Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Ranking the Shaft Movies

Before making my way to the theater to see the latest installment of the Shaft franchise, I did the movie blogger thing and watched all of the prior entries in the span of a week. It was a pretty enlightening experience. I saw the original Shaft a couple times years ago. I also saw parts of the Shaft in Africa and none of Shaft's Big Score. I went to see the 2000 version of Shaft in theaters and remember enjoying it. Going through the series in its entirety, I was pleasantly surprised at how the quality held up through the original trilogy, therefore ranking them became a tougher task than expected. Let's see where they settled.

5. Shaft
This newest entry is the franchise's weakest. It's not as terrible as you might have heard, but it is a film with lots of problems. Mainly, it has a hard time reconciling the Shaft persona with the 21st century. It pays homage to the most well-known elements of its predecessors while ignoring the growth the series made over the course of those same films. Lots of action and a rapid pace keep it from being a total misfire.

4. Shaft's Big Score
Our hero is investigating the death of his girlfriend's brother. Not surprisingly, as he pulls on various threads lots of unraveling happens. The first sequel to the original is the weakest of the Gordon Parks trilogy. It's solid in its own right, but doesn't differentiate itself from its predecessor enough to be memorable.

3. Shaft
You may be surprised to see that I don’t have the original in the top spot. Honestly though, I could have put these top three movies in any order. This one sets up the character as a hard-nosed private eye and a smooth operator with the ladies. In keeping the setting to New York City and not using fancy gadgets like the more well-known James Bond keeps the movie grounded. He is clearly of the same environment as his target audience. That, combined with Richard Roundtree perfectly filling the role, is what makes John Shaft iconic. Even more iconic is the theme song penned and performed by Isaac Hayes.

2. Shaft 
If there were any actor who could comfortably step into Richard Roundtree’s shoes to reboot the franchise, it’s Samuel L. Jackson. He does Roundtree proud, but is surprisingly subdued. Most of the movie is that way, and it works. Jackson’s Shaft, at least in this film, never seems like a superhero, but concerned guy chasing the bad guy that got away. His character is still a womanizer, but it’s dialed way down. This one features the best cast in the series by a mile. In addition to Jackson, and Roundtree, we get Christian Bale, Vanessa Williams, Toni Collette, and the real reason to watch this movie, Jeffrey Wright. He gives us the best villain in the franchise.

1. Shaft in Africa 
The only Shaft movie not entirely set in New York City, the capital of the world and my hometown, is my favorite. The action moves to the great continent of Africa, and the plot gives us a film with more on its mind than sticking it to The Man. To be fair, the franchise has always been better than its Blaxploitation progeny when it comes to how it deals with The Man. These movies have been about empowering Black men as opposed to giving White men their comeuppance. It’s a small, but important distinction. Shaft in Africa embodies it better than any other movie in the series.


  1. I've only seen the 2000 version by John Singleton which I thought was pretty good. I want to re-watch it in case I ever decide to do a marathon on Shaft. Remember in the show Fresh Prince where Will Smith told Ashley that Shaft was real when Ashley knows it isn't true. I also remembered Lisa believed that Shaft was gay which shocked and appalled Willy-Will.

  2. You know, I haven’t seen any which is a crime. I am surprised that a sequel is your #1 but I am glad that it is still one of the originals. On my list to see all of them

    1. I hope you enjoy them when you get to them.