Both films served as the precursor to an explosion of black films and both films were highly profitable independent projects with extremely iconic soundtracks released before the movie. The New Jack City soundtract was the #1 R&B album on the Billboard charts for eight straight weeks (from April 27th to June 15th, 1991) on the way to Platinum sales success. That album spawned several hit singles such as Ice T’s “New Jack Hustler” (#67 on the Hot 100); “For The Love Of Money / Livin’ For The City” by Troop and Levert featuring Queen Latifah (#12 on the R&B charts); Christopher Williams’ “I’m Dreaming” (#1 R&B, #89 on the Hot 100) and Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” (#1 R&B, #2 on the Hot 100).
The New Jack City soundtrack set a precedent for black films that set the mood and spread awareness of the film. So, when New Jack City opened across America, it played in 862 theaters and brought in over $7 million dollars its opening weekend. It placed #2 at the box office, which, when put in perspective, Michael J. Fox’s The Hard Way opened in 1622 theaters that same weekend and made $6.3 million to come in third place. In only four days, New Jack City broke even and was never in more than 905 theaters. Compared to the #1 film in the country, Silence of the Lambs, which was in between 1500-1700 screens and New Jack City was performing as well as Lambs and earning almost as much money ($11,637 per theaters vs. Silence of the Lambs’ $11,714). This astonished many studio execs in Hollywood, as they were surprised that an independent film with a black director, black screenwriter and a black producer was going toe-to-toe with studio films.
New Jack City was winning the battle of the box office, as well as more importantly winning the pop culture war. After its second week at the near #1 spot on the charts, there wasn’t anywhere you could go that New Jack City wasn’t being quoted. Before “spoiler alerts” and Twitter feeds, there was so much about New Jack City that resonated with people from all backgrounds. From the way the music was used in the film to the choice of shooting locations to the costuming — New Jack City became influential to viewers who would become future screenwriters and filmmakers. For these reasons and others, New Jack City had captured the cultural zeitgeist and “crossed over” into the mainstream American landscape. After 108 days in the theaters, New Jack City became the highest grossing independent film of 1991, as well as the project that set the gold standard for the “Black Film Explosion” of 1991 that soon followed.
New Jack City made $48 million dollars after its theatrical run was over, which is the equivalent of $84 million in 2016 dollars.
New Jack City paved the way for a beautiful deluge of black films in 1991. There was Bill Duke’s A Rage In Harlem, Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats, John Singleton’s Boyz N’ Da Hood, Kevin Hooks’ Strictly Business, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust and Matty Rich’s Straight Outta Brooklyn. Those films were among the many that black directors helmed that year. By comparison, in the year before, 1990, Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, Reginald Hudlin’s House Party, Prince’s Graffiti Bridge, Sidney Poitier’s Ghost Dad and James Bond III’s Def By Temptation were the projects out in the market at the time. The success of the films released in 1991 led to a black film renaissance for years to follow, only five years removed from Spike Lee’s debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It.
Aside from the booming commercial success of New Jack City, the popularity of its music soundtrack helped to boost the reputation of some of its participant stars. Ice T, whose first album was critically acclaimed, was cast in six more films in the span of two years. Chris Rock, whose role of Pookie was originally meant for Martin Lawrence, became a Prime Time Player with NBC’s Saturday Night Live all before his comedy album Born Suspect dropped. Allen Payne’s career received a boost after his portrayal of Gee Money, as he received several guest appearances on episodic television before getting bigger roles and ultimately becoming a lead. New Jack City enabled Mario Van Peebles to have quite a run as a director, as well, as he would go on to helm Posse (1993) and Panther (1995) in addition to leading projects like Gunmen (1993), Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994) and Solo (1996). Barry Michael Cooper would go on to write other celebrated works such as Sugar Hill and Above The Rim, which opened a month apart from each other in 1994. That move made him the first black screenwriter in history to have two films produced in the same year.
What is the final mark of greatness for New Jack City after 25 years?! Find out on Pg. 3…