Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Ranking John Singleton Movies

The world lost another great one on April 29, 2019 when director John Singleton passed away. His filmography was slight by the standards of many, having only directed nine movies. His impact, however, was immense. I figured there's no better way to honor the man's legacy than looking back at his complete body of directorial work. And since I'm a lowly movie blogger, you just know I have to rank them. Here it goes.

9. Abduction
Until yesterday, this was the only John Singleton movie that I hadn't seen. I heard it was bad, but I watched it just for this list. And, well, it's bad. It's biggest problem is Taylor Lautner in the lead. After the Twilight the powers that be were trying to make a big star out of him and put him in this. He just lacks the charisma or the acting chops to make the movie go. The rest of the movie doesn't help. It's poorly written and it's best bits are all generic. Sadly, this is the last movie Singleton directed.

8. 2 Fast 2 Furious
This is the second installment in the somehow still going Fast and Furious series. Many deem it to be one of the worst. Those people aren't wrong, but I still have fun with this movie. Whatever flaws this movie may have, and it has plenty, it is a fun ride that also introduced some of the characters that helped shape the franchise.

7. Shaft
Nearly 30 years after the original Shaft, Singleton gave us a sequel with none other than Samuel L. Jackson in the lead. Jackson is complemented by the best cast Singleton ever had to work with, outside of his debut. It includes Jeffrey Wright, Toni Collette, Vanessa L. Williams, Dan Hedaya, a pre-Batman Christian Bale, and of course, Richard Roundtree. All of them turn in excellent work in service of a movie that hits the right notes.

6. Four Brothers
By '04, Singleton had proven to be a bankable director capable of turning mid-sized budgets into money-makers. This tale about four adoptive brothers trying to avenge the death of their mother after returning home for her funeral is just that. Mark Wahlberg leads the game cast of good guys, but it's the then unknown Chiwetel Ejiofor as the villain that makes the movie work as well as it does. It's not a world-beater, but it does exactly what it sets out to do.

5. Baby Boy
This is the last film in what some know as The South Central Trilogy. Most will say it's also the last film where Singleton tried to say anything. And he says a lot. Similarly to his most famous film, he explores the black family dynamic in the inner city. His focus is on the boy trying to be a man without ever having had one to guide him. It's an underappreciated film that isn't without flaws, but says more than enough to make up for them. It also happens to be one of the earliest film roles for one Taraji P. Henson.

4. Higher Learning
Singleton's third film turns college life into a microcosm of race relations in America. It is also a coming of age film as several characters "find themselves" over the course of the movie. Some do it in a fairly normal way, but all are affected by the one who does so in the most shocking manner. And so are we.

3. Rosewood
American history is unfortunately littered with stories of entire Black towns destroyed in one fell swoop by whites because of some perceived indiscretion or another. Rosewood is a fictional story, but inspired by a real event. The latter making it all the more gut-wrenching.

2. Poetic Justice
The second movie in that South Central trilogy is the least like the others. Rather than further scrutinizing Black families, Singleton takes a swing at Black love. Aided by poetry from Maya Angelou and a magnetic Tupac Shakur, he gives us a film that resonates on so many levels. Drama and humor collide to make the film endlessly rewatchable. It's biggest flaw is that it was Singleton's follow-up to the number 1 film on this list.

1. Boyz N the Hood
Singleton's deep dive into Black manhood stands as a crystal clear representation of the difference between having a father in the household and not having one. Unbelievably, there's a lot more at play in this movie. It spawned dozens of imitators, both in front of and behind the camera. It also features big screen debuts (or early appearances) by Ice Cube, Regina King, Nia Long, and Angela Bassett, plus a towering performance by Laurence Fishburne. As you may have heard over the last day or two, this film made Singleton the first African-American and the youngest person of any race to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Director. In 2002, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. Nearly 30 years after its release, it's biggest attribute is what's saddest about it. It's still relevant.


  1. With the exception of Rosewood and Abduction (the latter of which I have no interest in though I'm not surprised at how poorly received it is considering that Taylor Lautner is the wrong person to be in an action film) as I haven't seen those films. John Singleton had a damn good career with a debut film that I'm sure not many will be able to top. I enjoyed Poetic Justice, Shaft, Four Brothers, and 2 Fast 2 Furious for what they are as well as be very enjoyable films. Higher Learning I think is an alright film but had some flaws in its study of race relations. Baby Boy I think is underrated as it's a film I hope to revisit soon though I do have to prepare myself once again to see Ving Rhames' ass.

    Rest in Power John Singleton.

    1. See Rosewood, skip Abduction. Taylor Lautner is terrible. And I don't think there is anything that can really prepare for the sight of Ving Rhames backside in the kitchen.

  2. I'm glad you made a tribute to him. I love Boyz in the Hood and Baby Boy. Four Brothers I own but haven't watched in years. I'll have to give it a re-watch soon. 2 Fast 2 Furious I don't hate either, it's fun. I haven't seen Poetic Justice, Shaft or Rosewood. Those I'll seek out.

    1. Four Brothers is a fun one. Hope you get to see the others, soon.

  3. Rest in peace John Singelton

  4. I've only seen three of the movies on this list, I need to get my hands on Poetic Justice and Baby Boy. I think I'll give Adbuction a miss. I remember watching Boyz N The Hood and being absolutely blown away. Would have been interesting to see Singelton make more movies and 'say more'.

    1. Please see Poetic Justice and Baby Boy. Yeah, you'll be fine having never seen Abduction.

  5. So young. Boyz n the Hood was such an astonishing film and had so much in it. What a cast too. Would really like to see Rosewood.

  6. That was a very sad day when he passed, but you've honored his work so well here. Boyz N the Hood must be number one. That movie had such a profound impact on me. I'll love it forever. And it's nice to hear some praise for Baby Boy, a movie more people should see. That dialogue-free scene near the end between Gibson and Rhames is incredible.