After the success of ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die,’ it might be time to breathe new life into classic Black films

Home » After the success of ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die,’ it might be time to breathe new life into classic Black films
After the success of ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die,’ it might be time to breathe new life into classic Black films

When the news broke that the Bad Boys film franchise had crossed $1 billion at the box office, it was an emphatic statement for one of the big screen’s most consistently bankable series. And yet some Hollywood suits and industry insiders were confused by the dominance of the bombastic Bad Boys: Ride or Die, which has raked in upward of $227 million worldwide so far.

Film analysts and critics rightly credited the fourth installment of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s buddy cop flick with delivering a much needed jolt to a slumping Tinseltown. The Hollywood Reporter gave a more backhanded compliment to the film’s successful debut, stamping the achievement as a “box office upset.” Variety strangely said a scene in which Smith’s character Mike Lowrey gets slapped in the face may just “save his career,” as if longtime fans (see: Black folks) ever stopped supporting the Fresh Prince over that incident with comedian Chris Rock.

Indeed, the success of the series shows that there’s more room in the movie biz for offerings that connect fans with the classics that defined the golden age of Black filmmaking in the 1990s. Among the demographic groups who viewed Bad Boys: Ride or Die’s weekend debut, Black folks led the way as 44% of moviegoers, followed by 26% Latino and Hispanic, 18% white, 8% Asian and 4% other.

“White [film executives] have constantly been trying to figure out Black nostalgia,” said writer/director Cheo Hodari Coker, whose screenwriting credits include Notorious and Creed II. The former showrunner of Marvel’s Netflix series Luke Cage is not at all shocked at the durability of the splashy cop franchise, which first hit theaters in 1995. “It’s not just about getting older Black stars on screen. The movie has to work.”

And there’s a plethora of Black-led film properties from the 1990s that Hollywood could mine beyond Bad Boys. Set It Off, the groundbreaking, 1996 all-women bank heist that featured Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise and a breakthrough performance from rapper Queen Latifah, is ripe for a return.

A complete reimagining of Set It Off could bring together KiKi Layne as Pinkett Smith’s Stony, Zendaya as Fox’s Frankie, Ayo Edebiri as Elise’s T.T., and Courtney Taylor as Queen Latifah’s Cleo, with Gina Prince-Bythewood directing. Or just imagine Stony living off the grid somewhere in Mexico only to have another set of bank robbers seek out her help, or the FBI finally tracks her down, leading to a series of harrowing events.

Director Spike Lee’s raw 1995 New York crime drama Clockers, arguably the Oscar-winner’s most underrated movie of his career, could be translated to the small screen much like his 1986 romantic comedy She’s Gotta Have It, which ran for two seasons on Netflix. And a sequel to the sexy 1997 romantic cult classic Love Jones could catch up with Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) and Nina Mosley (Nia Long) as they attempt to reconnect after years apart.

Coker recalled having conversations with director John Singleton about how his game-changing 1991 film Boyz n the Hood, a powerful depiction of life growing up in South Central Los Angeles, could even be expanded.

From left to right: Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, and Jada Pinkett Smith star in Set It Off.

New Line Cinema

“The same way that Quentin Tarantino has an interlinked universe with his movies, John has his own cinematic universe,” Coker said. “He could have very easily had Boyz n the Hood’s Tre and Brandi raise a kid who is a film student at USC. And amongst the people that he runs into is this old drunk from the neighborhood who at one point was rumored to be the biggest drug dealer in the country named Franklin Saint [of Snowfall]. Their son decides he wants to make a movie about Franklin’s life. Or Brandi and Tre could go to the mechanic to get their car repaired and meet Jody from Baby Boy. There are all these different ways to spin off.”

Jermaine Hopkins, who played the affable Steel in director Ernest Dickerson’s 1992 coming-of-age drama Juice, understands the lure of 1990s Black cinematic explosion that introduced such revolutionary directors as Singleton, Julie Dash, the Hughes brothers and F. Gary Gray.

“At that time, there were only a few Black films like New Jack City, Juice, Boyz n the Hood, Bad Boys and the like that hit the mark,” said Hopkins, who stars in the horror flick Sebastian, now streaming on the CW network. “The characters reflected members of [our] communities and that’s why they were so believable. We also didn’t have social media at that time, so if you lived on the East Coast, you looked at movies like Boyz to enlighten you about what was going on out West, which is why these films continue to be impactful for years to come.”

Hollywood loves a trend, and the most evergreen of them all is nostalgia. From the 2022 billion-dollar blockbuster sequel Top Gun: Maverick and the 2004 teen film turned Broadway show turned big-screen musical Mean Girls to the unsinkable Bad Boys and Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, the follow-up to director Tim Burton’s 1988 hit, the past can be profitable.

“These are nostalgic faces from a time in our youth,” Coker said of the appeal to throwback films. “So it gives a chance for a lot of these actors an opportunity for a rebirth in the hands of the right filmmakers.”

Coker speaks from experience. When he was initially tapped by Sylvester Stallone in 2016 to co-write the Rocky spinoff Creed II in 2016, the second film in the boxing trilogy focused on fighter Adonis Johnson, son of late heavyweight champion Apollo Creed and rising protégé of legendary boxer Rocky Balboa — he had another character in mind to train Michael B. Jordan’s title character.

“In my initial draft of Creed II, when Creed rebuilds himself, I wrote a character that was based on trainer Anne Wolfe that was going to be Clubber Lang’s daughter,” he noted of the brazen, scene-stealing fighter played by Mr. T in the 1982 hit Rocky II. “And she was going to be the one to retrain Creed to rebuild himself after losing to Drago, because Clubber is the only person to have beaten Rocky in his prime.”

As Hollywood continues to mine our faves, studio heads would do well not to ignore the commercial and artistic flex of Bad Boys: Ride or Die. With the almost comical upheaval surrounding Marvel’s Blade reboot and star Mahershala Ali, how fitting would it be to watch Wesley Snipes reprise his iconic role as an aging, vampire-hunter? Or maybe we can see an update of Juice channeling the rebellious spirit of breakout star Tupac Shakur. “Yes, I can see that happening because the younger generation has an admiration for it,” Hopkins said. “It amazes me, to this day, when young people approach or contact me via social media, highly enthused about the movie Juice and its storyline … and they weren’t even born when it was released.”

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