A comprehensive guide to 10 of Spike Lee's notable works, including Do the Right Thing, Inside Man, and BlackKklansman.

By Omar Sanchez
June 15, 2020 at 11:45 PM EDT
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With Spike Lee's latest joint, Da 5 Bloods, streaming now, it's the perfect time to revisit some of the legendary filmmakers' past work.

Below, EW runs down the best places to watch our favorite Lee films from home, plus what makes them stand out. Da 5 Bloods, which follows four Vietnam veterans reuniting at their former war zone to dig up buried treasure, is out now on Netflix.

Everett Collection

She's Gotta Have It (1986) 

Starring: Spike Lee, Joie Lee, Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell

Lee burst onto the scene in 1986 with She's Gotta Have It, his first feature-length film, which he wrote, produced, edited, directed, and starred in, all on a shoe-string budget.

Shot in black-and-white, the film follows three men pursuing the same Brooklynite: Nola (played by Johns.) Lee plays Mars Blackmon, one of her suitors.

She's Gotta Have It launched Lee's career, and in 2019, it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Do the Right Thing (1989) 

Available to rent on iTunes and Amazon starting at $3.99

Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Rosie Perez, Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro 

A mirror to what's happening today in America, Do the Right Thing tackles issues of race, inclusivity, and discrimination. The story follows an Italian-American pizzeria owner who gets confronted by a local (Esposito) about only having Italian actors on his celebrity "Wall of Fame." The conversation between the white pizza shop owners and their black customers, which includes Lee as Mookie, boils to a froth amid a summer heatwave. Produced, written, and directed by Lee, Do the Right Thing earned Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. Famously, it was snubbed in both categories.

Malcolm X (1992)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Spike Lee, Delroy Lindo 

Lee scored a blockbuster cast in 1992's Malcolm X, a biopic about the outspoken human rights activist of the '50s and '60s, up and until he was assassinated in 1965. Lee's film was yet again shut out of the Oscars after scoring nominations for Best Actor (Washington) and Best Costume Design.

Clockers (1995)

Available to rent on iTunes and Amazon starting at $3.99. 

Starring: Mekhi Phifer, John Turturro, Spike Lee, Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel

This crime drama follows Phifer in his film debut as a "clocker," a drug-dealer tasked by his boss (Lindo) with killing a shady accomplice (played by Steve White). A murder takes place, but not in the way you might think. Keitel and Turturro play homicide detectives in a story based on the 1992 novel of the same name.

More on Clockers: EW's 1995 review. 

4 Little Girls (1997) — Documentary

Streaming on HBO Max. 

Everett Collection

After Clockers, Lee made an HBO documentary about the bombing of an Alabama church by members of the Ku Klux Klan on Sunday, September 15, 1963. The film focuses on four girls who died that day while attending Sunday school. The doc was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 1998 Academy Awards.

More on 4 Little Girls: A history of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.

He Got Game (1998)

Streaming on HBO Max

Starring: Denzel Washington, Rosario Dawson, NBA star Ray Allen, Bill Nunn (Do the Right Thing) 

Everett Collection

Spike Lee's entry into the sports drama genre centers around Washington as Jake Shuttlesworth, a man locked up for murdering his wife. That is until the governer gives him one-week parole. Why? His son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (NBA star Ray Allen), is being recruited by the governor's alma mater.

More on He Got Game: EW's 1998 review. 

25th Hour (2002)

Available to rent on Youtube and Amazon starting at $2.99.

Starring: Ed Norton, Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox

Similar to Inside Man, a movie that appears later on this list, 25th Hour pits its characters against a running clock. The film follows Ed Norton's Monty Brogan as he prepares for a seven-year prison sentence for drug dealing. The movie takes place in New York City in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and is adapted from a novel by David Benioff, co-creator of HBO's Game of Thrones series.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006) — Documentary 

Streaming on HBO Max.

David Lee/HBO

Lee's 2006 four-part documentary came in the midst of the ongoing rebuild in New Orleans after Hurrican Katrina devastated the city in August 2005. EW critic Alynda Wheat wrote at the time: "It is really something to say that Spike Lee’s documentary of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is quite possibly his best work. With all due respect to Do the Right ThingMo’ Better BluesInside Man, and the rest of Lee’s estimable filmography, When the Levees Broke may be the most evocative, deftly told, and important four hours to his credit."

Inside Man (2006)

Washington collaborates with Lee again in this heist thriller about an overnight bank robbery on Wall Street. Washington plays a hostage negotiator in a battle of wits against Clive Owen's master thief Dalton Russell. The film's underlying themes of discrimination and greed make it a classic Lee joint. It also performed well at the box office, earning $186 million worldwide on a $45 million budget.

BlackKklansman (2018)

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace

A black detective infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s in this loose adaptation of a 2014 memoir. For the lead character, Ron Stallworth, Lee tapped Denzel Washington's real-life son, John David Washington, in his first big-screen starring role. The movie was co-written by Kevin Willmott, a filmmaker who also co-wrote with Lee on 2020's Da 5 Bloods. 

More on BlackKlansman: EW's 2018 review.