BUMBACLOT BABYLON :: 6 Essential Jamaican Films

6 Essential Jamaican Films
6 Essential Jamaican Films
I'm a big fan of Jamaican culture. From Rastafarians and Reggae, Dub, Roots and Rocksteady to the food, the beautiful parts of the island, the Patwois language, the history - including the Maroon revolts, it's all so fascinating to me. Having been to Jamaica a few times, to watch a movie based on real Jamaica and not Hollywood stereotypes, it really lets me return to the island anytime I choose.

With that being said, I chose some of my favorite Jamaican movies. Almost all of these were produced, directed and made by Jamaicans in Jamaica, utilizing real Jamaican culture of the time. If you can find these movies with subtitles, it's very helpful as most of the dialog is thick Patwois.

The Harder They Come

The Harder They Come is the quintessential Jamaican movie. It put Jamaica in the spotlight for both culture and music in the early 70's. Singer Jimmy Cliff plays Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin, who moves to the urban city of Kingston after his grandmother passes. He is infatuated with the music and culture right away and decides he will be a successful musician.

He finds solace with a very religious preacher who gives him a job but looks down on his lifestyle. Ivan also falls for the adopted daughter of the preacher which complicates things. He fixes up a bike found on the property and gets a job distributing records for one of the top producers. When the bike is claimed by its owner, Ivan slashes him with a knife - for which he receives lashes.

Ivan then convinces the producer to record his song - "The Harder They Come". After recording, the producer offers only $20 for the song but grudgingly accepts as he doesn't have much choice. The producer tells the stations not to play the song as Ivan is "trouble".

Ivan then gets involved with smuggling ganja with the help of Jose, played by Carl Bradshaw. Carl is one of Jamaica's most famous actors and can be found in all these movies but one. Smuggling ganja leads Ivan to kill a cop. Now a wanted man, his song becomes a hit - yet he never enjoys the fame as he is on the run.

This movie accurately portrays the life of the poor in the ghettos of Kingston. In one scene, a young Bob Marley is shown recording in a studio before he became famous.

If you watch only one Jamaican movie, make sure this one is it.

Third World Cop

Third World Cop was my first foray into Jamaican movies. In this story, Capone (Paul Campbell) - a police officer is transferred to Kingston from the country. He is known for using unconventional techniques to get his man. His first case puts him in Dungle, the poor neighborhood where he grew up. He ends up facing off against his childhood mates including the brother of his best friend who had been killed due to gang violence. Carl Bradshaw is also in this one as "The Don down in Dungle - Douglas Jones ..."

This movie has it all - great one liners, music, and action. Some of the scenes are a tad corny, but this is not hollywood. The name of my site actually references a line in this movie. See if you can catch it.


Rockers is much like The Harder They Come in that it's all about the music industry. Horsemouth, a drummer living in the ghetto of Kingston is looking to use his drumming skills to make a hit record. He borrows money to buy a scooter and also gets a job distributing records and playing in a band. When he scooter is stolen, it leads back to his boss and the mafia and the "Rockers" take matters in their own hands. Carl Bradshaw is not in this movie.

The dialog and scenes are very real in this movie. They pretty much literally followed these musicians around filming them. It also has a great soundtrack and is highly recommended!

Smile Orange

Smile Orange is the comedy of the bunch. Carl Bradshaw is here again and plays Ringo, a waiter and con-man at an important tourist resort. The day to day running of the resort is compromised by the ineptitude of the staff and the management. The humor is mostly cornball, but it's still entertaining to watch.


Like most of these films, Countryman is about the everyman's struggle against the corrupt forces of the oppressive government. What sets it apart is the main protagonist - Countryman is a real root's rasta. He lives off the land, fishes for his dinner and can survive where others can't. He's thrown into a situation where he's forced to square up against a corrupt military Captain named Sinclair. The famous Carl Bradshaw also appears here, as Sinclair's right-hand man. Countryman uses his mystical powers to help those in need and escape capture.

Edwin "Countryman" Lothan was the real deal. Discovered by the directors before the movie was made, he was described as very intelligent despite no formal education. He was also described as a beautiful man, living close to the earth and making it all look so easy. Lothan died in 2016.

The music in this film is equally incredible and includes songs from Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Steel Pulse.

You can find the full movie at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1I01c6CoOk&t=361s

Wah Do Dem

The last movie is the only one not created by Jamaicans but produced and directed by Americans.

Brooklyn slacker Max wins two tickets for a Caribbean cruise but ends up traveling alone after being dropped by his girlfriend, Willow. The trip coincides with the 2008 US election, which is won by Barack Obama. After docking in Jamaica a series of misfortunes sees him stranded money-less and traveling across the country where he meets several characters, including musicians and a mystic Rastaman.

This might be the best representation of a naive tourist viewpoint of a visit to Jamaica - where you think life is all palm trees and beaches but you get treated to the poverty and yet hopefulness of Jamaican culture.