Binge Guide

10 Movies and TV Shows to Watch if You Love Empire

by | March 20, 2015 | Comments

Fox’s smash hit Empire ended this week with huge ratings and a best-selling soundtrack to boot. With the date of season two unknown, the wait for Empire‘s return may as well be a prison sentence. That’s why we’ve put together this list of titles to check out until Empire rises again.

Hustle & Flow 82%

What it is: In Craig Brewer’s 2005 indie drama Hustle & Flow, a Memphis pimp (Terrence Howard) tries his hand at making music in order to find fulfillment in a life overrun with hustlers, prostitutes, and drug dealers.

Why you might like it: Before Cookie and Lucious, Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard were Shug and DJay, whose meager beginnings are not unlike those of our beloved music moguls. Howard gives a heartfelt performance as DJay, which nabbed him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. (The film also won Best Song for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.”)

Commitment: Two hours.

The Godfather 98%

What it is: Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia epic starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino tells the story of the Corleones, one of the most powerful of the five “families” of organized crime in New York.

Why you might like it: There’s no question that Empire owes a debt to The Godfather (it was even mentioned in writer Danny Strong’s original pitch), from major plots about a larger-than-life father handing down his legacy to his adult children, to the musical cues that echo Nino Rota’s unforgettable theme.

Commitment: The Godfather is three hours; the whole trilogy will take you close to 10.


What it is: A corrupt Chicago mayor (Kelsey Grammer) clutches to power while trying to keep his degenerative neurological disorder a secret in this two-season drama from Starz.

Why you might like it: Similar to Empire, Boss portrays a high-profile figure who tries to keep his illness under wraps, and like Lucious, Mayor Kane puts his family last, which makes you wonder if someone can really be that bad. The answer is yes.

Commitment: 18 hours.

Ran 97%

What it is: In Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language epic, Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an arrogant tyrant whose attempt to divide his kingdom among his three sons ignites an all-out war.

Why you might like it: Both Empire and Ran are based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, the story of an aging king and his three daughters, and both set the story in a new context — one in the music industry and the other in 16th-century feudal Japan.

Commitment: Three hours.

Survivor’s Remorse

What it is: When a young black basketball player (Jessie T. Usher) leaves the Boston projects to turn pro, his family follows him to Atlanta where they share in the good life.

Why you might like it: Executive produced by LeBron James, Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse has all the family drama and wish fulfillment one would expect when a multi-million dollar contract is in play — though this time with a comedic tone (think Entourage with basketball players). And if there’s one place that can hold up to the flashiness of show biz, it’s the NBA.

Commitment: 3 hours.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler 72%

What it is: Forest Whitaker is an African-American butler who works in the White House, faithfully serving seven presidents over three decades.

Why you might like it: Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, who are the creative duo behind Empire, first worked together on Lee Daniels’ The Butler, an effective melodrama that deals with cultural and family issues. Plus, Terrence Howard plays a supporting role as Whitaker’s feisty neighbor which earned him an Image Award nomination in 2013.

Commitment: Two hours and 20 minutes.

Being Mary Jane

What it is: In BET’s first scripted series, Gabrielle Union plays Mary Jane Paul, a successful news anchor struggling to meet Mr. Right while trying to help those closest to her, including a sick mother, a pregnant niece, and a depressed friend.

Why you might like it: Let’s face it — there’s something entertaining about the fact that the rich and famous have problems too. Fortunately for Mary Jane, her fabulosity is tempered with a likable personality as she struggles behind the scenes of her TV show. Plus, there’s plenty of juicy drama, including one of the few prime-time character arcs that features a gay black man in a non-stereotypical way.

Commitment: 16 hours.

8 Mile 75%

What it is: Eminem plays a fictionalized version of himself, a poor white kid with a dead-end job who immerses himself in rap culture to escape an unhappy life in a Detroit trailer park.

Why you might like it: How can we not talk about the Empire soundtrack that debuted at number one the Billboard 200 this week? If you came to Empire for the drama but stayed for the music, then you’ll probably enjoy 8 Mile‘s impressive track list that includes Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and “Rabbit Run,” along with 50 Cent’s “Wanksta,” Nas’ “U Wanna Be Me,” and Jay Z’s “8 Miles and Runnin’.” Incidentally, the 8 Mile soundtrack also debuted at number one the week it came out in 2002.

Commitment: Two hours.


What it is: A fading country star (Connie Britton) must collaborate with the new girl on the scene (Hayden Panettiere ) in order for both of them to widen their audiences and boost record sales.

Why you might like it: A soap opera set in the music industry? We can dig that. As much as Empire is not solely for hip-hop fans, Nashville is appealing not only to country music devotees — although it certainly doesn’t hurt. With soapy melodrama and shocking twists, Nashville focuses on the corrosive effects of fame and fortune and does it very well.

Commitment: 58 hours.

The Lion in Winter 92%

What it is: Set at the end of the 12th century, The Lion in Winter features Peter O’Toole as England’s Henry II who must choose one of his three sons as an heir before he dies — and even grants his imprisoned wife furlough for the occasion.

Why you might like it: Sure, it’s Lion and not Lyon, but the similarities between Empire and The Lion in Winter are impossible to deny, and that includes stand-out performances by an ensemble cast. Katharine Hepburn, who plays King Henry’s scheming wife in her Oscar-winning performance as Eleanor of Aquitaine, is probably as close to Cookie as you could get in 1183.

Commitment: Two hours and 14 minutes.

Season one of Empire is Certified Fresh at 79 percent. Read reviews here.

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