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Top 10 Spike Lee Joints

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Ezuma

Ya dig? Sho nuff! From Inside Man, to BlacKkKlansman, to Malcolm X, Stan Lee has made some amazing, thought provoking movies over the years. WatchMojo ranks the top Spike Lee Joints.

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We don’t know if he’s got game on the court, but behind the camera, Spike Lee has all the right moves. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Spike Lee Joints.


For this list, we’re looking at the best movies Spike Lee has directed.


#10: “Jungle Fever” (1991)


Never one afraid to tackle controversial issues, Spike took a head-on approach to discussing interracial relationships with this film. Starring Wesley Snipes as Flipper, a married man who has an affair with his white co-worker, the movie openly discusses the social mores their coupling breaks as well as the serious repercussions it has on their loved ones. Verging on melodrama, a lot goes down in the movie that’s just on the right side of being over-the-top but in Spike’s hands it’s grounded by the performances he pulls from the actors, particularly Samuel L. Jackson as Gator, Flipper’s crack- addict brother. Some of the movie’s politics haven’t aged well, but it started a much need conversation.


#9: “Inside Man” (2006)


Not many directors have a filmography as varied as Spike’s, but lucky for us, he’s proven he has the range. With “Inside Man,” Spike gave us a crime thriller set over a tense 24-hours during a bank robbery on Wall Street. Marking their fourth collaboration, Denzel Washington played the straight man as a detective trying to negotiate with Clive Owen, the ringleader behind the heist. Unlike Spike’s other films, this one has a strong focus on the plot, and his tight execution behind the camera differentiates the caper from other heist flicks with a similar story.


#8: “Chi-Raq” (2015)


Coming from anyone else, the plot of “Chi-Raq” would sound utterly ridiculous: a group of women in Chicago make a pact to stop having sex with their partners as long as the city’s gang violence continues. Taking inspiration from the Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, the story is a powerful exploration of gun violence, sexuality, and gender dynamics. Stacked with a powerhouse cast including Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson, it woefully underperformed at the box office. Nevertheless, the film is classic Spike Lee, mixing social commentary with a bit humor to comment on the black American experience.


#7: “He Got Game” (1998)


Sports movies aren’t usually as morally complex as this one, but that’s because most of them don’t have Spike Lee directing. Working with Denzel Washington, the actor stars as Jake Shuttlesworth, an inmate in prison for his wife’s accidental death. His character is offered a reduced sentence if he can convince his estranged son, portrayed by NBA player Ray Allen, to play college ball at the alma mater of the state’s governor. The movie is an intimate character portrait as Jake struggles to connect with his son without giving away the true reason he’s back. His life and his son’s future are both on the line, and with each scene we see the weight of Jake’s choices play out.


#6: “25th Hour” (2002)


With “25th Hour” Spike tackles the looming shadow of prison again, this time with Edward Norton starring as a man enjoying his last day of freedom before serving a seven-year sentence. But it’s way more than that. Set in New York, it came out a little more than a year after the 9/11 attacks, and Spike imbues each scene with the weight of that tragedy and the pall it cast over the city as Norton says his goodbyes. With the searing 5-minute monologue Norton’s character gives, he takes down everyone from Osama Bin Laden to George W. Bush to himself. It’s a bold, sometimes racist, hard-to-hear rant, but one of the most unforgettable scenes Spike has directed.


#5: “BlacKkKlansman” (2018)


Spike’s most recent film is being hailed as his “return to form”, and while whether it is or not is up for debate, it’s pretty hard to deny how great of a movie it is. Starring John David Washington, Denzel’s son, and based on a true-life story, it follows a black police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan by developing a relationship with the leader of a local chapter. The film is a wild, comedic ride that explores race relations, the role of the police, and racial inequality. With a stacked cast including Adam Driver, Topher Grace, and Alec Baldwin, every performer brought their A-game to bring this compelling story to life.


#4: “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986)


Before he turned it into a Netflix show, this film was the one that cemented Spike as a director to watch. Made for just $175,000, the movie explores the sexual life of Nola Darling, an artist in Brooklyn, and her messy romantic entanglements with three different suitors. Nola’s sexuality was seen as unconventional for the time, and while there’s been some critique about how feminist the movie really is, it was bold, inventive, and showed black women in a way we hadn’t seen on screen before. And it gave us the iconic character of Mars Blackmon, played by Spike himself, who went on to star in his own Nike commercials.


#3: “4 Little Girls” (1997)


While he’s known more for his narrative films, Spike has proved that he’s an excellent documentarian too with this movie about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that took the lives of the titular girls, and later with “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” a film about post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. But with “4 Little Girls” especially, Spike showed the world that he could inject that same humanity, heart, and call for justice present in his fictional movies into a real-life subject. The amount of painstaking research he did for the film is clear as he shows the arc from the bombing to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


#2: “Malcolm X” (1992)


Making a biopic about anyone as dynamic and complicated as Malcolm X would be an ambitious undertaking for any director, but somehow Spike Lee took the life of the civil rights leader and told it with the grace and dignity Malcolm deserved. A long gestating project before Spike was even attached, the problems with the production are legendary, but despite all that, he managed to pull one of Denzel Washington’s best performances as the actor portrayed the icon at various times of his life leading up to his assassination. Spike hits all the normal biopic beats, but it feels compelling given the strength of his direction and firm grasp on the subject matter.





Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:


“Get on the Bus” (1996)


“The Original Kings of Comedy” (2000)


“Clockers” (1995)


#1: “Do the Right Thing” (1989)


A small little indie film made on a tenth of a normal Hollywood budget, “Do the Right Thing” has become one of the most enduring movies of the last 30 years. Even more, it’s one of the most important movies in American cinema due to its portrayal of race relations in America. Set during the hottest day of the summer, it’s an inventive film that tells the story of the racial unrest between the black inhabitants of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and the white owner of the local pizza shop. It’s a powder keg from start to finish as the story eventually leads to a riot in the neighborhood. The movie is full of career-defining performances and encourages audiences to examine their own views.
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