In celebration of Black History Month, we’re taking a look at the top 10 black directors by inflation-adjusted domestic box office totals. This group of acclaimed directors has made significant contributions across all genres of cinema and we look forward to their work in the years to come. – V. Wesley.
Total gross: $280 million for Allen, $260 million for Albert
Films: 6 for Allen, 5 for Albert
Top grossing film: The Book of Eli (2010) – $103 million
With one more film on his resume, Allen Hughes beats out his twin brother for ninth place Albert Hughes by a close $20 million. Like top director Tim Story, the Hughes Brothers also got into directing young, making films at the age of 12. After leaving high school, they got their start directing rap music videos before they found critical success with their first film, the acclaimed 1993 gangster drama Menace II Society.
Best Known For: From Hell (2001), Dead Presidents (1995), Menace II Society (1993)
Total gross: $365 million
Top grossing film: Scary Movie 5 (2013) – $73 million
Malcolm D. Lee got his start working as a production assistant for his cousin Spike Lee at the age of 17 and has been working in the film industry ever since. His first film, The Best Man, which he wrote and directed, landed a No. 1 spot at the box office. Lee’s 2013 follow-up The Best Man Holiday grossed $30 million in its opening weekend and is his highest grossing movie to date.
Best known for: The Best Man (1999), Scary Movie 5 (2013), The Best Man Holiday (2013)
Titles: Undercover Brother
Total gross: $626 million
Top grossing film: Scary Movie (2000) – $253 million
Keenen Ivory Wayans made his directorial debut in 1988 with the Blaxploitation parody, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. Wayans teamed up with his brother Damon in 1990 as co-creators of the hit sketch comedy series “In Living Color,” which helped launch the careers of Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, and David Alan Grier. He kicked off the Scary Movie franchise in 2000, directing Scary Movie and Scary Movie 2.
Best known for: Scary Movie (2000), Scary Movie 2 (2001), White Chicks (2004)
4. Spike Lee
Total gross: $671 million
Top grossing film: Inside Man (2006) – $117 million
With a career total to date of 21 films, Spike Lee is the most prolific director on the list. After receiving an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Lee made his mark with his first feature-length film, the breakout hit She’s Gotta Have It, which he wrote, directed, and starred in.
Lee was nominated for an Oscar in 1990 for Best Original Screenplay for Do the Right Thing and Best Documentary Feature in 1998 for 4 Little Girls. He received an Honorary Oscar in 2015 for his contributions to cinema.
Best known for: Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcom X (1992), Summer of Sam (1999)
5. F. Gary Gray
Total gross: $727 million
Top grossing film: Straight Outta Compton (2015) – $170 million
F. Gary Gray has had a prolific directing career in both the film and music video industry. Gray got his start in 1992, directing his first music video for Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” He went on to direct videos for Cypress Hill, Usher, Dr. Dre, and Queen Latifah. In 1995, he teamed up again with Ice Cube to direct his first feature, the stoner comedy Friday. Gray came full circle in 2015, collaborating once more with Cube to direct the critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton.
Best known for: The Negotiator (1998), The Italian Job (2003), Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Total gross: $747 million
Top grossing film: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) – $183 million
At the age of 23, John Singleton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for his debut film Boyz n the Hood. Singleton was the youngest person and the first African-American director to receive a Best Director nomination. After 14 years, Singleton returns to the franchise that gave him his top grossing film 2 Fast 2 Furious with Fast & Furious 8.
Best known for: Boyz n the Hood (1991), Poetic Justice (1993), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Total gross: $760 million
Top grossing film: Training Day (2004) – $118 million
Antoine Fuqua’s 2001 film Training Day earned Denzel Washington an Oscar for Best Actor and Ethan Hawke a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Fuqua has had a run of successful action thrillers including Shooter (2007), Olympus Has Fallen (2013), and The Equalizer (2014). Fuqua reunited with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke for his 2016 remake of the 1960’s John Sturges western classic, The Magnificent Seven.
Best known for: Training Day (2001), King Arthur (2004), Southpaw (2015)
8. Tyler Perry
Total gross: $935 million
Top grossing film: Madea Goes to Jail (2009) – $110 million
Before Tyler Perry found success as a film director, he started out as a playwright, originally creating the character Madea for the stage before transitioning to film. Although best known for directing and starring in his long-running Madea series, Tyler Perry has had a diverse career as an author, screenwriter, gospel songwriter, and producer. The ninth film in the series, Boo! A Madea Halloween premiered in Oct. 2016.
Best known for: A Madea Christmas (2001), Why Did I Get Married? (2007), For Colored Girls (2010)
9. Tim Story
Total gross: $943 million
Top grossing film: Fantastic Four (2005) – $210 million
Helming both the Fantastic Four and Ride Along series solidified Tim Story‘s position as the top grossing African-American director. Story first got the directing bug at the age of 12 after inheriting an 8mm camera from his older brother. After a brief stint as a rapper with Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate, Story switched focus and transitioned to directing music videos and feature films. In 2002, Story’s first feature, the Ice Cube-fronted Barbershop opened at No. 1. Story teamed up with Ice Cube again in 2014 for the hit comedy Ride Along, which also opened at No. 1.
Best known for: Barbershop (2002), Fantastic Four (2005), 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2014)