(Photo by Universal/courtesy Everett Collection)
60 Movies That Celebrate Black Joy
This year for Black History Month, Rotten Tomatoes is celebrating “Black Joy” in cinema.
Though there are thousands of exceptional films from Black filmmakers and storytellers, those on the receiving end of critical and awards attention are frequently rooted in pain, violence, or oppression. (It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of Black actresses who have been nominated for an Oscar were lauded for performances where they played a slave, maid, or a woman in abject poverty.) In an effort to turn the page and highlight cinema that focuses on the celebration of the Black experience, Rotten Tomatoes’ editor Jacqueline Coley has curated a varied list of films that explore the vast diaspora of Black culture – and will make you feel good.
As our list plainly illustrates, those who have borne the yoke of oppression are often the same people who can smile, laugh, and celebrate most wholly, and the films that live in the intersection of that phenomenon are oftentimes the best of what Black Cinema has to offer. These are the movies that celebrate and chronicle that giddy and infectious emotion: Black Joy.
Titles like Ryan Coogler’s Oscar-winning, billion-dollar blockbuster Black Panther and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s seminal star-making romance, Love and Basketball, made our list – as you would expect. But we have also included lesser-known titles like Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, the moving family drama, Queen of Katwe, and the hip-hop cult-classic Krush Groove. Recent films like Malcolm D. Lee’s Girls Trip, which made a star out of comedian Tiffany Haddish – and introduced the world to “grapefruiting” – are also on our list. As are seminal classics we revisited, like Richard Pryor’s beloved stand-up comedy feature Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip and Sidney Poitier’s Lilies of the Field.
In curating this list, we included films that may touch on sensitive or serious topics, as is the case for dramas like Soul Food and Crooklyn, but as those films primarily focus on the joyful side of life, love, and family, we have included them here. Our list also has a few choices from off the beaten path, too – entries like Beyonce’s history-making live concert feature Homecoming and her visual album for Disney+, Black Is King.
And for our latest update, we added a handful of ’22 joyful entries, including Jordan Peele’s cinematic take on popcorn spectacle and aliens: Nope. And we match the emotion of joy and charisma of Nope‘s Keke Palmer’s smile with Emergency, a comedic adventure from director Carey Williams, who co-wrote with KD Davila. We also added in some fierce female performances from Viola Davis, Regina King, and the ensembled casts of The Harder They Fall and The Woman King, which both had us leaping to our feet with victory.
We hope you enjoy the selection ranked below by Tomatometer, and if you want to tell us what you think of the list – think we’ve missed a title, or want to shout out a film that didn’t quite make our list – let us know in the comments. – Jacqueline Coley
Adjusted Score: 109692%
Critics Consensus: Deftly interweaving incredible live footage with a series of revealing interviews, Summer of Soul captures the spirit and context of a watershed moment while tying it firmly to the present.
In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary-part music film, part historical... [More]
Adjusted Score: 106213%
Critics Consensus: The Forty-Year-Old Version opens a compelling window into the ebbs and flows of the artist's life -- and announces writer-director-star Radha Blank as a major filmmaking talent with her feature debut.
Radha, a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. But when she foils what seems like her... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100162%
Critics Consensus: Beychella forever.
This intimate, in-depth look at Beyoncé's celebrated 2018 Coachella performance reveals the emotional road from creative concept to cultural movement.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 119425%
Critics Consensus: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse matches bold storytelling with striking animation for a purely enjoyable adventure with heart, humor, and plenty of superhero action.
Bitten by a radioactive spider in the subway, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into... [More]
Adjusted Score: 125942%
Critics Consensus: Black Panther elevates superhero cinema to thrilling new heights while telling one of the MCU's most absorbing stories -- and introducing some of its most fully realized characters.
After the death of his father, T'Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place... [More]
Adjusted Score: 115740%
Critics Consensus: A film as beautiful to contemplate as it is to behold, Soul proves Pixar's power to deliver outstanding all-ages entertainment remains undimmed.
Joe is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn't quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102659%
Critics Consensus: Stormy Weather's depiction of the Black community is disappointingly facile, but its delightful musical numbers drown out any missed narrative notes.
Bill Williamson (Bill Robinson), a struggling performer, meets a beautiful vocalist named Selina Rogers (Lena Horne). Bill promises her that... [More]
Adjusted Score: 108466%
Critics Consensus: All hail Viola Davis! The Woman King rules.
The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102620%
Critics Consensus: Queen of Katwe is a feel-good movie of uncommon smarts and passion, and outstanding performances by Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo help to elevate the film past its cliches.
Living in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her... [More]
Adjusted Score: 97105%
Critics Consensus: Beyoncé is King.
Adjusted Score: 95959%
Critics Consensus: House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.
Play's parents are out of town, and he's planning the house party to end all house parties. His best friend,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 108491%
Critics Consensus: In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked -- and crucial -- contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.
Three brilliant African American women at NASA -- Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson -- serve as the brains... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94342%
Critics Consensus: See You Yesterday marries a novel sci-fi premise with urgent social relevance and forges something excitedly new from the union -- providing an impressive showcase for star Eden Duncan-Smith and debut writer-director Stefon Bristol.
Two teenage science prodigies spend every spare minute working on their latest homemade invention: backpacks that enable time travel. When... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101274%
Critics Consensus: Girls Trip is the rare R-rated comedy that pushes boundaries to truly comedic effect -- and anchors its laughs in compelling characters brought to life by a brilliantly assembled cast.
Best friends Ryan, Sasha, Lisa and Dina are in for the adventure of a lifetime when they travel to New... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99919%
Critics Consensus: Taking the form of a classic college comedy while adding some socially relevant function, Emergency is as smart and disturbing as it is hilarious.
Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and his best friend, Sean (RJ Cyler), are both seniors in college about to embark on... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94510%
Critics Consensus: Sidney Poitier lends heart and humor to the wonderfully simple Lilies of the Fields, in which splendor sprouts from wholesome soil.
When traveling African-American handyman Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) stops by a farm in rural Arizona, he is welcomed by a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98297%
Critics Consensus: Southside With You looks back on a fateful real-life date with strong performances and engaging dialogue, adding up to a romance that makes for a pretty good date movie in its own right.
Future U.S. President Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) and lawyer Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) go on a fateful first date in... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91538%
Critics Consensus: The Incredible Jessica James makes its standard storyline feel new, almost purely on the strength of a captivating, potentially star-making performance from Jessica Williams.
Jessica, an aspiring playwright in New York City, is trying to get over a recent break-up when she meets Boone,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 97523%
Critics Consensus: It isn't as bold and fearless as its characters, but The Harder They Fall fills its well-worn template with style, energy, and a fantastic cast.
When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is being released from prison he... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95512%
Critics Consensus: Featuring a starmaking performance from Shameik Moore and a refreshingly original point of view from writer-director Rick Famuyiwa, Dope is smart, insightful entertainment.
High-school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) bond over '90s hip-hop culture,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90351%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Richard "Cochise" Morris (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), a local basketball hero, and Leroy "Preach" Jackson (Glynn Turman), who dreams of a career... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93496%
Critics Consensus: As smart, funny, and trenchant as writer-director-star Chris Rock's best standup work, Top Five is a career highlight for its creator -- and one of the comedy standouts of 2014.
Though he began in stand-up comedy, Andre Allen (Chris Rock) hit the big-time as the star of a trilogy of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88661%
Critics Consensus: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind earns its predictably uplifting arc through strong performances and impressive work from debuting director Chiwetel Ejiofor.
A 13-year-old boy is thrown out of the school he loves when his family can no longer afford the fees.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91354%
Critics Consensus: A warm, family-friendly underdog story, featuring terrific supporting performances from Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, and Angela Bassett.
Akeelah, an 11-year-old girl living in South Los Angeles, discovers she has a talent for spelling, which she hopes will... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89149%
Critics Consensus: Confident directing and acting deliver an insightful look at young athletes.
Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) are two childhood friends who both aspire to be professional basketball players. Quincy,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85793%
Critics Consensus: Blessed with clever dialogue and poignant observations of class and race, Medicine For Melancholy is a promising debut for director Barry Jenkins.
Micah (Wyatt Cenac), a passionate social activist, meets affluent professional Joanne (Tracey Heggins) at a party. After getting drunk together,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 108417%
Critics Consensus: Admirable for its originality and ambition even when its reach exceeds its grasp, Nope adds Spielbergian spectacle to Jordan Peele's growing arsenal.
A man and his sister discover something sinister in the skies above their California horse ranch, while the owner of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86697%
Critics Consensus: If you want lots of laughs and don't mind some profanity, The Original Kings of Comedy can deliver.
A cultural phenomenon for our time: Spike Lee captures the comic geniuses behind the successful "Kings of Comedy" tour. In... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87702%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to smart direction and a powerhouse performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beyond the Lights transcends its formulaic storyline to deliver thoroughly entertaining drama.
Though she's been groomed for stardom all her life by an overbearing mother (Minnie Driver), singer Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85810%
Critics Consensus: Besides bringing on the laughs, Barbershop displays a big heart and demonstrates the value of community.
A smart comedy about a day in the life of a barbershop on the south side of Chicago. Calvin (Ice... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84348%
Critics Consensus: Essentially a sports movie with drums, the energetic Drumline somehow manages to make the familiar seem fresh.
Set against the high-energy, high-stakes world of show-style marching bands, "Drumline" is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a talented street drummer... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84455%
Critics Consensus: Much like the titular cuisine, Soul Food blends a series of savory ingredients to offer warm, generous helpings of nourishment and comfort.
When Ahmad Simmons' (Brandon Hammond) diabetic grandmother, Josephine "Big Mama" Joseph (Irma P. Hall), falls into a coma during an... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77226%
Critics Consensus: An endearing romance that puts a fairly fresh perspective on familiar framework, Love Jones is worth falling for.
Two urban African-Americans, Darius (Larenz Tate), an aspiring writer, and Nina (Nia Long), an aspiring photographer, share an instant connection... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87395%
Critics Consensus: Dreamgirls' simple characters and plot hardly detract from the movie's real feats: the electrifying performances and the dazzling musical numbers.
Deena (Beyoncé Knowles),Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) form a music trio called the Dreamettes. When ambitious manager... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82072%
Critics Consensus: Just because Fame is a well-acted musical doesn't mean it flinches against its surprisingly heavy topics.
Young men and women audition for coveted spots at the New York High School of Performing Arts. Those who make... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86264%
Critics Consensus: Keanu's absurd premise and compulsively watchable starring duo add up to an agreeably fast-paced comedy that hits more than enough targets to make up for the misses.
Recently dumped by his girlfriend, slacker Rell (Jordan Peele) finds some happiness when a cute kitten winds up on his... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80855%
Critics Consensus: A personal project that warmly reflects on director Spike Lee's childhood, Crooklyn is an episodic celebration of family and the indelible facets of one's hometown.
As her teacher mother, Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), and her jazz musician father, Woody (Delroy Lindo), worry over monthly bills, grade-schooler... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77470%
Critics Consensus: What Friday might lack in taut construction or directorial flair, it more than makes up with its vibrant (albeit consistently crass) humor and the charming, energetic performances of its leads.
It's Friday and Craig Jones (Ice Cube) has just gotten fired for stealing cardboard boxes. To make matters worse, rent... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77542%
Critics Consensus: Eddie Murphy was in full control at this point, starkly evident in Coming to America's John Landis' coasting direction.
Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is the prince of a wealthy African country and wants for nothing, except a wife who... [More]
Adjusted Score: 79569%
Critics Consensus: Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson make for well-matched comic foils, helping Central Intelligence overcome a script that coasts on their considerable chemistry.
Bullied as a teen for being overweight, Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) shows up to his high school reunion looking fit... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80935%
Critics Consensus: Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. has some broad targets but refuses to take cheap shots at them, instead offering a pointed, well-acted satire of organized religion.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a satirical comedy starring Regina Hall as Trinitie Childs -- the proud first... [More]
Adjusted Score: 72003%
Critics Consensus: About Last Night wanders even further from the David Mamet play that inspired the original, but it benefits from an engaging cast and a screenplay that smartly balances romance and comedy.
While out with loudmouthed pal Bernie (Kevin Hart), Danny (Michael Ealy) meets successful businesswoman Debbie (Joy Bryant), who's as leery... [More]
Adjusted Score: 68742%
Critics Consensus: Roll Bounce dazzles us with a classic late 1970's feel, but this coming of age film could have been more than just a spin around the roller rink.
Xavier (Bow Wow), a teenage boy in Chicago, struggles with the loss of his mother and turns to roller skating... [More]
Adjusted Score: 68387%
Critics Consensus: Though predictable and possibly too sweet, Brown Sugar is charming, well-acted, and smarter than typical rom-com fare.
Sidney (Sanaa Lathan) and Dre (Taye Diggs) can attribute their friendship and the launch of their careers to one single... [More]
Adjusted Score: 64713%
Critics Consensus: Solid performances and a steady directorial hand help The Preacher's Wife offer some reliably heartwarming - albeit fairly predictable - holiday cheer.
A cleric begins to doubt himself and is visited by an angel. The heavenly emissary is supposed to help the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63220%
Critics Consensus: A charming piece of work with believable characters.
Three old friends -- Mike (Omar Epps), Roland (Taye Diggs) and Slim (Richard T. Jones) -- recount memories of their... [More]
Adjusted Score: 62642%
Critics Consensus: Waiting to Exhale looks at life's ups and downs from an underseen perspective -- albeit one that's poorly served by uneven acting and a sporadically interesting story.
Navigating through careers, family and romance, four friends bond over the shortcomings in their love lives -- namely, the scarcity... [More]
Adjusted Score: 62485%
Critics Consensus: The Last Dragon is a flamboyant genre mashup brimming with style, romance, and an infectious fondness for kung fu, but audiences may find the tonal whiplash more goofy than endearing.
Leroy Green (Taimak), a young martial artist living in New York City, trains tirelessly to attain the same level of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 59705%
Critics Consensus: Its heart is in the right place -- and so is its appealing cast -- but Jumping the Broom is ultimately too cliched and thinly written to recommend.
Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) is a successful corporate lawyer who comes from an old-money family. When she meets Jason Taylor... [More]
Adjusted Score: 59583%
Critics Consensus: Although Queen Latifah's bountiful life-affirming spirit permeates the film, director Wayne Wang is unable to revive this remake with any real flair.
The discovery that she has a terminal illness prompts introverted saleswoman Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) to reflect on what she... [More]
Adjusted Score: 54277%
Critics Consensus: Entertaining if not over-the-top humor from a solid comic duo provides plenty of laughs.
During Prohibition, loudmouth Harlem grifter Ray (Eddie Murphy) and the no-nonsense Claude (Martin Lawrence) team up on a bootlegging mission... [More]
Adjusted Score: 52476%
Critics Consensus: Angela Bassett gracefully breezes through a hot summer fling without much conflict or ado, leaving us wondering when -- or if -- she's ever getting that groove back.
Unlucky-in-love stockbroker Stella (Angela Bassett) jets to Jamaica with her gal pal Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg) for some fun in the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 50928%
Critics Consensus: Well-intentioned but formulaic, Just Wright has winning leads but can't overcome its preponderance of cliches.
Physical therapist Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) lands the dream job of working with basketball superstar Scott McKnight (Common). All goes... [More]
Adjusted Score: 45275%
Critics Consensus: Though Union and LL Cool J are appealing romantic leads, Deliver Us From Eva is too predictable and contrived.
Eva has been in charge of her younger sisters ever since their parents died, many years ago. Eva's uncanny ability... [More]
Adjusted Score: 32543%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Russell Walker (Blair Underwood) has started a new hip-hop and rap label called Krush Groove, which features a stellar list... [More]
Adjusted Score: 46423%
Critics Consensus: This workmanlike movie musical lacks the electricity of the stage version (and its cinematic inspiration), but it's bolstered by strong performances by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
When Harlem schoolteacher Dorothy (Diana Ross) tries to save her dog from a storm, she's miraculously whisked away to an... [More]
Adjusted Score: 41948%
Critics Consensus: Despite a strong performance by Queen Latifah, Beauty Shop is in need of some style pointers.
Far from Chicago, hairdresser Gina Norris (Queen Latifah) has relocated to Atlanta with her daughter (Paige Hurd) and has quickly... [More]
Adjusted Score: 22155%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) is a classically trained jazz dancer who's tired of warding off her amorous teacher and hungry for... [More]
Adjusted Score: 21071%
Critics Consensus: Sister Act is off-key in this reprise, fatally shifting the spotlight from Whoopi Goldberg to a less compelling ensemble of pupils and trading its predecessor's sharp comedy for unconvincing sentiment.
In this sequel, Las Vegas performer Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) is surprised by a visit from her nun friends,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 16534%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Waitresses at a Georgia restaurant, Nisi (Halle Berry) and Mickey (Natalie Desselle), decide to fly to Los Angeles for a... [More]