What happens in the hood stays in the hood. I wrote this top 10 for WatchMojo, back in the days when I used to work for the YouTube streaming channel, I’ve adjusted the list to include a few more recent titles that have been released since then, but, for the most part, the list I concocted back in 2014 is mostly the same as this one.
For this list, I’ve chosen the movies that gave the grittiest, most memorable depictions of living and working in the ‘hood.
#10: “8 Mile” (2002)
In this hip-hop flick, director Curtis Hanson brought out the intensity of Eminem so well that we think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who could ignore it. This biopic about an inner city guy’s struggles in the hood was as raw and powerful as the Oscar-winning Eminem song for the film called “Lose Yourself.” To top things off, the thrilling rap battle that ends “8 Mile” sealed the deal about Slim Shady’s dramatic abilities: the rapper really can act and then some.
#9: “Friday” (1995)
Having just been sacked from his job, Craig and his best friend Smokey spend the day smoking up in their South Central neighborhood while dealing with the host of troubles that surround them. One of those problems is trying to figure a way to get the cash they owe drug dealer Big Worm by 10:00pm that night. The hilarious hijinks that ensue bring out the sometimes-comedic side of the hood while “Friday”’s energy helps set the film apart from other movies in the genre.
#8: “Hustle and Flow” (2005)
“It’s hard out here for a pimp” is the catchy phrase from this movie’s Oscar winning song by Three 6 Mafia. That perfectly describes Hustle and Flow‘s Memphis hustler DJay (Terrence Howard), an unhappy pimp who wants to make it big in hip-hop. He brings on a high school friend for sound mixing, his pregnant girlfriend (and prostitute) Shug (Taraji P. Henson, who later reunited with Howard on the TV hip-hop saga Empire) for backup vocals and records indelibly catchy songs such as the aforementioned “Hard out here for a Pimp” and “Whoop That Trick,” all in the hope of selling them to a local rapper (Ludacris) who made it big. Artfully directed by Craig Brewer, the film features an intense Oscar-nominated performance from the underrated Terrence Howard as a man so sick of his life that he’d lie, cheat, and steal just to oust himself from the game.
#7: “La Haine” (1995)
A youth is beaten to unconsciousness by cops in the hood; the event makes the news and his friends vow revenge if he dies. This biting drama and suspense from director Matthieu Kassovitz does not pick or choose sides: the police are brutal, the street youth is reprehensible and the parents are absently oblivious. “La Haine” is a scary thing to watch, especially when the shots finally ring out, but it’s also mesmerizing, powerful and emotional.
#6: “Menace II Society” (1993)
In the directorial debut of Allen and Albert Hughes, a young street hustler tries to escape the rigors and temptations of the hood. Wanting to get out before it’s too late and start anew, Caine finds out it’s easier said than done, especially when your entire life – friends, family, gangs – is built around this menacing society. The Hughes brothers nailed every detail with this potent, persuasive and chilling take on life on the streets as an African-American teen.
#5: “Training Day” (2001)
A rookie cop, a corrupt cop and a society on damage control. Denzel Washington’s bad cop is one for the ages as he trains Ethan Hawke on his first day with the force. In the process, he shows him there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to police work and that the stinking corruption in their profession is present everywhere. The streets are the background for these two cops who go through a day they will soon never forget - that is if they can make it through alive. “Training Day” is raw, unforgettable and filled with strong and believable performances.
#4: “Straight Outta Compton” (2015)
Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube epitomized gangsta rap in the late ’80s as the West Coast gangsta rap group NWA. They brought it to the centerfold of the American conversation with songs such as “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. In this summer’s surprise hit movie, Straight Outta Compton, their story is told with such in-your-face vigor and bravado that it almost feels like a gangsta rap companion piece to Goodfellas.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, who directed some of Ice Cube’s most famous ‘90s music videos, the film recounts the day when the trio we’re the talk of the nation, eluding questions about police brutality and black poverty. Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) was the founder, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube’s son) was the lyricist and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) had the sick beats that nobody could touch. They eventually all went their separate ways, but not without making a mark in music forever. The centerpiece of the film is a concert in Detroit where the group is threatened by Detroit Police not to play “F*** Tha Police” under threat of arrest. Guess what they do?
#3: “Boyz n the Hood” (1991)
It may’ve been just his directorial debut, but John Singleton’s portrayal of the social problems of inner-city Los Angeles is what made “Boyz n the Hood” such a landmark movie. Following three friends and their struggles, conflicts and mishaps in the ghetto – the Oscar-nominated drama can be considered the originator of the hood film. With a stunning cast, incredible direction and an impeccable script – we still haven’t forgotten the sting of watching Tre, Ricky and Doughboy hustling it up and trying to stay alive.
#2: “City of God” (2002)
Director Fernando Meirelles doesn’t flinch when it comes to shooting a film about the gangsters of Rio. This Brazilian movie can be brutally violent, and all too realistic at times. Non-professional actors from the slums were cast for this feverishly gritty but unforgettable crime drama. You may flinch at times but there’s no denying Meirelles’ scenes in “City of God” are beautifully choreographed and the film’s four Oscar nominations as well as its important message make it all too hard to forget.
#1: “Do the Right Thing” (1989)
Director Spike Lee wanted to make a movie that would stir things up and light a fire inside our bellies. Well, with “Do the Right Thing,” he made it. With this incendiary statement, Lee shows us an unblinking look at racism on the streets of New York City. Mookie is a pizza delivery boy who works for an Italian-American named Sal, who also happens to be the father of one bigoted son and one who isn’t. With two Oscar nominations and a realistic but riveting look at discrimination, Lee shows us both sides of the story in this comedy-drama that still entertains today.