Ice Cube successfully reinvented himself, going from the hardened gangsta rapper whose bars were full of political and social themes to a successful actor whose filmography runs the gamut of both dramatic and comedic gems. There is a plethora of great films under the rapper’s belt, each unique and most full of similar themes found in his music.
That is, they convey a glimpse into the urban lifestyle and the hope for something better. If you’re in the hope for something better to watch, continue reading for the 10 best Ice Cube movies below.
Rotten Tomato Rating: 74%
Synopsis: This starring role from Ice Cube has him playing Craig, a hardened street-smart figure who managed to get fired on his day off from work. Although he is wise to the street game, he looks down on his best friend Smokey, played by Chris Tucker, for his frequent use of marijuana, especially since he also sells it and “gets high on his own supply.” The latter of which gets Smokey into trouble with his dealer Big Worm, which has Smokey fearing for his life. This is not the only problem facing the two friends on this notorious Friday, as they are also worrying about the neighborhood bully Deebo. Craig finally indulges and smokes with his buddy, setting the duo off on a path that gets them into all sorts of hysterical hijinks.
Why it is Great: Beyond showcasing Ice Cube’s comedic chops, albeit as the straight man to Smokey’s wildly comedic personality, this movie is atop the list because Ice Cube co-wrote the film himself with his frequent collaborator in his music, DJ Pooh. This is a comedy, no doubt, but also one chock full of themes similar to Ice Cube’s career, including the street life and problems facing blacks in the hood. Ice Cube performed exceptionally well in the lead role, leading to countless other Friday sequels, as well as other movies with his name atop the poster.
2. Boyz n the Hood
Rotten Tomato Rating: 96%
Synopsis: Released in 1991 as John Singleton’s directorial debut, Boyz n the Hood shows the difficult lives faced by three African American males in South Central Los Angeles. Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. in the leading role as Tre, a troubled teen sent to live with his father, a tough, no-nonsense role model in the middle of a dangerous neighborhood and acted by Lawrence Fishburne. When he arrives, he makes the friendship of Ricky, played by Morris Chestnut, and Doughboy, in Ice Cube’s critically acclaimed standout performance. Ricky has hopes of playing football while Doughboy is struggling with becoming of gangster or not. Tre finds himself in the middle of various gang-related issues, including a shootout. This is a powerful film that showcases the dilemmas facing the black communities in America and showcasing the power of making the right choices even in trying situations.
Why is it Great: This is a fantastic movie for its symbolism, attention to detail, and near-documentary insight into the lives facing black youth in Southern Los Angeles (and throughout the country) in the early 90s. The story is great, sure, but the acting is what sets this movie off into the next level of greatness. This is Ice Cube’s pinnacle performance, a dramatic role that he has yet to recapture to such heights in his long career. Every character is perfectly played, even if some of them border on being prototypical or stereotypical. Fishburne, Gooding, Chestnut, Angela Basset, and the rest of the crew pull off gripping portrayals of African Americans on various lines of the spectrum. Although this is a very realistic tale of what took place in California’s ghettos nearly three decades ago, this timeless piece can be applied to underprivileged areas and minority populations throughout the country and across the world. This is also the movie that moved Ice Cube from “Straight Outta Compton” to large screens everywhere.
3. Three Kings
Rotten Tomato Rating: 94%
Synopsis: This is a different kind of war movie that follows the post-war efforts of three soldiers in the Gulf War. The film is also headed by three powerful leads of George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube, playing Archie, Troy, and Chief, respectively. These soldiers have a plan to make themselves rich during the war cleanup effort, by stealing some of the gold that Saddam Hussein stole from Kuwait prior to the conflict. However, as they encounter various abuses against their ally soldiers of the Iraqi military fighting against Saddam, their intentions change as they struggle to find whether they are fighting for riches or humanity.
What it is Great: Ice Cube is great at both comedies and dramatic roles, as this list displays. Still, Three Kings is a divergent path for the rapper-turned-actor, as he is playing a soldier on the battlefield, not one on the streets. There are several laughs to be had in this thriller, of course, but it is high on its message of the horrors of war and how witnessing certain things can change someone’s inner drives.
Rotten Tomato Rating: 82%
Synopsis: This comedy about the daily activities in a Chicago barbershop features an ensemble cast, including Ice Cube as Calvin, Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie, Anthony Anderson as JD, and Eve as Terri Jones. Ice Cube plays the lead and runs the barbershop used as the main set and backdrop of the film after inheriting the struggling business from his father. In an effort to turn a profit, his character, Calvin, sells the shop to loan shark and then begins regretting his decision with the notion that he sold out. This heavy theme is offset by the comedic antics that take place throughout the movie, including jokes and stories told by both the barbers and the shop’s patrons.
Why it is Great: Seeing Ice Cube in a comedy not set in the Friday universe is always refreshing. Other comedians, including Cedric the Entertainer and Anthony Anderson, play well off of Ice Cube’s normally stoic persona common throughout all his movies. This movie is also great as a period piece, showcasing the importance of barbershops in the African American community and how they serve as a melting pot of generations and wacky occurrences.
5. 21 Jump Street
Rotten Tomato Rating: 85%
Synopsis: In this comedic remake of the classic TV show, Jonah Hill (Schmidt) and Channing Tatum (Jenko) team up and return to high school, going undercover as students. They hope to bring down a dangerous drug ring that is present at the school and are perfect for the role because of their youthful appearances and demeanors. Ice Cube serves as their Captain and point man through the operation, and all sorts of hysterical hijinks take place throughout the film.
Why it is Great: This movie is not short on laughs. Ice Cube is familiar in his stoic and humorless persona around a cast of insanely funny people around him. Although in this film, he replaces his grudge against police for a badge. There is something for everyone in this coming of age comedy led by two dynamic actors in Hill and Tatum.
6. The Book of Life
Rotten Tomato Rating: 82%
Synopsis: This stunning animation film released in 2014 and written and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez focuses on Manolo, voiced by Diego Luna. This conflicted protagonist embarks on a journey through a series of magical and mysterious worlds in the hopes of rescuing his beloved and defending his homeland. The film also stars Channing Tatum as Joaquin and Ice Cube playing the Candle Maker, among other big-time actors lending their voices to the film’s characters along the way.
Why it is Great: This film has earned a similarity to The Nightmare Before Christmas, and with due justice. The two films do share a similar animation style and several common themes run between them, however, The Book of Life is an animation masterpiece all its own as well. Beyond the wide array of characters voiced by the ensemble cast, including Ice Cube lending his talents to the Candle Maker, this film stands out as a masterpiece of artistic and animated brilliance.
7. Barbershop: The Next Cut
Rotten Tomato Rating: 90%
Synopsis: Ten years after the happenings of the second film, The Next Cut picks up at Calvin’s (Ice Cube) Barbershop. Although some of the same faces are still cutting hair and coming in for shape ups, much has also changed in the place as the shop is now sharing space with women who add their own unique flare to the happenings of the previously male-dominated world.
Why it is Great: In a surprising sequel that is better than the first movie, Ice Cube continues to shine with wit, humor, and charm in his portrayal as Calvin. The unique spin of this film and superb acting make it one you should be sure to watch.
8. 22 Jump Street
Rotten Tomato Rating: 84%
Synopsis: This sequel also picks up right after the first film, as Schmidt and Jenko are now headed to college for another undercover operation sure to make you laugh.
Why it is Great: As good and as funny as the first, Hill and Tatum continue to bring in a heavy dose of laughter through their perfect chemistry and hysterical situations.
Rotten Tomato Rating: 74%
Synopsis: In this police drama, Woody Harrelson stars as Officer Dave Brown, a veteran of the Vietnam War and an officer proud of doing his “dirty work,” meaning distributing his own unique brand of justice. His world comes crashing down around him, though, when a tape of him beating a suspect is made public. Ice Cube shines in his portrayal of Kyle Timkins.
Why it is Great: This film is great because of how its director (Oren Moverman) was able to turn Harrelson’s despicable character into a gripping, charismatic, and even sympathetic figure, despite his shortcomings and misgivings. The theme makes the film compelling, which is only enhanced by the great acting all around in this ensemble cast.
10. The Glass Shield
Rotten Tomato Rating: 64%
Synopsis: This powerful drama film deals with racial injustice from police officers. J.J., as played by Michael Boatman, is the academy’s first black recruit. Through his hire, the bureau’s past dealings with African Americans begin to come to light.
Why it is Great: The theme of this film is fantastic and echoes the sentiments Ice Cube puts through his music: that the police have a different code of ethics when dealing with black citizens. In one of Ice Cube’s early roles, playing Teddy Woods, this is a great piece to watch after Boyz n the Hood as it displays the growth of his budding acting career.
Rotten Tomatoes scores courtesey of Rottentomatoes.com.