It has been said that Black films don’t sell overseas. Black films don’t make money. And Black films aren’t profitable. These are all completely false. In fact, according to a new study on diversity and inclusion in the Hollywood entertainment industry conducted by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, movies and television shows that have more multicultural cast members make the most money--- contrary to popular Hollywood sentiment.
This got me thinking. So I decided to conduct my own research and compile a list of the top 20 highest grossing Black films of all time. These films have made the most money at the box-office both domestically and worldwide, thus becoming the most profitable Black films ever made. The question is what is a Black film? For our purposes here: a Black film is one that has a predominately Black cast and/or Black theme although the film may or may not have a Black director.
Lastly, I’ve adjusted the older films for inflation given the change in the price of movie tickets over time. According to boxofficemojo.com, today's average movie ticket costs $8.70. Ok, that’s it. Enjoy the list.
#20. Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song
This film was written, directed, produced by and starring Melvin Van Peebles (father of actor/director Mario Van Peebles) and it was released in 1971. Sweet Sweetback inadvertantly gave birth to the blaxploitation genre in Hollywood. This independent Black film cost $150K to produce and made $15,200,000 at the box-office when tickets cost only $1.65. In today's world this film would have made over $80.14 million at the box-office.
Directed by Brian Helgeland, 42 depicts the life of baseball legend Jackie Robinson who became the first Black person to play for a major league team. This film falls into the inter-racial buddy film genre starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson opposite Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey the white baseball executive who chose Robinson to integrate the sport. 42 cost $40 million to produce when it was released in 2013. The film grossed $97,470,701.
#18. Little Man
Brought to you by the Wayans'--- the first family of Black-American comedy, Little Man was released in 2006 with a budget of $64 million. The film was directed by the patriarch of the comedy clan, Keenen Ivory Wayans (creator of the classic TV series, In Living Color). His little brothers Shawn and Marlon star in the outrageous comedy that blew up the box-office making $101,295,702 worldwide.
#17. Think Like a Man
This 2012 romantic comedy was directed by Tim Story and based on the book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, by comedian, Steve Harvey. Think Like a Man cost $12 million to produce and made $113,373,764 at the box-office--- spawning the 2014 sequel, Think Like a Man Too.
A biopic of the legendary muscian and singer Ray Charles, which led to a Best Actor Oscar win for noted comedian, actor, and muscian Jamie Foxx. Ray was released in 2004 and directed by Taylor Hackford on a $40 million budget. The film was a critical success grossing $124,823,094 at the box-office.
#15. Big Momma’s House 2
Comedian Martin Lawrence's Big Momma's House 2 is a 2006 crime comedy that was directed by John Whitesell with a $40 million budget. The film features Lawrence in a special effects fat suit and make-up and was a hit with audiences bringing in $137,047,376 worldwide.
The only film on our list to be directed by a Black woman--- Selma is a historical drama based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches in Alabama led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ava Duvernay directed this film in 2014 on a $65 million budget and it grossed $139,840,525 at the box-office.
#13. Ride Along
This buddy cop action comedy was directed by Tim Story for $25 million. Starring rapper turned actor/producer O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson and funny man Kevin Hart. Ride Along was released in 2014 and took in $153,733,265 worldwide.
Dreamgirls is a 2006 American musical drama that pulsates with the spirit of 1960s Motown. Directed by Bill Condon, this ensemble film cost a whopping $75 million and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Jennifer Hudson and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Eddie Murphy in a rare dramatic role. Dreamgirls also featured an incredible musical soundtrack and grossed $154,965,956 at the box-office.
#11. The Butler
This 2013 historical drama is based on the life of Cecil Gaines who served as the butler for eight U.S. presidents. The film featuered an all star cast and was produced on a budget of $30 million. The Butler was directed by Lee Daniels (creator of the TV show, Empire) and grossed a staggering $177,025,498 worldwide.
#10. Straight Outta Compton
Directed by F. Gary Gray (director of the Chris Tucker, Ice Cube movie, Friday), Straight Outta Compton depicts the careers of the controvesial rap group, N.W.A. The film was released in 2015 costing $28 million to produce and raking in $201,344,719 worldwide.
#9. Big Momma’s House
In spite of what comedian Dave Chappelle had to say about Hollywood's insidious propensity for putting Black men in women's clothing, the original Big Momma's House was a huge money maker. Directed by Raja Gosnell, in 2000 the crime comedy film stars Martin Lawrence as an undercover FBI agent dressed as a woman. The film was released in 2000 and produced for $33 million. In the year 2000, the average movie ticket was $5.39 and Big Momma's House pulled in $173,559,438 at the box-office. In today's world that would be over $280 million worldwide.
#8. The Color Purple
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple was released in 1985 starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg on a $15 million dollar budget. The Color Purple brought in $93,589,701 at the box-office back in 1985 when movie tickets were only $3.55. According to today's numbers that would be over $229 million.
This Eddie Murphy vehicle is notable not only for its huge profits but also for its depiction of a world of young urban Black professionals. With an all-star cast featuring Oscar winner Halle Berry, Martin Lawrence, Eartha Kitt, Grace Jones, David Alan Grier, and Robin Givens, Boomerang was directed by Reginal Hudlin on a $42 million budget. Not only did the film feature an incredibly successful soundtrack it brought in a staggering $126,337,168 when it was released back in 1992 (tickets cost $4.15 on average). According to today's standards that's over $264 million.
#6. The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps
Directed by Peter Segal on a breathtaking budget of $84 million this sequel dolled out big laughs (pun intended). The film features Eddie Murphy portraying an entire quirky family. The Klumps made $166 million at the box office back in the year 2000. With today's numbers that would be over $268 million world wide.
#5. Bad Boys
Bad Boys was a huge hit starring rapper turned actor Will Smith opposite comedian Martin Lawrence as two Miami detectives. Directed by Michael Bay, this action comedy was produced on a budget of $23 million. The film was released in 1995 and made $141,237,842 when the average movie ticket cost $4.35. In today's world, that's over $282 million worldwide.
#4. Bad Boys II
This sequel packed a huge punch at the box-office. Also directed by Michael Bay on an enormous $130,000,000 production budget, the film features Martin and Will as two renegade narcotics cops making the Miami streets safe for citizens. Filled with equal parts laughs and action, Bad Boys II was released in 2003 and raked in $273,271,982 at the box office. Back in 2003, the average ticket price $6.03. So in today's world this film would make over $394 million.
#3.The Nutty Professor
This science fiction comedy is loosely based on the 1963 film of the same title starring Jerry Lewis. This version stars Eddie Murphy as the brilliant yet obese Professor Sherman Klump opposite Jada Pinkett-Smith. Directed by Tom Shadyac on a $55 million budget, the film features Murphy in a special effects prosthetic fat suit and make up. The Nutty Professor was a phenomenal hit taking in $273,769,345 at the box-office back in 1995 (average ticket cost $4.35). Today, that would be over $538 million worldwide.
#2. Dr. Doolittle
After an accident, Dr. John Dolittle (Eddie Murphy) discovers he has the ability to converse with animals. This film marks Murphy's shift toward more family friendly films after building his career on R-rated profanity laden blockbusters. Dr. Dolittle was directed by Betty Thomas on a $71 million budget back in 1998 when the average movie ticket cost a mere $4.69. The film earned $294, 156, 464 at the box-office--- that would be over $545 million today.
#1. Coming to America
This film has become a classic of the comedy genre. It pioneered the special effects make-up film that Murphy subsequently perfected (later copied by Martin Lawrence). In Coming to America Murphy and co-star Arsenio Hall portray multiple roles in the romantic fairy tale comedy directed by John Landis on a $39 million production buget. The film is also notable for its depiction of the ficticious African nation of Zumunda, which was shown as a site of beauty and Black royalty. Released in 1988, Coming to America cashed in a mind-boggling $281,442,024 at the box-office when the average ticket price was only $4.11--- that would be over $595 million in today's numbers. This makes Coming to America the highest grossing and perhaps the funniest Black film of all time!
Did your favorite film make the cut? Let me know in the comments below. Or did you notice any interesting trends in this list? Let me know. And make sure you subscribe and like us on FB and follow on Twitter.
Dr. Artel Great is a media scholar who specializes in Black cultural production and popular culture at the intersection of film, television, media, race, and society. He is also an award winning actor, Independent Spirit Award-nominated filmmaker, social impact artist, public speaker, and cultural critic. In his free time, Dr. Great is a professor of American Television History and Culture at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.