What are the best Spike Lee movies? The legendary director has been making movies since the ‘80s, with a body of work spanning five decades and an astounding 127 directorial credits to his name across film, TV series, music videos, and short films. The legacy of Lee’s work is indisputable, as one of, it not the most successful and important Black directors of all time.
He’s an Oscar-winning writer, a provocative and powerful director, and even a pretty damn good actor on his day, too. Sure, there’s been the odd miss here and there (here’s looking at you, Oldboy remake), but by and large, you know you’re going to get some top-quality filmmaking when you go into a Spike Lee joint.
But, which are the best Spike Lee movies? There’s a lot to choose from, but we have been super picky and selected the five best movies from his impressive filmography. We got some old movies, some new movies, some funny movies, and some hard-hitting movies, and when we say these are the best, well, that’s the double truth, Ruth!
The best Spike Lee movies:
- Do the Right Thing
- Malcolm X
- Jungle Fever
- Da 5 Bloods
Do the Right Thing (1989)
One of Spike Lee’s most iconic movies is also one of his earliest works, and is considered by most to be the project which really helped his career take off. Do the Right Thing is a simmering drama movie with an explosive finale, which delivers sharp social commentary that remains painfully relevant today.
On a boiling hot day in Brooklyn, racial and societal tensions between various sections of the neighbourhood escalate and a violent conflict erupts. In the middle of it all, is Spike Lee himself, in an early acting role as Mookie, a young man who wanders the community and ties all the various threads together.
The depictions of the various cultures within this movie are meticulously-crafted, with an exceptional awareness of what makes people tick. Lee’s story here is brimming with humour and heart, but ultimately, one which is laced with tragedy.
Nearly 30 years later and Spike Lee still had his finger firmly on the pulse of society. At a time when America was suffering under the leadership of a President who invoked nothing but hate and division among its people, Lee’s tongue-in-cheek comedy movie Blackkklansman offered some respite, but more importantly, a timely reminder of the lessons history has taught us.
Starring John David Washington and Adam Driver, Blackkklansman is the incredible true story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Keen to make an impact, Stallworth embarks on a mission to infiltrate the notorious KKK and take down the extremist organisation.
It was this movie that secured Spike Lee his first Oscar win, for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as five other nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Malcolm X (1992)
We’re pretty sure we don’t have to tell you who this movie is about. The life, and ultimately the death, of Malcolm X encapsulate one of the most prominent periods of Black history. He was a revolutionary human rights activist, and a keen follower of Islam who was tragically assassinated in February 1965 at just 39 years of age.
It makes perfect sense that the story of Malcolm X would be entrusted to Spike Lee, with this epic biopic considered by many as a crucial piece of cinematic history and Black storytelling. Starring Denzel Washington in the titular role, with a performance that earned him an Oscar nomination, this powerful picture is essential viewing.
If you’re familiar with Lee’s work at all, you will probably be aware of his famous utilisation of the double dolly shot in this ‘90s movie in particular. The technique has become such a trademark of his work that it is now referred to as the Spike Lee dolly shot by many in the industry.
Jungle Fever (1991)
Long before he was Blade, Wesley Snipes proved he could be a nuanced and accomplished dramatic actor in the gripping romance movie Jungle Fever. This time, Spike Lee explored the somewhat taboo subject of interracial relationships, as Snipes’ character, Flipper, abandons his Black partner for a white woman, causing unrest in the community.
Jungle Fever handles eroticism tastefully and stylishly, while also effectively portraying racial frictions at a time when the idea of an interracial couple was still largely condemnable by many who had not aligned with more progressive thinking.
The movie also features two incredible supporting performances from mega-stars Samuel L Jackson and Halle Berry, who are almost unrecognisable as drug-addicted fiends, and their appearances are a real highlight.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Spike Lee teamed up with streaming service Netflix in 2020 to deliver one of the best movies the platform has produced to date. Starring Delroy Lindo, and MCU actors Jonathan Majors and the late Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods is a beautiful story of brotherhood.
As four African-American war veterans return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader, and a mysterious treasure they left there many years ago, they confront the traumatic memories of the war they were forced to fight all those years ago, in a chaotic and cathartic journey.
The movie also picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, but this is just one of the many facets of Da 5 Bloods which earns the war movie its place on this list. Breath-taking acting, a heartfelt story, and gorgeous cinematography prove even after 30 years, Spike Lee has still got it.
There you have it, folks, those are the best Spike Lee movies. So, do the right thing, and watch the visionary director at work! If you want more movie lists like these, check out our guides to the best Oscar Isaac movies, or the best Emily Blunt movies. We’ve also got a guide to all the new movies coming in 2023.