(Photo by Universal/ courtesy Everett Collection)

The 115 Best Black Movies of the 21st Century

Rotten Tomatoes is celebrating the work of Black filmmakers and performers and the stories they have brought to our theaters over the past 20-plus years. In this guide to the best-reviewed African American movies of the 21st Century – that’s from 2000 all the way to now – you’ll find some of the most incredible voices working in movies today, and some of the most game-changing, industry-shaking films to hit theaters in decades. Think titles like Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time at the U.S. box office. Or Gina Prince-Bythewood’s seminal star-making romance, Love and Basketball. Or Moonlight, which made history as the first film with an all-black cast to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2017. Or Ava DuVernay’s Selma, one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Alongside the work of longtime industry veterans like Spike Lee, you’ll find incredible debut features, like Dee Rees’ Pariah, Justin Simien’s Dear White People, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, Phillip Youmens’ Burning Cane, which he directed while still in high school, and, of course, Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning social thriller Get Out and his follow-up, Us. You’ll also discover documentaries that have stirred the national conversation – DuVernay’s 13th, Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made In America – alongside recent mega hits that, like Black Panther, alerted Hollywood’s decision-makers to the fact that there was a huge audience for stories made by Black filmmakers, featuring Black actors, telling Black stories: Malcolm D. Lee’s Girls Trip, F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton.

To compile our list, we chose the top 100 Certified Fresh Black films, according to the Tomatometer, released in theaters since 2000. We defined Black films as those that centered on African American stories and African American characters, or – as in the case of Black Panther – were made by Black filmmakers and were embraced by African American audiences; there are instances of films here made by non-Black filmmakers (Django Unchained, Detroit, and Get On Up for example), but the top half of the list is dominated by Black writers and directors.

Finally, we ranked the movies using a weighted formula which takes into account each entry’s year of release and its number of reviews collected to weigh their Tomatometer ratings. And with 2020 releasing so many strong Certified Fresh contenders, expect plenty of movies from that year represented, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Bad Boys For Life, One Night in Miami, Da 5 Bloods, Soul and more.

Below is the result of all that compiling: our guide to the best Black films of the century (so far!). It’s chock full of laughs, thrills, tears, and insight. Enjoy, and if you want to tell us what you think of the list, think we’ve missed a title, or want to celebrate a film that didn’t quite meet the Certified Fresh criteria, let us know in the comments.

#115

Antwone Fisher (2002)
78%

#115
Adjusted Score: 82727%
Critics Consensus: Washington's directing debut is a solidly crafted, emotionally touching work.
Synopsis: The touching story of a sailor (Derek Luke) who, prone to violent outbursts, is sent to a naval psychiatrist (Denzel... [More]
Directed By: Denzel Washington

#114

Drumline (2002)
82%

#114
Adjusted Score: 84565%
Critics Consensus: Essentially a sports movie with drums, the energetic Drumline somehow manages to make the familiar seem fresh.
Synopsis: Set against the high-energy, high-stakes world of show-style marching bands, "Drumline" is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a talented street drummer... [More]
Directed By: Charles Stone

#113

Fast Color (2018)
80%

#113
Adjusted Score: 84712%
Critics Consensus: A grounded superhero story with more on its mind than punching bad guys, Fast Color leaps over uneven execution with a singular Gugu Mbatha-Raw performance.
Synopsis: Hunted by mysterious forces, a young woman who has supernatural abilities must go on the run when her powers are... [More]
Directed By: Julia Hart

#112

Black Dynamite (2009)
83%

#112
Adjusted Score: 83793%
Critics Consensus: A loving and meticulous send-up of 1970s blaxsploitation movies, Black Dynamite is funny enough for the frat house and clever enough for film buffs.
Synopsis: After "The Man" kills his brother and poisons the neighborhood with tainted liquor, a kung fu fighter (Michael Jai White)... [More]
Directed By: Scott Sanders

#111

Keanu (2016)
78%

#111
Adjusted Score: 88037%
Critics Consensus: Keanu's absurd premise and compulsively watchable starring duo add up to an agreeably fast-paced comedy that hits more than enough targets to make up for the misses.
Synopsis: Recently dumped by his girlfriend, slacker Rell (Jordan Peele) finds some happiness when a cute kitten winds up on his... [More]
Directed By: Peter Atencio

#110

Dreamgirls (2006)
79%

#110
Adjusted Score: 86922%
Critics Consensus: Dreamgirls' simple characters and plot hardly detract from the movie's real feats: the electrifying performances and the dazzling musical numbers.
Synopsis: Deena (Beyoncé Knowles),Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) form a music trio called the Dreamettes. When ambitious manager... [More]
Directed By: Bill Condon

#109
#109
Adjusted Score: 86045%
Critics Consensus: Languid and melancholy, George Washington is a carefully observed rumination on adolescence and rural life.
Synopsis: Set in the landscape of a rural southern town, "George Washington" is a stunning portrait of how a group of... [More]
Directed By: David Gordon Green

#108

Marshall (2017)
81%

#108
Adjusted Score: 90698%
Critics Consensus: Marshall takes an illuminating, well-acted look at its real-life subject's early career that also delivers as an entertainingly old-fashioned courtroom drama.
Synopsis: Young Thurgood Marshall faces one of his greatest challenges while working as a lawyer for the NAACP. Marshall travels to... [More]
Directed By: Reginald Hudlin

#107

Ray (2004)
79%

#107
Adjusted Score: 86557%
Critics Consensus: An engrossing and energetic portrait of a great musician's achievements and foibles, Ray is anchored by Jamie Foxx's stunning performance as Ray Charles.
Synopsis: Legendary soul musician Ray Charles is portrayed by Jamie Foxx in this Oscar-winning biopic. Young Ray watches his 7-year-old brother... [More]
Directed By: Taylor Hackford

#106
#106
Adjusted Score: 86404%
Critics Consensus: Confident directing and acting deliver an insightful look at young athletes.
Synopsis: Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) are two childhood friends who both aspire to be professional basketball players. Quincy,... [More]
Directed By: Gina Prince

#105
Adjusted Score: 87142%
Critics Consensus: An innovative blend of samurai and gangster lifestyles.
Synopsis: Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a contract killer, a master of his trade who can whirl a gun at warp... [More]
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch

#104

Barbershop (2002)
83%

#104
Adjusted Score: 85777%
Critics Consensus: Besides bringing on the laughs, Barbershop displays a big heart and demonstrates the value of community.
Synopsis: A smart comedy about a day in the life of a barbershop on the south side of Chicago. Calvin (Ice... [More]
Directed By: Tim Story

#103

Get On Up (2014)
80%

#103
Adjusted Score: 87130%
Critics Consensus: With an unforgettable Chadwick Boseman in the starring role, Get On Up offers the Godfather of Soul a fittingly dynamic homage.
Synopsis: James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) was born in extreme poverty in 1933 South Carolina and survived abandonment, abuse and jail to... [More]
Directed By: Tate Taylor

#102

Rize (2005)
84%

#102
Adjusted Score: 86241%
Critics Consensus: The dances in Rize are electric even if the documentary doesn't go that deeply into the performers' lives.
Synopsis: Celebrated fashion photographer David LaChapelle makes his documentary filmmaking debut with a visually arresting film shot on the streets of... [More]
Starring: Tommy the Clown
Directed By: David LaChapelle

#101

Monsters and Men (2018)
84%

#101
Adjusted Score: 87246%
Critics Consensus: Well-acted and visually stylish, Monsters and Men tells its timely story with enough compassion and complexity to make up for occasionally uneven execution.
Synopsis: Tensions rise when a young man records a police officer shooting a black motorist in a Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood.... [More]
Directed By: Reinaldo Marcus Green

#100
#100
Adjusted Score: 85366%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to smart direction and a powerhouse performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beyond the Lights transcends its formulaic storyline to deliver thoroughly entertaining drama.
Synopsis: Though she's been groomed for stardom all her life by an overbearing mother (Minnie Driver), singer Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is... [More]
Directed By: Gina Prince-Bythewood

#99

Chi-Raq (2015)
82%

#99
Adjusted Score: 90973%
Critics Consensus: Chi-Raq is as urgently topical and satisfyingly ambitious as it is wildly uneven -- and it contains some of Spike Lee's smartest, sharpest, and all-around entertaining late-period work.
Synopsis: The girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) of a Chicago gang leader (Nick Cannon) persuades other frustrated women to abstain from sex until... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#98
Adjusted Score: 88855%
Critics Consensus: The Gospel According to André offers an engaging overview of its fascinating subject, even if his accomplishments -- and outsize personality -- prove too expansive for a single film.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Kate Novack explores the life and career of fashion journalist André Leon Talley -- from his childhood in the... [More]
Directed By: Kate Novack

#97

Hustle & Flow (2005)
82%

#97
Adjusted Score: 88285%
Critics Consensus: Hustle & Flow is gritty and redemptive, with a profound sense of place and exciting music.
Synopsis: DJay (Terrence Howard) is a pimp living day to day on the tough streets of Memphis, Tennessee. Pushing 40, he's... [More]
Directed By: Craig Brewer

#96
#96
Adjusted Score: 89289%
Critics Consensus: American Gangster is a gritty and entertaining throwback to classic gangster films, with its lead performers firing on all cylinders.
Synopsis: Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) earns his living as a chauffeur to one of Harlem's leading mobsters. After his boss dies,... [More]
Directed By: Ridley Scott

#95

42 (2013)
81%

#95
Adjusted Score: 87765%
Critics Consensus: 42 is an earnest, inspirational, and respectfully told biography of an influential American sports icon, though it might be a little too safe and old-fashioned for some.
Synopsis: In 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), legendary manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, defies major league baseball's notorious color barrier by... [More]
Directed By: Brian Helgeland

#94

Monster's Ball (2001)
85%

#94
Adjusted Score: 90370%
Critics Consensus: Somber and thought provoking, Monster's Ball has great performances all around.
Synopsis: Hank, an embittered racist prison guard working on death row, begins an unlikely, emotionally charged sexual relationship with Leticia, a... [More]
Directed By: Marc Forster

#93
#93
Adjusted Score: 94674%
Critics Consensus: Loaded up with action and a double helping of leading-man charisma, Bad Boys for Life reinvigorates this long-dormant franchise by playing squarely to its strengths.
Synopsis: The wife and son of a Mexican drug lord embark on a vengeful quest to kill all those involved in... [More]

#92
#92
Adjusted Score: 89330%
Critics Consensus: Wise, compassionate, and beautifully acted, Middle of Nowhere offers an early testament to writer-director Ava DuVernay's startling talent.
Synopsis: A med student (Emayatzy Corinealdi) considers leaving her long-imprisoned husband (Omari Hardwick) for a charming bus driver (David Oyelowo).... [More]
Directed By: Ava DuVernay

#91
#91
Adjusted Score: 90923%
Critics Consensus: A warm, family-friendly underdog story, featuring terrific supporting performances from Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, and Angela Bassett.
Synopsis: Akeelah, an 11-year-old girl living in South Los Angeles, discovers she has a talent for spelling, which she hopes will... [More]
Directed By: Doug Atchison

#90
#90
Adjusted Score: 90765%
Critics Consensus: This group of high school girls and their eccentric basketball coach easily win your heart with their unusual humanity and dynamism.
Synopsis: Filmed over a period of seven years, director Ward Serrill profiles Bill Resler, a university professor who coaches a basketball... [More]
Starring:
Directed By: Ward Serrill

#89
Adjusted Score: 90394%
Critics Consensus: What Happened, Miss Simone? is a compelling -- albeit necessarily incomplete -- overview of its complex subject's singular artistic legacy and fascinating life.
Synopsis: Classically trained pianist, dive-bar chanteuse, black power icon and legendary recording artist Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty,... [More]
Directed By: Liz Garbus

#88
Adjusted Score: 91632%
Critics Consensus: This documentary focuses less on the music and more on the personality clashes and in-group tensions to great, compelling effect.
Synopsis: Actor Michael Rapaport examines the music of the 1990s hip-hop group as well as the conflicts that drove the band... [More]
Directed By: Michael Rapaport

#87
#87
Adjusted Score: 93380%
Critics Consensus: The warmth of traditional Disney animation makes this occasionally lightweight fairy-tale update a lively and captivating confection for the holidays.
Synopsis: Hardworking and ambitious, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) dreams of one day opening the finest restaurant in New Orleans. Her dream... [More]
Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker

#86
Adjusted Score: 93642%
Critics Consensus: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey celebrates the yuletide season with a holiday adventure whose exuberant spirit is matched by its uplifting message.
Synopsis: Decades after his apprentice betrays him, a once joyful toymaker finds new hope when his bright young granddaughter appears on... [More]
Directed By: David E. Talbert

#85
#85
Adjusted Score: 93082%
Critics Consensus: Presenting Princess Shaw works as a uniquely uplifting look at internet stardom -- and a compelling glimpse of an artist whose gifts transcend the medium.
Synopsis: The extraordinary story of New Orleans singing sensation Princess Shaw and her collaborator Kutiman, a musician in Israel who uses... [More]
Directed By: Ido Haar

#84
#84
Adjusted Score: 93088%
Critics Consensus: A smart, well-acted, and refreshingly messy coming-of-age story, Selah and the Spades suggests a bright future for debuting writer-director Tayarisha Poe.
Synopsis: Five factions run the underground life of a prestigious east coast boarding school. The head of The Spades walks a... [More]
Directed By: Tayarisha Poe

#83

Our Song (2000)
91%

#83
Adjusted Score: 91437%
Critics Consensus: Graced with such a realistic feel that it resembles a documentary, Our Song is a sensitive portrayal of three teenage girls.
Synopsis: Follows three friends, Lanisha (Kerry Washington), Maria (Melissa Martinez) and Joycelyn (Anna Simpson), best friends and members of their school's... [More]
Directed By: Jim McKay

#82

Top Five (2014)
86%

#82
Adjusted Score: 92783%
Critics Consensus: As smart, funny, and trenchant as writer-director-star Chris Rock's best standup work, Top Five is a career highlight for its creator -- and one of the comedy standouts of 2014.
Synopsis: Though he began in stand-up comedy, Andre Allen (Chris Rock) hit the big-time as the star of a trilogy of... [More]
Directed By: Chris Rock

#81

Burning Cane (2019)
92%

#81
Adjusted Score: 93151%
Critics Consensus: Burning Cane is a compelling look at weighty themes -- and a remarkably assured debut from an impressively talented young filmmaker.
Synopsis: An aging mother who lives in cane fields of rural Louisiana, is torn between her religious convictions and the love... [More]
Directed By: Phillip Youmans

#80

Queen & Slim (2019)
83%

#80
Adjusted Score: 95703%
Critics Consensus: Stylish, provocative, and powerful, Queen & Slim tells a gripping fugitive story steeped in timely, thoughtful subtext.
Synopsis: Slim and Queen's first date takes an unexpected turn when a policeman pulls them over for a minor traffic violation.... [More]
Directed By: Melina Matsoukas

#79

Uncorked (2020)
91%

#79
Adjusted Score: 93414%
Critics Consensus: Like a good wine, once you let Uncorked breathe, its heartfelt tenderness will yield a sweet time.
Synopsis: A young man upsets his father when he pursues his dream of becoming a master sommelier instead of joining the... [More]
Directed By: Prentice Penny

#78
#78
Adjusted Score: 92590%
Critics Consensus: Miss Sharon Jones! only captures a portion of its subject's power -- or her inspiring story -- but that's more than enough to offer absorbing, entertaining viewing for fans and newcomers alike.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Barbara Kopple follows rhythm and blues singer Sharon Jones as she tries to hold her band together while battling... [More]
Starring: Sharon Jones
Directed By: Barbara Kopple

#77
#77
Adjusted Score: 93903%
Critics Consensus: Madeline's Madeline proves experimental cinema is alive and well -- and serves as a powerful calling card for Helena Howard in her big-screen debut.
Synopsis: Madeline has become an integral part of a prestigious physical theater troupe. When the workshop's ambitious director pushes the teenager... [More]
Directed By: Josephine Decker

#76
#76
Adjusted Score: 93301%
Critics Consensus: Not just a powerful telling of the journey of exiled Sudanese boys, God Grew Tired of Us is also a poignant account of the determination of the human spirit.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Christopher Quinn observes the ordeal of three Sudanese refugees -- Jon Bul Dau, Daniel Abul Pach and Panther Bior... [More]
Starring: Nicole Kidman
Directed By: Christopher Quinn

#75
Adjusted Score: 93283%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Swedish journalists document the black power movement in America.... [More]
Directed By: Göran Olsson

#74
#74
Adjusted Score: 95185%
Critics Consensus: Heartfelt, thought-provoking, and above all funny, Barbershop: The Next Cut is the rare belated sequel that more than lives up to the standard set by its predecessors.
Synopsis: To survive harsh economic times, Calvin and Angie have merged the barbershop and beauty salon into one business. The days... [More]
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee

#73

Inside Man (2006)
86%

#73
Adjusted Score: 95728%
Critics Consensus: Spike Lee's energetic and clever bank-heist thriller is a smart genre film that is not only rewarding on its own terms, but manages to subvert its pulpy trappings with wit and skill.
Synopsis: A tough detective (Denzel Washington) matches wits with a cunning bank robber (Clive Owen), as a tense hostage crisis is... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#72
Adjusted Score: 93528%
Critics Consensus: A toe-tapping tribute to the band that gave Motown its sound.
Synopsis: This documentary mixes performances, interviews and reenactments to celebrate the Funk Brothers, the 1960s soul hitmakers. As the musicians behind... [More]
Directed By: Paul Justman

#71

Premature (2019)
93%

#71
Adjusted Score: 95227%
Critics Consensus: Premature transcends its familiar trappings with sharp dialogue and a strong sense of setting that further establish Rashaad Ernesto Green as a gifted filmmaker.
Synopsis: On a summer night in Harlem during her last months at home before starting college, 17-year-old poet Ayanna begins a... [More]
Directed By: Rashaad Ernesto Green

#70
Adjusted Score: 93742%
Critics Consensus: Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fantastical, emotionally powerful journey and a strong case of filmmaking that values imagination over money.
Synopsis: Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a remote Delta community. Wink is a stern... [More]
Directed By: Benh Zeitlin

#69

Baadasssss! (2003)
91%

#69
Adjusted Score: 93280%
Critics Consensus: An entertaining and intriguing tribute to a father from his son.
Synopsis: Director Mario Van Peebles chronicles the complicated production of his father Melvin's classic 1971 film, "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." Playing... [More]
Directed By: Mario Van Peebles

#68
Adjusted Score: 95322%
Critics Consensus: The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution offers a fascinating -- if somewhat rudimentary -- introduction to a movement, and an era, that remains soberingly relevant today.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Stanley Nelson examines the rise of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and its impact on civil rights... [More]
Directed By: Stanley Nelson

#67
Adjusted Score: 93874%
Critics Consensus: Entertaining for longtime fans as well as casually interested viewers, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool burnishes the legacy of a brilliant artist.
Synopsis: An exploration of the musician's archival photos and home movies.... [More]
Starring:
Directed By: Stanley Nelson

#66
#66
Adjusted Score: 94443%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon examine a 1989 case of five teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of... [More]

#65

Waves (2019)
84%

#65
Adjusted Score: 99658%
Critics Consensus: An up-close look at one family's emotional ups and downs, Waves captures complicated dynamics with tenderness and grace.
Synopsis: The epic emotional journey of a suburban African American family as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the... [More]
Directed By: Trey Edward Shults

#64

Whitney (2018)
88%

#64
Adjusted Score: 96529%
Critics Consensus: Whitney shifts from soaring highs to heartbreaking lows with palpable emotion and grace befitting its singular subject.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Kevin Macdonald examines the life and career of singer Whitney Houston. Features never-before-seen archival footage, exclusive recordings, rare performances... [More]
Directed By: Kevin Macdonald

#63

Dope (2015)
88%

#63
Adjusted Score: 94208%
Critics Consensus: Featuring a starmaking performance from Shameik Moore and a refreshingly original point of view from writer-director Rick Famuyiwa, Dope is smart, insightful entertainment.
Synopsis: High-school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) bond over '90s hip-hop culture,... [More]
Directed By: Rick Famuyiwa

#62

Detroit (2017)
82%

#62
Adjusted Score: 104866%
Critics Consensus: Detroit delivers a gut-wrenching -- and essential -- dramatization of a tragic chapter from America's past that draws distressing parallels to the present.
Synopsis: In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later,... [More]
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow

#61
#61
Adjusted Score: 96053%
Critics Consensus: Dear White People adds a welcome new voice to cinema's oft-neglected discussion of race, tackling its timely themes with intelligence, honesty, and gratifyingly sharp wit.
Synopsis: A campus culture war between blacks and whites at a predominantly white school comes to a head when the staff... [More]
Directed By: Justin Simien

#60
Adjusted Score: 97099%
Critics Consensus: Dave Chappelle's Block Party is a raucous return to the spotlight for the comic, buoyed by witty, infectious humor and outstanding musical performances.
Synopsis: Actor, writer and comic Dave Chappelle loads up a bus with residents of his Ohio hometown and takes them to... [More]
Starring: Dave Chappelle
Directed By: Michel Gondry

#59

Creed II (2018)
83%

#59
Adjusted Score: 101839%
Critics Consensus: Creed II's adherence to franchise formula adds up to a sequel with few true surprises, but its time-tested generational themes still pack a solid punch.
Synopsis: In 1985, Russian boxer Ivan Drago killed former U.S. champion Apollo Creed in a tragic match that stunned the world.... [More]
Directed By: Steven Caple Jr.

#58

Sylvie's Love (2020)
93%

#58
Adjusted Score: 100132%
Critics Consensus: A romance for the ages, Sylvie's Love wraps audiences in the sweet embrace of its old-fashioned romance and celebration of Black love.
Synopsis: In Sylvie’s Love, the jazz is smooth and the air sultry in the hot New York summer of 1957. Robert... [More]
Directed By: Eugene Ashe

#57

Luce (2019)
90%

#57
Adjusted Score: 99623%
Critics Consensus: Luce brings a stellar ensemble to bear on a satisfyingly complex story that addresses its timely themes in thought-provoking fashion.
Synopsis: A liberal-minded couple are forced to reconsider their image of their adopted son after he writes a disturbing essay for... [More]
Directed By: Julius Onah

#56

Black Is King (2020)
94%

#56
Adjusted Score: 96811%
Critics Consensus: Beyoncé is King.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Starring: Beyoncé
Directed By: Beyoncé

#55

Good Hair (2009)
95%

#55
Adjusted Score: 97565%
Critics Consensus: Funny, informative, and occasionally sad, Good Hair is a provocative look at the complex relationship between African Americans and their hair.
Synopsis: Prompted by a question from his young daughter, comic Chris Rock sets out to explore the importance of hair in... [More]
Directed By: Jeff Stilson

#54
#54
Adjusted Score: 100023%
Critics Consensus: Support the Girls handles serious themes with wit and humor, and provides a strong showcase for Regina Hall and a talented ensemble cast.
Synopsis: Lisa is the general manager of Double Whammies, a sports bar that features skimpily dressed waitresses. Always nurturing and protective... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Bujalski

#53

Just Mercy (2019)
85%

#53
Adjusted Score: 105705%
Critics Consensus: Just Mercy dramatizes a real-life injustice with solid performances, a steady directorial hand, and enough urgency to overcome a certain degree of earnest advocacy.
Synopsis: After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation.... [More]
Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton

#52
#52
Adjusted Score: 106164%
Critics Consensus: It Comes at Night makes lethally effective use of its bare-bones trappings while proving once again that what's left unseen can be just as horrifying as anything on the screen.
Synopsis: After a mysterious apocalypse leaves the world with few survivors, two families are forced to share a home in an... [More]
Directed By: Trey Edward Shults

#51
#51
Adjusted Score: 100781%
Critics Consensus: Southside With You looks back on a fateful real-life date with strong performances and engaging dialogue, adding up to a romance that makes for a pretty good date movie in its own right.
Synopsis: Future U.S. President Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) and lawyer Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) go on a fateful first date in... [More]
Directed By: Richard Tanne

#50

Clemency (2019)
91%

#50
Adjusted Score: 99968%
Critics Consensus: Clemency mines serious social issues for gripping drama, brought to life by an outstanding cast led by Alfre Woodard.
Synopsis: Years of carrying out death row executions are taking a toll on Warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares for another... [More]
Directed By: Chinonye Chukwu

#49

Girls Trip (2017)
92%

#49
Adjusted Score: 103938%
Critics Consensus: Girls Trip is the rare R-rated comedy that pushes boundaries to truly comedic effect -- and anchors its laughs in compelling characters brought to life by a brilliantly assembled cast.
Synopsis: Best friends Ryan, Sasha, Lisa and Dina are in for the adventure of a lifetime when they travel to New... [More]
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee

#48

Django Unchained (2012)
86%

#48
Adjusted Score: 98858%
Critics Consensus: Bold, bloody, and stylistically daring, Django Unchained is another incendiary masterpiece from Quentin Tarantino.
Synopsis: Two years before the Civil War, Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave, finds himself accompanying an unorthodox German bounty hunter named... [More]
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

#47

Pariah (2011)
95%

#47
Adjusted Score: 99796%
Critics Consensus: Pulsing with authenticity and led by a stirring lead performance from Adepero Oduye, Pariah is a powerful coming out/coming-of-age film that signals the arrival of a fresh new talent in writer/director Dee Rees.
Synopsis: Teenage Alike (Adepero Oduye) lives in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood with her parents (Charles Parnell, Kim Wayans) and younger sister... [More]
Directed By: Dee Rees

#46
#46
Adjusted Score: 98270%
Critics Consensus: It's far more conventional than the life it honors, but John Lewis: Good Trouble remains a worthy tribute to an inspiring activist and public servant.
Synopsis: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) fights for civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health care reform and immigration.... [More]
Starring: John Lewis
Directed By: Dawn Porter

#45
#45
Adjusted Score: 98065%
Critics Consensus: Straight Outta Compton is a biopic that's built to last, thanks to F. Gary Gray's confident direction and engaging performances from a solid cast.
Synopsis: In 1988, a groundbreaking new group revolutionizes music and pop culture, changing and influencing hip-hop forever. N.W.A's first studio album,... [More]
Directed By: F. Gary Gray

#44
#44
Adjusted Score: 97927%
Critics Consensus: Offering keen observations and infectious warmth, Keep On Keepin' On is a joy for jazz buffs and novices alike.
Synopsis: Legendary jazz musician Clark Terry, who taught Quincy Jones and mentored Miles Davis, becomes the mentor of a blind 23-year-old... [More]
Starring:
Directed By: Alan Hicks

#43
Adjusted Score: 100433%
Critics Consensus: Intimate in scope yet thematically expansive, Hale County This Morning, This Evening draws extraordinary insights out of seemingly ordinary moments.
Synopsis: Filmmaker RaMell Ross captures small, but nevertheless precious, moments in black lives.... [More]
Starring: RaMell Ross
Directed By: RaMell Ross

#42

Night Comes On (2018)
98%

#42
Adjusted Score: 100534%
Critics Consensus: Steadily drawing viewers into its harrowing tale with equal parts grim intensity and startling compassion, Night Comes On heralds the arrivals of debuting director Jordan Spiro and her magnetic young stars.
Synopsis: Released from juvenile detention, a teen and her 10-year-old sister embark on a quest to avenge the death of their... [More]
Directed By: Jordana Spiro

#41

Loving (2016)
88%

#41
Adjusted Score: 106614%
Critics Consensus: Loving takes an understated approach to telling a painful -- and still relevant -- real-life tale, with sensitive performances breathing additional life into a superlative historical drama.
Synopsis: Interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving fell in love and were married in 1958. They grew up in Central Point,... [More]
Directed By: Jeff Nichols

#40

Step (2017)
96%

#40
Adjusted Score: 103085%
Critics Consensus: Step tells an irresistibly crowd-pleasing story in a thoroughly absorbing way -- and while smartly incorporating a variety of timely themes.
Synopsis: The senior year of a girls' high school step team in inner-city Baltimore is documented, as they try to become... [More]
Starring: Blessin Giraldo
Directed By: Amanda Lipitz

#39
Adjusted Score: 102447%
Critics Consensus: Precious is a grim yet ultimately triumphant film about abuse and inner-city life, largely bolstered by exceptional performances from its cast.
Synopsis: Pregnant by her own father for the second time, 16-year-old Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) can neither read nor write... [More]
Directed By: Lee Daniels

#38

Farewell Amor (2020)
97%

#38
Adjusted Score: 101264%
Critics Consensus: A striking debut feature for writer-director Ekwa Msangi, Farewell Amor movingly captures the fallout from a long-separated family's reunion.
Synopsis: After 17 years apart, Angolan immigrant Walter is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teen daughter. Now absolute... [More]
Directed By: Ekwa Msangi

#37

13TH (2016)
97%

#37
Adjusted Score: 104636%
Critics Consensus: 13th strikes at the heart of America's tangled racial history, offering observations as incendiary as they are calmly controlled.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation's... [More]
Directed By: Ava DuVernay

#36
Adjusted Score: 104589%
Critics Consensus: An affecting story powerfully told, The Last Black Man in San Francisco immediately establishes director Joe Talbot as a filmmaker to watch.
Synopsis: Jimmie and his best friend Mont try to reclaim the house built by Jimmie's grandfather, launching them on a poignant... [More]
Directed By: Joe Talbot

#35
Adjusted Score: 102697%
Critics Consensus: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am honors its acclaimed subject with a comprehensive, illuminating, and fittingly profound overview of her life and work.
Synopsis: Author Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, history, America and... [More]

#34

Whose Streets? (2017)
98%

#34
Adjusted Score: 102842%
Critics Consensus: Whose Streets? takes a close-up look at the civil unrest that erupted after a shocking act of violence in Ferguson, Missouri - and the decades of simmering tension leading up to it.
Synopsis: An account of the Ferguson uprising as told by the people who lived it. The filmmakers look at how the... [More]
Starring:
Directed By: Sabaah Folayan

#33

Blindspotting (2018)
94%

#33
Adjusted Score: 104300%
Critics Consensus: As timely as it is overall impactful, Blindspotting blends buddy comedy with seething social commentary, and rises on the strength of Daveed Diggs' powerful performance.
Synopsis: Collin must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning in his... [More]
Directed By: Carlos López Estrada

#32

Strong Island (2017)
100%

#32
Adjusted Score: 102779%
Critics Consensus: Strong Island uses one family's heartbreaking tragedy to offer a sobering picture of racial injustice in modern America.
Synopsis: When filmmaker Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of a young black man, it becomes an achingly personal journey since... [More]
Directed By: Yance Ford

#31
#31
Adjusted Score: 102551%
Critics Consensus: O.J.: Made in America paints a balanced and thorough portrait of the American dream juxtaposed with tragedy and executed with power and skill.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Starring: O.J. Simpson
Directed By: Ezra Edelman

#30

Tangerine (2015)
96%

#30
Adjusted Score: 102170%
Critics Consensus: Tangerine shatters casting conventions and its filmmaking techniques are up-to-the-minute, but it's an old-fashioned comedy at heart -- and a pretty wonderful one at that.
Synopsis: After hearing that her boyfriend/pimp cheated on her while she was in jail, a hooker and her best friend set... [More]
Directed By: Sean Baker

#29
Adjusted Score: 103900%
Critics Consensus: All In: The Fight for Democracy lives up to its title as a galvanizing rallying cry for voters to exercise -- and preserve -- their right to be heard.
Synopsis: Filmmakers Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes examine the history of voter suppression and the activists who fight for the rights... [More]
Starring: Stacey Abrams
Directed By: Lisa Cortes, Liz Garbus

#28
#28
Adjusted Score: 101643%
Critics Consensus: Passionate and powerfully acted, Fruitvale Station serves as a celebration of life, a condemnation of death, and a triumph for star Michael B. Jordan.
Synopsis: Though he once spent time in San Quentin, 22-year-old black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is now trying hard... [More]
Directed By: Ryan Coogler

#27

Time (2020)
98%

#27
Adjusted Score: 105200%
Critics Consensus: Time delivers a powerful broadside against the flaws of the American justice system -- and chronicles one family's refusal to give up against all odds.
Synopsis: Entrepreneur Fox Rich spends the last two decades campaigning for the release of her husband, Rob G. Rich, who is... [More]
Starring:
Directed By: Garrett Bradley

#26

Fences (2016)
92%

#26
Adjusted Score: 107968%
Critics Consensus: From its reunited Broadway stars to its screenplay, the solidly crafted Fences finds its Pulitzer-winning source material fundamentally unchanged -- and still just as powerful.
Synopsis: Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) makes his living as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh. Maxson once dreamed of becoming a... [More]
Directed By: Denzel Washington

#25
Adjusted Score: 106721%
Critics Consensus: The Forty-Year-Old Version opens a compelling window into the ebbs and flows of the artist's life -- and announces writer-director-star Radha Blank as a major filmmaking talent with her feature debut.
Synopsis: A struggling New York City playwright finds inspiration by reinventing herself as a rapper.... [More]
Directed By: Radha Blank

#24
#24
Adjusted Score: 104032%
Critics Consensus: Rich, insightful, and occasionally heartbreaking, 20 Feet From Stardom is an energetic tribute to the passion, talent, and hard work of backup singers.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Morgan Neville shines a long-overdue spotlight on the hit-making contributions of longtime backup singers like Darlene Love and Merry... [More]
Directed By: Morgan Neville

#23

Miss Juneteenth (2020)
99%

#23
Adjusted Score: 108687%
Critics Consensus: Like a pageant winner walking across the stage, Miss Juneteenth follows a familiar path -- but does so with charm and grace.
Synopsis: A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the "Miss Juneteenth" pageant.... [More]

#22

Mudbound (2017)
97%

#22
Adjusted Score: 111702%
Critics Consensus: Mudbound offers a well-acted, finely detailed snapshot of American history whose scenes of rural class struggle resonate far beyond their period setting.
Synopsis: Set in the rural American South during World War II, Dee Rees' Mudbound is an epic story of two families... [More]
Directed By: Dee Rees

#21

Da 5 Bloods (2020)
92%

#21
Adjusted Score: 112558%
Critics Consensus: Fierce energy and ambition course through Da 5 Bloods, coming together to fuel one of Spike Lee's most urgent and impactful films.
Synopsis: Four African American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#20

Amazing Grace (2018)
99%

#20
Adjusted Score: 108279%
Critics Consensus: Brilliantly capturing a remarkable performer near the peak of her prodigious power, Amazing Grace is a thrilling must-watch documentary for Aretha Franklin fans.
Synopsis: Singer Aretha Franklin performs gospel songs at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972.... [More]
Starring: Aretha Franklin
Directed By: Alan Elliott

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 111972%
Critics Consensus: Fearlessly ambitious, scathingly funny, and thoroughly original, Sorry to Bother You loudly heralds the arrival of a fresh filmmaking talent in writer-director Boots Riley.
Synopsis: In an alternate reality of present-day Oakland, Calif., telemarketer Cassius Green finds himself in a macabre universe after he discovers... [More]
Directed By: Boots Riley

#18

The Hate U Give (2018)
97%

#18
Adjusted Score: 109456%
Critics Consensus: Led by a breakout turn from Amandla Stenberg, the hard-hitting The Hate U Give emphatically proves the YA genre has room for much more than magic and romance.
Synopsis: Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds -- the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy,... [More]
Directed By: George Tillman Jr.

#17

Hidden Figures (2016)
93%

#17
Adjusted Score: 117264%
Critics Consensus: In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked -- and crucial -- contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.
Synopsis: Three brilliant African American women at NASA -- Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson -- serve as the brains... [More]
Directed By: Theodore Melfi

#16
#16
Adjusted Score: 110295%
Critics Consensus: In dramatizing Rudy Ray Moore's stranger-than-fiction story, Eddie Murphy makes Dolemite Is My Name just as bold, brash, and ultimately hard to resist as its subject.
Synopsis: Performer Rudy Ray Moore develops an outrageous character named Dolemite, who becomes an underground sensation and star of a kung-fu,... [More]
Directed By: Craig Brewer

#15

Creed (2015)
95%

#15
Adjusted Score: 106940%
Critics Consensus: Creed brings the Rocky franchise off the mat for a surprisingly effective seventh round that extends the boxer's saga in interesting new directions while staying true to its classic predecessors' roots.
Synopsis: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died before Adonis was born.... [More]
Directed By: Ryan Coogler

#14
#14
Adjusted Score: 113487%
Critics Consensus: I Am Not Your Negro offers an incendiary snapshot of James Baldwin's crucial observations on American race relations -- and a sobering reminder of how far we've yet to go.
Synopsis: In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, "Remember This House." The book... [More]
Directed By: Raoul Peck

#13

Widows (2018)
91%

#13
Adjusted Score: 116965%
Critics Consensus: Widows rounds up a stellar ensemble for a heist thriller that mixes popcorn entertainment with a message - and marks another artistic leap for director Steve McQueen.
Synopsis: A police shootout leaves four thieves dead during an explosive armed robbery attempt in Chicago. Their widows -- Veronica, Linda,... [More]
Directed By: Steve McQueen

#12

Soul (2020)
95%

#12
Adjusted Score: 119461%
Critics Consensus: A film as beautiful to contemplate as it is to behold, Soul proves Pixar's power to deliver outstanding all-ages entertainment remains undimmed.
Synopsis: Joe is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn't quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz... [More]
Directed By: Pete Docter

#11
#11
Adjusted Score: 118333%
Critics Consensus: Framed by a pair of powerhouse performances, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom pays affectionate tribute to a blues legend -- and Black culture at large.
Synopsis: Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians... [More]
Directed By: George C. Wolfe

#10

12 Years a Slave (2013)
95%

#10
Adjusted Score: 110647%
Critics Consensus: It's far from comfortable viewing, but 12 Years a Slave's unflinchingly brutal look at American slavery is also brilliant -- and quite possibly essential -- cinema.
Synopsis: In the years before the Civil War, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is... [More]
Directed By: Steve McQueen

#9
Adjusted Score: 116306%
Critics Consensus: If Beale Street Could Talk honors its source material with a beautifully filmed adaptation that finds director Barry Jenkins further strengthening his visual and narrative craft.
Synopsis: In early 1970s Harlem, daughter and wife-to-be Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected her and... [More]
Directed By: Barry Jenkins

#8
#8
Adjusted Score: 116771%
Critics Consensus: A hauntingly powerful reflection on larger-than-life figures, One Night in Miami finds Regina King in command of her craft in her feature directorial debut.
Synopsis: On one incredible night in 1964, four icons of sports, music, and activism gathered to celebrate one of the biggest... [More]
Directed By: Regina King

#7

Selma (2014)
99%

#7
Adjusted Score: 111027%
Critics Consensus: Fueled by a gripping performance from David Oyelowo, Selma draws inspiration and dramatic power from the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. -- but doesn't ignore how far we remain from the ideals his work embodied.
Synopsis: Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it... [More]
Directed By: Ava DuVernay

#6

Moonlight (2016)
98%

#6
Adjusted Score: 123153%
Critics Consensus: Moonlight uses one man's story to offer a remarkable and brilliantly crafted look at lives too rarely seen in cinema.
Synopsis: A look at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami. His... [More]
Directed By: Barry Jenkins

#5
Adjusted Score: 121250%
Critics Consensus: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse matches bold storytelling with striking animation for a purely enjoyable adventure with heart, humor, and plenty of superhero action.
Synopsis: Bitten by a radioactive spider in the subway, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into... [More]

#4

Get Out (2017)
98%

#4
Adjusted Score: 128227%
Critics Consensus: Funny, scary, and thought-provoking, Get Out seamlessly weaves its trenchant social critiques into a brilliantly effective and entertaining horror/comedy thrill ride.
Synopsis: Now that Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend... [More]
Directed By: Jordan Peele

#3

BlacKkKlansman (2018)
96%

#3
Adjusted Score: 122724%
Critics Consensus: BlacKkKlansman uses history to offer bitingly trenchant commentary on current events -- and brings out some of Spike Lee's hardest-hitting work in decades along the way.
Synopsis: Ron Stallworth is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#2

Us (2019)
93%

#2
Adjusted Score: 127262%
Critics Consensus: With Jordan Peele's second inventive, ambitious horror film, we have seen how to beat the sophomore jinx, and it is Us.
Synopsis: Accompanied by her husband, son and daughter, Adelaide Wilson returns to the beachfront home where she grew up as a... [More]
Directed By: Jordan Peele

#1

Black Panther (2018)
96%

#1
Adjusted Score: 128714%
Critics Consensus: Black Panther elevates superhero cinema to thrilling new heights while telling one of the MCU's most absorbing stories -- and introducing some of its most fully realized characters.
Synopsis: After the death of his father, T'Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place... [More]
Directed By: Ryan Coogler

N.W.A.’s landmark 1988 debut album Straight Outta Compton launched the gangsta rap genre, served as a springboard for the group members’ assorted solo careers, and infuriated authority figures and conservative cultural pundits along the way. This week, these hip-hop legends get the biopic treatment with Straight Outta Compton the movie, and to celebrate, we decided to dedicate this week’s feature to a look at some of Hollywood’s best efforts to interpret, analyze, and honor a culture that’s all too often misappropriated and misunderstood. Get ready to rock it to the bang bang boogie, because it’s time for Total Recall!


Brown Sugar (2002) 66%

Brown Sugar

There’s no shortage of movies about best pals who wake up to their love connection long after the audience has realized they’re perfect for each other, but director Rick Famuyiwa’s 2002 romantic dramedy Brown Sugar adds a fresh twist by making the protagonists (played by Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan) grown-up hip-hop kids who met during the genre’s formative era and have found successful careers in the music industry. Sugar further cements its hip-hop bona fides with supporting performances from real-life rappers Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Queen Latifah, as well as an appearance from influential MC Kool G. Rap — all of whom contribute to the ample charms that help the movie transcend the rom-com conventions of its plot. “A romantic comedy, yes,” admitted Roger Ebert, “but one with characters who think and talk about their goals, and are working on hard decisions.”

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Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2005) 92%

Block Party

Near the peak of Chappelle’s Show mania, Dave Chappelle used some of his newfound Hollywood clout to throw the greatest block party in history — and have director Michel Gondry film the whole thing, turning it into a cinematic love letter to live music and hip-hop’s deep New York roots. Interspersed with new stand-up material from its star, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party treats viewers to one incredible concert, featuring sets from Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the Roots, Cody ChesnuTT, and Big Daddy Kane — plus the reunited Fugees — all filmed with a fan’s loving eye. Calling it “a concert film for people who don’t like concert films,” FilmFocus’ Joe Utichi said the result “does such a good job of putting you in the middle of the action that only the end credits can remind you that you’re sitting in a movie theatre.”

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8 Mile (2002) 75%

8 Mile

With 2002’s 8 Mile, Eminem joined the relatively short list of celebrities who have starred in their own biopic — and unlike most of his predecessors, he managed to come out of the experience with a critical and commercial hit. Of course, it definitely helped that the multi-platinum MC had led a fairly cinematic life, rising from humble beginnings as a bullied and impoverished Detroit youth before rocketing to fame with a rapid-fire rhyming style and deeply confessional, confrontational lyrics — and 8 Mile’s big-screen success also wasn’t hurt by the fact that it played fast and loose with his story, changing the “character” names and adding various narrative nips and tucks to make the whole thing hit harder on the big screen. “Since his ascension to pop-culture royalty, Eminem has transformed the messy emotions of his life into musical black comedy,” wrote Nathan Rabin for the AV Club. “In 8 Mile, that life becomes an equally riveting drama.”

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House Party (1990) 93%

House Party

In terms of storyline and structure, House Party may be little more than an updated version of the cheapo ‘50s rock flicks that tried to use the music as a Pavlovian bell to send screaming teens rushing to the cineplex, but whatever it might lack in sophistication, this cheerfully amiable 1990 hit more than compensates with its sheer exuberance, a killer soundtrack, and a pair of immensely charming stars. Led by hip-hop duo Kid ‘N Play, House Party tosses up the bare remnants of a plot (which is basically summed up in the title) and then colorfully decorates the joint with standout performances — including appearances from Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, and Tisha Campbell — held together by Reginald Hudlin’s assured direction. The result, noted Desson Thomson for the Washington Post, is “fast-moving, never dull, extremely funny, and manages to touch, with lighthearted (and R-rated) profundity on almost every youthful issue you can imagine, including police harassment, teenage sex, the all-too-easy road to jail and alcohol drinking.”

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Hustle & Flow (2005) 82%

Hustle and Flow

Plenty of rappers have boasted on wax about growing up on the streets and rising out of a life of crime. In Craig Brewer’s Oscar-winning Hustle & Flow, those dire straits are depicted as something to escape rather than romanticize: Terrence Howard plays a small-time crook named Djay who, tired of pimping and dealing, decides it’s time to make a play for hip-hop stardom — only to discover that leaving your old life behind isn’t always as easy as putting together a dope demo. “Hustle & Flow suspends you in its spell of mood, of feeling, of climate,” wrote Stephanie Zacharek for Salon. “It’s a pop picture that finds its richness in peeling down to the essentials of good storytelling.”

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Time Is Illmatic (2014) 98%

Time Is Illmatic

While rock fans have been spoiled over the years by a growing list of documentaries devoted to the genre’s classic albums, hip-hop’s greatest hits have been given relatively short shrift. Time Is Illmatic, a 2014 documentary assembled in honor of the 20th anniversary of Nas’ classic debut LP Illmatic, offers an absorbing example of the many fascinating tales waiting to be told by directors willing to look to rap’s past for inspiration. Helmed by first-time filmmaker One9, Time Is Illmatic offers an overview of Nas’ upbringing and early life, leading to him signing his first record deal at the tender age of 20 and releasing his watershed album just a year later, then surveys Illmatic’s impact and legacy over the ensuing decades. As Kyle Anderson argued for Entertainment Weekly, “As both an origin story about a great artist and a distillation of ’80s urban blight, it’s as breathless and real as any street-corner rhyme.”

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Planet B-Boy (2007) 83%

Planet B-Boy

For many people, breakdancing was little more than a short-lived fad that died out in the early ‘80s, but director Benson Lee proved the opposite with his critically lauded 2007 documentary Planet B-Boy. In fact, as Lee shows here, the dance not only persisted beyond its time in the ‘80s zeitgeist, it’s flourished throughout the world; to prove it, Planet follows young breakdancers from Germany, Japan, South Korea, France, and the United States as they train to compete for top honors in the Battle of the Year. Those of us who remember how much fun it was to watch popping and locking in the schoolyard and on MTV will not be surprised by the words of the Houston Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli, who wrote, “If I could, I would spin on my head to express how much I enjoyed Planet B-Boy.”

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Scratch (2001) 94%

Scratch

It’s the MC we tend to hear loudest (and whose talents tend to receive the widest recognition), but there’s nothing quite as incredible as a talented turntablist, and some of hip-hop’s most brilliant DJs finally got their cinematic due in Hype! director Doug Pray’s 2002 documentary Scratch, which takes an incisive and insightful look at the elevation of the art form from early pioneers like Afrika Bambaata on up through latter-day leaders like DJ Shadow and DJ Qbert. As with any great documentary, Scratch transcends its subject; in the words of the Capital Times’ Rob Thomas, “Those moviegoers who would automatically bypass a hip-hop documentary should give Scratch a second look.”

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Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012) 86%

Art of Rap

For the rap novice looking for a primer course in the development of the art form, Something for Nothing is essential viewing — but even for those who’ve loved hip-hop for years, the movie offers an engrossing look at some of the key artists who helped shape the genre during its formative era, with co-director Ice-T arranging an assortment of legendary MCs and younger rising stars (including Afrika Bambaataa, Big Daddy Kane, Eminem, and Kanye West) to tell their stories while opening a window into their craft. “The interviews are often revealing and funny,” noted an approving Michael Phillips for the Chicago Tribune. “And much of the music is tremendous.”

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Wild Style (1983) 89%

Wild Style

Hip-hop would go on to inspire plenty of films with bigger budgets, wider releases, and more ambitious stories, but they all owe a partial debt to Wild Style. Produced, written, and directed by multi-hyphenate artist Charlie Ahearn, Style takes a docudrama approach to hip-hop in early ‘80s New York, featuring many of the era’s top acts (including Fab 5 Freddy, who helped work on the script, as well as Grandmaster Flash and the Rock Steady Crew) playing themselves as part of a story about a graffiti artist named Zoro (Lee Quiñones) and his relationship with a journalist (Patti Astor). Like quite a few of the entries on this list, Wild Style boasts a killer soundtrack, but it’s also one of the more critically respected examples of hip-hop cinema, capturing a crucial moment in time with its loosely scripted approach and low-budget aesthetic. “Hip-hop rolls on tractor treads now, unafraid to colonize those who hesitate,” noted Sasha Frere-Jones for the Village Voice, “but in 1982 it was small, self-selecting, and as specific to New York as the World Trade Center.”

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Finally, here’s ’80s hip-hop hitmakers the Fat Boys covering the Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” from the soundtrack to their 1987 comedy Disorderlies:

It remains to be seen whether this weekend’s Furious 7 will really be “one last ride” for the franchise, but just in case, we’ve decided to pay tribute to our favorite cinematic rubber-burners by taking a look at the best and worst entries from each cast member’s filmography. This is going to be a bumpy ride, so buckle up – it’s time for Total Recall!


Vin Diesel

97%  The Iron Giant

Long before Diesel made audiences laugh, cheer, and shed a tear as the monosyllabic Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, he proved his unique worth as an animated galoot in The Iron Giant, suffusing director Brad Bird’s future cult classic with immense poignancy simply by speaking a handful of lines. We still can’t hear the word “Superman” without choking up.

6%  Babylon A.D.

Diesel has more than proven his ability to play gun-toting strong, silent types, as well as his comfort with acting to green-screened futuristic landscapes; Babylon A.D., which pitted his grizzled mercenary character against a psychotic Russian mobster played by Gerard Depardieu, should by all rights have been a lot of fun. Alas, if it’s dystopian Diesel you’re after, you should definitely stick with the Chronicles of Riddick movies.

Paul Walker

85%  Pleasantville

While Walker ultimately became best known for his action roles, his wholesome good looks might have made him a terrific rom-com leading man – and as he demonstrated as all-around swell guy Skip Martin in Pleasantville, he also had more than enough charm and sincerity to pull it off. Being able to say “you’re the keenest girl in school” with a straight face? That’s a gift, people.

4%  Meet the Deedles

Arguably the most violent act perpetrated against Hawaiian culture since Pearl Harbor, Meet the Deedles starred Walker as one-half of a sibling surfer duo whose idiot antics convince their father (soap legend Eric Braeden) to ship them off to Yellowstone, where they bumble into a plot cooked up by a renegade ranger (Dennis Hopper) who plans to divert Old Faithful. Possibly worth watching if you are related to one of the former members of Oingo Boingo who make a cameo appearance.

Michelle Rodriguez

87%  Girlfight

Rodriguez set a fairly high bar for herself with her breakout performance in this highly regarded indie drama about a troubled teenager who learns to channel her aggression in the ring, which also launched the career of writer-director Karyn Kusama – who wrote the screenplay inspired by her own boxing lessons. Not only was Rodriguez not a boxer before winning the role, she’d never even landed a speaking part in a film. The rest is history.

4%  BloodRayne

Directed by Uwe Boll. We could say more, but what would be the point, really?

Dwayne Johnson

79%  The Other Guys

Plenty of action stars have subverted their tough-guy personas, but few do it as effortlessly as Johnson, whose blinding charisma is so powerful he managed to emerge from The Tooth Fairy unscathed. (More on that in a minute.) His brief appearance in The Other Guys is a terrific example: Alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Johnson played a meathead star cop with an arrest record as sparkly as his toothy grin – and an unfortunate inability to comprehend or overcome the law of gravity.

18%  The Tooth Fairy

Dwayne Johnson as a brutally violent hockey player who’s cowed into deputy tooth fairy duty by an enraged Julie Andrews (and supplied with fairy magic by Billy Crystal)? It seems like the stuff that legendary comedies are made of, but unfortunately, Tooth Fairy lacked a certain (ahem) biting wit. On the bright side, it’s still more fun than the direct-to-video sequel starring Larry the Cable Guy and a pig.

Ludacris

82%  Hustle & Flow

Admittedly, playing a multiplatinum rapper wasn’t exactly a dramatic stretch for Ludacris, but his appearance as Skinny Black helped personify the level of success that Hustle & Flow protagonist DJay (Terrence Howard) was trying to attain – as well as the barriers he had to struggle against in pursuit of his dream. It is, as they say, hard out here for a pimp.

8%  The Wash

There’s a certain amount of mildly anarchic potential inherent in the idea of a car wash-centered comedy starring some of hip-hop’s biggest stars – but for a movie like The Wash to really work, it should ideally be managed by someone with more filmmaking experience than writer-producer-director DJ Pooh, whose nickname summed up the critical and commercial reaction to the project. Fortunately for Ludacris, his involvement was limited; while headlining stars Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg loomed large over the credits, he was content to serve walk-on duty as an irate character credited only as “Customer”.

Tyrese Gibson

85%  The Take

Gibson hasn’t had an overabundance of opportunities to shine outside the Fast and Furious franchise, but he did enjoy a piece of the critical spotlight for The Take, a relatively little-seen 2007 thriller about an armored car driver (John Leguizamo) gunning for vengeance against the criminal (Gibson) who masterminded a robbery that left him disgraced and close to death.

10%  Annapolis

Plenty of worthwhile stories have been spun out of the conflict between young military officers and their hard-driving superiors, but Annapolis – starring James Franco whose hostile relationship with his commander (Gibson) spills over into the boxing ring – is emphatically not one of them. On the bright side, it introduced Gibson to Annapolis director Justin Lin, who he’d later work with on Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.

Lucas Black

96%  Sling Blade

After picking up his first film role in the 1994 Kevin Costner/Elijah Wood drama The War, Black made his breakout with Sling Blade, starring opposite Billy Bob Thornton as a young boy who develops an unlikely friendship with a developmentally disabled killer. Thornton won an Oscar for his screenplay, while Black picked up a few accolades of his own, including a Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor.

14%  Seven Days in Utopia

As an actor, lining yourself up opposite Robert Duvall is basically winning half the battle; sadly for Lucas Black in Seven Days in Utopia, the outcome of the other half depends on stuff like a solid direction and a great screenplay. As far as most critics were concerned, neither of those crucial components were in evidence in this faith-based drama, about a young golfer (Black) whose career crisis is defused by the sage advice of an older, wiser friend (Duvall) ? but fortunately, Utopia proved little more than a blip for either actor, both of whom quickly went on to greener cinematic pastures.

Jason Statham

79%  The Bank Job

Like any action star, Statham has plenty of shoot-’em-up duds on his résumé, but as his steely work on The Bank Job illustrates, he’s a terrific tough guy if he hasn’t been left holding the bag for a shoddy script. Based in part on real events, Job boasts a tightwire-taut narrative and witty dialogue to go along with its action sequences; years later, we’re still waiting for someone to hand this guy the keys to a truly transcendent franchise.

4%  In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

We repeat: Directed by Uwe Boll. We like to think Statham and Rodriguez may have shared a knowing smile or two on the Fast and Furious set.

Kurt Russell

92%  Swing Shift

Given all the hits he’s had during his distinguished career, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Kurt Russell’s best-reviewed movie is a period dramedy about a war bride (Goldie Hawn) who falls into the arms of a musician (Russell) while working at a factory during her husband’s overseas service. But even if it doesn’t have the kind of cult following enjoyed by Escape from New York or Big Trouble in Little China, Swing Shift is still a pretty excellent film – and if nothing else, it helped kindle his decades-long love affair with Hawn.

10%  Soldier

Most viewers have relatively relaxed standards when it comes to the action sci-fi genre, but even in that context, 1998’s Soldier – starring Russell as a monosyllabic space warrior known as Sergeant Todd 3465 – scrapes the bottom of the barrel in terms of interesting dialogue, character development, or exciting set pieces. Viewed by its screenwriter, Blade Runner co-writer David Peoples, as a “sidequel” to that Philip K. Dick-derived classic, it’s exactly the kind of movie that used to collect dust on the shelf of your local video store…and has rarely been thought of since.

  • Read more Total Recall
  • Furious 7 reviews
  • Fox’s smash hit Empire ended this week with huge ratings and a best-selling soundtrack to boot. With the date of season two unknown, the wait for Empire‘s return may as well be a prison sentence. That’s why we’ve put together this list of titles to check out until Empire rises again.


    Hustle & Flow 82%

    What it is: In Craig Brewer’s 2005 indie drama Hustle & Flow, a Memphis pimp (Terrence Howard) tries his hand at making music in order to find fulfillment in a life overrun with hustlers, prostitutes, and drug dealers.

    Why you might like it: Before Cookie and Lucious, Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard were Shug and DJay, whose meager beginnings are not unlike those of our beloved music moguls. Howard gives a heartfelt performance as DJay, which nabbed him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. (The film also won Best Song for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.”)

    Commitment: Two hours.


    The Godfather 97%

    What it is: Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia epic starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino tells the story of the Corleones, one of the most powerful of the five “families” of organized crime in New York.

    Why you might like it: There’s no question that Empire owes a debt to The Godfather (it was even mentioned in writer Danny Strong’s original pitch), from major plots about a larger-than-life father handing down his legacy to his adult children, to the musical cues that echo Nino Rota’s unforgettable theme.

    Commitment: The Godfather is three hours; the whole trilogy will take you close to 10.


    Boss

    What it is: A corrupt Chicago mayor (Kelsey Grammer) clutches to power while trying to keep his degenerative neurological disorder a secret in this two-season drama from Starz.

    Why you might like it: Similar to Empire, Boss portrays a high-profile figure who tries to keep his illness under wraps, and like Lucious, Mayor Kane puts his family last, which makes you wonder if someone can really be that bad. The answer is yes.

    Commitment: 18 hours.


    Ran 96%

    What it is: In Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language epic, Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an arrogant tyrant whose attempt to divide his kingdom among his three sons ignites an all-out war.

    Why you might like it: Both Empire and Ran are based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, the story of an aging king and his three daughters, and both set the story in a new context — one in the music industry and the other in 16th-century feudal Japan.

    Commitment: Three hours.


    Survivor’s Remorse

    What it is: When a young black basketball player (Jessie T. Usher) leaves the Boston projects to turn pro, his family follows him to Atlanta where they share in the good life.

    Why you might like it: Executive produced by LeBron James, Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse has all the family drama and wish fulfillment one would expect when a multi-million dollar contract is in play — though this time with a comedic tone (think Entourage with basketball players). And if there’s one place that can hold up to the flashiness of show biz, it’s the NBA.

    Commitment: 3 hours.


    Lee Daniels’ The Butler 72%

    What it is: Forest Whitaker is an African-American butler who works in the White House, faithfully serving seven presidents over three decades.

    Why you might like it: Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, who are the creative duo behind Empire, first worked together on Lee Daniels’ The Butler, an effective melodrama that deals with cultural and family issues. Plus, Terrence Howard plays a supporting role as Whitaker’s feisty neighbor which earned him an Image Award nomination in 2013.

    Commitment: Two hours and 20 minutes.


    Being Mary Jane

    What it is: In BET’s first scripted series, Gabrielle Union plays Mary Jane Paul, a successful news anchor struggling to meet Mr. Right while trying to help those closest to her, including a sick mother, a pregnant niece, and a depressed friend.

    Why you might like it: Let’s face it — there’s something entertaining about the fact that the rich and famous have problems too. Fortunately for Mary Jane, her fabulosity is tempered with a likable personality as she struggles behind the scenes of her TV show. Plus, there’s plenty of juicy drama, including one of the few prime-time character arcs that features a gay black man in a non-stereotypical way.

    Commitment: 16 hours.


    8 Mile 75%

    What it is: Eminem plays a fictionalized version of himself, a poor white kid with a dead-end job who immerses himself in rap culture to escape an unhappy life in a Detroit trailer park.

    Why you might like it: How can we not talk about the Empire soundtrack that debuted at number one the Billboard 200 this week? If you came to Empire for the drama but stayed for the music, then you’ll probably enjoy 8 Mile‘s impressive track list that includes Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and “Rabbit Run,” along with 50 Cent’s “Wanksta,” Nas’ “U Wanna Be Me,” and Jay Z’s “8 Miles and Runnin’.” Incidentally, the 8 Mile soundtrack also debuted at number one the week it came out in 2002.

    Commitment: Two hours.


    Nashville

    What it is: A fading country star (Connie Britton) must collaborate with the new girl on the scene (Hayden Panettiere ) in order for both of them to widen their audiences and boost record sales.

    Why you might like it: A soap opera set in the music industry? We can dig that. As much as Empire is not solely for hip-hop fans, Nashville is appealing not only to country music devotees — although it certainly doesn’t hurt. With soapy melodrama and shocking twists, Nashville focuses on the corrosive effects of fame and fortune and does it very well.

    Commitment: 58 hours.


    The Lion in Winter 90%

    What it is: Set at the end of the 12th century, The Lion in Winter features Peter O’Toole as England’s Henry II who must choose one of his three sons as an heir before he dies — and even grants his imprisoned wife furlough for the occasion.

    Why you might like it: Sure, it’s Lion and not Lyon, but the similarities between Empire and The Lion in Winter are impossible to deny, and that includes stand-out performances by an ensemble cast. Katharine Hepburn, who plays King Henry’s scheming wife in her Oscar-winning performance as Eleanor of Aquitaine, is probably as close to Cookie as you could get in 1183.

    Commitment: Two hours and 14 minutes.


    Season one of Empire is Certified Fresh at 79 percent. Read reviews here.


    Terrence Howard

    The Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard has amassed an impressive resume since making his Hollywood breakthrough in the 1995 drama Mr. Holland’s Opus (he also starred in that year’s Dead Presidents), excelling at giving each and every one of his characters an extraordinary complexity that always seems to simmer right beneath the surface, whether as part of an ensemble (Crash, Lackawanna Blues), as a villain (Awake, Idlewild), a sympathetic figure (Four Brothers, August Rush), or a hero in waiting (Iron Man). In this week’s Fighting, he plays mentor to a young street fighter (Channing Tatum) — a performance that critics are lauding as quietly powerful, and one of the standouts of Dito Montiel’s film.

    In a discussion about Howard’s favorite films, Rotten Tomatoes discovered that the actor’s affinity for music runs close to his cinematic tastes (in addition to performing his own songs in Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, he released an album in 2008). Read on for Howard’s Five Favorite Films, his anti-“acting” philosophy, and more.


    Jesus Christ Superstar
    (1973, 57% Tomatometer)



    Jesus Christ Superstar
    The harmony of music with the simplistic style of telling that story, as a framework for it, and then the acting… It’s like bringing Broadway — true Broadway — to the desert. Picking up a little naturalism from the desert. I believed Carl Anderson; believed every word of him, every frown, every inflection of his eyebrow. I love musicals. Always have. I think you have to tell a full story; it’s like asking someone, “Do you like black and white films?” or “Do you love 3D?” Music creates that third dimension.

    That pick is impressive, especially since not a lot of men would admit to liking musicals.

    Well they’re not real men, then.



    On The Waterfront
    (1954, 100% Tomatometer)



    On the Waterfront
    It was that basic human story, it was watching the fluid way in which Marlon [Brando] directed the wind around him. We were all moved and swayed by him, and it was the first time that I took notice of truth in acting. There was no acting; everyone else acted around him, but he was there.

    How would you compare the way Brando acted to your own approach?

    I made a vow never to “act.” Never, ever “act.” If you’re not there, if you’re not the person [whom you’re portraying], then get out of the way and let the real person in. If you’re acting like the person… People respect an ambassador, but they honor the king.

    So you’re of the school of acting that really lives in each role, as opposed to just temporarily taking on a character for the time being?

    Yes — or, allow the role to live in you. If you live the role, that world has its consequences when you bring it into our present world. But if you allow the character to live in you, then you are always in control and can direct where he is allowed; you allow the character to become a guest in your gracious space.

    Does that mean that every actor has multiple personalities living as a guest inside of him?

    Every human being is a composite of multiple, multiple atoms. All taking on different roles in the making of that person or that thing. Likewise, the end result of all of those atoms would be like those atoms; so we need a lot of different personalities; but in order to be one personality, you have to be a number of them because of how they balance off each other.



    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
    (1968, 59% Tomatometer)



    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: “A posh life!” [From the song “Posh!”] “Lullabye Bay.” [From the song “Hushabye Mountain”] Those songs that Dick Van Dyke (as Caractacus Potts) and his father (Lionel Jeffries, as Grandpa Potts) sang blew me away! I saw it as a child, and I watch it as an adult. I love that movie.


    Mary Poppins

    (1964, 100% Tomatometer)

     

    Mary PoppinsMary Poppins is still one of my very, very, very favorites. There are so many wonderful jewels of knowledge that they put in that film. It’s like that book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss. There are some wonderful hints to achieving success in life, and the greatest success is to be happy. That’s what those movies seem to tell me.

    Are you a movie watcher who takes the lessons from films and employs them in your own life?

    Well, a true teacher is always a true student. And if you are willing and humble yourself, you can learn from a lot; you have to listen very carefully.


    Hustle & Flow (2005, 82%)



    Hustle & Flow
    Hustle & Flow showed me what could have happened to me. I hadn’t recognized that until I’d seen the movie completed; you never know what painting you’re making until the final stroke. And even then, it’s not finished until you put it into the frame. I didn’t understand the full impact of those individual strokes that we were making on a day to day basis until I saw [the film] — where A could have led me. I saw where A would end up at. And taking on B, C, and D… For a film to affect me that way, for a character to affect me that way, to where I feel worry and think about who Djay is… I still wonder about Shug and her baby. I still wonder about Key.

    Hustle & Flow also had music in it, which told some of that struggle. Remember, music used to be written for films, conveyed by the actors themselves. They knew when that music was played and they responded to it. Now, [merging a film to its music] is something that’s done as a separate act, and it’s more manipulative and not honest. Music in Hustle & Flow gave us another plane in which to relate everything to, and to play from. It widened the playing field; it brightened the road down the way, because you could move to that music, and be in step with the audience instead of the audience being manipulated into step with you.

    Taking that amount of pride in Hustle & Flow‘s musical elements, how did you feel when Three 6 Mafia won the Oscar for Best Song?

    I felt absolutely elated, for the fact that the Academy was able to see past the genre lines and the lines of demarcation between individual people and could see the artists themselves, the work and the artistry. They didn’t care whose name was at the bottom of the painting, or who was the initial audience of it, they just saw a painting worth their appreciation. I was so honored to be a part of that.


    Watch Terrence Howard in Fighting this Friday. For more Five Favorite Films, visit our archive.

    Moviegoers rallied behind the star-driven comedy "Wild Hogs," which raced to number one at the North American box office, zooming past all expectations from Disney. Meanwhile, Viacom saw less-than-stellar debuts from its serial killer drama "Zodiac" from Paramount Pictures and the southern fried saga "Black Snake Moan" from arthouse unit Paramount Vantage. Overall, the box office remained healthy and surged well ahead of last year’s performance.

    Buena Vista powered its way to an estimated $38M in opening weekend sales for its road comedy "Wild Hogs," delivering the largest March debut in history for a live-action film. The PG-13 pic starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy as four middle-aged men on a motorcycle adventure averaged a stellar $11,561 from 3,287 theaters. It was the year’s second biggest opening after "Ghost Rider‘s" $45.4M bow two weeks ago. According to studio research, 54% of the audience was actually female. Travolta’s everlasting sex appeal, Allen’s pull with moms thanks to his many Disney flicks, and the cast’s appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last week probably contributed to the solid turnout by women. The stars also allowed the film to tap into different audience segments.

    "Wild Hogs" posted the best opening ever in March for a non-animated film and the third biggest overall. The only movies to debut better in this month were the "Ice Age" flicks of 2002 and 2006. It also gave Travolta the biggest opening by far of his career, beating the $23.5M of 2005’s "Be Cool," and the second best bow for Allen after the $57.4M bow of 1999’s "Toy Story 2." As expected, "Hogs" was slammed by critics but reviews are practically irrelevant for a star-driven comedy like this. This is a crowdpleaser, not a criticpleaser. Audiences make their decisions based on if they think they will get a good laugh or not and Buena Vista’s marketing push was indeed solid. Though the overall weekend gross was strong, what was even more encouraging was the significant Friday-to-Saturday boost of 49% which is rare for any new release. A journey into nine-digit territory seems likely.

    Debuting far back in second place was the serial killer pic "Zodiac," with an estimated $13.1M from 2,362 sites. Averaging a respectable $5,546 per theater, the R-rated film from director David Fincher played to an older audience as two-thirds of the crowd was over the age of 25, according to studio research from Paramount. Males and females were evenly represented. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, "Zodiac" follows the investigation behind one of California’s most notorious murderers from the 1960s and 70s. The $65M film fared better than last fall’s murder mysteries set in the Golden State, "The Black Dahlia" and "Hollywoodland," which debuted to $10M and $5.9M respectively.

    Reviews were overwhelmingly positive for "Zodiac," but its 160-minute length may have cut into its grossing potential. Plus when factoring in ticket prices increases over the years, it can be estimated that "Zodiac" sold the fewest opening weekend tickets of any of Fincher’s films. Admissions were roughly the same as for "Fight Club," which bowed to $11M in 1999. The studio is hoping that good word-of-mouth can carry the film in the weeks ahead.

    After leading the pack for two full weeks, the Johnny Blaze flick "Ghost Rider" fell to third but only dropped 43% for an estimated $11.5M gross. Sony’s Nicolas Cage starrer has taken in $94.8M in 17 days and should become the first new release of 2007 to break the $100M barrier. Disney’s "Bridge to Terabithia" also held up well dipping 39% in its third adventure to an estimated $8.6M. Cume stands at $57.9M.

    Jim Carrey‘s thriller "The Number 23" fell from second to fifth place in its sophomore scare and collected an estimated $7.1M. Down an understandable 52%, the New Line title has taken in a semi-decent $24.7M in ten days and looks headed for a $35-38M finish.

    Eddie Murphy‘s latest comedy "Norbit" enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten and dipped 34% to an estimated $6.4M for a $83M sum. Fellow laugher "Music and Lyrics" dropped just 36% to an estimated $4.9M giving the Hugh GrantDrew Barrymore pic $38.7M to date.

    Paramount Vantage bowed its Samuel L. JacksonChristina Ricci drama "Black Snake Moan" and collected an estimated $4M from 1,252 theaters. Averaging a mild $3,208, the debut was half the size of writer/director Craig Brewer‘s last film "Hustle & Flow," which opened in July 2005 to $8M from 1,013 theaters on its way to $22.2M and an Oscar. Jackson has witnessed many of his headlining vehicles struggle at the box office including "Freedomland," "The Man," and even "Snakes on a Plane," which despite hitting the top spot, grossed much less than expected given its media hype last summer.

    The Fox comedy "Reno 911!: Miami" tumbled 64% in its second weekend to an estimated $3.8M for a ninth place finish. The R-rated pic has grossed $16.4M in ten days and should conclude with roughly $20M. Rounding out the top ten was the FBI thriller "Breach" with an estimated $3.5M, off 42%, for a $25.4M total.

    Three smaller films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. The slave trade drama "Amazing Grace" dipped only 26% in its second weekend to an estimated $3M. With $8.2M in ten days, the Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions period pic may find its way to $15-18M. The Billy Bob Thornton flop "The Astronaut Farmer" grossed an estimated $2.2M, down 52%, and put its sum at an embarrassing $7.7M. Look for a $11M final.

    Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry comedy "Daddy’s Little Girls" fell 53% to an estimated $2.3M in its third frame and upped its cume to $28.4M. By comparison, the distributor saw stronger 17-day grosses of $44M and $55.7M respectively for the director’s last two films, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea’s Family Reunion." "Daddy’s" should end its run with $30-33M.

    The top ten films grossed an estimated $100.8M which was up a stunning 30% from last year when "Madea" stayed at number one with just $12.6M; but off 4% from 2005 when "The Pacifier" debuted on top with $30.6M.

    Source: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

    One super hero on a motorcycle looks to get replaced by four middle-aged bikers at the number one spot at the North American box office this weekend.

    The new comedy "Wild Hogs" leads the pack of new releases with the widest release of the trio. Also debuting are the serial killer thriller "Zodiac" and the southern sizzler "Black Snake Moan" to kick of a March movie marathon.

    Starpower is at the center of Buena Vista’s new highway to hell comedy "Wild Hogs." The PG-13 film brings together Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy as four suburban men who take to the road to put some adventure back into their lives. An adult audience is likely here and both genders should be represented fairly evenly. Star wattage and concept should sell the picture and trailers and commercials haven’t been half bad. The studio saw encouraging results from its sneak previews last Saturday which were at 85% capacity and skewed 51% male. "Wild Hogs" could reach the same audience that came out for Travolta’s "Be Cool" and "Ladder 49" which opened to $23.5M and $22.1M, respectively. Both Travolta and Allen have been out promoting the film aggressively so awareness is sizable. Opening in about 3,300 theaters, "Wild Hogs" may take in around $23M in ticket sales this weekend giving Allen a badly-needed hit.


    Several actors attempt to kickstart their stalled careers in "Wild Hogs."

    Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo star in the new serial killer pic "Zodiac" from director David Fincher ("Seven," "Panic Room"). The R-rated film chronicles the investigation behind one of the most notorious and mysterious murderers of the twentieth century. Paramount has long had a solid track record at finding success from crime thrillers with its slick marketing. For this particular film, the studio is hoping that the public does not find out that it is in for a nearly three hour saga. The running time should cut into the box office potential of the film since theaters will have to offer one less showtime per day compared to most other movies. A more subdued theater count will play a role too.

    Still some appealing names are being offered in front of and behind the camera. Older adults are more likely to show up as the subject matter is too ancient for those in their early 20s. Films about famous California murders were met with indifference last fall in the other 49 states when Ben Affleck‘s "Hollywoodland" and Josh Hartnett‘s "The Black Dahlia" opened nationally to just $5.9M and $10M, respectively. "Zodiac" is a little more modern and is being packaged in a better way so its debut should be stronger. But the film lacks a star that can really bring some bang to the box office right out of the gate. Critics have been very supportive which will help with the older target audience. Attacking 2,362 theaters, "Zodiac" might find itself with about $16M this weekend.


    Contemplating horoscopes is emotionally draining in "Zodiac."

    With the eye-catching image of an older black man chaining up a young scantily clad white woman, Paramount Vantage’s "Black Snake Moan" already has one of the year’s most memorable posters. The new R-rated entry from writer/director Craig Brewer is the follow-up to his 2005 hit "Hustle & Flow" which won an Oscar last year for best song. With some more cash and bigger stars, "Snake" features Samuel L. Jackson as a Bible-loving blues guitarist who finds and cares for a beaten, bruised, and half-naked woman with a disturbing past played by Christina Ricci. Justin Timberlake adds some starpower with his second film of the year following
    January’s "Alpha Dog."

    "Black Snake Moan" should appeal to much of the "Hustle" crowd. That film was a summer opener and bowed to $8M from just over 1,000 locations for a solid $7,915 average. Jackson is always a wild card at the box office as many of the films he anchors do not pull in the big numbers while his ensemble pics tend to thrive. Here, he is the main draw. Competition from other contenders should not be that much of a factor as the film will work if audiences find it cool. Reviews have been generally favorable so that could provide an assist at the turnstiles. Young adults not interested in Vincent Vega and Santa on choppers might go for a more bold moviegoing choice like this. Opening in 1,252 locations, "Black Snake Moan" may debut with about $8M.


    Ricci and Jackson in "Black Snake Moan."

    After leading the pack for two weeks, Sony’s "Ghost Rider" will get passed up by some of the new releases this weekend. A 50% drop to about $10M seems likely giving the Nicolas Cage film $93M in 17 days.

    Disney should enjoy a better hold for its fantasy drama "Bridge to Terabithia" since its audience is a little too young for the newcomers. A 35% decline would leave the PG-rated film with roughly $9M for the frame and push the 17-day cume up to $58M. Jim Carrey on the other hand should tumble with his thriller "The Number 23" which will see some direct competition from "Zodiac." A 55% drop would leave New Line with $7M over the weekend and $25M after ten days.

    LAST YEAR: Tyler Perry stayed at number one for the second straight weekend with the Lionsgate comedy "Madea’s Family Reunion" which grossed $12.6M despite a hefty sophomore drop. Opening close behind in the runnerup spot was the Bruce Willis actioner "16 Blocks" with $11.9M on its way to $36.9M for Warner Bros. Disney’s family adventure "Eight Below" held up well in its third ride grossing $10.1M for third place. Debuting with unimpressive results were Sony’s action flick "Ultraviolet" with $9.1M in fourth and Fox’s drama "Aquamarine" with $7.5M in fifth. Final grosses reached $18.5M and $18.6M, respectively. Opening with decent results was "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party" with $6.2M for Focus from 1,200 theaters on its way to $11.7M overall.

    Source: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

    This week at the movies, we’ve got middle-aged bikers ("Wild Hogs," starring John Travolta) astrologically-minded killers ("Zodiac," starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.), and some southern-fried pulp ("Black Snake Moan," starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci). What do the critics have to say?

    Lately, Hollywood has presented more motorcycles in the movies than Laconia Bike Week. First we had "Ghost Rider," and now comes the midlife-crisis-on-wheels pic "Wild Hogs." John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy star as a group of older guys who want to take a break from their humdrum lives, get their motors running, and head out on the highway. But their dream becomes a nightmare when they run into a biker gang and find themselves in over their heads. Critics say "Wild Hogs" squanders an A-list cast (which also includes Marisa Tomei and Ray Liotta) on an uninspired, clichéd script that unsuccessfully mixes slapstick with pathos. At 19 percent on the Tomatometer, this ain’t "Hog" heaven.


    "I’m not telling you where I got my Commodore tattoo."

    David Fincher brought the police procedural/serial killer movie into the modern era with "Seven." In his latest, "Zodiac," Fincher returns to the dark world of methodical killers, and critics say the result is less visceral, but still dark and absorbing. "Zodiac" follows the search for a serial killer who terrorized the Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s (and inspired "Dirty Harry" in the process). Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist who seeks to decode the Zodiac Killer’s cryptic missives to the police and local newspapers. Critics say some may be disappointed by "Zodiac"’s length and open-endedness (the killer was never found), but the film’s moody ambience and palpable dread are intoxicating and will reward patient viewers. At 84 percent on the Tomatometer, "Zodiac" is not only Certified Fresh, it’s also tied with "Seven" as Fincher’s best reviewed film to date.


    Apprehensive about the Zodiac killer, or waiting for the bathroom to free up?

    With "Hustle & Flow," director Craig Brewer delved into the mythology of rap. Now, with "Black Snake Moan," he wades knee-deep into the blues — and critics say he’s in somewhat muddier waters. "Moan" stars Samuel L. Jackson as a farmer and sometime bluesman who discovers a woman named Rae (Christina Ricci) beaten by the side of the road; he takes Rae into his home and chains her to his radiator, hoping to cure her of her insatiable promiscuity. The premise is admittedly lurid, and some pundits say the film is too awash in provocation to work as a drama. But others say Brewer’s film has a sure sense of place, excellent music, committed performances and a sweetness and humor that make this a pulp delight. "Black Snake Moan" currently stands at 60 percent on the Tomatometer. (Check out RT’s interview with Brewer here.)


    It’s hard out here for a nymph.

    Also opening this week in limited release: "Wild Tigers I Have Known," a touching coming-out tale, is at 82 percent; the doc "Into Great Silence," a deliberate examination of an order of Monks in the French Alps, is at 79 percent; and "Full of It," a comedy about a compulsive liar-turned-soothsayer starring Ryan Pinkston, is at 20 percent.


    "We’re not your real parents and we hate you. Punk’d!"

    And finally, we’d like to say hello, hello to a user called Count_Vertigo, who came the closest to guessing "The Abandoned"’s Tomatometer of 26 percent.

    Recent David Fincher Movies:
    ————————————
    77% — Panic Room (2002)
    81% — Fight Club (1999)
    76% — The Game (1997)
    84% — Seven (1995)
    33% — Alien 3 (1992)

    Recent Samuel L. Jackson Movies:
    —————————————–
    22% — Home of the Brave (2006)
    68% — Snakes on a Plane (2006)
    24% — Freedomland (2005)
    13% — The Man (2005)
    81% — Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

    RT sat down with "Black Snake Moan" director Craig Brewer at the Sundance Film Festival. The film opens wide on Friday; check out excerpts below!

    Craig Brewer first rocked Sundance in 2005 with "Hustle & Flow," a rap underdog story that took home the festival’s audience award. Now he’s back with "Black Snake Moan," a tale of sin, redemption and the blues starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, and Justin Timberlake.

    In "Black Snake Moan," a troubled bluesman (Jackson) tries to save a promiscuous woman (Ricci) by chaining her to a radiator. What sounds on paper like a lurid schlock-fest on paper is a surprisingly moving and occasionally funny drama, featuring edgy performances from its leads and a profound sense of place.

    Brewer is a filmmaker with a love of music, and with "Moan," he delves into the mythical land of the blues. Brewer talks with Rotten Tomatoes about making movies in Memphis, the joys of exploitation films, and selling one’s soul to the devil.

    Craig Brewer on the set of "Black Snake Moan."

    Rotten Tomatoes:
    You really have a thing for combining the mythology behind various musical genres with film.

    Craig Brewer: It is a thing for me. I think that with "Hustle & Flow," the mythology of rap is — well, hell, it’s the mythology of Sundance, if you think about it. It’s the way out. It’s the way in to the business. It’s the big dream. And the mythology of blues is how to get through pain, and how to get through truly feeling alone and abandoned.

    RT: You also seem to really want to shoot movies in your hometown of Memphis.

    CB: There’s part of me that wants to do it for my community, and build a film community there. But really, it’s more selfish. It inspires me. I can’t really see myself doing the kind of sexy, crazy juke joint scene that I have in "Black Snake Moan" on a L.A. soundstage with extras out of central casting. I just don’t think they’re going to be able to understand the kind of rhythm and soul that Memphis and Mississippi has. I’m very inspired by the region, and it stars snowballing into everything. Meaning, I want to have it take place in juke joint, so I gotta go look at juke joints. So we go into the juke joint, and it’s like, "Oh, look, they have aluminum foil over the windows, and they’ve got broken jars upside-down for light sources. Oh wow, that’s how ours needs to be." So it just keeps me fresh and keeps me sharp and keeps me at home, more than anything. What else I’ve seen a lot is duct-taped-up microphone stands. And just because I’ve been around it so much, I had to have it in the movie.


    Samuel L. Jackson has a tug in "Black Snake Moan."

    RT: With "Hustle & Flow," you said you wanted to take character actors, and give them roles that were different from what they’re known for. In "Black Snake Moan," you’re working with established stars. Did that present a challenge for you?

    CB: No, because with "Black Snake Moan," I wanted actors to work outside of their comfort zones, and I don’t mean that in a kind of way where it like I’m trying to push them, like they don’t normally do that. It’s just that there’s only so many roles out there, and I think that Christina, when she read the role, she saw an opportunity to make an iconic character. She wanted to build it from the ground up. I want to have that kind of relationship with actors, where they know, "OK, Craig’s doing a new movie. That means I don’t have to look the way I’ve looked in the last five films. I don’t have to sound the way I’ve sounded in the last five films. I can go out on a tightrope and challenge myself and take more risks." I like working with actors. I know Sam Jackson’s a huge movie star. Same with Christina and Justin. But I like working with people, and those were the right people to work with.


    Justin Timberlake and Christina Ricci embrace.

    RT: So, did any blues singers actually sell their souls to the devil?

    CB: (pause) Yeah. Yes. I think that Tommy [Johnson], Peetie Wheatstraw, all those cats that said they did believed it. I know it may have been a little bit of something to put on the poster, but man, you talk to people in the south, and they’re like, "No. He sold his soul to the devil. We remember it. He sucked, and then he was incredible." If you’re talking about that stuff, you’re basically talking about faith. And when you’re talking to people who truly believe that there is the devil out there, that he will meet you at the crossroads at the stroke of midnight to tune your guitar, they believe it.

    Click here to read the entire interview!

    For our full coverage of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (news, reviews, interviews, and photos) click here!

    Craig Brewer first rocked Sundance in 2005 with "Hustle & Flow," a rap underdog story that took home the festival’s audience award. Now he’s back with "Black Snake Moan," a tale of sin, redemption and the blues starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, and Justin Timberlake.

    In "Black Snake Moan," a troubled bluesman (Jackson) tries to save a promiscuous woman (Ricci) by chaining her to a radiator. What sounds on paper like a lurid schlock-fest on paper is a surprisingly moving and occasionally funny drama, featuring edgy performances from its leads and a profound sense of place.

    Brewer is a filmmaker with a love of music, and with "Moan," he delves into the mythical land of the blues. Brewer talks with Rotten Tomatoes about making movies in Memphis, the joys of exploitation films, and selling one’s soul to the devil.


    Craig Brewer on the set of "Black Snake Moan"

    Rotten Tomatoes: You really have a thing for combining the mythology behind various musical genres with film.

    Craig Brewer: It is a thing for me. I think that with "Hustle & Flow," the mythology of rap is — well, hell, it’s the mythology of Sundance, if you think about it. It’s the way out. It’s the way in to the business. It’s the big dream. And the mythology of blues is how to get through pain, and how to get through truly feeling alone and abandoned.

    RT: You also seem to really want to shoot movies in your hometown of Memphis.

    CB: There’s part of me that wants to do it for my community, and build a film community there. But really, it’s more selfish. It inspires me. I can’t really see myself doing the kind of sexy, crazy juke joint scene that I have in "Black Snake Moan" on a L.A. soundstage with extras out of central casting. I just don’t think they’re going to be able to understand the kind of rhythm and soul that Memphis and Mississippi has. I’m very inspired by the region, and it stars snowballing into everything. Meaning, I want to have it take place in juke joint, so I gotta go look at juke joints. So we go into the juke joint, and it’s like, "Oh, look, they have aluminum foil over the windows, and they’ve got broken jars upside-down for light sources. Oh wow, that’s how ours needs to be." So it just keeps me fresh and keeps me sharp and keeps me at home, more than anything. What else I’ve seen a lot is duct-taped-up microphone stands. And just because I’ve been around it so much, I had to have it in the movie.


    Samuel L. Jackson in "Black Snake Moan"

    RT: With "Hustle & Flow," you’ve said you wanted to take character actors, and give them roles that were different from what they’re known for. In "Black Snake Moan," you’re working with established stars. Did that present a challenge for you?

    CB: No, because with "Black Snake Moan," I wanted actors to work outside of their comfort zones, and I don’t mean that in a kind of way where it like I’m trying to push them, like they don’t normally do that. It’s just that there’s only so many roles out there, and I think that Christina, when she read the role, she saw an opportunity to make an iconic character. She wanted to build it from the ground up. I want to have that kind of relationship with actors, where they know, "OK, Craig’s doing a new movie. That means I don’t have to look the way I’ve looked in the last five films. I don’t have to sound the way I’ve sounded in the last five films. I can go out on a tightrope and challenge myself and take more risks." I like working with actors. I know Sam Jackson’s a huge movie star. Same with Christina and Justin. But I like working with people, and those were the right people to work with.

    RT: So, did any blues singers actually sell their souls to the devil?

    CB: (pause) Yeah. Yes. I think that Tommy [Johnson], Peetie Wheatstraw, all those cats that said they did believed it. I know it may have been a little bit of something to put on the poster, but man, you talk to people in the south, and they’re like, "No. He sold his soul to the devil. We remember it. He sucked, and then he was incredible." If you’re talking about that stuff, you’re basically talking about faith. And when you’re talking to people who truly believe that there is the devil out there, that he will meet you at the crossroads at the stroke of midnight to tune your guitar, they believe it.

    Click here to read the entire interview!

    For our full coverage of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (news, reviews, interviews, and photos) click here!

    Read on for short reviews of films playing at Sundance: "Black Snake Moan," starring Christina Ricci, Samuel L. Jackson, and Justin Timberlake, is a powerful tale of sin, redemption, and the blues, and "Year of the Dog," starring Molly Shannon, is a quirky ode to dog lovers.

    Like a good blues song, "Black Snake Moan" is a movie filled with love, sin, redemption, and conflict. And like any blues singer worth his or her salt, it has a showman’s wink and nod. "Black Snake Moan" tells the story of Rae (Christina Ricci), a feral young woman with "the itch" (i.e. insatiable promiscuity) whose boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) has just left for boot camp. After a night of drinking and drugging, she is beaten and left by the side of the road, where Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) rescues her. He has demons of his own; his wife has left him for his brother, he’s got a violent temper, and the solace he once found in the blues is gone, as he rarely picks up his guitar. Lazarus chains Rae to the radiator in his house in order to cure her of her "sickness," but it’s clear Lazarus is trying to find salvation of his own. "Black Snake Moan" is admittedly lurid material, sometimes bordering on the absurd, but there’s a sly undercurrent of perverse wit throughout. As he did in "Hustle and Flow," director Craig Brewer takes age-old archetypes (the conflicted bluesman, the town hussy) and turns them into living, breathing people; Ricci and Jackson are a joy to watch together, sharing an edgy, desperate energy. And Jackson plays a pretty mean blues, looking like R.L. Burnside and singing in a low register reminiscent of John Lee Hooker‘s. Above all, "Black Snake Moan" is visceral and entertaining, a movie about being knee-deep in the blues.

    "I’ve always been disappointed by people," says Peggy (Molly Shannon) in "Year of the Dog." "I’ve only ever been able to count on my pets." Peggy loves her dog Pencil, but after his unfortunate demise, her life veers off in a new direction. At the behest of Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) Peggy adopts an abused dog from the animal shelter; Newt and Peggy discover they have a lot in common, not least that neither are any good with people. Peggy decides to be a vegan and a committed animal rights activist, but her behavior becomes increasingly strange, from adopting all the dogs to be euthanized from the city pound to forging company checks for various charities. "Year of the Dog" is likely to strike a particular chord with pet lovers (some of whom may not find Peggy’s actions beyond the realm of believability). What’s nice about the film is that Shannon plays a character that could have been a gross caricature as someone with offbeat integrity; Peggy may be eccentric, but the filmmakers don’t condescend to her. And "Dog" is rounded out with nuanced supporting performances, especially from Regina King as Peggy’s marriage-obsessed co-worker, John C. Reilly as her sportsman neighbor, and Sarsgaard as a man that shares Peggy’s dog obsession, but only up to a point. It’s a warm and quirky movie, one you don’t have to be a pet lover to enjoy.

    Check out our full Fundance at Sundance coverage!

    Another wave of new releases hits the multiplexes across North America this weekend in hopes of capturing the final dollars of the summer movie season.

    Leading the charge are Disney’s football tale "Invincible" for all audiences and the raunchy Warner Bros. comedy "Beerfest" aimed at young men. Music fans will get Universal’s "Idlewild" starring the OutKast duo while the New Line comedy "How to Eat Fried Worms" will play to school kids. Indie hit "Little Miss Sunshine" advances to another round in the box office pageant doubling its theatrical run in hopes of winning over new fans in all parts of the country. Overall, the marketplace looks to remain sluggish with moviegoers not being too impressed with Hollywood’s late-summer menu.

    Mark Wahlberg hopes to score a box office touchdown this weekend with the football drama "Invincible" from Disney. The Good Vibrations rapper-turned-actor plays Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender who earns a spot on the starting lineup of the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles. With a PG rating and the studio’s brand name behind it, "Invincible" should play to a broad audience with men connecting to the sports angle, women responding to the emotional true story, and kids coming in for the inspirational underdog tale. The studio has devised a strong marketing promotion with the NFL which has been pushing the film to football fans during the pre-season.


    Greg Kinnear and Mark Wahlberg in "Invincible"

    Excitement does not match what the studio saw with "Remember the Titans" or what Universal had with "Friday Night Lights." Those fall football films opened with just over $20M a piece. But, "Invincible" does offer a feel-good story that could work for the moment. And Disney can crank out these uplifting sports dramas with its eyes closed. Wahlberg is hit or miss at the box office, but here he should add some decent starpower to the picture. And Greg Kinnear, who plays Coach Dick Vermeil here and also stars in "Little Miss Sunshine," will have a great weekend at the turnstiles allowing his agents to start asking for more bucks for future projects. Charging into more than 2,400 theaters, "Invincible" could live up to its name and score a top spot debut with around $14M.

    The Broken Lizard group returns in "Beerfest," a new comedy about a group of American dudes who train to take on the Germans in a secret beer drinking competition in Munich. Warner Bros. is looking to target the frat boy crowd with this R-rated gross-out comedy. With lots of belching and the most shots of bare breasts of any movie released in theaters this year, the studio should hit its mark with older teens and twentysomethings. "Wedding Crashers" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" may have been doing brisk business at this time last year, but R-rated sex comedies with no stars often end up struggling at the box office before finding gold on DVD. Films like "The Girl Next Door," "Eurotrip," "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle," and even Broken Lizard’s "Super Troopers" all opened in the $5-7M range. The troupe’s fan base has grown thanks to cable and video so "Beerfest" should benefit. Plus the studio is giving it a relatively strong push for an end-of-August flick. But it has also been a tough year for R flicks and there is plenty of competition for young males right now. Chugging down brews in over 2,800 theaters, "Beerfest" might drink down about $11M this weekend.


    The Broken Lizard troupe is back in "Beerfest"

    Andre Benjamin and Antwan A. Patton of the Grammy-winning hip hop act OutKast reunite for the new music-driven film "Idlewild" which also stars Terrence Howard, Cicely Tyson, Patti Labelle, and Ving Rhames. The R-rated drama about the goings-on at a Prohibition-era nightclub will have significant appeal to hardcore fans of the popular musical act and should see much of its business come from African American adult audiences. Casual fans who only know them as the "Hey Ya" guys are not likely to spend money on tickets. Last summer, "Hustle & Flow" played to a similar audience and bowed to $8M from 1,013 theaters for a solid $7,915 average. "Idlewild" is going out in about the same number of playdates and could end up in the same neighborhood. Debuting in 973 theaters, the Universal release could capture about $7M over the frame.


    Outkast’s Big Boi in "Idlewild"

    New Line offers up "How to Eat Fried Worms," the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling kids book.The PG-rated film is aimed at school children and the tween set with a pic filled with immature boy pranks. Last weekend’s top five lacked any movies for kids so "Worms" should not face too much direct competition. However, excitement might not be high enough to generate a large opening. Parents and children familiar with the book might take a trip to the local cinema for this one. But the real cash will be made on DVD. Opening in about 1,800 theaters, "How to Eat Fried Worms" could bow to around $6M this weekend.


    New Line Cinema’s "How To Eat Fried Worms"

    In limited release, Sony Classics opens its dramatic thriller "The Quiet" which stars Elisha Cuthbert as a popular cheerleader whose life changes when her parents adopt an orphaned deaf girl into the family. Edie Falco co-stars in the R-rated film which opens in six sites in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. Reviews have been mixed.

    Last weekend, "Snakes on a Plane" eked out a victory atop the box office charts with a less-than-expected $15.2M bow. About half of that business was generated on Thursday night and Friday leaving little audience left for the days and weeks ahead. A steep drop is sure to occur this weekend now that the hype is all gone. Most people interested in "Snakes" in the first place have already gone and seen it. A 60% fall would leave New Line with a $6M weekend and a ten-day tally of $26M.

    Will Ferrell has been satisfying audiences with "Talladega Nights" all month long. A 35% drop could result giving the Sony hit about $9M for the frame which would push the cume to $128M. A similar decline could be in the works for Paramount’s "World Trade Center" which may grab around $7M this weekend boosting its total to $56M.

    The comedy sensation "Little Miss Sunshine" will more than double its run this weekend and further infiltrate theaters across the country. Fox Searchlight’s unstoppable hit will expand from 691 to over 1,400 locations on Friday and could collect about $7M in its fifth frame. That would put "Sunshine’s" cume at $22M putting it on course to become a bigger hit than "Snakes on a Plane" will be.

    LAST YEAR: The Steve Carell surprise hit "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" enjoyed a small decline and held onto the top spot with $16.3M dropping only 24% in its second frame. Miramax opened its Matt Damon adventure "The Brothers Grimm" in second with $15.1M on its way to $37.9M. The airline thriller "Red Eye" followed with $10.3M with the revenge actioner "Four Brothers" in fourth place with $7.9M. Opening poorly in fifth was "The Cave" with $6.1M leading to a disappointing $14.9M finish. The teen flop "Undiscovered" opened to an embarrassing $676,000 from 1,304 theaters for a pathetic $518 average landing in the number 20 spot. The Lions Gate release ended up with a miserable $1.1M.

    Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

    So we have a release date, a director, and a villain for "Iron Man," and now comes word on a potential sidekick. Seems that "Hustle & Flow" actor Terrence Howard is being courted to play pilot Jim Rhodes, an ally who eventually becomes known as "War Machine!!"

    From IGN FilmForce: "Director Jon Favreau may have an Oscar-nominated actor in mind for his forthcoming Iron Man movie. The Aint-it-Cool.com website claims that the filmmaker has offered a role to Terrence Howard. The role is not that of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, but rather that of Stark’s friend, pilot Jim Rhodes. In the comics, Rhodes donned the Iron Man armor himself when Stark succumbed to alcoholism, and later became the character known as War Machine."

    Click here for the rest of the piece, which also contains some comments from director Jon Favreau on how he’ll be sure to keep the Asian villain "Mandarin" from being comical and/or racially offensive.

    Directors take center stage this weekend providing starpower to four new films opening in North American theaters all hoping to take down reigning box office king Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

    M. Night Shyamalan leads the way with his latest creepy tale Lady in the Water while fellow east coast helmer Kevin Smith lets the expletives fly in the comedy Clerks II. Oscar winners Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis serve as producers on the animated film Monster House which is aiming for kids, and Ivan Reitman provides a different type of super hero film in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. With four interesting new films and Johnny Depp still firing off his cannons, the overall marketplace should expand as it moves into the late July period.

    Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan returns to theaters with his fantasy chiller Lady in the Water which marks his departure from the Disney family. The Warner Bros. release tells the story of a superintendent who discovers a mysterious creature in his building’s pool that must be sent back to her world. Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright, and Bob Balaban star in the PG-13 pic. Known for his small cameos in previous pics, Shyamalan the actor has been promoted this time around and gets a meaningful supporting role. As they say, it pays to know the director. Could he be preparing himself for playing the lead role in a future film? Only time will tell.

    The Philadelphia-based director has been seeing diminishing returns at the box office over the last few years. In 2002, his alien drama Signs with Mel Gibson opened to a sturdy $60.1M on its way to a robust $228M. Two years later, The Village tested Shyamalan’s brand name since it lacked any A-listers and the opening was still strong with $50.7M. But poor word-of-mouth quickly set in with the film plunging 68% in its second frame on its way to $114.2M overall. This time around, the director is once again the biggest name attached to the project. Giamatti won plenty of acclaim with Sideways, but he’s still not a star who drives in audiences on opening weekend. Shyamalan’s starpower will be put to the test once again, and some who left The Village with a bad taste might just pass on Lady. The new film should also open weaker than Village because it will debut in 500 fewer theaters.

    Many elements to the film and its marketing are new this time around. With a different studio in charge, a notable difference is the female voiceover on the television commercials where a little girl whispers to viewers in a creepy way. This reinforces the new angle where the picture is being sold as a bedtime story. Shyamalan also became very visible this year with his American Express commercial. Instead of relying again on a twist, Lady instead plays out like a fantasy arthouse film that offers more comedy than all of Shyamalan’s past films combined. Audiences may end up once again dividing themselves into the love and hate camps after coming out of theaters. But in a world where people complain about the lack of originality coming out of Hollywood, the filmmaker does deserve credit for offering moviegoers something new and different.

    The summer has not seen too many scary movies yet so Lady in the Water will stand out to audiences who like a good fright. With a story that is really out there, the film may find more fans with the fantasy and sci-fi crowds than with mainstream moviegoers. That will hurt ticket sales in the long term. Still, like with other Shyamalan movies, there is a mystery to them which draws in fans. That magic will work its charm again as the film will try to attract enough moviegoers to knock the popular Pirates out of first place. Emerging in 3,235 locations, Lady in the Water might find itself with around $33M this weekend.

    The late-summer cartoon wars begin with Sony launching the first attack with its computer-animated entry Monster House. The PG-rated film tells the story of some teenage kids who believe that a neighborhood house is actually a ferocious beast. Although directing duties fell on newcomer Gil Kenan, it’s executive producers Spielberg and Zemeckis whose names are used most prominently in the marketing materials. Many families are sure to be fooled into thinking these brilliant filmmakers were behind the camera. The studio reported encouraging results for the sneak previews it offered last weekend to help spread advance buzz.

    And advance buzz will be essential to box office success since rival studios will be unleashing their big toons in each of the next two weekends with Warner Bros. opening The Ant Bully on July 28 and Paramount tossing in Barnyard on August 4. There might not be room for all three to thrive so Sony’s early jump on the competition gives it a major leg up. The Disney/Pixar hit Cars has raced past the $220M mark, but is aging so young kids will be looking for something new to rally behind. Direct competition should not be too fierce for Monster this weekend since even the PG-13 Pirates is a bit too scary for smaller children. Sony is going all out with their push of Monster House which debuts in 3,553 sites on Friday. An opening of about $25M could result.

    Mixing the date movie formula of The Break-Up with the comic book antics of X-Men, Fox unleashes its new comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend. The PG-13 film stars Luke Wilson as a man who dumps his squeeze only to learn that she is secretly a famous super hero who now will use her powers to exact revenge. The plot has ample appeal to both men and women so interest from the date crowd will be solid. But the marketplace has been flooded with comedies over the last several weeks so those looking for a laugh can easily go elsewhere. The concept does, however, offer a unique what-if scenario that is sure to attract business. A slight female skew is likely.

    Starpower is also an important component here. Uma Thurman has had many hits and though Wilson is not much of a leading man, he does offer value when playing second fiddle to a bigger star, like in this case. Trailers in front of the studio’s recent mutant sequel have raised awareness with the comic book crowd. But Wilson’s brother Owen, coming off of a $21.5M bow for You, Me and Dupree, won’t help any and Super probably has the most direct competition in its way among the weekend’s four freshmen. Flying into 2,702 theaters, My Super Ex-Girlfriend could take off with around $13M this weekend.

    Kevin Smith leaves the Jersey girls behind and revisits the boys in Clerks II, a sequel to the 1994 indie hit that launched his career. The R-rated film finds his Garden State slackers in their thirties and working at a fast-food restaurant where colorful customers make their way in and out each day. Released by The Weinstein Company and MGM, Clerks II has a very specific audience of Smith fans it will appeal to. Others will be hard to reach as there is little starpower on the screen. The director’s 2001 summer comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back opened to $11M from 2,765 theaters for a $3,985 average while 1999’s Dogma starring Matt Damon and a pre-J. Lo Ben Affleck bowed to $8.7M from 1,269 theaters for a $6,832 average.

    Clerks II will debut in a level of theaters that is in between those two pics. Males in their twenties and thirties will make up the core crowd and there will be other options competing for their attention like Pirates and Lady. The marketing push has been good, but multiplexes will be crowded this weekend so getting in the undecided vote will be difficult. Opening in over 2,100 sites, Clerks II might bow to roughly $12M this weekend.

    After two weeks of sailing ahead of the rest of the box office fleet, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest will face a serious challenge for its number one position this weekend. The Johnny Depp megahit dropped 54% in its second frame, but should suffer a smaller decline this time around. A number of new enemies will invade its waters so audiences will be scattered and competition should be formidable. Pirates may fall by 45% this weekend giving Disney about $34M for the frame. That would push the adventure sequel past the triple-century mark in a record 16 days and up to a staggering $321M by the end of the weekend.

    Last weekend, the competing comedies Little Man and You, Me and Dupree battled it out for the distinction of being the biggest non-pirate movie in the country. Man inched ahead of Dupree by less than $100,000, but this weekend, the Wayans Brothers could see the larger decline losing about half of its business. That would give Sony around $11M for the frame and a ten-day cume of $40M. Dupree won’t have it easy though. My Super Ex-Girlfriend will offer direct competition for its core audience. A 45% drop could occur leaving Universal with roughly $12M for the frame and a stronger $44M after ten days.

    Superman Returns
    has been chugging away trying to get itself to the $200M mark. But the Man of Steel’s third weekend gross of $12.3M was weaker than the corresponding takes of some of last summer’s big action offerings like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, and even Fantastic Four. Pirates has been taking its toll on Superman and this weekend, the Clark Kent flick will no longer be in a massive 3,700+ theaters. Warner Bros could see a 45% decline to about $6.5M which would push the cume to $178M.

    LAST YEAR: Johnny Depp spent his second weekend atop the charts with his cooky comedy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which fell 50% to $28.3M fending off competition from a quartet of new releases plus some solid holdovers. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn spent another week in the runnerup spot with Wedding Crashers which held up remarkably well in its sophomore date slipping only 24% to $25.7M. The super hero flick Fantastic Four remained in third with $12.6M in its third mission. Among new movies, the highest gross came from the action thriller The Island which bowed to $12.4M. Given its enormous budget, it was a big disappointment for DreamWorks which found its way to just $35.8M. Paramount did not fare much better with the remake Bad News Bears which debuted in fifth with $11.4M. The Billy Bob Thornton pic scored just $32.9M overall, but at least it didn’t have a huge production cost. Opening in fewer theaters, but with an impressive average, was the pimp drama Hustle and Flow which bowed to $8M and a $7,915 average. The horror film The Devil’s Rejects followed with a $7.1M opening. Final tallies reached $22.2M for the Paramount Classics hip hop pic and $17M for the Lionsgate gorefest.

    Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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