While the pinnacle of success for a film in Hollywood is so often associated with winning awards and receiving critical acclaim, in reality, a film doesn’t have to gross billions of dollars at the box office to be successful. Cult classic films are often overlooked when they are first released, receiving either scant attention or less than positive reviews. But over time, these undervalued films start to win over a faithful fanbase and admiration for them grows.
Many Black-led films from the 70s through the 90s are considered cult classics because they amassed a cult following several years after they premiered. Take, for example, the 1972 William Crain film, Blacula. When it first premiered in theaters Blacula received mixed reviews and was mostly dismissed as an “interim exploitation effort” with an “unimaginative” script. But after some odd years, Blacula gained notoriety and helped open doors to other Black entertainers and filmmakers.
"Blacula is arguably one of the most prestigious Black franchises and so important to the culture as it birthed a groundswell of Blaxploitation-horror films, which changed the game for how our people were seen on the big screen," Said filmmaker Deon Taylor in a statement.
While the majority of Black cult classic films are well over 20 years old, some more contemporary films have reached the level of cult classic status just in the last 10 years. Of course, there are the well-known Black cult classics of the early 2000s, like Love & Basketball, White Chicks, Barbershop, and Next Friday but what about some of the lesser-known films?
The following 5 highly underrated Black cult classics from the 2000s also deserve your attention and here’s why.
It should come as no surprise that a Spike Lee joint made it onto this list. Spike Lee is known for his impactful film contributions to the Black cultural zeitgeist. Over the years Lee has brought us Black cult classics, like She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, and Malcolm X. But Spike Lee’s lesser-known film, Bamboozled, is a hidden gem that you should also take note of.
Bamboozled is a satirical dark comedy that tackles America’s racist stereotypes of Black people. Damon Wayans stars as Pierre Delacroix, a fed-up employee at a TV network who proposes a modern-day blackface minstrel show in hopes it will get him fired from his job. But to his dismay, the network agrees to the show and it becomes a hit with viewers.
The film is a brazen and thought-provoking commentary on race relations and the flawed representation of African Americans in entertainment. Bamboozled is a film that reminds us of our past, condemns our present, and warns us of our future. It’s a cult classic that everyone should watch, at least once.
If you’re a fan of campy horror classics, you’ll love Bones. Directed by Ernest Dickerson, Bones stars Snoop Dogg as the titular Jimmy Bones, a ghost who comes back to life seeking revenge for his death. This Blaxploitation horror-thriller also stars Pam Grier as Bones’ former lover.
When it was first released in theaters in October 2001, Bones received mixed reviews from film critics, most of which were negative. The New York Post called it a “silly, boring supernatural thriller that squanders a potentially interesting premise and the rapper Snoop Dogg in his ostensible starring debut.” And The San Francisco Chronicle said the plot was “ill-conceived” and sent viewers “mixed signals”.
Despite the reviews, Bones has garnered a cult following since its initial release, and it’s not hard to see why. It has the makings of a great horror classic—gore(✅), violence(✅), sympathetic villain (✅), social parable (✅), dark plot (✅), comical scenes (✅), and decent acting (✅). All in all, Bones is a must-see for anyone who enjoys “so-bad-they’re-good movies”—even though Bones isn’t even that bad.
‘Next Day Air’ (2009)
Stoner comedies aren’t for everyone, and neither is our next film, Next Day Air. Donald Faison stars as Leo Jackson, a delivery man who mistakenly drops off a box of cocaine to the wrong address, delivering it to two inept criminals, played by Wood Harris and Mike Epps. Next Day Air is directed by Benny Boom, who is mostly known for directing music videos—not feature-length films. Boom’s first foray into film was not received well by critics when it was released in May 2009. Variety called it “low-grade entertainment” and a “bumbling excuse for an action-comedy.”
Next Day Air plays off of the stoner comedy tropes that we’ve come to love in other films, like Half Baked and Pineapple Express—though not as well-executed. While Next Day Air is by no means a “great” film, nor is it trying to be one, it’s still an entertaining, simple, and funny flick with a cult-classic appeal. Next Day Air is definitely worth a watch when you need a comedy high.
‘Black Dynamite’ (2009)
Another spoof on Blaxploitation films joining the list is Black Dynamite. The action-comedy stars Michael Jai White as Vietnam veteran and ex-CIA agent Black Dynamite, who seeks revenge on the people responsible for his brother’s death. Directed by Scott Sanders and co-written by White, Black Dynamite brilliantly pays homage to Blaxploitation films just as the Wayans’ cult classic, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, did two decades before.
Black Dynamite is a hilarious viewing delight, serving us action, dead-pan humor, and dynamite acting. The film’s music also greatly contributes to its success. American composer Adrian Younge crafts a soulful score that transcends viewers to the 1970s. Released to glowing reviews, Black Dynamite‘s success led to the creation of an Adult Swim animated spin-off, which featured some of the original cast members from the film. In 2018, White teased the idea of a sequel to Black Dynamite on Twitter, though no new news on the project has been released.
‘Attack the Block’ (2011)
Attack the Block is a phenomenally underrated film with a large cult following (and it’s personally one of my favorite films of all time). The film has a simple premise—a group of teens from South London has to protect their block from an alien invasion—but don’t confuse “simple” with “dull”, as the film is anything but. If you haven’t seen this film, you’re definitely missing out.
Attack the Block is directed by Joe Cornish and stars John Boyega as the protagonist, Moses. The film helped launch Boyega’s career and he’s since received notoriety in other films such as Pacific Rim Uprising, Detroit, and in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
Much of what makes Attack the Block such a hit with movie lovers is how it cleverly takes inspiration from other cult classic films such as Walter Hill’s The Warriors, and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. But part of what separates Attack the Block from other sci-fi action films is its social and racial “wokeness”. With a young, predominantly Black and brown cast, the film addresses real issues around social class and discrimination all while fighting fictional monsters. I can’t stress enough just how entertaining, skillful, and incredible this film is—add it to your watchlist today before the highly-anticipated sequel comes out.