The 80s is a decade that defined much of the pop culture we know today. The fashion of the era makes its way in and out of style and its synth-dance music is consistently revisited. 80s movies are just as influential, especially 80s Black movies. This was the time where many of the stars that defined media of multiple generations got their start, including names like Eddie Murphy and Spike Lee.

80s Black movies remain so popular and nostalgic that they are still spawning remakes and reunions amongst the star-studded casts. Here are some of the biggest 80s Black movies that have withstood the test of time and could still be entertaining for even those that weren’t around when they were made. The movies are ranked based on their IMDb score and rotten tomatoes rating to determine which of them were the best based on the public’s and critics’ reviews. 

School Daze (1988)

IMDb: 6.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 57%

School Daze is a musical comedy-drama directed by Spike Lee that explores the complexities of college life, particularly focusing on the experiences of African American students at a fictional historically black college. The film delves into themes of colorism, political activism and the cultural divisions within the Black community. With a mix of satire and drama, School Daze provides a critical look at issues faced by Black students during the late 1980s.

Purple Rain (1984)

IMDb: 6.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 72%

Purple Rain is a musical drama film starring the iconic musician Prince. The film follows “The Kid,” a talented yet troubled musician navigating the Minneapolis music scene. The story explores themes of love, rivalry and personal growth, all set against the backdrop of Prince’s electrifying performances. The film’s soundtrack, featuring the title track Purple Rain and other hits, played a significant role in Prince’s career and became a critical and commercial success.

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) 

IMDb: 6.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 62%

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, is a parody of blaxploitation films of the 1970s. The film follows Jack Spade, played by Keenen Ivory Wayans, as he seeks revenge for his brother’s death in a neighborhood overrun by crime. The movie satirizes the clichés and conventions of the blaxploitation genre while delivering laughs and over-the-top action. It features a mix of comedy and action, with a cast that includes several members of the Wayans family.

The Last Dragon (1985) 

IMDb: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 61%

The Last Dragon, directed by Michael Schultzis, is a martial arts comedy film that combines action, music and elements of fantasy. The story follows Leroy Green, a young martial artist, as he embarks on a quest to achieve the final level of martial arts mastery known as “The Glow.” Along the way, Leroy encounters various challenges, including the villainous Sho’nuff. The film is known for its energetic soundtrack and its unique blend of martial arts and pop culture elements.

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

IMDb: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

She’s Gotta Have It is a romantic comedy-drama and Spike Lee’s directorial debut. It tells the story of Nola Darling, a young African American woman in Brooklyn, and her relationships with three different men. The film explores themes of love, independence and sexual liberation. She’s Gotta Have It is known for its innovative style, as well as its candid and contemporary take on relationships and societal expectations that was ahead of its time compared to other 80s Black movies. It marked Spike Lee’s emergence as a distinctive voice in filmmaking. 

Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

IMDb: 6.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Hollywood Shuffle is a satirical comedy film co-written and directed by Robert Townsend. The movie follows the journey of a young actor, played by Townsend, as he navigates the challenges and stereotypes faced by African American actors in Hollywood. The film humorously addresses issues of racism, typecasting and the limited opportunities available to black actors in the entertainment industry. Hollywood Shuffle is known for its sharp social commentary and creative approach to addressing systemic issues.

48 Hrs. (1982)

IMDb: 6.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

48 Hrs. is an action-comedy film starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. The movie follows a cop (Nolte) and a convict (Murphy) who are forced to work together to catch a pair of cop killers within 48 hours. The film is known for its blend of action and humor, as well as Eddie Murphy’s breakout performance, showcasing his comedic talent. 48 Hrs. was a box office success and contributed to the rise of Eddie Murphy as a Hollywood star a.k.a. the reason he is listed in so many of these 80s Black movies.

Coming to America (1988)

IMDb: 7.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

Directed by John Landis and starring Eddie Murphy, Coming to America is a comedy about an African prince named Akeem, played by Murphy, who travels to New York City in search of a bride who will love him for who he is, rather than his royal status. The film humorously explores culture shock, identity and the pursuit of genuine relationships. Eddie Murphy plays multiple characters in the movie, showcasing his comedic talent.

A Soldier’s Story (1984)

IMDb: 7.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

A Soldier’s Story is a drama set in the United States during World War II. The film follows a black military officer, Captain Davenport, played by Howard E. Rollins Jr., who is sent to investigate the murder of a black sergeant on a Louisiana Army base. The story explores racial tensions and discrimination within the military and the local community. The film received critical acclaim and was nominated for three Oscars for its powerful storytelling and ensemble cast.

Lean on Me (1989)

IMDb: 7.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%

Lean on Me is a drama film based on the true story of Joe Clark, played by Morgan Freeman. Clark is a tough and controversial high school principal who takes charge of an inner-city New Jersey high school plagued by violence and low academic performance. Through strict discipline and unconventional methods, Clark aims to turn the school around. The film explores themes of education, leadership and the challenges faced by urban schools.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

IMDb: 7.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Eddie Murphy starred in yet another one of these 80s Black movies with the iconic action-comedy film Beverly Hills Cop. Murphy plays Axel Foley, a Detroit cop who travels to Beverly Hills to solve the murder of his friend. The film combines action sequences with humor, and Eddie Murphy’s charismatic performance contributed significantly to its success. Beverly Hills Cop became one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and spawned sequels, yet again solidifying Eddie Murphy’s status as a leading actor in Hollywood.

The Color Purple (1985)

IMDb: 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

The Color Purple is a poignant drama set in the early 20th century directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It follows the life of Celie, an African American woman who faces oppression, abuse, and separation from her sister. The film explores themes of racism, sexism, and the power of resilience and sisterhood as Celie grows and finds her voice against all odds.

Trading Places (1983)

IMDb: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Trading Places is a comedy film starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. The movie revolves around a wealthy commodities broker (Aykroyd) and a street-smart hustler (Murphy) whose lives are manipulated by two wealthy brothers as part of a social experiment. The film explores themes of class, wealth and the impact on an individual’s success of their environment. Trading Places was a box office success and is often regarded as a classic comedy of the 1980s.

Glory (1989) 

IMDb: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

Glory is a historical war drama based on the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first African American units to fight in the American Civil War. The film stars Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. Glory portrays the challenges and triumphs faced by the soldiers as they fight for recognition and equality in a racially divided society. Denzel Washington won an Academy Award for his performance in the film, making it no wonder that it tops this 80s Black movies list. 

Do the Right Thing (1989)

IMDb: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee, is a powerful drama that explores racial tensions on a hot summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The film follows various characters from different ethnic backgrounds as their lives intersect and conflict escalates, ultimately leading to a tragic event that sparks a riot. The movie is known for its thought-provoking commentary on race relations and social issues.