On October 24, 2023, the world lost one of the most influential figures in Black cinema: Richard Roundtree, who passed away at the age of 81 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The actor is, of course, best known for playing the title role of the Shaft franchise, but there are plenty of other great films worth checking out as a tribute to his career. However, the classic Blaxploitation thriller and its sequels are where we shall start in our breakdown of some of the best Richard Roundtree movies available watch now.
The Shaft Movies (1971-2019)
The adventures of a suave, Black New York City detective (Roundtree), who goes on to team up with his “nephew” (Samuel L. Jackson) and grandson (Jessie T. Usher) years later.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Featuring an Oscar-winning, iconic movie theme song by Isaac Hayes, the original adaptation of Ernest Tidyman’s crime novel, Shaft, spawned two direct sequels — 1972’s Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft in Africa from the following year — a 2000 soft reboot featuring both Jackson and Roundtree, and another requel that brings three generations of the Shaft family together.
Charley One-Eye (1973)
A Black Union Army officer (Roundtree) and a Native American drifter (Roy Thinnes) form an uneasy partnership against a bigoted bounty hunter (Nigel Davenport).
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Roundtree brings the same no-holds-barred attitude he made famous in Shaft to the western genre with Charley One-Eye.
A disparate group of Californians’ lives intersect after a record-breaking seismic disaster tears through Los Angeles, forcing locals to struggle to survive.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Roundtree appears alongside an all-star cast of one of the best disaster movies of its time, Earthquake, as a motorcycle stunt rider who becomes a hero in the midst of the tragedy.
Man Friday (1975)
Years after an accident leaves him stranded on a Pacific island, a middle-class man (Peter O’Toole) meets a native tribesman (Richard Roundtree), and the pair learn a lot from each other as a genuine friendship begins to form.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Roundtree plays the title role of Man Friday — director Jack Gold’s cinematic adaptation of Adrian Mitchell’s stage play, which is a somewhat more comedic reinterpretation of Daniel Defoe’s highly influential adventure novel, Robinson Crusoe.
Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
The investigation of a series of bizarre murders by two New York detectives (David Carradine and Richard Roundtree) is interrupted by the emergence of a large, bird-like beast attacking people in the city.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Roundtree meets his match in the form of the titular, murderous creature in Q: The Winged Serpent — an underrated monster movie written and directed by the late B-movie legend Larry Cohen.
Maniac Cop (1988)
A no-nonsense veteran detective (Tom Atkins) and a newer officer framed for murder (Bruce Campbell) work together to clear the latter’s name when they find evidence that the real culprit could be an infamous cop seemingly brought back from the dead.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Also one of Bruce Campbell’s best movies, Maniac Cop sees Roundtree starring in yet another cult favorite that fuses cop drama with horror (this time of the ‘80s slasher movie variety). In it, he plays NYPD commissioner Pike.
A disillusioned veteran detective (Morgan Freeman) and a rookie brought in to replace him (Brad Pitt) work together to stop the disturbing spree of murder basing his crimes off of the seven deadly sins.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Perhaps the best (and certainly most unsettling) cop drama/horror movie on Richard Roundtree’s resume — let alone one of the best horror movies of all time — is director David Fincher’s Seven, in which the actor plays a district attorney named Martin Talbot.
George Of the Jungle (1997)
A wealthy woman (Leslie Mann) meets and forms a close, unexpected bond with a man (Academy Award winner Brendan Fraser) who was raised in the jungle.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: This hilarious movie based on the 1960s animated TV show George of the Jungle stars Richard Roundtree in the supporting role of Kwame — Ursula and Lyle’s (Thomas Haden Church) lead tour guide when they first arrive in Africa.
In order to figure out who is responsible for his girlfriend’s murder, a teenager (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) infiltrates the dangerous world of his high school’s criminal underground.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: For one of his more recent and esteemed crime thrillers, Richard Roundtree (instead of another law enforcement profession) plays an assistant vice principal in Brick — the first Rian Johnson/Joseph Gordon-Levitt collaboration that carries all the same themes, tones and language of a classic film noir movie, despite being a modern teen drama.
Speed Racer (2008)
A young man (Emile Hirsch) aspires to be the greatest racecar driver in the world.
Why it is one of the best Richard Roundtree movies: Yet another (technically) live-action adaptation of a classic 1960s animated series starring Richard Roundtree is Speed Racer — the Wachowskis' underrated, action-packed fantasy in which the actor appears as a former racing champion-turned-commentator named Ben Burns.
Can ya dig these great Richard Roundtree movies? Of course, these are just the tip of the man's film and TV work, so feel free to look around elsewhere once you're done watching these features.