It would be safe to say that the ‘Blaxploitation’ era of filmmaking represented the very best and occasionally, the very worst in movies. These films are now engrained in the historical narrative of 1970’s feature films. Some of these films were better than others and some of them are now considered all-time classics, but what is certain is that the era is over and largely missed. Personally, I never agreed with the ‘Blaxploitation’ label but I suppose it’s the most convenient description for an era of movies made by and for African-American audiences. In many ways Hollywood is lacking diversity and the fact that these kinds of films aren’t made anymore doesn’t help. Many of the stars of the era have long since passed through this mortal coil, but their work lives on and their characters live on. It is my hope that one day the legacy of black films and filmmakers can serve as a catalyst for it’s return to the mainstream with opportunities for African-American creatives once again available in large numbers. Idiots Guide presents a retrospective on some of the greatest ‘Blaxploitation’ films of the 1970’s.
#15. Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)
Cotton Comes to Harlem was Written and Directed by the venerable Ossie Davis. Released in 1970, this action yarn starred the likes of Redd Foxx, Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques. It was based off of the original novel by Chester Himes, however he was not asked to act in the film version. He has been conflicted about it ever since.
#14. Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (1973)
Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off is the brain child of Director Gordon Douglas. Released in 1973 and written by Charles Eric Johnson, you can find familiar faces like Jim Brown, Ed McMahon, Don Stroud, Brock Peters and Dick Anthony gracing the screen. Oh, it’s an action picture.
#13. Trick Baby (1972)
Fans of Author Iceberg Slim will remember 1972’s film adaptation Trick Baby as a grimy crime drama. Main stars were Kiel Martin and Mel Stewart. Because it was an adaptation of a very detailed and intricate novel, the plot, it’s characters and action are more realistic and frankly, head and shoulders above most of the other films of this genre, certainly in terms of pure filmmaking.
#12. Mandingo (1975)
You can’t spell controversy without ‘Mandingo’, at least you couldn’t during it’s 1975 theatre release. The film was based on Kyle Onstott’s novel and Directed by Richard Fleischer. If you were curious as to how former heavyweight champion boxer Ken Norton looked in the buff, then you were in luck. The controversy had to do with the interracial sex involved in the plot. The film also starred James Mason, Susan George, Perry King and even a cameo by Sylvester Stallone. Good Trivia.
#11. Coffy (1973)
If you like watching Pam Grier kick ass across the screen as a female vigilante , then 1973’s ‘Coffy’ is a movie for you! It was Written and Directed by Jack Hill.
#10. Black Belt Jones (1974)
During the 1970’s Jim Kelly was the African-American Bruce Lee. He made many films in the 70’s and 1974’s ‘Black Belt Jones’ was one of his better projects. It was Directed by Robert Clouse and Written by Oscar Williams, not that there was too much emphasis put on the dialogue in-between the hyper-violence.
#9. Three the Hard Way (1974)
1974’s ‘Three the Hard Way’ saw the famous ensemble of three of the biggest names, especially African-American, in action films of the era. The combination of Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Jim Kelly made for eye candy excitement for fans of action fighting. The film was Written by Eric Bercovici and someone named Jerrold L. Ludwig and Directed by show-biz legend Gordon Parks, Jr.
#8. Trouble Man (1972)
Whatever happened to Robert Hooks? He was awesome in the 1970’s. His persona epitomized ‘cool’ of the era. Soul Cinema Classic’s 1972 production was released by 20th Century-Fox. Starring Hooks as original ‘Mr. T’, who was cool as a fan private detective who routinely took out persons in his way. This is a good example of an exceptional ‘Blaxploitation’ film.
#7. Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
Uptown Saturday Night was the first in a trio of films that Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier did together in the 1970’s (Let’s Do It Again (1975) , A Piece of the Action (1977)) This hilarious comedy was Written by Richard Wesley and Directed by Sidney Poitier himself. Along with Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte added excellent flavor to this bean-dip.
#6. The Mack (1973)
The Mack became the highest grossing blaxploitation film of the era. The film was wildly popular but the creators did not want it to be associated with the genre at all, calling the picture a social commentary piece. In either case it starred the likes of Max Julien and legendary funny man, Richard Pryor.
#5. Black Caesar (1973)
In the United States the film was called ‘Black Caesar’, in the United Kingdom it was called ‘Godfather of Harlem’ regardless of what side of the pond you might have seen it, this 1973 crime drama was damn good and starred Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry and Julius Harris. It was Written and Directed by Larry Cohen, a remake of 1931’s ‘Little Caesar’.
#4. Dolemite (1975)
In the African-American community, Rudy Ray Moore is a legend. 1975’s ‘Dolemite’ is the kind of classic that fathers pass on to their sons as sort of a rite of passage. Rudy Ray Moore played the urban hero named ‘Dolemite’ and he played it like a champion. He also co-wrote the movie and performed the character in his stand-up routine.
#3. Shaft (1971)
The original ‘Shaft’ was a wildly popular action film-noir property that was adapted for the big-screen by Ernest Tidyman and John D. F. Black from Tidyman’s 1970 novel. It was brilliantly Directed by Gordon Parks who had a knack for making good movies. It tells the story of Harlem, NY private detective, John Shaft. The film stars the likes of Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Drew Bundini Brown and Charles Cioffi.
#2. Across 110th Street (1972)
‘Across 110th Street’ received critical acclaim during it’s 1972 release. It’s a crime drama Directed by Barry Shear, Written by Greil Marcus and starred Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, and Anthony Franciosa. It was one of, if not the best of the ‘Blaxploitation’ genre. It largely flies under the radar but that’s not the films fault, it’s damn good.
#1. Super Fly (1972)
Legendary Director Gordon Parks was at it again with the release of the now iconic film ‘Super Fly’ that continues to be a fan favorite many decades on. Released in 1972, it starred the magnetic Ron O’Neal as the cocaine dealer Youngblood Priest. This is one film that must be seen if you haven’t already had the pleasure. Trust us on this.