How did “Boyz N The Hood” launch the careers of many of its stars?

Quick Answer: Boyz N The Hood stars a multitude of today’s well-known actors. But before that film, many of them had not landed gigs that gave them widespread appeal, or had never acted at all.

Cuba Gooding, Jr. Ice Cube. Laurence Fishburne. These are big household names in entertainment today. Their careers are decades-long, thriving and exciting. Throw Regina King, Angela Bassett and Morris Chestnut in the mix, and we have a whole batch of actors whose rise to prominence can largely be attributed to their performances under the helm of 23 year-old, first-time director John Singleton and his iconic story of life and survival in South Central Los Angeles, Boyz n the Hood (1991).

Morris Chestnut, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood

Gooding, Jr. was in the acting game prior to Boyz but had yet to land anything overwhelmingly substantial. He had single-episode parts on a number of television shows and minor roles in a few TV movies, but bringing life and richness to Tre Styles in Boyz put him on the map as a serious dramatic player. A year later he starred in A Few Good Men (1992) and followed it with his scene-stealing, Academy-Award winning “Show me the money” performance in Jerry Maguire (1994), solidifying his status as one of the biggest names of the 1990s. He recently took center stage again as O.J. Simpson in American Crime Story (2016-) and had roles in Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013) and Selma (2014).

Laurence Fishburne in Boyz n the Hood

Fishburne and Bassett were both a decade into their careers when Boyz came along, but their performances in the film as Tre’s strong parents, Furious and Reva, started their ascension to household fame. Prior to 1991, Fishburne had done a lot of miscellaneous television. A role in Apocalypse Now (1979) when he was a teen and subsequently a small part in The Color Purple (1985) served as his two major film entries, while a recurring role as Cowboy Curtis on Pee Wee’s Playhouse (1990) was his first regular job. Then Furious Styles changed everything. From there, he went on to find tremendous success as Morpheus in The Matrix (1999) film franchise and had a long stint as Dr. Raymond Langston on the flagship CSI (2000-2015) series, along with many successful movies.

Angela Bassett in Boyz n the Hood

The year following Boyz, Bassett was playing Dr. Betty Shabazz in Malcolm X (1992) and in Panther (1995) three years later, with a stint as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993) in between. She got her groove back in 1998 (How Stella Got Her Groove Back), helped a young Keke Palmer enter a spelling bee in 2006 (Akeelah and the Bee) , and now tears up the small screen on the horror television anthology American Horror Story (2011-).

Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood

Ice Cube is perhaps the greatest success story of Boyz n the Hood. In his teens, he made music with the seminal rap group N.W.A. until departing in 1989 to build a solo career. Boyz n the Hood was his film debut, and his performance as Doughboy is still hailed as moving, layered, complicated, and exquisite. “I knew Ice Cube was a movie star before he knew he was a movie star,” Singleton told MTV. “He just embodied that role and did a great job.” MTV writes, “In fact, the director had a vision — not just for Cube, but for all the members of his former group as well. ‘The script was originally written for all of N.W.A. The character Doughboy was always meant for Ice Cube, but the whole script was written for all of the N.W.A guys to be in it,’ Singleton revealed.”

Cube’s performance opened a lot of doors for both his music and acting careers. A few years later, he wrote and starred in F. Gary Gray’s Friday (1995) and in the decades since has maintained a balance between dramatic and comedic roles.

Regina King in Boyz n the Hood

Prior to Boyz, Regina King had been in over 100 episodes of the sitcom 227 (1985-1990) as the daughter of sharp-tongued, inner-city resident gossip and housewife Mary Jenkins, played by Marla Gibbs. After Boyz, she had roles in several films with Boyz co-stars, like Jerry Maguire, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and Friday. Since then she has dominated television, making major impressions on The Leftovers (2014-), The Big Bang Theory (2007-) and American Crime (2015-).

Morris Chestnut in Boyz n the Hood

Morris Chestnut also found his film debut in Boyz, spawning a film and television career that recently includes recurring roles on V (2009-2011), American Horror Story, Nurse Jackie (2009-2015), Legends (2014-2015), and Rosewood (2015-).

The success of these talents following the seminal film is even more astounding given the fact that, at the time of Boyz n the Hood, they were almost kids making movies. Singleton directed the film at age 23 with no substantial prior experience. All the primary actors were in their early 20s. Even Fishburne, despite playing Gooding’s father in the film, is only 7 years his senior in real life and was barely 30 upon the film’s release. Boyz n the Hood‘s raw power and honest portrayal of heart-wrenching realities had such a massive impact that it transformed the careers of those involved, catapulting unknown actors into big-name stardom.