6 of The Best Urban Films

If you enjoy a good, gritty and powerful urban film then these 6 movies are bound to both entertain and stay with you long after the closing credits.

Urban films are rich in the culture of inner-city life and bring this kicking and screaming to our screens. Life in urban societies is portrayed in all its dark, bleak and violent reality with many of the settings, dialogue, characters and storylines recognizable to young city dwellers of today.

American History X

Ed Norton stars in this urban film about racism on the streets. Based around the lives of two brothers, Derek (Ed Norton) and Daniel (Edward Furlong), the film follows Derek’s descent into the neo-Nazi movement after their father is killed by a black drug dealer. Before long, Derek is sent to prison for killing two black gang members who were trying to break into his truck. He undergoes a change of outlook because of his experience in prison and when he is released he tries to save his younger brother from following in his destructive footsteps.


Violent and gripping, Ray Winstone plays Carlin, a young offender who’s moved to a new borstal where he’s bullied by the guards and inmates. So he decides to carry out random acts of violence to boost his standing and soon becomes the “daddy”, the boss of the trade in money and cigarettes. The extent of the violent content caused the BBC to have worries and led to the director Alan Clarke cutting the original film for cinema release. Portraying the brutality of life inside a British prison, Scum was one of the most controversial films of the early 1980s but has since become a classic urban movie.

District 13

This popular French film is set in one of the districts of Paris that has been separated from the main center due to the levels of violence – these districts are now in the hands of gangs. When District 13 takes a truck with a nuclear weapon on board, the intention is to sell it to the highest bidder but the trouble is the clock is ticking and in 24-hours the weapon will detonate, so the gang points it at the heart of Paris and demands big bucks. A lone cop is sent in who teams up with a gang member to track down the weapon and disarm it before it explodes.

Boyz N The Hood

About life in urban America, this film tells the story of childhood friends growing up on the mean streets of East Birmingham in Los Angeles, and reveals that not everyone is able to escape the hood alive.

This Is England

Stark and disturbing, this tale of England by director Shane Meadows centers on a 12-year-old boy Shaun who is growing up in poverty in the 1980s. Taken under the wing of a group of skinheads, relations are soon strained when a racist gang member Combo is released from jail. The gang splits in two as Combo fights to be leader, and Shaun chooses to go with him rather than the other gang leader Woody and events turn dark and brutal with shocking consequences.


Set in north London, this bleak portrayal of urban life sees the day-to-day struggles of 15-year-old Londoner Trife as he struggles to choose between the path he knows he should take and a life of guns and violence.

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