The critical reception of Shaft was mixed. In general, the film was applauded for its innovation, success, and its lasting effect on the film industry. "Because of the film's positioning securely within the parameters of industry standards, Shaft was generally applauded by the critics both black and white, as being a breakthrough production in terms of expanding black representation in commercial cinema." Despite his enjoyment of the movie, Vincent Canby also stated that it wasn't a quality film, but an entertaining one. Other critics like Clayton Riley mainly found fault in the films' failure to "deal with Black life in serious terms." Riley harshly stated, "Mediocre is the only word to describe the work of Gordon Parks, the director of this nonsense, inept is the kindest thing to say about the performances of Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, a Black private eye on the prowl for kicks in the Big Apple underworld." Commenting on the film shortly after its release, New York Times movie critic Vincent Canby accurately predicted the wave of blaxploitation films to follow: "How audiences react, however, has a great deal to do with the kind of movies that do get made, and having watched the extraordinary receptions given to both Sweet Sweetback and Shaft I'm led to wonder if, perhaps, the existence of what seems to be a large, hungry, black movie audience-an audience whose experiences and interests are treated mostly in token fashion by TV-might not be one of the more healthy and exciting developments on the current movie scene." Shaft greatly impacted future blaxploitation films which "crudely tried to emulate the success of Shaft and Sweetback, repeated, filled in, or exaggerated the ingredients of the Blaxploitation formula, which usually consisted of a pimp, gangster, or their baleful female counterparts, violently acting out a revenge or retribution motif against corrupt whites in the romanticized confines of the ghetto or inner city." Belonging to the "blaxploitation" genre made popular in the 70s, "Shaft" broke new grounds in many ways. The genre suffered normally from lacking of money to create something really tangible, but it still created several films that stands out as intriguing film treasures. The NYC setting with a classic hard boiled private eye on a mission is nothing new under the sun, but with the focus on a coloured main hero and his actions stood out in 1971. Shaft is tough as nails and take no shit from anybody no matter what. Heīs cool, hip, street smart, direct, fast with the ladies and never far from using his gun or hands. Richard Roundtree puts Shaft on the map for sure. However, the storyline is a bit here and a bit there as director Gordon Parks seems to have been unsure what he was trying to achieve. I found it a bit static and it didnīt seem to have aged that well either. I reckon in 2016 it seems maybe not that controversial or intriguing as it was in 1971. And we canīt forget the great music score by soul legend Isaac Hayes.
Trivia: "Shaft" was one of the first blaxploitation films, and also one of the most popular, which "marked a turning point for this type of film, and spawned a number of sequels and knockoffs. Widely considered a prime example of the blaxploitation genre, "Shaft" was selected in 2000 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." "Shaft" was extremely successful in theaters, which was a huge accomplishment for the then-struggling MGM studios. It was produced at a cost of $1.2 million while earning $10.8 million in its first year of distribution, $7 million in the U.S. alone. This film was wildly popular among the African-American community, as "blacks spent their money on an endless list of spinoff trinkets identified with the film such as 'Shaft suits, watches, belts and sunglasses, leather coats, decals, sweatshirts and night shirts, beach towels, posters, after shave lotion and cologne.'" Rare for blaxploitation films, Shaft was also a crossover hit, as the white community was "drawn in by the unthreatening racial politics."
Original rating: 3-15-2010 (6/10). "Who's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about?? SHAFT!!!"