James Brown: 5 Movies You May Not Know He Was In
June is African-American Music Appreciation Month (formerly known as Black Music Month). With that in mind, we thought this would be an opportune time to highlight several films in which the Godfather of Soul himself has appeared. While James Brown has starred in numerous concert films and documentaries that feature his on-stage performances, we have limited our list to Brown’s film appearances outside of those two genres. This is not a comprehensive list of Brown’s many movie cameos and the films featured in this list were selected on the basis of personal taste. However, the films are ordered according to aggregate critics’ ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, from worst to best. Here are five funky films that feature the one and only James Brown.
5. Ski Party (1965)
Despite primarily taking place at a ski resort, Ski Party is considered to be part of the beach party film genre, a series of lighthearted teenage films that were churned out by American International Pictures in the 1960s. The film stars beach party movie veteran Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman, while Avalon’s usual partner-in-crime Annette Funicello makes a brief cameo appearance. Not surprisingly, Rotten Tomatoes’ critics have not even bothered to rate this mostly forgotten beach party flick.
However, among all the usual formulaic beach party elements in this film, James Brown and the Famous Flames make an unexpected cameo appearance with a performance of “I Feel Good.” Despite being dressed in decidedly non-funky sweaters, Brown and his band put on a funky, if slightly surreal, performance. Brown’s appearance in Ski Party is also notable for being portrayed in Get On Up.
4. Doctor Detroit (1983)
Starring Saturday Night Live veteran Dan Aykroyd, this comedy film tells the story of a mild-mannered college professor who inadvertently becomes entangled in a Chicago mob boss’s machinations after a chance encounter with a pimp and several prostitutes. Aykroyd stars as Professor Clifford Skridlow, while Fran Drescher plays one of the prostitutes.
Although not a complete financial flop, it was mostly forgotten after a mediocre box office take of $10.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Today the film is mostly notable for featuring a cameo appearance by James Brown during a dance party. Brown also supplied the film’s theme song, “Get Up Offa That Thing / Dr. Detroit.” However, even the hardest working man in show business couldn’t sufficiently redeem this flawed film for the critics. Doctor Detroit currently has a 40 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Rocky IV (1985)
Sylvester Stallone reprises his role as world champion boxer Rocky Balboa in this fourth installment in the highly-successful Rocky film series. Carl Weathers plays Rocky’s friend and one-time opponent Apollo Creed, while Dolph Lundgren plays Russian boxer Ivan Drago.
When Creed takes on Drago in an exhibition fight that plays up the Cold War-era hostilities between the Soviet Union and the U.S., James Brown provides Creed with what may be the best boxing match entrance ever portrayed on film. Unfortunately, even James Brown’s performance of “Living in America” couldn’t keep Apollo Creed from dying in the ring. Maybe that’s why Rocky IV only has a 43 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Despite mixed reviews from the critics, Rocky IV was a major box office success that went on to gross over $300 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
2. Undercover Brother (2002)
Eddie Griffin stars in this comedy film that parodies many of the clichés seen in Blaxploitation genre films of the 1970s. In the film, Griffin plays “Undercover Brother,” a secret agent at B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., an organization that battles “The Man” and his efforts to control minorities. Besides Griffin, Undercover Brother also features Chris Kattan, Dave Chappelle, Denise Richards, Aunjanue Ellis, Billy Dee Williams, and Neil Patrick Harris.
After James Brown is targeted for kidnapping by The Man, the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. team hatches a plan that results in one of the oddest movie scenes featuring the Godfather of Soul. Undercover Brother was a commercial success and currently has a 77 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
1. The Blues Brothers (1980)
John Landis directed this blockbuster comedy film that features Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as Jake and Elwood Blues, two characters that the comedians developed during their time at Saturday Night Live. While the film’s story is about the two brothers’ quest to raise money for an orphanage, The Blues Brothers is filled with performances from musical legends such as John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, and of course, James Brown. Unlike most of his film cameos in which he portrays himself, James Brown actually plays a character named Reverend Cleophus James in The Blues Brothers.
The film was a commercial success when it was originally released with a domestic box office gross of $57.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Due to its impressive cast of musical legends and multiple celebrity cameos, The Blues Brothers has acquired a cult following and currently has an 87 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. The film’s popularity also led to a sequel in 1998 called Blues Brothers 2000, in which Brown reprises his role as Reverend Cleophus James.
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