Quickly, HBO Max has been building its platform to include an impressive selection of original movies and TV shows, licensed classic films, blockbuster movies, and some of the latest hit TV shows and films. HBO Max only launched in 2020, but is already a leader in the streaming wars. With HBO Max being a top downloaded app, it may not be long before it hits similar subscriber numbers as Netflix and Disney+. Luckily for new, current, and future subscribers, HBO Max makes sure that its content is worth the price. One category that the streaming service excels in is Black-led TV shows and movies. There are many great Black-led movies on HBO Max.
There are so many Black-led movies on HBO Max that I had trouble narrowing it down to just 12 movies. However, I tried to offer a varied collection of Black-led movies on HBO Max. There is something for everyone--historical films, comedies, romance, action and adventure, classics and more. Let’s explore some of the great Black-led movies on HBO Max currently.
12 Years A Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen directed this Best Picture Academy Award winning film about Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African-American man kidnapped and sold into slavery. 12 Years a Slave also stars Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
12 Years a Slave is a powerful film that offers a glimpse of some of the horrors that many Black people faced daily by those who enslaved them. It isn’t an easy film to watch, and it shouldn’t be, as it’s a horrific reminder of the monstrosities man can inflict on man when they view them as less than human or property. 12 Years a Slave features amazing performances by the entire cast, but especially Lupita Nyong’o who won her first Academy Award for this role.
Love & Basketball (2000)
Gina Prince-Bythewood made her feature film directorial debut with Love & Basketball. The film tells the life-long love story of Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps). The film follows their up and down relationship and their similarly up and down careers as professional basketball players.
In the last few years, there have been more mainstream romance films with Black leads, but it's still rare to see Black love as the main romance in major studio films. Love & Basketball’s cult following helped to show that there is a want and need for these types of romance movies. HBO Max also includes some other great Black-led romance movies, such as Brown Sugar, The Photograph, and the interracial love story Something New.
The Friday Movies (1995, 2000, 2002)
Friday is a 1995 comedy about the misadventures of Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker). The original Friday also stars Nia Long, Bernie Mac, the late John Witherspoon, and Regina King. The films have become such a cult classic because they’re hilarious, lighthearted despite the plot, and features future stars like Regina King and comedy legends like Bernie Mac.
It’s a must-watch '90s movie that gave us one of the best ways to insult anyone named or not named Felisha. HBO Max also has Next Friday and Friday After Next. Just turn on these movies and let yourself enjoy the ridiculousness of Craig, Smokey, and Day-Day's (Mike Epps) situations.
Malcolm X (1992)
Spike Lee co-wrote and directed Malcolm X, the biographical film about civil rights activist Malcolm X. The film stars Denzel Washington in the title role, with supporting roles from Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, and Delroy Lindo. Malcolm X is one of Denzel Washington’s most iconic roles and one of Spike Lee’s best movies.
The film not only has an amazing performance by Washington, but it offers a layered look at one of the most influential and memorable figures of the last 100 years. It also gives viewers a look at a Black leader at a critical point in America’s history. HBO Max also has some other great films starring Denzel Washington, such as Training Day, The Little Things, and Inside Man, which was also directed by Spike Lee.
A Patch Of Blue (1965)
Guy Green directed A Patch of Blue, a movie that starred Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman. It’s about the friendship between a Black man and an 18-year old white girl who is blind. It showcases some of the conflict that comes from their friendship during this period in history (the 1960s), where division and racism was the norm.
Sidney Poitier acts as a mentor to Elizabeth Hartman’s character, and he seems to be the only one who truly cares about helping this young girl. It’s a well-acted and really interesting take on the idea of loving someone for the content of their character, not their skin-color. It’s one of the best Sidney Poitier movies. If you’re in the mood to watch more Poitier movies, HBO Max also has In the Heat of the Night.
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Hotel Rwanda is based on the true story of Paul Rusesabagina and Tatiana Rusesabagina, who attempted to save more than 1,000 refugees by providing them shelter during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. It stars Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo. The film is a heartbreaking look at political corruption and violence.
It’s one of those movies that haunts you, because the monsters are real and this is something that happened not too long ago and could occur again. Don Cheadle gives one of his best performances in Hotel Rwanda.
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999)
Martha Coolidge directed Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, and the screenplay was co-written by Shonda Rhimes and Scott Abbott. It was an HBO original film that premiered in 1999. The film starred Halle Berry as film legend and singer Dorothy Dandridge.
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge won many 2000 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for Halle Berry. The film is considered one of Halle Berry’s best movies for her exceptional performance. Introducing Dorothy Dandridge gives fans of the screen star a closer look at her complex life, and at being a Black actress during that era of Hollywood.
Soul Food (1997)
George Tillman Jr. directed and wrote Soul Food. It focuses on an extended African-American family as they reunite every Sunday for dinner and gossip. It is told from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy named Ahmad (Brandon Hammond). Soul Food’s ensemble cast includes Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, and Mekhi Phifer.
Soul Food is about the trials and tribulations this family faces as they lose the matriarch. It’s a look at a Black family from all angles: the good, the bad, and the things that make them find each other time and time again, despite flaws and mistakes.
42 is a Jackie Robinson biographical film starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson. It also stars Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Andre Holland, and Christopher Meloni. It depicts the struggles Robinson faced as a Black man playing professional baseball during a time of segregation in America. 42 is a sports movie, so it has all the excitement that comes when the hero finally achieves his goals and brings the team to victory, and in this movie, also his personal victories.
42 is even more exciting than some sports movies because it depicts a historical figure who helped change Major League Baseball forever. Playing Jackie Robinson was one of Chadwick Boseman’s best performances.
The House Party Movies (1990-2013)
Reginald Hudlin directs Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin, better known as the hip hop duo Kid 'n Play, in this comedy film. House Party also features Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, and Tisha Campbell. The first House Party movie, and the ones after, is just about one wild night and party.
These films are some fun party adventure movies, similar to Booksmart and Can’t Hardly Wait. The first House Party film is also enjoyable to watch to see the evolution of actors such as Martin Lawrence. HBO Max has all five of the House Party movies, expanding from 1990 to 2013, available to stream. a new House Party movie is also scheduled to be released on HBO Max on July 28, 2022.
Dreamgirls is the 2006 film adaptation of the 1980s Broadway musical of the same name. It’s the fictionalized story of the rise and fall of the all-girl singing group The Dreams. The story clearly takes inspiration from real life Motown groups, including The Supremes.
The Dreamgirls cast includes Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, and Eddie Murphy. Dreamgirls has some of the best musical songs ever, and some of the best performances in a Hollywood musical film. Dreamgirls is definitely one of my favorite musical movies. Hearing Jennifer Hudson perform “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is always an exciting moment in the movie, no matter how many times you see it.
Dee Rees wrote and directed Pariah, a coming-of-age story about a Black teen girl coming to terms with her lesbian identity. Alike (Adepero Oduye) finds it especially hard to come out because of her very conservative family.
Pariah is one of the few and best LGBTQ+ movies out there that shows queer identity from a Black teen character. It’s easy to connect with Alike and also see her parents as terrible but also still see them as fully formed and realistic characters. It’s a great indie film that deserves more attention.
These Black-led movies on HBO Max aren’t the only interesting options, there is also The Color Purple, Judas and the Black Messiah, Bessie, Beverly Hills Cop, and many great documentaries such as 4 Little Girls, The Gospel According to Andre, and John Lewis Good Trouble. HBO Max also isn’t the only streaming service celebrating Black voices. There are plenty of great Black-led movies on the internet, so start with this list and then go seek out other films.
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Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.