The Five Greatest “Ghettocentric” Gangster Movies From the Nineties

menace 2 by remy

My life has been a strange divergence of different worlds. Born upper class, turned lower class, and lucky (or unlucky) enough to experience all in between. I have lived on the ocean, literally being close enough to hear the swelling waves through the wall of my bedroom as I drifted to sleep. And on the other extreme, living in a studio apartment in a city where people rip their own f*cking heads off.

The irony being that the house where I could hear the ocean through the walls was also the town where I got into a race war of sorts, so what I am ultimately saying is, don’t judge a book by its cover. While you may look at me and see a piece of entitled white bread, the reality is much darker than that. Fact is, I been banging, rolling with thugs since I was like eleven, yo. Wow, this is not working. Okay, let me try this whole intro again. Gangster movies can fall into two categories now. The Italian gangsters (think Goodfella’s, Godfather, and Untouchables) and the urban gangster movies (all of these).

And while some hate the latter, enough people have talked about the former that I felt it a good time to breach the subject of the latter for Unreality, which I can honestly say has never driven down this road before. First thing I need to get out of the way, this is not me claiming that I like “ghettocentric” gangster movies more than old-school gangster movies. This is simply me trying to bring something to the Unreality audience I have never seen on the site before. Second, if you are assuming you need to like rap music to like these kinds of movies, you are, what I like to call “racist”, and may as well stop reading now. That is like saying you need to appreciate spaghetti to appreciate The Godfather.

Menace II Society


” Whatchyou mean you aint got no Gushers?!”

Menace was a badass movie. Plain and simple, flat out.

It was a tale that had been told a million different times before (good guy meets bad guy and slowly gets pulled into bad guy’s lifestyle, willingly and unwillingly) but had never given (me) such insight into a lifestyle that I could not relate to, but was openly intrigued by. Not intrigued in the sense that I ever longed to live it or experience it, but intrigued in the sense that I wanted know more about it, and that is just what Menace II Society gave to me. And make no mistakes about it, this film was dark as hell. Not literally, you racists. Okay, I will stop calling you racists now. Sorry, I’m all hopped up on hate.


Yes, all those ” I’ll S your D” jokes in movies from the last fifteen years stole that from this scene in Menace II Society.

While the themes of Menace are themes you will see reoccurring on the list, let’s not forget, they are themes prevalent in old-school gangster movies as well. The slow corruption that power causes in people. The fact that the ends are always tragic, and never seem to justify the means. Whatever you do, do NOT mistake this movie as glamorizing that lifestyle. If anything, it should act as a deterrent, as should most of these films.


juice caboose

With Tupac, was it life imitating art or art imitating life? No one was ever sure.

Okay, I will admit, seeing Tupac carry a razor blade under his tongue in this movie made a huge impression on me, moreso than some shit that happens in most horror movies. There is just something so anarchic about carrying a razor blade under your tongue at all times in case shit goes down. I know that is the Hollywood touch, but what an unforgettable touch.

Outside of that, Juice was a film about four friends, living in a world that is spinning out of their control around them, and how they all cope and deal with that. You see some deal well with it, while others spiral, and then you get to see the interactions between them as they drift apart. Juice was a far more complex tale than most give it credit for, and man, it set the tone for Tupac’s life in some eerie ways. Also, the elevator scene was amazing.


I hate when I am stuck in elevators with people who intend to kill me. SO awkward.

Boyz ‘N The Hood

pikcing up rebecca black

The way Ice Cube is looking at me right now, it’s like he knows I write articles with no pants on.

Though sort of hesitant to mention this movie because this is THE ghettocentric movie that most white people saw because of all the hype it got, Boyz ‘N The Hood deserves a spot in this list for two reasons. One, it set the tone (in mainstream) for the influx of 90’s gangster movies, whether people want to admit that or not. And two, because it is the only time I will have a movie with the words “Boyz” on one of my lists on this site, unless, for some unforeseen reason I am forced to watch Biker Boyz at one point down the line, which I just don’t see happening.

Anyway, Boyz ‘N The Hood was pretty much an exaggerated look at daily life in South Central, which would go on to become its own trope, but when this movie happened, outside of a Dr. Dre record, you just never got that much insight before. Also, of all the people, who would have thought Ice Cube would be the dude who would still be acting regularly?

Well played, Cube, Damn right it was a good day.


Unlike Ice Cube, I LOVE days when I am forced to use my A.K.

King of New York

precious two

” Take one more step, and I will make a bad cowbell reference.”

Oh, this selection is going to rile up some feathers, huh? But wait, they’ll say! That was BEFORE Boyz ‘N The Hood, they’ll say! Christopher Walken is white, they’ll say! And you know what? All of those arguments are fair. But with all due respect, I feel like King of New York (or “Ghetto Robin Hood”) was what REALLY set the pace for those “peek into the life of a neo-gangster” movies (it came out in 1990, predating all other movies on the list). Plus, it has Laurence Fishburn, who became a staple for all gangster movies after this film.

Well maybe not as “ghettocentric” as Menace or Juice, it is still a movie reflecting a life we don’t understand, full of people with different cultural backgrounds from us. And it is an absolutely stellar movie on all levels, merging the gangster movies that came before it, with a slew of gangster movies that came after it. In that sense, it is a cultural bridge, spanning the gaps between the different kinds of gangster flicks.

New Jack City

new jack

For all the Blade 3 jokes we may make now, I hearken from a time when Wesley Snipes was an UNDENIABLE badass.

New Jack City is one of those movies that you had to be alive when it was out to really experience. It just had a FEELING to it. It felt like the ushering in of a new day for the gangster flick. One that rode solely on the shoulder of Wesley Snipes as Nino Brown. I would meet a kid named Nino a year after I saw this movie (RIP Nino. I wish I was kidding) and I IMMEDIATELY respected him because of his name, and that was the result of this movie, even though he was named long before it (cool story, bro?).

New Jack City was about, well, take all the above movies and squish them into one movie and bam, you have New Jack City. Also, this movie gets extra points for introducing me to Chris Rock in the weirdest way possible.


This is also how I met my second wife and three of my best friends.

Alright, you can commence the hate comments now. Here, I will help you. “These movies seem to glorify all that is wrong with society now!” ” King of New York is not a new school gangster movie!” ” You made yourself sound ignorant and racist in this article!” And my favorite is any version of “This is shit” that only the most inspired haters seem to be able to summon in themselves. Be forewarned, though. All your mean comments will be countered with “It’s okay, you’re probably just racist”, so don’t get mad when that (inevitably) happens.

Also, go read about the time I…eh, why do I bother?

ice t

This episode of Law and Order is kicking my ass right now.

I’m just messing with you guys. You know I love you.

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  1. Not a bad list but you forgot one of the most important ones that came out even before Boyz in da Hood.


    Not only does it give the side of the story of the gangsters it also shows the cops point of view. Great performances, tight script and really accurate. They had tons of consultants from both sides to help make sure that the movie was true.

    To top it off, the director is none other than Dennis Hopper. The same Dennis Hopper that directed Easy Rider and was the freak in Blue Velvet.

    Yeah, him.

    IMDB link:

  2. yeah it was a ok list but you can keep your scarface or boyz in the hood but to me the best hood movies were AMERICAN ME and BLOOD IN BLOOD OUT…it told a story i could relate to more about hispanic gangs and told a story that none of these other HOOD movies told about JAIL.. and if you think the ghetto is bad you havent seen anything till you been to jail..i highly recomend these movies to any one that likes movies especially american me because of the history to it and to all the murders that took place because of the story it told..

  3. @ King Nutz, shit, good call. *Hangs head in shame.
    @Cube, Another good call. I can still sing every word to that Ice-T theme song, and that was a miss on my part, I agree. *Still hanging head
    @bloodandmetal, Also a good call.
    Shit, you guys working together?

  4. King of New York was one of my favorite movies growing up. David Caruso could give me a million dollars and I’d still hate him because of his character in this flick.
    Fishburn as Jimmy is my favorite villain of all time.

  5. Good list no hate. I loved these movies when I was growing up. I relived them all when I played GTA San Andreas, that game reeked of Menace II Society.

    Good call people adding Colors and Blood In Blood out. I would add Deep Cover.

    Did anyone see Belly? At the time before it came out there was a lot of hype and I wanted to check it out but never did.

  6. Pookie in New Jack City was doing the “I’ll S your D” crack head thing before Menace II Society, of course O-Dog’s reaction is what most people actually remember.

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