When The Sugarhill Gang released breakout hit “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, even their biggest fans couldn’t have predicted that the song would kick off three decades worth of hip hop movies. Blending old fashioned Hollywood storytelling with a high-energy, socially conscious soundtrack, hip hop films spoke directly to young audiences in a way that the sanitized beach party musicals of the ‘60s and overblown rock operas of the ‘70s weren’t able to. While those musical fads came and went, hip hop’s cultural influence has only grown stronger. As the biopic “Straight Outta Compton” (pictured) arrives in theaters, here are ten classic hip hop movies that’ll make you bust a move!
Courtesy of Universal
“Wild Style” (1983)
Often referred to as the first true hip hop movie, this semi-improvised drama follows a young Bronx tagger named Zoro (played by real-life subway artist Lee Quinones) as he balances his need for self-expression with the growing commercialism of the graffiti art world. Shot in a rough, cinema vérité style and costarring hip hop pioneers Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, “Wild Style” beautifully captures the precise instant when an underground movement of dancers, musicians, artists and poets came together and defined a generation.
Courtesy of First Run Features
For many, this joyfully silly musical about a struggling jazz dancer who teams up with two outrageous breakdancers was an early introduction to hip hop culture. Released one month prior to the similarly-themed “Beat Street,” the low-budget “Breakin’” earned a whopping $57 million worldwide, making it the most financially successful movie ever distributed by Cannon Films. Hoping to capitalize on a trend, the memorably-titled “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” danced into theaters eight months later. The triple-platinum soundtrack album includes music from Chaka Khan, Re-Flex and the debut recording of Ice-T.
Courtesy of MGM/UA Entertainment
“The Last Dragon” (1985)
Produced by Motown founder Berry Gordy and released at the height of hip hop’s early popularity, this colorful kung-fu fantasy combines the action of “Enter the Dragon” with the hallucinatory imagery of “Xanadu,” and sets the whole bizarre concoction to a soundtrack featuring Vanity, Rockwell and DeBarge. Blending martial arts and breakdancing, the film’s unique mix of genres directly influenced modern hip hop culture. Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA is set to co-produce a remake starring Samuel L. Jackson.
Courtesy of TriStar Pictures
“Krush Groove” (1985)
Loosely based on the early days of Def Jam Recordings, the cast of this musical drama is a virtual who’s who of ‘80s hip hop royalty, including Sheila E., Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow, Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin and Def Jam cofounder Russell Simmons. “Krush Groove” was originally conceived as a documentary concert film set at Fresh Fest, one of the original hip hop arena tours, but Simmons convinced Warner Brothers that a fictionalized feature film would reach a larger audience. In his first onscreen role, LL Cool J was added to the cast when producers noticed him performing freestyle at various shooting locations.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
“Fear of a Black Hat” (1993)
Rusty Cundieff wrote, directed and starred in this hilarious mockumentary that does for hip hop what “This is Spinal Tap” did for heavy metal. Told from the perspective of a sociologist doing research on hip hop as a form of modern communication, the film depicts the misadventures of a moronic rap group called N.W.H. (the ‘H’ stands for hats) as they attempt to explain the cultural significance of songs like “Granny Said Kick Yo Ass” and “Booty Juice.” Though comedies like “CB4” and “Pootie Tang” mined similar material, “Fear of a Black Hat” is by far the funniest, and most perceptive, of the bunch.
Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Company
“8 Mile” (2002)
Like a hip hop version of Prince’s classic “Purple Rain,” this semi-autobiographical drama tells the story of a troubled young musician desperate to break free from the inner-city trap he was born into. Shot on the mean streets and back alleys of Detroit, Michigan, the film’s unforgettable anthem “Lose Yourself” earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Though costars Kim Basinger and Brittany Murphy deliver fine support, it’s Eminem’s powerful lead performance that’s truly remarkable. His volcanic stage presence during the climactic rap battle recalls Sylvester Stallone’s work in the original “Rocky.”
Courtesy of Univeral Pictures
“Tupac: Resurrection” (2003)
The 1996 murder of charismatic rapper, songwriter and actor Tupac Shakur left a void in the world of hip hop music that’s never been filled. This feature-length documentary is a compelling look at his enormous talent and a tragic reminder of the violent East Coast-West Coast rivalry that claimed the lives of far too many artists. Eerily narrated by Shakur himself, “Tupac: Resurrection” was executive produced by the star’s mother and includes rare home movie footage that makes it a must-see for his legions of fans. Given full access to MTV’s archives, first-time director Lauren Lazin has crafted a fitting tribute to a hip hop legend.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
“Hustle & Flow” (2005)
In this emotionally honest drama, Terrence Howard earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor playing Djay, a low-level pimp who channels his gritty life experiences into a burgeoning career as a rap musician. Set in the ghettos of Memphis, the film’s attention to detail and concern for authenticity is apparent in virtually every frame. Members of the Tennessee hip hop group Three 6 Mafia, who won an Oscar for Best Song for their hit “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” make cameo appearances throughout the film.
Courtesy of Paramount Classics
“Step Up” (2006)
Light on plot but strong on energy, this vibrant, candy-colored romance chronicles the explosive attraction between an aspiring ballerina and a musclebound hip hop dancer from the proverbial wrong-side-of-the-tracks. Unlike the disappointing dance film “Honey” or the similarly-themed, though far less dynamic, “Save the Last Dance,” “Step Up” knows exactly what its audience wants and gives it to them in generous doses. The dance sequences are dazzling displays of hip hop athleticism, aided by the charisma of Channing Tatum in his breakout role.
Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures
“Beyond the Lights” (2014)
Combining elements of “The Bodyguard” with the adult romance of “Brown Sugar,” this refreshingly sincere love story deserved to find a much larger audience. British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw is positively luminous playing a Rihanna-like hip hop singer whose personal and career pressures cause her to attempt suicide. As her stalwart savior and eventual suitor, Nate Parker brings a quiet strength and thoughtful intelligence to the role. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, and costarring real-life rapper Machine Gun Kelly, the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song.