Why Opening Shaft In The ‘70s Is So Different Than Today, According To Samuel L. Jackson And Richard Roundtree

Shaft swinging in through a window, with a gun drawn

Looking at the big picture of the Hollywood box office today, there’s something new opening every weekend. And it’s not just one major movie and some indies either, it’s almost always several big ticket releases in the span of a weekend, as seen in practice over the most recent two or three weekends of release.

The Shaft reboot is about to face that same prospective market, as it will go up against returning contenders like Dark Phoenix and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, as well as fellow newcomer Men In Black International. But if you ask Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Roundtree about how this affected the market when the original Shaft was released, they’ll tell you that it really didn’t.

As CinemaBlend was on hand for the press day of director Tim Story’s Shaft reboot, we asked the on-screen father/son duo about that very question. Their collective answer was better than we could have ever hoped:

Richard Roundtree: “I was so focused on what I was doing, I didn’t give a damn about…”Jessie T. Usher: “…the grand scale. I hear ya.”Samuel L. Jackson: “And guess what? Neither did we. … When Blaxploitation happened, we didn’t give a fuck what else opened. If Shaft was opening, if Coffey was opening, Foxy Brown, The Mack, Three The Hard Way, [Black] Caesar. Whatever opened, we were like…Roundtree: “…tunnel visioned.”Jackson: “Boom. You know, we were seeing ourselves on screen for the first time, exclusively? We were ‘bout it, you know. ”

Looking at the numbers of Shaft’s 1971 performance, that first film not only made an amazing amount of money when compared to the budget that director Gordon Parks’ film was made on, it was also so successful that it helped MGM stay afloat in that particular time of the studio’s history. With the only real competition coming from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory just days earlier, there was no other film released on the July 2 release date that film had slotted itself in for.

But talking to people like Samuel L. Jackson, who were fans of Shaft as it was released, and Richard Roundtree, the man who helped bring the film to life, it wasn’t about the monetary success. The more important factor, and certainly the big reason Shaft has had such longevity in the almost five decades since the film’s premiere, is the fact that it was one of the first films to kick off the Blaxploitation movement that would see all of the films that Jackson had mentioned in our interview come to theaters.

As anyone will tell you, when any demographic latches onto films where they can personally identify with the people on the screen, especially if it’s a first of its kind moment like Shaft, there’s usually a swell in the market for that sort of product. Of course, with its second reboot in theaters this weekend, there’s another market that’s looking to cash in on the film’s release: that of nostalgic franchises reinventing themselves as new discoveries for the Millennial generation.

But watching the below video of both Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Roundtree talking about the golden age of Blaxploitation, with co-star Jessie T. Usher in attendance, you can see their mutual excitement about recalling those early days:

With Shaft meaning a lot to the original audiences that took part in the Blaxploitation experience, there’s a chance that newer audiences will not only latch onto the modern incarnation of that legendary private eye, they might even dig further into the original canon of films from the Richard Roundtree era, as well as Samuel L. Jackson’s previous reboot as well.

Shaft opens in theaters this weekend, with early showings this Thursday night. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for further coverage on Shaft, leading up to its release at the end of the week.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.