One of the top actors of the 1990’s, Wesley Snipes was released from prison earlier today after serving three years for tax evasion. To mark the auspicious occasion, we decided to take a look at our Top 10 performances from this complex but talented actor.
After making his film debut in the football comedy, Wildcats, Snipes made a fast but meteoric rise that placed him not only among the top actors in Black Hollywood . . . and among the top action actors working in the business. Who can forget Snipes going mano y mano with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson in Martin Scorsese’s Bad? What about him teaming up with David Carauso as a Black Irishman, Tommy Flanigan in the cult classic, King of New York or even appearing uncredited in one of the year’s most tender love scenes opposite Angela Bassett in Waiting to Exhale?
Snipes’ talent was and still is undeniable but the dual circumstances of not enough leading roles to go around in major films in the early 90s coupled with his ability to successfully carve out a strong persona among his other celebrated peers Laurence Fishburne and Denzel Washington caused Snipes to blaze a trail in action films that extended his run as a formidable presence. While Washington smoldered with sexuality and Fishburne prowled like a panther, Snipes encapsulated similar qualities but enhanced it with an onscreen swagger that gave him added credibility for many of his roles.
There were so many signature characters that Snipes created, it was tough to whittle the list down to our favorites. Roles that received heavy consideration but missed the cut included John Cutter (“always bet on Black!”) in Passenger 57, Lt. Webster “Web” Smith who held his own opposite Sean Connery in The Rising Sun, the psychotic Simon Phoenix who sparred with Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man, along with convincing roles in U.S. Marshals, America’s Dream, Money Train and Down in the Delta and Undisputed.
Here is a look our top ten Wesley Snipes films:
10. Major League | 1989
Snipes brought the comedy to this film as the flamboyant and speedy Willie “Mays” Hayes in this baseball misadventure. Featuring a then little-known cast, many of their careers took off after this film including Snipes. Some of his castmembers who enjoyed success included Charlie Sheen, Dennis Haysbert, Rene Russo, Tom Berenger and Corbin Bernsen but Snipes cinematic achievement eclipsed them all.
9. Brooklyn’s Finest | 2009
After a string of straight-to-DVD films and his last major studio film, Blade: Trinity flopping at the box office, Snipes was slowly fading to obscurity. He thrown a lifeline by director Antoine Fuqua who cast Snipes in a familiar role as recently released former drug kingpin in this engrossing drama and the third installment of his Drug Kingpin Trilogy. There were plenty of similarities between the character of Casanova “Caz” Phillips and an earlier kingpin Snipes famously originated 20 years earlier that drew his fans to this one while pining for his earlier work.
8. White Men Can’t Jump | 1992
This story of a pair of streetball hustlers who team up and overcome their own prejudices and differences to get paid was a surprise hit based on the unbelievable chemistry between stars Snipes and Woody Harrelson who channeled their inner Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, onscreen. Based on a script by Ron Shelton, Snipes once again displayed his athleticism, humor and acting ability in this comic pairing that would reunite both stars several years later for Money Train.
7. Disappearing Acts | 2000
Snipes produced and starred in this HBO love story between a struggling construction worker who falls in love with an accomplished teacher in this strong drama. The film successfully dealt with the hot-button issue that had women talking from coast-to-coast – trying to find love across class differences. Sparks flew in and out of the bedroom for Lathan and Snipes as a vulnerable couple, who have to block out the voices from outside their home to try to make love work.
6. The Waterdance | 1992
One of his most challenging roles that displayed Snipes’ versatility as actor was his turn as a wheelchair-bound exaggerated player struggling to find his way despite his disability. One of the film’s supporting players, Snipes walked (no pun intended) away with film despite his slightly-diminished screen time, playing a former ladies’ man whose family is falling apart. An often over-looked story, it is truly worth another look.
5. Mo’ Better Blues | 1990
Snipes co-starred alongside Denzel Washington as an ensemble of jazz musician who play and love hard in Spike Lee’s jazzy drama. While it was clearly Denzel’s show, Snipes’ Shadow Henderson has enough charisma to hold his own against his celebrated contemporary. The only time the two shared the screen together, the film is a wonderful snapshot of 1990s Black star power featuring the young cinematic titans.
4. Jungle Fever | 1991
In his second collaboration with Spike, this time around Snipes is a successful architect who begins an affair with his Italian secretary (Annabella Sciorra). Marketing campaigns played up the racial element between the two stars but Lee expanded the narrative to incorporate the mention and references to several other incidents that occurred in New York’s divisive neighborhoods.
3. Sugar Hill | 1994
The second film in Snipes’ Kingpin Trilogy, this time he and Michael Wright play brothers, Roemello and Raynathan Skuggs, who are major drug dealers in the Harlem. The moody melodrama finds Snipes as the quiet and intelligent leader who, as he famously tells Raynathan, “I’m not scared, I just see something you don’t see.” Once again writer Barry Michael Cooper’s thoughtful script brings the best out of the star in Snipes in one of his strongest roles.
2. Blade | 1998
Long before he began collaborating with director Christopher Nolan on the ultra-successful Batman trilogy, David Goyer launched this half-human, half-vampire franchise vaunted Snipes’ action career into overdrive. Snipes combined his passion for martial arts and athleticism into a role tailor-made for his talents. If only if Nolan had worked on these films, Snipes career could have evolved in a much different direction.
1. New Jack City | 1991
In Snipes’ signature role, he plays drug kingpin, Nino Brown head of the Cash Money Brothers (CMB) who are ruthlessly pursued by a unit of “New Jack cops to hunt a New Jack Gangster.” Backed by Snipes’ commanding and menacing performance, wonderful supporting performances by Ice-T, Chris Rock and Allen Payne as well as a highly-rated soundtrack, New Jack City’s popularity is as strong today as when the film was released back in 1991.