Original Gangstas

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Original Gangstas
File:Original gangstas poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Larry Cohen
Produced by Wolf Schmidt
Fred Williamson
Written by Aubrey K. Rattan
Starring Fred Williamson
Jim Brown
Pam Grier
Paul Winfield
Isabel Sanford
Ron O'Neal
Robert Forster
Richard Roundtree
Shyheim Franklin
Music by Vladimir Horunzhy
Cinematography Carlos González
Edited by Peter B. Ellis
David Kern
Distributed by Orion Pictures (MGM)
Release dates
May 10, 1996
Running time
143 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.6 million[1]
Box office $3,000,000 (US)

Original Gangstas is a 1996 action movie filmed and set in urban Gary, Indiana starring Blaxploitation film stars such as Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Jim Brown, and Richard Roundtree.[2] The film is directed by Larry Cohen.[3]

The film details the deteriorating state of an impoverished Gary neighborhood terrorized by a street gang called the Rebels. When the gang murders a local boy, it prompts the emergence of several individuals who grew up in the neighborhood: the "original" Rebels.[4][5]


The movie opens to a narration detailing the poor economic state of a gang-ridden Gary. The narrator explains to the audience of how the city came into such a state. After the opening narrative, the scene switches to the base of operations for the Rebels, a local street gang, and a one-on-one basketball game between a Rebel gang member and a local boy named Kenny Thompson. Kenny humiliates the Rebel by winning and taking the gambled winnings for his own. After he leaves, Spyro, the current co-leader of the Rebels (opposite Damien) is under the impression that Kenny's skills are something more than "something he picked up." He instructs his lieutenant, Kayo, to exact retribution on Kenny for being hustled.

While Kenny and his friend Marcus are relaxing at a diner, Kenny decides to call his girlfriend. He enters a phone booth to make the call, but is subsequently shot by Kayo in a drive-by shooting; his mother, Laurie Thompson, alarmed by the gunshots, steps outside her home to discover her son murdered. The owners of the grocery store, Marvin Bookman and Gracie Bookman, two well-respected members of the community by both the Rebels and local citizens, feels that justice should be brought to Kenny's murderer and discloses the license plate number of the shooter's vehicle. When the Rebels discover this, Spyro orders Kayo to dispose of the vehicle. Spyro and Damien then proceed to confront Marvin about his assistance to the investigators of Kenny's death; Marvin argues that Kenny was a good person and did not deserve to be shot. The co-leaders of the Rebels describe how they respected the Bookmans' store and, while others around it were robbed and ransacked, their store was left alone; the fact that Marvin would "sell them out" expresses a high amount of disrespect to the Rebels, who then immediately seek revenge on Marvin. Eventually, Kayo and Bobby, with a group of fellow Rebels, attacks the grocery store, resulting in the near-fatal shooting of Marvin by Bobby.

The attack on Marvin's life prompts his son, pro football coach and ex-Rebel John Bookman, to return to the impoverished Gary neighborhood to find Bobby the shooter. After seeing his father, John goes to save his father's shop and kicked all the Rebels fellows out of there. Then he goes to a local barbershop, where Kayo eventually turns up; trouble immediately brews, and John and the gang members fight. John has the upper hand, but is overpowered. Jake Trevor, another original Rebel, enters the fray and saves John. After the fight, the two converse, and it is revealed that Jake is here to bury his illegitimate son, Kenny Thompson. Jake goes to visit "Slick",who reveals to Jake that his son was killed because he hustled the Rebels; Jake is astounded and enraged that his son was killed over money.

The next day, John and Jake attend Kenny's funeral, where a distraught Laurie Thompson is reunited with her ex-husband. While talking, Laurie implores Jake to reconsider seeking vengeance upon his son's murderers, expressing her disdain by stating that he always wishes to resolve such issues by fighting, which "only makes things worse". John tells Jake that he has a meeting with the Rebels at the church that makes Jake and Laurie disappointed at him. Jake confronts Spyro at the basketball court about Kenny Thompson.

After failed treaty negotiations at the church and the rising of neighborhood gang violence, the other gangs, The Diablos and The Rangers, have a meeting with Spyro, Damien and The Rebels about Kenny Thompson. At the Rebels party, John and Jake drove Spyro and Damien's car into The Diablo's territory and shoot at them to set The Rebels up to break the truce. The Rebels set the community houses on fire as retaliation with molotov cocktails. All of the original Rebels - John Bookman, Laurie, Jake, Slick and Bubba - with the help of Kenny's friend Marcus, decide to take justice into their own hands and attack the Rebels. They devise a plan to "lose" a trunk of weapons to the Rebels; when the Rebels tried to use said weapons, the guns malfunctioned and "exploded" in their faces, stunning many Rebels. In another area, Rebels are attempting to escape the battle, but are stopped by a group of community members, armed with bats and other improvised weapons. Eventually, Spyro and Damien fear they may lose the fight, and escape to the old steel mill; Jake and John follow.

After an intense hand-to-hand fight between Jake and Spyro, Spyro is killed. After Spyro is taken down by Jake, the leader of a rival gang The Diablos, Blood, along with a few cohorts, shoots a battered Damien; the leadership of the Rebels is destroyed.

When Jake and John exit the steel mill, the police arrive; John states how "they always show up late." Jake retorts, "I know what you mean."

(On the laserdisc commentary track, Williamson said he was planning a sequel, but it was never made.)



The film had mixed reviews.[6][7][8] The film holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews.[9]

Box office

The movie debuted at the US box office at No.9.[10]


A soundtrack containing hip hop and R&B music was released on April 30, 1996 by Noo Trybe Records. It peaked at #41 on the Billboard 200 and #8 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.


  1. Patrick McGilligan, "Larry Cohen: Manic Energy", Backstory 4: Interviews with Hollywood Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, University of California, 2006 p. 64
  2. Boyd, Todd (1996-06-09). "Listen to Their Rap". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Original Gangstas". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 11, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Dretzka, Gary (1996-05-12). "RECLAIMING THEIR TURF IN `ORIGINAL GANGSTAS,' FRED WILLIAMSON REUNITES A CAST OF FORMER `BLAXPLOITATION' ACTORS AND HOPES TO WIN BACK AN ESTRANGED AUDIENCE". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-01-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Some Super Grown-ups Righteously Take Back The Streets - Philly.com". Retrieved 2014-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Return Of The Washed-up - Philly.com". Retrieved 2014-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Thomas, Kevin (1996-05-11). "'In 'Original Gangstas,' the Rough Stuff Is Still the Lure Movies". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Van Gelder, Lawrence (1996-05-11). "FILM REVIEW;Middle-Aged Vigilantes: The Gang Has Grown Up". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. rottentomatoes.com, "Original Gangstas". Accessed July 21, 2013.
  10. Brennan, Judy (1996-05-13). "'Twister' Blows Rivals Away; Box office: The tornado thriller pulled in an estimated $37.5 million, the seventh-biggest opening in history, and left blue skies instead of clouds for Warner Bros. and Universal". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Original Gangstas on IMDb