A 1972 Blaxploitation film directed by Gordon Parks Jr.
Ron O'Neal stars as Priest, an up-and-coming successful cocaine dealer in New York City. After getting mugged by two junkies, he realizes that his profession will eventually only end in death or prison, so he decides it's time to call it quits. In order to raise money to start a fresh, crime-free life, however, he needs to perform One Last Job by making a 30 kilo deal. Too bad that almost every person he interacts with (save two obligatorily antagonistic white cops) seems to make it their mission in life to keep him in the business...
This film is known for its soundtrack, written and produced by soul singer Curtis Mayfield. Superfly is one of the few films ever to have been out-grossed by its soundtrack. Ironically, in later years, Mayfield came to hate the film, calling it "a TV commercial for cocaine."
Some critics believe the film's glorification of drug dealers serves to subtly critique the civil rights movement's failure to provide better economic opportunities for black America and that the portrayal of a black community controlled by drug dealers serves to highlight that the initiatives of the civil rights movement were far from fully accomplished.note
However the filmmakers maintain that it was their desire to show the negative and empty aspects of the drug subculture. This is evident in the movie from the beginning as Priest communicates his desire to leave the business. As said above, nearly every character in film, with the notable exception of his main squeeze, tries to dissuade Priest from quitting; their chief argument being that dealing and snorting is the best he could ever achieve in life. This contrast underscores a major theme in artistic works - the individual vs the group collective.
This film provides examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Priest is an unscrupulous and violent cocaine dealer, but is trying to get out of the business and live an honest life. Another character remarks that he has no relevant job skills to make a living outside of crime, and adds that he does not have the stomach to be a pimp.
- Badass Longcoat: Priest has a lot of 'em.
- Big Applesauce
- Big Bad: Deputy Commissioner Reardon, the Dirty Cop controlling Harlem's drug trade.
- Blaxploitation: Hailed as a Trope Codifier and one of the very best.
- Briefcase Full of Money: Priest takes one from Eddie's apartment, and then pulls a switch.
- But Not Too Black: O'Neal is quite fair-skinned; at one point a character in the film calls Priest "white-looking". He responds by punching him.
- Chekhov's Skill: Priest is seen early on training in martial arts in a gym. It comes in handy in the end.
- Crapsack World: Harlem's socioeconomic state is so bad that drug dealing is considered the only realistic way to make money. Also, the cops are controlling the drug trade.
- Dirty Cop: The narcotics detectives that are in fact running the cocaine business in Harlem. Deputy Commissioner Reardon is head of the drug ring.
- Drugs Are Bad: If the filmmakers' claims are to be taken as true.
- Fanservice: There's the nude lady in Priest's bed in the opening scene, there's the prolonged bathtub sex scene with his girlfriend Georgia, and then there's the high-class white lady wearing a transparent body stocking.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Scatter's murder is staged as a drug overdose.
- The Mafia: Some wiseguys approach Priest and Eddie with an offer of protection against any Dirty Cop trouble. Priest eventually takes them up on it.
- The Man: Eddie's take on why they're drug dealers. "I know it's a rotten game. It's the only one The Man left us to play."
- Nice Hat: Priest loves his fedoras.
- One Last Job: Priest's idea is to get thirty keys of coke, sell it for street value of a million dollars, and then get out of the life. Unlike the way this trope usually works, out, he actually does escape with his life.
- Resignations Not Accepted: The corrupt cops will not let Priest quit the cocaine business.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Priest, always.
- Title Drop: Priest's coke is described as "super fly". Then there's Curtis Mayfield's Title Theme Tune.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Freddie's girlfriend stores the roll that Freddie gets from Priest.
The 2018 remake contains examples of:
- Adaptational Heroism: Subverted. It initially seems that Eddie has betrayed Priest (just like the original film) and joined Snow Patrol in order to rat him out. Soon after, Eddie leads the gang into the furniture store he and Priest have been using as a base, then flees just before SWAT units (tipped off by Priest) raid the store and kill the members. It's revealed soon after that this was part of Priest's master plan to take out Snow Patrol and Gonzalez's gang in one fell swoop.
- Adult Fear: During the final car chase, Georgia points out that there are children in the park Priest is driving through, and he has to swerve to avoid hitting a child in a stroller directly in his path.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Youngblood Priest.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Priest's Establishing Character Moment shows him walking into the club of a dealer, surrounded by men wielding machine guns, and ordering the man to surrender the keys to his luxury car as collateral while talking down the goons who attempt to threaten him (and pointing out that they're in no way cut out for the mob lifestyle, and aren't willing to die for their boss).
- Action Survivor: Georgia.
- And I Must Scream: What happens to Gonzales near the end of the movie is so bizzarely brutal and over-the-top, it seems like a scene that belongs in the Harlan Ellison Trope Namer sci-fi horror story, and not in a crime thriller movie with gangsters and gunfights.
- Batman Gambit: Priest's final plan to get out of the drug game and knock out Snow Patrol, Gonzalez and the cops relies on a ridiculous number of random factors, including Snow Patrol not shooting Eddie when he arrives to setup his false FaceHeel Turn in front of Juju, the group believing him and all turning out in force to Priest's front operation, Detective Mason finding the three keys of drugs in Priest's safe and taking them with her, the Mayor falling for the extortion ploy and Gonzalez's mother being a more evil drug kingpin than her son ever was.
- Blue Oni, Red Oni: Georgia (blue) and Cynthia (red).
- Briefcase Full of Money: Used several times by Priest to deliver hush payments to the dirty cops, with Detective Mason even pointing how nice the designer bag he delivered looks. Subverted at the end, when Priest delivers an empty bag to Turk just before he delivers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
- Cat Fight: Happens briefly with two girls beginning to fight during a party at Priest's house.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Mayor Atkins (who shows up in a seemingly-innocuous comedic scene midway through the film) proves to be vital to Priest's plan to get out of the game, as coerces the former (under threat of blackmail) to get him a sealed file on Gonzalez's brother from the county court system, then sending it to Gonzalez's mother, who kills her son in retribution.
- Dies Wide Open: Cynthia dies in this fashion after being shot by Juju towards the end of the film.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Gonzalez really loves his mother, to the point that it becomes a Berserk Button when Priest mentions her name during his High-Altitude Interrogation. There's even a scene dedicated to Gonzalez watching a soccer game with his goons while bantering with her. Inverted at the end of the film, where she discovers what her son has done (put her other son in jail for life) and executes him for his failures.
- Due to this inversion, Gonzales can be heard cursing his mother while being straped for Fate Worse than Death near the end of the movie.
- Eviler Than Thou: Gonzales's mother to her own son.
- Fanservice: The film is ripe with topless dancers (most notably in the clubs the main characters visit), along with an extended Shower Scene between Priest, Georgia and Cynthia.
- Fate Worse than Death: Gonzalez's mother dispatches him by locking him into a machine that takes organic matter (including flesh) and transforms it into fertilizer, soon after he did the same thing to Scatter's corpse.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Fat Freddy and his mistress are executed in this way, with the camera panning away to the skyline as soon as Turk begins firing on them.
- High-Altitude Interrogation: After Priest lets himself get captured by Gonzalez's goons, the kingpin drags the former onto his private jet, holds him at gunpoint while demanding answers about why he's tailing him, and threatens to throw him out of the jet without a parachute.
- Incendiary Exponent: Priest and Georgia manage to escape the ambush by Juju and members of Snow Patrol by using impromptu Molotov cocktails to hold them off while they run.
- Paying for the Action Scene: The first scuffle between Priest and Juju leads to an innocent bystander being shot in the chest at its conclusion. While Juju flees, Priest gives the bystander's friends directions on which hospital to go to, along with a stack of money he has in his coat. To his relief, the injured woman survives.
- Polyamory: Priest is in a relationship with both Georgia and Cynthia, with a Three-Way Sex scene being given prominent focus.
- Resignations Not Accepted: Priest attempts to quietly exit from the drug life, only for Scatter to rat out the plan to Gonzalez. Gonzalez (in turn) has discovered that Scatter has been skimming money from the operation and has him executed instead, while cooly threatening Priest to stick to the plans and not go anywhere. This leads Priest to enact his final gambit.
- You Have Failed Me: Gonzalez executes Scatter after discovering that the latter was stealing money from him.
- You Shall Not Pass!: What Cynthia does to the Snow Patrol.