Your affection for them is well-known to us. To be specific, black music flicks. It’s hard to think of a person who hasn’t seen one of the many musically based Black films that have become a part of popular culture.
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Fans of Five Heartbeats and Purple Rain who’ve seen the film several times, we’re looking at you. (*All hands go up*) Our goal was to construct a list of the top films featuring Black music, regardless of whether the film was notable for its stellar soundtrack or for its overall quality as a movie musical.
1. SUPERFLY (1972)
Superfly is not, strictly speaking, a musical film. Priest, a drug kingpin in Harlem, is the subject of this story. Despite this, Curtis Mayfield’s legendary score for has become almost as well-known as the movie it was originally composed for, if not more. The album’s title tune and the song “Freddie’s Dead” each sold over 2 million copies. It is still one of the few films when the soundtrack made more money than the film did.. The hip-hop period saw a resurgence of interest in blaxploitation films like Superfly. The DVD release of Superfly coincided with the death of its star, Ron O’Neal, on January 14, 2004.
2. SPARKLE (1976)
Whitney Houston’s final picture was the 2012 remake, yet the 1976 original is the one most people remember her in. Three Harlem sisters, Sister (Lonette McKee), and Sparkle (Irene Cara), are the protagonists of that version of the story.
Another is Satin, with whom Sister, the eldest and most irrational of the three, becomes romantically entangled. An ambitious singer-songwriter named Stix falls for Sparkle and eventually becomes manager of the band, but as is often the case, success brings more troubles. Sparkle was a box office failure when it was released, but it rose to prominence because to home video and DVD releases, as well as the film’s amazing soundtrack, which featured just Aretha Franklin singing the lead vocals. The song “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” which En Vogue recreated in 1992 and took it to the top of the charts, is featured on the album.
3. THE WIZ (1978)
Originally a Broadway musical, the film was controversial at the time since it featured an adult Diana Ross as Dorothy, a kid in the original. How could you possibly lose with a cast that includes Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow, Richard Pryor as the Wiz, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, and Lena Horne as Glinda the Good?
Although it was initially a loss for Motown and Universal as the most costly movie musical ever made, it has since become a resounding success. In spite of the fact that it was a commercial failure, it has become one of the most cherished black musicals of all time. As much as Michael Jackson said it was one of the most memorable moments of his life, it was also Diana Ross’s final theatrical film.
4. PURPLE RAIN (1984)
After the blaxploitation era, many believed that the dismal box office performance of The Wiz was the final nail in the coffin for Black cinema. Nevertheless, six years later, a young man from Minneapolis, Minnesota, would go on to feature in a hit musical loosely based on his life.
Warner Brothers thought the film “outrageous,” yet the movie went on to make $80 million and give Prince a #1 soundtrack as well as an Oscar and his signature song. Vanity, Prince’s then-girlfriend, was slated to star, but the two split up before filming could begin. His replacement for Jennifer Beals was Apollonia Kotero when she turned him down to concentrate on her Yale University studies. Prince’s Oscar acceptance speech for the film Purple Rain is available on YouTube.
5. SCHOOL DAZE (1988)
After his blockbuster picture She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s second feature She’s Gotta Have It dealt with the contentious subject of racial discrimination and colorism among the Black community. Filmed at Mission College, which is commonly thought to be a stand-in for Lee’s alma college, Mission: Impossible III stars Larry Fishburne and Tisha Campbell, both of whom would go on to have successful careers. Lee’s representation of HBCUs in the film has been recognized as groundbreaking since its premiere, but Black colleges and their administrations were not pleased. First Black Miss America Vanessa Williams turned down the part of Jane, which was eventually played by Tisha Campbell, despite her recent dethronement.
6. THE FIVE HEARTBEATS (1991)
In this film, based partially on the difficulties of 1960s male groups, director Robert Townsend had no idea that it would become one of the most successful Black movies of all time. There are die-hard fans who can recite the lyrics and perhaps even perform the choreography. Ivory Wayans co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Michael Wright starring with Tico Wells. Roger Ebert was one of the few critics to give the picture an enthusiastic endorsement. “A Heart is a House for Love” by The Dells and “Night Like This” by After 7 both made the Billboard Hot 100.
7. WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? (1993)
Angela Bassett and Larry Fishburne starred in a film adaptation of Tina Turner’s autobiography, I, Tina, which was a critical and commercial triumph. Bassset was nominated for an Academy Award for the performance, which he lost to Holly Hunter in The Piano, many believe unfairly. While Bassett was excellent, Hunter’s performance as a mute was completely silent in the film for which she won.) When Angela Bassett was cast, Fishburne, who had previously turned down the project five times, changed his mind. Ike Turner said that the many scenes created for dramatic purposes hurt his reputation because the film was such an important element of Black pop culture in the 1960s and 1970s. “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” Jay-lyric Z’s on Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love,” was based on a combination of various real-life persons, including Turner’s Buddhist lover played by Vanessa Bell Armstrong.
8. FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS (2003)
The Fighting Temptations, despite poor reviews and a lackluster box office performance, is a rare example of a positive Christian message in a Black studio-supported picture at the time. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays Darrin Hill, a down-on-his-luck ad exec who returns to his Georgia hometown to get his church choir ready for a gospel competition. The film was originally intended to star Beyonce. Lilly, a singer played by Beyonce, is the love of his life, despite the fact that he’s only in it for the money. In spite of the film’s moderate popularity, the soundtrack featured a combination of gospel and secular performers like Destiny’s Child, Shirley Caesar, Ann Nesby, and The O’Jays. It’s unlikely that a sequel will ever be made, despite the fact that all of the main actors have signed on.
9. RAY (2004)
A film on Ray Charles’ life and career took Tyler Hackford 15 years to complete. Well, Jamie Foxx, the film’s lead actor and Oscar winner, got what he wanted. Over $125 million was made by the second biggest grossing Black musical, Ray. The critical reception was overwhelmingly positive, with particular praise going to co-star Regina King for her portrayal of one of Ray’s Raelettes paramours. Della, his second wife, had been by his side for 22 years. Kerry Washington plays her in the film adaptation of the novel.
10. DREAMGIRLS (2006)
In the cinematic adaptation of Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jennifer Holliday, and Loretta Devine’s award-winning stage play, the film was intended to be Beyonce’s Oscar nomination. Jennifer Hudson, the American Idol contestant who was the movie’s breakout star, received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar instead. All-Black was the most expensive movie ever made, starring Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx. An additional $154 million was earned. There were no problems with the film and play, which were widely regarded as based on the ascension of the Supremes to popularity at Motown despite this fact. To her displeasure, Diana Ross claimed that she had never seen the film. Smokey Robinson requested an apology from Berry Gordy, whom he claims was misrepresented by Curtis Taylor, Jr. As for the film’s impact on Supreme Court Justice Mary Wilson (above), she stated it was “closer to the truth than they even know.”