Each year when February rolls around, we’re given the opportunity to celebrate Black History Month. We can learn about the significant hardships members of the Black community have faced while also celebrating the beautiful contributions they’ve shared with the world.
America has long struggled with its troubled relationship with systemic racism and the effects that have rippled through generations of Black Americans. Their stories have graced the silver screen, using real stories of slavery, the civil rights movement and the struggles of Black artists and athletes to inform and inspire its viewers.
But we shouldn’t only remember the struggles of Black America. Black filmmakers, writers, actors and artists have used their talents to start movements, overcome oppression and find joy in everyday life.
We rounded up 17 movies to watch during Black History Month and beyond. Some are films based on true stories that defined Black history. The rest are some of the most hilarious, endearing or impactful films from Black creators that changed culture or feature an all-Black cast.
Below you’ll find our selections and where to stream them:
Based on True Stories/Documentaries
Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
As the directorial debut from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson from the musical group The Roots, Summer of Soul edits together more than 40 hours of previously unseen footage captured during the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
Scattered with present-day interviews of attendees and musicians, the festival showcased iconic performers such as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and more. It’s a powerful documentary that also secured a number of awards, including the Grammy for Best Music Film in 2022.
Stream it now on Hulu and Disney Plus.
12 Years A Slave (2013)
This biographical drama is based on the 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an African American who was born a free man but kidnapped and sold into slavery as an adult.
The film is pretty accurate to the historical accounts of these events, making the film a difficult and harrowing but moving watch. It’s a visceral yet beautiful, film with incredible performances by its cast. 12 Years A Slave earned three Academy Awards and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama.
Watch it on HBO Max.
The late Chadwick Boseman may be known for starring in The Black Panther, but his portrayal of baseball legend Jackie Robinson is both heart-wrenching and authentic.
Biographical sports film 42 follows the career of Robinson as he becomes the first Black player in Major League Baseball. He must face relentless discrimination while fighting to pave a future for future Black athletes.
It’s an inspiring retelling of an important moment in American history.
Stream it on HBO Max.
Malcolm X (1992)
Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, Malcolm X depicts key events in the civil rights leader’s life, largely based on his autobiography (completed after Malcolm X died in 1965). Denzel Washington encapsulates Malcolm X as he faces incarceration, marriage, religion, his own beliefs and his eventual assassination.
The movie was nominated for two Oscars, in part because of Washington’s striking performance.
Catch it on HBO Max.
Hidden Figures (2016)
This fun biographical film, loosely based on a 2016 nonfiction novel of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, shines a light on the Black women who helped launch America ahead of the Russians in the space race.
The film follows Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), who worked at NASA and used their expert calculations done by hand to make John Glenn the first person to orbit the Earth. It secured the Academy Award for Best Picture and helped inspire NASA to dedicate the Langley Research Center to Johnson.
Watch it on Disney Plus or Prime Video.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
In the thick of the civil rights movement, the FBI planted an informant in Chicago’s Black Panther Party chapter to spy on its magnetic chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). This biographical crime drama follows Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), who was recruited by the FBI to report on Hampton’s movements and help the police raid the Black Panthers.
This scalding account of oppression and revolution is made even more impactful by Kaluuya and Stanfield’s performances.
Catch it on HBO Max.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Told through a single day, Fruitvale Station depicts the importance of one life and the tragedy one death can bring. In the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009, Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) was killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer at the Fruitvale district station in Oakland.
This heart-wrenching film beautifully put a face on the headlines and protests that surrounded Grant’s death.
Watch it now on Showtime.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Eddie Murphy returned to the silver screen with a bold and nuanced portrayal of Rudy Ray Moore, a filmmaker who is known for his wacky standup character Dolemite.
This biographical comedy tells the story of one man’s journey to fame by telling funny stories in rhythmic, rhyming patterns, similar to spoken word. He then sets out to make a kung-fu-themed blaxploitation film, despite production complications. Moore is often credited as the “Godfather of Rap.”
It’s a bright, unexpectedly funny film that you can stream on Netflix.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
This documentary and social critique uses the unfinished manuscript of author and speaker James Baldwin to explore the history of racism in the U.S. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film discusses many of the social, political and cultural lines drawn between white and Black America.
It shows archival footage from the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri, to argue that the fate of America is directly connected to how the country addresses the plight of its Black residents. The film is a sobering reminder of how far we’ve come but also how far we still must go.
Stream it now on Hulu or Prime Video.
Thrillers, Rom-Coms + More
Get Out (2017)
Not only was Get Out a cultural revolution for the horror genre, it also made history. The horror film is one of the few in its genre to win an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and it is the highest-grossing debut film based on an original screenplay in Hollywood history. Its director, Jordan Peele, also became the first Black director and writer to see his debut film earn more than $100 million at the box office.
An instant hit, Get Out travels with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to meet the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams). Despite her family suspiciously repeatedly affirming they’re totally cool with her dating a Black man, Chris discovers a shocking secret.
Watch it now on Prime Video or Apple TV.
Think Like A Man (2012)
This star-studded, all-Black cast romantic-comedy film features four different couples struggling to work out their relationship issues. Each of the women turns to a book by Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like A Man, to help them navigate their complicated relationships. The men try to turn the tables on their partners by also reading the book.
Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy, Gabrielle Union and more deliver laugh after laugh in this modernized take on romance.
Stream it on Netflix or Prime Video.
Bad Boys (1995)
Michael Bay’s action-packed buddy crime film cemented Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as movie stars. From their almost immediate on-screen chemistry to the perfectly delivered one-liners, Bad Boys is everything you want in an action comedy.
Lifelong friends Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) must investigate $100 million of seized Mafia heroin before their department shuts down, all while juggling love lives and friendly squabbles.
Watch the original and the 2003 sequel on Netflix.
Monster’s Ball (2001)
Halle Berry’s performance in this emotional drama led her to become the first and only Black woman (so far) to win an Academy Award as a leading actress.
The film follows corrections officer Hank (Billy Bob Thorton) as he begins a relationship with a woman (Barry), though she doesn’t know he helped execute her husband on death row. The somber and thought-provoking film showcases the sadness and hope that life’s circumstances can bring.
Catch it on Prime Video or Apple TV.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Not only is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse the first animated iteration of the famed superhero, but it also introduces Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as the first non-white Spiderman.
An angsty and rebellious teenager, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and must use his newfound abilities to join other Spider-People from various parallel universes to save his own.
It’s a visually stunning and gripping film that took more than 140 animators to bring to life. It earned the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature.
Watch it now on Disney Plus, Prime Video or Apple TV.
Scary Movie (2000)
Scary Movie was directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and written by Wayans brothers, Shawn and Marlon, who also star in the film that basically put the horror-comedy subgenre on the map. Other films did it first, but Scary Movie was the first to do it successfully, going on to make an entire franchise.
As a parody of horror and slasher films, a group of friends (including Anna Faris and Regina Hall) accidentally hit a man with their car and are subsequently hunted by someone in a Ghostface mask. It’s a raunchy, ridiculous and hilarious film that pulls inspiration from movies such as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Blair Witch Project.
Stream it on Prime Video.
If you’ve ever used the phrase “Bye, Felicia,” you can thank Friday. This cult-classic buddy stoner comedy trails two friends, Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker) through one Friday in South Central Los Angeles as they try to come up with the money they owe to the local drug dealer.
When writing the film, Ice Cube and co-writer DJ Pooh wanted to show South Central in a more positive light rather than filled with violence and crime. The movie pulls from their own childhood, with quirky characters and vibrant humor.
Catch it on Prime Video.
Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)
This iconic rom-com kicked off the wildly popular Madea film franchise, created by one of the most commercially successful Black filmmakers in history, Tyler Perry.
The film follows Helen (Kimberly Elise) as she moves into her grandmother’s (Perry) house after being thrown out by her husband on their anniversary. Its slapstick and melodramatic comedy make the franchise memorable and easy to watch.
Stream it on Prime Video.