This will probably sound crazy to some, but there are days where I would rather watch some of Martin Lawrence’s best movies than do just about anything else. There is just something about his classics, like Nothing to Lose, Blue Streak, and Big Momma’s House, that take me back to my childhood and watching VHS tapes of R-rated movies at my friend’s house after his parents went to bed for the night, and sometimes that 90-minute burst of nostalgia is what I need to get through the day.
Throughout his career, Lawrence has gone from being one of the best up-and-coming comedians to a massive TV star to an even bigger movie star with appearances in some of the best action movies that have become part of American pop culture, event when he’s not barking at people. If you want to check out some of those movies for a nice revisit, or the first time, look no further because we’re about to break them down now.
The Bad Boys Movies (1995 - 2020)
Between 1995 and 2020, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith teamed up in the successful Bad Boys franchise, which saw them play Miami Police Department detectives Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowery, respectively, in a total of three films, the first two directed by Michael Bay and the third, Bad Boys For Life, taken over by Adil & Bilall.
It is hard to think of a better place to start when talking about Lawrence’s best movies than this revolutionary action franchise that took the buddy cop genre and turned it up a notch with the two leads’ undeniable and electric chemistry, and all those flashy action sequences. All these years later, the debate still remains as to which is better: Bad Boys or Bad Boys II.
Big Momma's House (2000)
Released at the peak of Martin Lawrence’s popularity, Big Momma’s House follows FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Lawrence), who takes part in perhaps his most difficult undercover operation yet: taking on the role of Big Momma, a larger-than-life and cranky woman whose granddaughter comes calling after her ex-boyfriend comes looking for her when he breaks out of prison.
I have a vivid memory of seeing Big Momma’s House in the theater with my older brother and grandma (who was also a sassy, God-fearing, opinionated southerner) shortly after its June 2000 release and having the time of my life. “Big Momma” helping deliver a baby, providing testimony at church, and that incredibly funny “wig” scene still stick out all these years later.
Blue Streak (1999)
Released in September 1999, Blue Streak follows jewel thief Miles Logan (Martin Lawrence), who manages to hide an extremely valuable diamond before he gets arrested for a heist gone wrong. But, when he goes back to retrieve the jewel after being released from prison, Miles discovers the building has been turned into a police station, resulting in him going undercover as a newly transferred detective.
Blue Streak is one of those movies that I will watch whenever it’s on TV, even if I catch it halfway through. The pairing of Lawrence and Luke Wilson, who plays his unsuspecting partner, Detective Carlson, is absolutely brilliant and offers a new spin on the buddy cop movie. I mean, the way Lawrence says “We’ve got guns and shit” when forcing his way through traffic still kills me more than 20 years later.
Nothing To Lose (1997)
When Nick Bean (Tim Robbins) thinks he has caught his wife having an affair with his boss, the frustrated advertising executive snaps and drives around in the midst of a nervous breakdown only to be car-jacked by an equally down on his luck criminal named T. Paul (Martin Lawrence). Things go from bad to worse when Nick decides to kidnap the man instead.
Although not a big hit with critics (it has a 28% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Nothing to Lose is hilarious through and through, and that’s due to the unlikely pairing of Lawrence and Robbins, who are surprisingly great as a comedy duo. Whether it’s their first meeting, the spider scene, the hardware store robbery, or the big heist with a singing security guard, it just works. Oh, and there’s a criminally underrated performance from Giancarlo Esposito.
When a get-rich-quick plan blows up in their faces and they end up being falsely convicted of murder in Prohibition-era Mississippi, Rayford Gibson (Eddie Murphy) and Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence) find themselves serving life in a prison full of blood-thirsty guards and over-the-top inmates.
Throughout the R-rated Life, Lawrence and Murphy have this relationship that is built upon equal parts resentment and friendship as they are forced to spend decades with one another in a Southern prison camp, which creates quite the dynamic. There are times throughout the movie where it seems like director Ted Demme just told the pair (as well as the rest of the cast) to just spitball the scenes in hopes of catching greatness, and the plan works.
Do The Right Thing (1989)
What starts out as a disagreement over which pictures should be placed on the walls of pizzeria in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn quickly devolves into a full-on riot when long-simmering racial tensions boil over, in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
Considered one of the best movies of all time, Do the Right Thing also happens to be Martin Lawrence’s film debut, with his portrayal of Cee, one of the various residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant featured throughout some of the most pivotal scenes. Although not as prominent as roles that would follow, it’s a great way to start a film career.
House Party (1990)
When his parents go out of town, Peter “Play” Martin (Christopher “Play” Martin) finds his golden opportunity to throw the party of all parties, which quickly gets out of hand. His best friend, Christopher “Kid” Robinson Jr. (Christopher “Kid” Reid) sees the party as his chance to impress the girl of his dreams, but only if he can find a way to sneak out of his house past his overbearing father.
House Party is one of those movies that was impossible to escape in the ‘90s and will soon get its own HBO Max reboot. Hopefully, Martin Lawrence’s character, Bilal, shows up in some form so we can get more of those classic freak-outs and high-pitched screams.
Womanizing ladies’ man Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy) meets his match in Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens), a successful advertising executive who becomes his boss and non-committal lover when their two companies merge. Finally on the other side of the game he previously played with countless women, Marcus gets a taste of his own medicine.
Whenever I go back and watch the surprisingly critically-panned Boomerang, the scenes I look forward to the most are those featuring Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and David Alan Grier, who play three best friends. Whenever the three of them are on the screen together it doesn’t feel like acting but instead a look at three close pals talking about anything and everything, even if the topic of conversation hasn’t aged well in the past 30 years.
Open Season (2006)
Upon helping a new friend, Boog (Martin Lawrence), a 900-pound grizzly bear living in captivity, is shot with a tranquilizer dart and taken back into the wild, where he lacks the drive and skills to survive the multitude of hunters who lurk in the shadows. But, with the help of some established wild animals, Boog finds a way to get back at the humans once and for all.
Released in 2006, the animated adventure film Open Season allowed Lawrence to take his oversized personality and use it to bring an incredibly large and extremely spoiled bear to life. Although not as well-remembered as some of the other animated films of the era, the premise plus the all-star cast makes it worth a watch.
National Security (2003)
Two security guards — Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence) and Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn) — couldn’t be any more unlike one another, but they are forced to put their differences (and history) aside when they become the only chance of bringing down a massive smuggling operation.
Who would have thought the pairing of Martin Lawrence and Steven Zahn would lead to so many great moments, but this is the case of the 2003 buddy action comedy National Security. Whether it’s with the classic bumblebee scene or the multitude of run-ins once they become partners, the movie is surprisingly funny after all these years.
The Beach Bum (2019)
After years of living an easy life on the Florida coast enjoying the simpler things in life, Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), a struggling writer, is forced to make a change and finish his novel once and for all, or else.
Throughout the course of his journey in The Beach Bum, Moondog comes into contact with several colorful characters, including Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence), a dolphin tour guide who actually becomes one of the highlights of the critically-panned film. What makes it even crazier is the fact that this movie is written and directed by Harmony Korine, who created one of the most infamous movies of the ‘90s, Kids.
These are just some of the great performances from Martin Lawrence, who turned 57 in April 2022, and doesn’t even touch on his great stand-up and TV appearances. There's always next time…
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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