Set It Off

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This article is about the 1996 film. For other uses, see Set It Off (disambiguation).
Set It Off
Set it off poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Produced by Oren Koules
Dale Pollock
Screenplay by Takashi Bufford
Kate Lanier
Story by Takashi Bufford
Starring Jada Pinkett
Queen Latifah
Vivica A. Fox
Kimberly Elise
John C. McGinley
Blair Underwood
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Marc Reshovsky
Edited by John Carter
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates November 6, 1996
Running time 123 minutes
Language English
Budget $9,000,000[1]
Box office $41,590,886[1]

Set It Off is a 1996 American crime action film directed by F. Gary Gray, and written by Kate Lanier and Takashi Bufford. The film stars Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise (in her theatrical acting debut). It follows four close friends in Los Angeles, California, who decide to plan and execute a bank robbery. They decide to do so for different reasons, although all four want better for themselves and their families. The film became a critical and box office success, grossing over $41 million against a budget of $9 million.[1][2]


Francesca "Frankie" Sutton is a Los Angeles bank teller who witnesses a robbery. Shortly after the incident, the bank fires Frankie after the police uncover a connection between her and Darnell, one of the three robbers; despite the fact that Frankie knew nothing of the robbery Darnell had planned. Frankie gets a job at a janitorial company where her friends Lida "Stoney" Newsome , Cleopatra "Cleo" Sims, and Tisean "T.T." Williams already work.

Stoney's brother Stevie is wrongfully gunned down by the police after they mistake him for one of the men involved in the previous robbery. The incident prompts Frankie to suggest that they rob a bank themselves. While Frankie is happy to go along with the plan, T.T. is initially opposed the idea. However, when an accident at work leads to her toddler being taken away by social services, T.T. commits to the plot as well.

The four women embark on a series of bank robberies, which are investigated by LAPD detective Strode. The women stash the money in an air vent at one of their work sites. However, when they show up for work another day, they realize that their boss, Luther, has discovered the money and fled. The women track down Luther and find him at a motel with a woman. When they confront Luther he is killed by T.T. when he pulls a gun on Cleo. Afterwards, Cleo takes the woman's drivers license to prevent her from contacting the police and though she informs them about the murder, a glare from Cleo intimidates her to remain quiet.

With their money gone, the women rob another bank, which happens to be the same bank where Keith, Stoney's lover, works. Before they make it out of the bank, Strode and his partner arrive and order them to drop their weapons, but as they do, a bank security guard shoots Tisean. Stoney and Cleo open fire at the security guard and carry Tisean to the getaway car with Frankie behind the wheel. As Tisean dies in Stoney's arms en route to a hospital, the three women decide to split up.

Cleo is the second of the women to be killed after the police catch up to her. The police catch up to Frankie and order her to surrender. However, Frankie pulls a gun on Strode and tries to run away, but is shot and killed by an officer. Stoney, in the meantime, boards a bus heading to Mexico, but she painfully witnesses the killing of Frankie. Strode spots Stoney on the bus, but lets her go because he realized he was the cause of everything. After cutting her hair in a small motel where she has taken refuge, she calls Keith but does not say anything. While she does not tell him where she is, she assures him that she is all right and thanks him. The movie ends with her driving through the mountains with the stolen money in tow. It is presumed that she took the money and escaped permanently, but leaving her old life behind her.


Critical reception and box office[edit]

A critical success, Set It Off is also popular with audiences.[2] On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an overall 63% approval rating based on 24 reviews, with a rating average of 6.1 out of 10. The site's consensus reads: "It may not boast an original plot, but Set It Off is a satisfying, socially conscious heist film thanks largely to fine performances from its leads."[3] Roger Ebert stated that Set It Off is "a lot more" than a thriller about four black women who rob banks. Comparing it to Waiting to Exhale, but "with a strong jolt of reality," he said, "It creates a portrait of the lives of these women that's so observant and informed." He gave the film four and a half stars, and added, "The movie surprised and moved me: I expected a routine action picture and was amazed how much I started to care about the characters."[4] Stephen Holden of The New York Times compared Set It Off to Thelma & Louise, stating, "In formulaic Hollywood terms, Set It Off might be described as Thelma and Louise Ride Shotgun in the Hood While Waiting to Exhale. A pop psychologist might translate the story into a fable called Women Who Rob Banks and the Society That Hates Them." He added that among "the long list of Hollywood heist movies that make you root for its criminals to steal a million dollars and live happily ever after, F. Gary Gray's film Set It Off is one of the most poignantly impassioned," and that "[i]f this messy roller coaster of a film often seems to be going in several directions at once, it never for a second loses empathy" for the female robbers.[5]

James Berardinelli said that if Set It Off owes any debt to films, those films are Thelma & Louise and Dead Presidents, rather than Waiting to Exhale. He stated that "[t]here's a freshness and energy in the way director F. Gary Gray attacks this familiar material that keeps Set It Off entertaining, even during its weakest moments" and that "[t]he concept of four black action heroines makes for a welcome change in a genre that is dominated by: (a) rugged white males with a perpetual five o'clock shadow, (b) rugged white males who speak English with an accent, and (c) rugged white males with the acting ability of a fence post." Berardinelli added that although "[t]he film doesn't get off to a promising start" and "[t]he first half-hour, which details the various characters' motives for becoming involved in a bank robbery, is unevenly scripted," and that some aspects of the plot are contrived, "[o]nce the setup is complete, however, things shift into high gear. The remainder of the film, which includes several high-adrenaline action sequences and some slower, more dramatic moments, is smoothly-crafted. There are occasional missteps, such as an out-of-place Godfather parody, but, in general, Set It Off manages to rise above these."[6]

On a budget of $9 million and R-rated, Set It Off grossed $36,461,139 in the U.S. and Canada, $5,129,747 internationally, and $41,590,886 worldwide.[1] Tribute magazine stated that it is New Line Cinema's highest-grossing film of 1996, and that it won Gray a Black Film Award for Best Director, and the Special Jury Prize at the Cognac Film Festival.[2]


Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
U.S. U.S. R&B
1996 Set It Off
  • Released: September 24, 1996
  • Label: East West
4 3
  • US: Platinum

Awards and nominations[edit]

1997 Acapulco Black Film Festival

  • Best Director: F. Gary Gray (won)

1997 Independent Spirit Awards

  • Best Supporting Female: Queen Latifah (nominated)

1997 NAACP Image Awards

  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture: Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith (nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Blair Underwood (nominated)


  1. ^ a b c d "Set It Off". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "F. Gary Gray Bio". Tribute. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Set It Off (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 8, 1996). "Set It Off Movie". Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
  5. ^ Holden, Stephen (November 6, 1996). "Set It Off (1996): Just Trying to Get Even While They Get Rich". The New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  6. ^ Berardinelli, James (1996). "Set It Off". Retrieved October 9, 2014. 

External links[edit]