Set It Off (film)

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Set It Off
Set it off poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byF. Gary Gray
Produced byOren Koules
Dale Pollock
Screenplay byTakashi Bufford
Kate Lanier
Story byTakashi Bufford
Music byChristopher Young
CinematographyMarc Reshovsky
Edited byJohn Carter
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • November 6, 1996 (1996-11-06)
Running time
123 minutes
Budget$9 million[1]
Box office$41 million[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, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise (in her film 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 (Fox) is a Los Angeles bank teller who witnesses a robbery. Although she had no prior knowledge of the robbery, the bank fires Frankie after the police uncover a connection between her and one of the three robbers. Frankie goes to work at Luther's Janitorial Services with her three best friends, Lida "Stony" Newsom (Pinkett), Cleopatra "Cleo" Sims (Latifah), and Tisean "T.T." Williams (Elise). Luther (Byrd) treats them with disrespect and pays them paltry wages. Cleo states that they should rob a bank themselves. Frankie agrees, but Stony and T.T. are reluctant. However, when Stony's younger brother is gunned down by the police in a case of mistaken identity and T.T.'s son is taken away from her by Child Protective Services because she cannot afford to take care of him, they too now have the motivation to join the robbery.

The four women embark on a series of bank robberies, which are investigated by LAPD Detective Strode (McGinley). He suspects that Cleo (because of her prior convictions), Frankie (because of her inadvertent connection to the earlier robbery and subsequent firing) and Stony (because of her brother's death) are involved. But his superior refuses to allow him to bring them in for questioning because he doesn't feel the evidence is sufficient. The four women stash the money in an air vent at one of their work sites. However, when Cleo, Frankie, and T.T. show up for work one day and find a new boss in charge, they quickly realize that Luther has discovered the money and fled with it. While Stony attends a banking event with her lover Keith Weston (Underwood), the three women track Luther to a motel, where he is sleeping with a prostitute and demand the return of their money. When Luther pulls a gun on Cleo, T.T. kills him in self-defense. The next day, Detective Strode takes Cleo to the police station to participate in a lineup. A glare from Cleo intimidates the prostitute into silence. Stony is disappointed at Frankie and T.T. about the missing money and Luther's death. Frankie and Cleo persuade T.T. and Stony that they need to rob another bank and leave town the next day.

The women rob the bank where Keith, Stony's lover, works. Strode and his partner (Joyce) try to prevent the robbery, but a bank security guard shoots T.T. A shootout ensues as Stony shoots the guard, and an enraged Cleo opens fire on the detectives. The women eventually drive away and as they proceed to switch getaway cars, T.T. succumbs to her wound and dies in Stony's arms. The three remaining women decide to split up and meet up later.

The police find Cleo who proceeds to lead them on a high speed chase. After her car is shot up by police, Cleo leaps from her car in one final battle for her dignity, firing her gun, and is shot down by the police. Frankie is found a short time later. Strode tries to get her to surrender, but when she runs away, she is shot in the back and killed. Stony tearfully watches this from a passing bus. Strode sees her from a distance but lets her go, realizing that he was the cause for all of this.

In Mexico, Stony mourns the losses of her friends and brother, and calls Keith to assure him that she is all right and thanks him. She hangs up the phone and smiles. After cutting her hair, Stony is seen driving through the mountains with the stolen money from the robberies in tow.



Takashi Bufford said that he wrote the script with Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah in mind even though he had not yet met them. The script was offered to New Line three times before finally being accepted, and the studio filled in more about why the female leads turn to bank robbery in a way that wasn't in the original script.[3]

Critical reception and box office[edit]

Set It Off received generally positive reviews from critics and audiences.[2] On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an overall 64% approval rating based on 25 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."[4] 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 three 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."[5]

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.[6]

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."[7]

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]



Set It Off: Music From the New Line Cinema Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
Various artists
ReleasedSeptember 24, 1996
GenreHip hop
LabelEast West Records
ProducerVarious artists
Singles from Set It Off: Music From the New Line Cinema Motion Picture
  1. "Missing You"
    Released: August 6, 1996
  2. "Don't Let Go (Love)"
    Released: October 22, 1996
  3. "Days of Our Livez"
    Released: September 24, 1996
  4. "Let It Go"
    Released: January 7, 1997
Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic4/5 stars link

The soundtrack was released on September 24, 1996 by East West Records and featured production from several of hip hop and R&B's top producers such as Organized Noize, DJ U-Neek and DJ Rectangle. The soundtrack was a huge success making it to number four on the Billboard 200 and number three on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and featured seven charting singles "Set It Off", "Don't Let Go (Love)", "Days of Our Livez", "Angel", "Come On", "Let It Go" and "Missing You". All of the singles had music videos made for them. The track "The Heist" by Da 5 Footaz also had a music video made, even though it was not released as a single. On November 12, 1996 the album was certified platinum by the RIAA.

Track listing[edit]

1."Set It Off"Ivan Martias / Andrea Martin / Organized Noize /Dana Owens / Steve StandardOrganized Noize featuring Queen Latifah5:02
2."Missing You"Gordon Chambers / Barry J. EastmondBrandy, Tamia, Gladys Knight & Chaka Khan4:23
3."Don't Let Go (Love)"Ivan Martias / Andrea Martin / Organized NoizeEn Vogue4:51
4."Days of Our Livez"Bone Thugs-N-HarmonyBone Thugs-n-Harmony5:49
5."Sex Is on My Mind"S. BrownBlulight4:40
6."Live to Regret"Trevor Smith / George SpiveyBusta Rhymes4:18
7."Angel"Carolyn Franklin / Sonny SaundersSimply Red3:39
8."Name Callin'"Dana Owens / Nichelle StrongQueen Latifah3:50
9."Angelic Wars"Robert Barnett / Fred Bell / Willie Knighton / Organized Noize / Jamahr WilliamsGoodie Mob3:21
10."Come On"Darrell "Delite" Allamby / Billy LawrenceBilly Lawrence featuring MC Lyte4:09
11."Let It Go"Keith Crouch / Glenn McKinney / Roy Dog PennonRay J4:53
12."Hey Joe" (Live)Billy RobertsSeal4:20
13."The Heist"Jamali Cathorn / Ericka Martin / Kim SavageDa 5 Footaz4:04
14."From Yo Blind Side" X-Man featuring H Squad4:04
Total length:61:23

"Up Against the Wind" (runtime – 4:28), sung by Lori Perri and produced by Christopher Young, is not included in the soundtrack.[8]

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
U.S. U.S. R&B
1996 Set It Off 4 3
  • US: Platinum


Set It Off (Original Motion Picture Score)
Film score by
ReleasedNovember 19, 1996
GenreFilm score
LabelVarèse Sarabande
ProducerChristopher Young
Christopher Young film scores chronology
Set It Off (Original Motion Picture Score)
Head Above Water

Varèse Sarabande issued an album of Christopher Young's score for the film, including Lori Perri's "Up Against The Wind" on November 19, 1996.

Track listing[edit]

1."Up Against The Wind"Lori Perri3:29
2."Set It Off" 4:08
3."Hell Blowin Hard" 2:19
4."Buttercrunch" 2:20
5."Rota Rooter" 4:03
6."Four-One" 1:57
7."Squeezebox" 1:38
8."Balboa Blood" 2:32
9."Toupee Souffle" 2:23
10."Q. For A Day" 2:58
11."Flame On Fire" 2:10
12."Up Against The Wind (Reprise)"Lori Perri4:28
Total length:10:25

Awards and nominations[edit]

1997 Acapulco Black Film Festival

  • Best Director: F. Gary Gray (won)

1996 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' 15 Years Later -". 10 November 2011.
  4. ^ "Set It Off (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 8, 1996). "Set It Off Movie". Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Berardinelli, James (1996). "Set It Off". Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  8. ^ "Various - Set It Off (Music From The New Line Cinema Motion Picture)".

External links[edit]