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10 Movies to Watch After You See Straight Outta Compton

By  · Published on August 14th, 2015

Universal Pictures

Welcome to another edition of Movies to Watch, where we recommend titles for you to check out after you’ve caught the latest hot new theatrical release. These are not necessarily great movies, just essentials to make you better appreciate the one you just saw.

This week, that one would be Straight Outta Compton (if it’s not, then go out and see it because it’s pretty good and also because this list might include spoilers). It’s a sometimes standard music biopic about rap icons Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre and their group N.W.A., and therefore it easily reminds us of other notable entries in the genre – one scene involving multiple takes in the recording studio had me thinking of a similar moment in La Bamba, for instance, though it’s likely that’s just a common convention of movies like this. Not enough to be a relevant recommendation.

Below are 10 titles with various sorts of significance to Straight Outta Compton, whether tied to the subject matter or the filmmakers or actors. As usual, they’re roots-oriented, yet all of this week’s crop are less than 25 years old, meaning they all came out somewhere between the initial time period the new movie is set in and its release. And in tune with the Straight Outta Compton end-credits montage, they form a chronological narrative of the two decades since N.W.A.’s rise. Some of these selections are, admittedly, quite obvious, maybe just as quick reminders, but hopefully there is something here for you to branch off to and discover.

The Doors (1991)

Both The Doors and N.W.A. represent Los Angeles music of a certain point in time, and their respective biopics similarly focus on the place and those eras. There are a number of moments in Straight Outta Compton that had me recalling Oliver Stone’s movie about Jim Morrison and his bandmates, but the Detroit concert scene, with its censorship request and police presence and ultimate arrest feels straight outta The Doors. But it’s surely not intentional (even if Compton is co-written by Andrea Berloff, who also wrote Stone’s World Trade Center), just a matter of there being an interesting real correlation of the times. Also interesting to consider in the comparison of the two movies is how the surviving members of The Doors hated Stone’s often-fictionalized dramatization of their history, while the surviving members of N.W.A. actually produced their story. And each has its own fascinating form of mythologizing going on as a result.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Even if you’ve already seen this drama, which marked the start of Ice Cube’s acting career and for which John Singleton became the youngest and first African-American person nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, it’s definitely worth revisiting after seeing Compton. Is it as great as you remember? Or is it just a glorified “after-school special with cussin’”? Eazy-E did really publicly criticize the movie with that phrase, as Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) references in the new movie. See the interview in the September 1991 issue of Spin magazine here.

CB4 (1993)

If you sat through Compton and got a sense of deja vu, but you weren’t exactly familiar with the true story of Eazy-E and company going into the thing, maybe you’ve just seen this comedy co-written by and starring Chris Rock. Much of the movie is a parody of N.W.A., particularly its fictional rap group’s hit song “Straight Outta Locash” and the music video for that track (see below). Eazy-E and Ice Cube even make cameos in the gangsta-rap satire, so like the actual biopic it obviously doesn’t hit hard enough.

Murder Was the Case (1994)

If you have any criticisms at all about the quality of movie Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produced alongside director F. Gary Gray, it’s worth seeing what their collaborations were like more than 20 years ago. While you’re really better off watching the first Friday, which we see Jackson-as-Ice Cube writing in a scene in Compton and which was Gray’s feature debut, this earlier short film (or is it better described as a longform music video?) is still necessary if only as a curious artifact. Directing credit goes to Dr. Dre, but Gray also helmed one of the music videos strung together to form a plot involving the death of Snoop Doggy Dogg (as he was listed as then). And Suge Knight, who was definitely not involved in the making of Compton (to the point that he angrily showed up on the set of a promo for the movie and allegedly killed someone while there), is an executive producer. Watch it in full below.

Private Parts (1997)

Many of Paul Giamatti’s best roles have come in biopics, including those where he’s the main figure (John Adams) or one form of the main figure (American Splendor) or the sidekick-like colleague of the main figure (The Man in the Moon). He’s sort of the last one in Compton, too. Going back a couple decades, though, the actor actually broke out with this autobiographical biopic that stars Howard Stern as himself. Portraying program director Kevin “Pig Vomit” Metheny (composited with others), Giamatti is more of an anti-sidekick-like colleague of the main figure. But just as with his portrayal of Jerry Heller in the N.W.A. movie, here he has to deal with a controversially outspoken celebrity who can’t be censored.

OT: Our Town (2002)

The song “Straight Outta Compton” can be heard for a moment in the below trailer for this documentary because it’s a film aiming to show a different side of the city. The focus is on students at Manuel Dominguez High School, alma mater of N.W.A.’s MC Ren, as they put on the first play there in 20 years – and the funny thing is it’s Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” which deals with a sort of Americana these kids have trouble relating to. The film is directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, who went on to helm the Oscar-nominated feature documentary The Garden as well as the more popular high school doc Fame High.

Dark Blue (2002)

There aren’t a whole lot of movies that feature the 1992 Los Angeles riots (aka the Rodney King riots) as a backdrop, as characters drive through the city and witness the chaos. Compton therefore has a major sequence in common with this crime film starring Kurt Russell from director Ron Shelton, written by David Ayer and James Ellroy. Like many of Ellroy’s works, such as L.A. Confidential, Dark Blue involves police corruption, almost too heavily handed given it’s set against the trial of the cops who beat Rodney King. It’s not a true story, but it’s an interesting movie to watch after Compton and think about it happening at the same time as the N.W.A. guys are being wrongfully profiled in the same area.

N.W.A.: The World’s Most Dangerous Group (2008)

Ice Cube has said that Compton is more real than any documentary on N.W.A., and he must be including this VH1 Rock Docs installment. It’s true that it doesn’t go any more in-depth than the biopic does, but for the conventional format it uses, with narration by Chris Rock and exclusive interviews with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and even Jerry Heller, it offers another kind of telling of the same story. It makes for a terrific supplement to the new movie. You can watch the whole thing below.

Notorious (2009)

Let the battle of West Coast and East Coast return in the form of biopics, as Compton has now crushed this movie about Biggie Smalls, as decent as it is. Like the new movie, this one also features a main figure’s own son in the role of his father – however, Christopher Wallace Jr. only portrays Biggie as a boy. Newcomer Jamal Woolard picks up the role for the adult years and he gives a really impressive performance for someone who came out of nowhere to the part. The movie itself, though, while good, is even more conventional than the N.W.A. profile, never really trying to be about more than its primary subject. Now we need another biopic on a New York rapper before the long overdue Tupac biopic arrives.

Selma (2014)

This recent Best Picture nominee (our movie of the year for 2014) is only really relevant to Compton in the way they both seem to address today’s issues with racial discrimination and profiling and brutality at the hands of the law (also its director, Ava Duvernay, grew up in Compton). Selma is a lot more direct, especially in the lyrics of its Oscar-winning end-credits rap song, “Glory.” Compton sort of loses its address of the racial issues it seems so focused on in the first half, ultimately concentrating on how Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have become famous and successful enough to escape those kinds of problems. Ice Cube and Gray at least seem to be trying to sell their movie’s resonance in a post-Ferguson world, though.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.