been some studio interference because it’s labeled as a “Spike Lee Film” rather than a “Spike Lee Joint.”
Spike Lee Filmography
19. Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
Storyboards were a major asset during the battle scenes. The crew relied heavily on practical effects and natural lighting, so nothing could be left to chance. While Lee has a mastery over his craft, he perhaps could've reigned in a bit on this film where the plot becomes a little bit too unwieldy at times.
All Spike Lee Movies
18. Bamboozled (2000)
Bamboozled ends with a montage of insensitive clips of the portrayal of African-Americans in Hollywood films in the 20th century. It’s a common tool used in Spike Lee’s filmography (see BlacKkKlansman), and it drives the central thesis of both films home.
As the audience, you’re left to sit there and ruminate on what you just saw and how it relates to the real world.
It’s an effective cinematic technique, and while Bamboozled has its flaws, it’s a far more effective satire than some of Lee’s other works.
List of Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows
17. She’s Gotta Have It (TV) (2017-2019)
Reinventing an old movie as a TV series can have some inspired moments. Look no further than Fargo. She’s Gotta Have It had a great first season, but when the lead’s romantic life takes a backseat in the second season, the show starts to lose its focus.
It’s a fine watch if you want something to binge on Netflix, but considering it was cancelled after its second season, don’t expect any kind of firm resolution.
Good Spike Lee Films
16. Girl 6 (1996)
Girl 6 was the first film Lee directed where he didn’t also write the screenplay. You can kind of tell because while it does deal with some themes Lee tends to explore, it never fully feels like a genuine Spike Lee joint. Instead, it comes across as a generic mid-90s broad comedy that never really finds its groove.
The Complete Spike Lee Movies List
15. School Daze (1988)
To create tension between the two sides, Spike Lee separated the two groups of actors portraying the different fraternities with the better-off frat getting better accommodations. This animosity manifested itself on camera when a fight broke out that wasn’t in the script.
It proved to be a useful tactic, making the film feel more real. With strong themes and performances, it makes for a worthy follow-up to Lee’s debut.
Analyzing the Spike Lee Filmography
14. Summer of Sam (1999)
Summer of Sam feels like a cross between Mean Streets and Zodiac. However, it takes the interesting angle of focusing on two young men and the punk scene in New York in the 1970s. The Son of Sam feels more like a backdrop until Vinny suspects Ritchie is, in fact, the killer. It’s an intriguing plot and perfect for anyone fascinated by serial killer content.
All Spike Lee Movies Ranked
13. Clockers (1995)
Martin Scorsese was originally attached to direct Clockers, and it makes for an interesting what-if scenario. Spike Lee can obviously handle the racial dynamics in a more nuanced, interesting way than likely Scorsese could have. However, Scorsese has a knack for crime epics. As it stands, Clockers is a unique entry in Lee’s filmography and a fascinating precursor to The Wire.
Ranking Spike Lee Films
12. Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
Sometimes it pays off to critique a movie many years after it came out. It can serve as a true test of whether a particular film truly stands the test of time. While Mo’ Better Blues has a lot going for it, such as superb visuals and great music. It also features unfortunate portrayals of Jewish people with Moe and Josh Flatbush. As someone who deals immensely with portraying marginalized group, it’s unfortunate to see Lee miss the mark so much on this one.
Great Spike Lee Films
11. He Got Game
Acting ensembles are hard to put off, but He Got Game makes it look easy. Denzel Washington shines, but every character has their moment. Even Milla Jovovich playing a prostitute gets a lot of great dialogue, making for one of the best performances of her career.
Every character is treated with care, and it serves as a good reminder of how other screenwriters and directors can pull a large ensemble off.
Top Ten Spike Lee Movies
10. Chi-Raq (2015)
Nick Cannon has a star-turning role in Chi-Raq. Many might not be aware of The Masked Singer host’s acting chops, but maybe that’s because he’s never had the right material to showcase. Spike Lee clearly saw him and gave him the lead role in this fascinating addition to Lee’s unique filmography.
Superb Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows
9. Get On The Bus (1996)
What do you do when dialogue carries the entire movie? You write engaging characters talking about important subject matter like Lee’s 1996 film Get On The Bus. The film follows a group of men en route to the Million Man March.
The film is nothing but their conversations as they each bring unique perspectives to different topics. The dialogue sizzles as Lee proves himself to be a master of screenwriting.
Thrilling Spike Lee Films
8. Inside Man (2006)
Ranking Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows
7. Jungle Fever (1991)
Spike Lee dedicated Jungle Fever to Yusuf Hawkins, a black man killed by Italian-Americans when he went into a predominantly white neighborhood. They thought he was involved with a white woman, but he was only there to look into buying a used car.
That kind of anger fuels much of Lee’s work, and if Jungle Fever has any flaws, it’s that there’s a lot Lee wants to say and not every idea gets enough time to become fleshed out.
Spike Lee Movies List
6. Crooklyn (1994)
For the Southern scenes in Crooklyn, Spike Lee used an anamorphic lens to give the impression of a more claustrophobic atmosphere. This was done to showcase Troy’s alienated perspective in being in a different kind of locale.
Initially, audiences assumed the look was a mistake to the point where theaters had to put up notes saying it was intentional. A filmmaker is sometimes tasked with making bold choices, so if you’re ever worried about confusing audiences, stick to your guns like Lee.
the Entire Spike Lee Filmography
5. 25th Hour (2003)
Making a film centered around New York in the direct aftermath of 9/11 was no easy feat. Plenty of films came out in the subsequent years trying to cash in, but few served as the bandage the city needed like 25th Hour.
While the film doesn’t directly deal with the tragedy, Spike Lee clearly makes the film about New Yorkers’ grief and anxieties. It doesn’t feel like a Spike Lee film, but that ultimately works in its favor.
New Spike Lee Films
4. BlacKkKlansman (2018)
Spike Lee never loses sight of the events unfolding in the 1970s in BlacKkKlansman and the real-world events currently transpiring. It makes for a film that feels scarily relevant but Lee also packages it in an entirely entertaining package.
It’s a crime caper and social commentary masterfully done in one. 30 years out from when he started, Spike Lee proved he still has what it takes.
Top 3 Spike Lee Films
3. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Study of Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows
2. Malcolm X (1992)
Before Spike Lee was attached to Malcolm X, there was controversy over the hiring of a white director to film the biopic. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Lee taking on such an important film, and he brought his own unique perspective to the screenplay.
With a bravado performance from Denzel Washington, the movie’s rightfully become one of the defining biopics of its era and set the template for other biopic writers to follow.
The Best Spike Lee Movie
1. Do The Right Thing (1989)
Journalists and media figureheads were genuinely fearful that Do The Right Thing could incite riots and violence. So if you were confused as to why Joker generated so much controversy in 2019, it actually had a precedent.
Do The Right Thing has remained a phenomenal and incendiary piece of pop culture for decades now. It’s one of those movies you watch and wonder why it didn’t win all of the Oscars that year.
It’s Spike Lee at his most passionate and angry, and it all results in one bombshell of a motion picture.
Stereotypes in Movies
Much of Spike Lee’s canon has been devoted to giving black actors more nuanced and substantial roles in Hollywood movies. Lee has long bucked against stereotypes associated with African-Americans in the film industry, even going so far as to coin the term “Magical Negro.”
See what other stereotypes are still far too prevalent so that you can avoid them in your own films.