Best Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows - Featured - StudioBinder

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.

Spike Lee Films

23. She Hate Me (2004)

Deleted Scenes | She Hate Me

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.

35%
Filmmaking
20%
Writing
15%
Message
23%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Original Idea
  • Ambitious
  • N/A
  • Overly Long
  • Insipid Plot
  • Tries Doing Too Much

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

With a tighter focus, She Hate Me really could’ve been about something. As it stands, it’s a low-tier Spike Lee film that should’ve been so much more.

Spike Lee Movies Ranked

22. Red Hook Summer (2012)

The Making of Red Hook Summer | TIME

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.

50%
Filmmaking
25%
Writing
20%
Message
32%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Portrayal of Brooklyn
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • The Music
  • The Plot Twist
  • Character Arcs
  • Aimless Plot

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Red Hook Summer seems like it was meant to be a return to form to films that put Lee on the map. Unfortunately, the final act unravels everything he set up.

Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows

21. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2015)

Spike Lee Talks | Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

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.

45%
Filmmaking
30%
Writing
25%
Message
33%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Mood
  • The Style
  • Race and Class Discussion
  • Uneven Tones
  • Lack of Scares
  • Uninteresting Characters

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Spike Lee’s remake of Ganja and Hess has some shining moments. However, Lee doesn’t really string them together into any kind of compelling narrative. Most people would be better off tracking down the original.

Spike Lee Movies List

20. Oldboy (2013)

Making Of | Oldboy

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”

45%
Filmmaking
40%
Writing
20%
Message
35%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Visuals
  • Josh Brolin's Performance
  • The Intensity
  • Adds Nothing New
  • Lack of Originality
  • The Third Act

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

There’s one thing this version of Oldboy proves. No matter how great of a filmmaker you are, you’ll still need to churn out studio schlock all the same.

Spike Lee Filmography

19. Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

Behind the Scenes | Miracle at St. Anna

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.

50%
Filmmaking
30%
Writing
35%
Message
38%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Unique Angle
  • Pushes Boundaries
  • The Visuals
  • Overly Long
  • Lack of Subtlety
  • The Action

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Spike Lee’s intentions are noble in telling this different kind of war story. It’s just a shame the pieces don’t add up together.

All Spike Lee Movies

18. Bamboozled (2000)

Legacy of Bamboozled | Spike Lee

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.

35%
Filmmaking
45%
Writing
40%
Message
40%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Satire
  • Strong Scenes
  • Important Message
  • Unfocused at Times
  • Lack of Strong Visuals
  • Preachy

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Bamboozled has some strong things to say about African-Americans’ portrayal in the media. With a tighter narrative, it could’ve been one of the great satires of the 21st century.

List of Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows

17. She’s Gotta Have It (TV Series) (2017-2019)

Being Black in Hollywood | Netflix

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.

50%
Filmmaking
40%
Writing
40%
Message
43%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Season 1
  • Feminist Themes
  • Fun Characters
  • Season 2
  • Crowded Narrative
  • Tonal Inconsistencies

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

You can do a lot worse on a lazy weekend than to watch She’s Gotta Have It. Spike Lee updates his classic film for the 21st century to mixed but mostly positive results.

Good Spike Lee Films

16. Girl 6 (1996)

Spike Lee Interview | Girl 6

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.

45%
Filmmaking
55%
Writing
35%
Message
45%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Music
  • Spike Lee's Style
  • The Humor
  • Lack of Subtext
  • Lack of Purpose
  • Undefined Characters

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

With a Prince soundtrack and a Quentin Tarantino cameo, Girl 6 can still play well today even if it’s a bit of a time capsule. It’s just a shame Lee lacked that feminine insight to deliver a truly scathing critique of gender relations.

The Complete Spike Lee Movies List

15. School Daze (1988)

Spike Lee Talks About School Daze | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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 all the more real. With strong themes and performances, it makes for a worthy follow-up to Lee’s debut.

60%
Filmmaking
45%
Writing
65%
MEssage
57%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Kinetic Energy
  • Thought-Provoking
  • Absorbing Plot
  • Tonal Inconsistencies
  • Pointless Scenes
  • Sexist Moments

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

School Daze is a great exploration into the modern black experience. But he has other films that have explored these themes much better.

Analyzing the Spike Lee Filmography

14. Summer of Sam (1999)

Spike Lee Interview | Summer of Sam

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.

70%
Filmmaking
60%
Writing
50%
Message
60%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Characters
  • Themes on Class
  • Engaging Plot
  • Uneven Tones
  • Exploitative at Times
  • Overly Long

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Summer of Sam is an intriguing work. With a more focused narrative, it could’ve ranked up there with Zodiac in the best serial killer movies of all time.

All Spike Lee Movies Ranked

13. Clockers (1995)

Trailer | Clockers

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.

75%
Authentic
60%
Inspo
80%
Story
71.25%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Strong Characters
  • Clear Motivations
  • Unique Nostalgia
  • A Bit Hokey
  • Dull Moments
  • Puritanical

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Clockers is a thrilling crime drama. The plot may unravel at times, but the performances keep the movie afloat.

Ranking Spike Lee Films

12. Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

A Personally Uncomfortable Analysis of Something Spike Lee Said | Renegade Cut

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.

80%
Filmmaking
65%
Writing
50%
Message
65%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Plot Twists
  • The Humor
  • Visual Style
  • Jewish Stereotypes
  • Cliched Characters
  • Never Reaches Height

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Mo’ Better Blues looks and sounds magnificent. However, Spike Lee offers promising ideas he never fully delivers on.

Great Spike Lee Films

11. He Got Game

Spike Lee and Denzel Washington Interview | The Ringer

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.

75%
Filmmaking
80%
Writing
65%
Message
73%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Style
  • The Music
  • Interesting Characters
  • Too Long Scenes
  • Scattershot Plot
  • Meandering Narrative

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

He Got Game features a breadth of fantastic performances. The plot could’ve been tighter, but you may find yourself too engrossed with the characters to care.

Top Ten Spike Lee Movies

10. Chi-Raq (2015)

Spike Lee Interview | Sway’s Universe

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.

85%
Filmmaking
70%
Writing
70%
Message
75%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Social Commentary
  • Energetic Narrative
  • Dance Scenes
  • Repetitive
  • Unfocused Plot
  • Character Development

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

With Chi-Raq, Spike Lee shines a light on America’s gun problem. He fires on all cylinders, and while it’s not always cohesive, Lee’s passion never fades.

Superb Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows

9. Get On The Bus (1996)

Cobb Trailer

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.
60%
Filmmaking
90%
Writing
80%
Message
77%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Dialogue
  • The Characters
  • The Humor
  • Loose Subplots
  • Some Sexism
  • Predictable

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Get On The Bus is more engaging than the description would lead you to believe. It’s just so different from anything the director has done before that it’s a great way to kick off the top ten Spike Lee movies of all time.

Thrilling Spike Lee Films

8. Inside Man (2006)

A Very Large Withdrawal | Inside Man

If you ever think it’s taking you too long to finish your screenplay, consider it took Russell Gerwitz five years to complete the script for Inside Man. Gerwitz worked as a lawyer for many years before developing the script and was passed around before it ultimately ended up in Spike Lee’s hands. Sometimes the best advice for aspiring screenwriters is truly to be patient.
88%
Filmmaking
90%
Writing
70%
Message
80%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Plot Twists
  • Kinetic Energy
  • The Comedy
  • Lack of Style
  • Slow Pacing
  • The Third Act

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Inside Man takes a while to get going. But once it’s off, it’s a thrilling suspense caper.

Ranking Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows

7. Jungle Fever (1991)

Spike Lee & Stevie Wonder | Jungle Fever Special

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.
90%
Filmmaking
75%
Writing
85%
Message
83%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Performances
  • Powerful Themes
  • Passionate Filmmaking
  • Ambitious to a Fault
  • Two Opposing Storylines
  • N/A

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Jungle Fever deals with themes that would go on to define Spike Lee as a filmmaker. It occasionally stumbles, but overall, it’s a strong outing featuring strong themes, great cinematography, and fantastic performances.

Spike Lee Movies List

6. Crooklyn (1994)

Spike Lee & A.O. Scott | Crooklyn

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.

90%
Filmmaking
85%
Writing
75%
Message
83%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Great Performances
  • Insightful Commentary
  • The Soundtrack
  • Feels Like Sketches
  • Ambitious to a Fault
  • N/A

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Crooklyn is Spike Lee at his most sentimental. However, he never loses sight of the story he wants to tell, and with visual flair to spare, he achieves a moving story.

the Entire Spike Lee Filmography

5. 25th Hour (2003)

Deleted Scenes | 25th Hour

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.
90%
Filmmaking
75%
Writing
90%
MEssage
85%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Edward Norton
  • Nuanced
  • The Tone
  • Slow Pacing
  • Unresolved Subplots
  • N/A

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

25th Hour is one of Lee’s most restrained efforts. It serves as a fascinating time capsule to what the country was feeling in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

New Spike Lee Films

4. BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Spike Lee Takes on Our Times | The Take

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.

85%
Filmmaking
95%
Writing
90%
Message
90%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Social Commentary
  • Lead Performance
  • Great Cinemtography
  • On the Nose at Times
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

BlacKkKlansman does a great job where Green Book failed. It shows how racism is a systemic problem, and it showcases that message in a tight, entertaining package.

Top 3 Spike Lee Films

3. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Remember Nola | She’s Gotta Have It

It’s hard to overstate the significance of She’s Gotta Have It. Not only did Spike Lee, along with contemporaries, usher in a new independent cinema movement, but Lee portrayed black individuals in settings typically not seen in mainstream cinema at the time. It’s a racially-charged, sexually-liberated film that was needed at the time.
95%
Filmmaking
90%
Writing
95%
Message
93%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Humor
  • Documentary-Style
  • Raises Vital Questions
  • Character Development
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

She’s Gotta Have It is extremely clever and entertaining. It proved Spike Lee was a filmmaker worth watching, and his craft would only improve over the years.

Study of Spike Lee Movies and TV Shows

2. Malcolm X (1992)

Critics’ Picks | The New York Times

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.
95%
Filmmaking
100%
Writing
95%
Message
97%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Denzel Washington
  • Epic and Intimate
  • Insightful
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Malcolm X is a biopic that really works. The lead actor and director work in tandem to elevate what could have been conventional material to the profound.

The Best Spike Lee Movie

1. Do The Right Thing (1989)

Anatomy of a Scene | The New York Times

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.

90%
Filmmaking
100%
Writing
100%
Message
100%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Social Commentary
  • Risky Filmmaking
  • Complex Ending
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST SPIKE LEE MOVIES

Conclusion

Do The Right Thing should be on every list of movies you have to watch before you die. It’s filmmaking at its most powerful.

Up Next

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. 

Up Next: How to Avoid Stereotypes in Movies →
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