With the series premiere of BET’s “American Gangster” and the much-anticipated film with the same title starring Denzel Washington hitting theaters in early November, our fascination with mob stories has never been more popular.
This week we take a look at five gangster films that are true grimy crime classics
King of New York (1990)
Long before the Notorious B.I.G. became hip-hop’s king of New York, Biggie stole the moniker of this film’s lead character, Frank White (Christopher Walken), who starred as a mobster recently released from jail that terrorizes the Gotham city with the help of his all-Black posse. Featuring a booming soundtrack anchored by Philly’s finest, Schooly D and co-starring a young Wesley Snipes and devilishly evil Laurence Fishburne, “King of New York” is absolutely unforgettable.
After years of directing music videos, Hype Williams visually revolutionized the modern gangster film genre with this intense story of the rise of two friends, Buns (DMX) and Sincere (Nas), who sling and bang with the best of them in the this dawn of the millennium crime classic. The film’s subplot with a determined Jamaican mobster was strong enough to merit it’s own separate film. Kudos to Williams for trying to inject the story with a pro-Black nationalism message.
Blue Hill Avenue (2001)
Four childhood friends rise up to dominate the drug trade in Boston. Led by natural leader, Tristan (Allen Payne), the fearsome foursome hustle, fight and love their way to the top before treachery comes between them. A Black film festival favorite, “Blue Hill Avenue” has one of the best closing scenes ever captured on film.
Sugar Hill (1994)
Wesley Snipes holds the distinction of creating two black gangster icons and in this film he dominates the screen as the brilliantly intelligent mobster Romello in this Cain and Abel mob tale. After watching his mother’s death and father turned into a junkie, Romello rises to become the Black crime Don. With the assistance of his hotheaded brother, Raynathan (Michael Wright), Romello dreams of leaving the game. Unfortunately, his brother has other plans. Visually amazing and ultimately heartbreaking, “Sugar Hill” is a cinematic triumph.
New Jack City (1991)
One of the jewels of the most successful year in Black film, this story of the rise of Nino Brown and the Cash Money Brothers is an iconic Black crime story. Based on the story of Oakland gangster, Felix Mitchell, Brown and his crew take over an entire apartment building where they control the drug game. Featuring an amazing soundtrack and a cast of impressive rising talent such as Ice-T, Chris Rock and Allen Payne, “New Jack City” still resonates as an impressive piece of cinema.