“Hood films,” sometimes known as “urban dramas,” have been a genre staple since the early 1990s. Starting with iconic movies like ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ ‘Menace II Society,’ and the “Friday” series, there are quite a few flicks depicting the trials and tribulations of life in the hood. Many have developed large cult followings, but not all of them. Here are five underrated “hood films” that deserve their due.

by Kendall Rivers (Spotlight Editor at INSIDE Monthly)

5. Paid in Full (2002)

Credits: IMDB.com

Synopsis: In the late 1980s, Ace (Wood Harris) is a young man employed by a Harlem dry-cleaning shop, working hard to stay out of the drug business. While making deliveries, he meets Lulu (Esai Morales), a drug dealer who convinces Ace to join him. Ace recruits his friends Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) and Rico (Cam’ron), and the trio becomes major players in the Harlem drug underworld, a violent business that tests the friends’ loyalty and wits as money rolls in and dangers grow beyond their control.

A hard-hitting film about the drug business, “Paid In Full” showcases one of Wood Harris’ (The Wire) most notable roles. The film’s specific look at the Harlem drug underworld is thorough and deserves more love for its authenticity.

4. Higher Learning (1995)

Credits: IMDB.com

Synopsis: In John Singleton’s powerful portrait of college life in the 1990s, a group of incoming freshmen at Columbus University — including varsity athlete Malik Williams (Omar Epps), awkward outcast Remy (Michael Rapaport), and wide-eyed Kristen Connor (Kristy Swanson) — struggle to find themselves and adjust to newfound independence. When Remy finds acceptance among a group of neo-Nazis, tensions rise even higher on a campus already divided along racial, socio-economic, and gender lines.

A profound exploration of college life from various perspectives, “Higher Learning” stands as one of iconic director John Singleton’s most underrated and overlooked films, addressing topics like racism, homosexuality, and rape.

3. Above The Rim (1994)

Credits: IMDB.com

Synopsis: A high-school basketball star (Duane Martin) is torn between loyalties to a drug dealer (Tupac Shakur) who exposes him to temptations and an ex-player (Leon) who tries to pull him in a different direction.

With an incredible cast including Leon, Duane Martin, Bernie Mac, Marlon Wayans, and Tupac Shakur, this film is the quintessential 90s hood classic. Themes of family ties, aspirations for a better life, and of course basketball run deep throughout this thoughtful and challenging film.

2. Poetic Justice (1993)

Credits: IMDB.com

Synopsis: Still grieving after the murder of her boyfriend, hairdresser Justice (Janet Jackson) writes poetry to deal with the pain of her loss. Unable to get to Oakland to attend a convention because of her broken-down car, Justice gets a lift with her friend Iesha (Regina King) and Iesha’s postal worker boyfriend, Chicago (Joe Torry). Along for the ride is Chicago’s co-worker, Lucky (Tupac Shakur), with whom Justice grows close after some initial problems. But is she ready to open her heart again?

Love is messy, and so is life in the hood. This film presents a unique type of love story with an all-star cast including Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Joe Torry, and Regina King. The film is as brash, hilarious, deep, and thought-provoking as any other film in the romantic comedy/drama genre.

1. Dead Presidents (1995)

Credits: IMDB.com

Synopsis: Soldier Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) returns to his Bronx home after a nightmarish tour of duty in Vietnam. But the nightmare continues for Anthony and his friends as they suffer the indignities of trying to find steady work and provide for their families in a flagging economy. As desperation takes hold, Anthony teams up with Skip (Chris Tucker), a drug addict, and Kirby (Keith David), a small-time crook, to pull off a bank heist that will give them all a chance for a better life.

One of Larenz Tate’s greatest films and roles, “Dead Presidents” has always been a favorite of mine and surely many others who could both relate to Anthony Curtis’ struggle as well as simply enjoy the intense story and action sequences. This is a gripping crime story with a mix of heart, humor, and impactful military sequences.


These epic films truthfully depicted life on the mean streets of New York, South Central, Chicago, and beyond. They were just as raw, brutally honest, and thoroughly entertaining as the more popular films of their genre. Regardless of your background or the era you grew up in, these films encompass universal themes and deliver raw, unfiltered messages that are timeless and eternally relevant.

Kendall Rivers is a screenwriter and a devoted friend, family man and child of God. He has always been a storyteller who creates stories with vivid characters. A huge fan of classic TV and movies, he also publishes a weekly blog on Medium, which can be found here.