Set It Off (film)

1996 film by F. Gary Gray
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
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Marc Reshovsky
Edited by John Carter
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date
  • November 6, 1996 (1996-11-06)
Running time
123 minutes
Language English
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 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. Later, Frankie reunites with her three best friends, Lida "Stoney" Newsome, Cleopatra "Cleo" Sims, and Tisean "T.T." Williams in the projects and is furious because she was fired. Cleo states they should rob a bank themselves to collect all of the money and get out of the projects while being able to have what they want. Frankie agrees, while the other two friends aren't following along with what they are saying. Eventually, Frankie decides to work at a janitorial company with her friends even though they are treated with no respect from their boss, Luther, and receive little pay.

Stoney's brother Stevie was wrongfully gunned down by the police after they mistake him for one of the men involved in the previous robbery. Lorenz gets into a shootout with the ATF agents and gets killed. The incident prompts Frankie to again suggest that they should rob a bank themselves. While Stoney is happy to go along with the plan, T.T. is initially opposed to 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 to get the money she needs to go to court and get her son back.

The four women embark on a series of bank robberies, which are investigated by LAPD detective Strode. The four women stash the money in an air vent at one of their work sites. However, Cleo, Frankie, and T.T. show up for work one day and realize that their boss, Luther has discovered the money and fled. While Stoney attends banking event with her lover Keith, the three women track down Luther. They find him at a motel with a woman having sex and Cleo tells Frankie to look for the money. When they confront Luther, he pulls a gun on Cleo and T.T. shoots him, which results in his death. Cleo takes the woman's drivers license to prevent her from contacting the police. Afterwards, Detective Strode questions Cleo and takes her to the police station to participate in a lineup. A glare from Cleo intimidates the woman to remain quiet. Stoney gets angry at Frankie and T.T. about the incident at the motel until Cleo arrives and tells them to rob another bank or they'll be in jail the next morning.

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 at 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, Stoney kisses Tisean on her forehead, before leaving her body in the car. The three remaining women decide to split up.

Cleo then proceeds on a high speed chase with police after splitting up from Stoney and Frankie, whom she promises before driving away that she'll meet up with later. After police proceed to shoot her car many times, Cleo steps out in the final battle for her dignity and begins firing her gun, only to be shot numerous times and killed. The police catch up to Frankie and order her to surrender. However, Frankie pulls a gun on Strode and she tries to run away to get on the bus with Stoney, causing her to be shot in the back 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 a tearful Stoney on the bus after she has witnessed the killing of her best friend, but lets her go because he realized he was the cause of everything that has happened to her, and her fallen friends. After cutting her hair in a small motel where she has taken refuge, she calls Keith, her lover and manager of one of the banks that she and her friends had robbed, whom she had leave before she and her companions robbed it. At first she says nothing but he knows it's her. While she does not tell him where she is, she assures him that she is all right and thanks him. Keith hangs up the phone and smiles knowing that Stoney is okay and did not end up the way her friends did. 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, leaving her old life in the projects behind her.



Takashi Bufford said that he wrote the script for 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 officeEdit

Set It Off received generally positive reviews from critics and 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."[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
Released September 24, 1996
Recorded 1995–1996
Genre Hip hop
Length 61:23
Label East West Records
Producer Various artists
Various artists chronology
Friday (soundtrack)
Set It Off (soundtrack)
Next Friday (soundtrack)
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
Source Rating
Allmusic       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 listingEdit

No. Title Writer(s) Artist/Performer Length
1. "Set It Off" Ivan Martias / Andrea Martin / Organized Noize /Dana Owens / Steve Standard Organized Noize featuring Queen Latifah 5:02
2. "Missing You" Gordon Chambers / Barry J. Eastmond Brandy, Tamia, Gladys Knight & Chaka Khan 4:23
3. "Don't Let Go (Love)" Ivan Martias / Andrea Martin / Organized Noize En Vogue 4:51
4. "Days of Our Livez" Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Bone Thugs-n-Harmony 5:49
5. "Sex Is on My Mind" S. Brown Blulight 4:40
6. "Live to Regret" Trevor Smith / George Spivey Busta Rhymes 4:18
7. "Angel" Carolyn Franklin / Sonny Saunders Simply Red 3:39
8. "Name Callin' (Foxy Brown Diss)" Dana Owens / Nichelle Strong Queen Latifah 3:50
9. "Angelic Wars" Robert Barnett / Fred Bell / Willie Knighton / Organized Noize / Jamahr Williams Goodie Mob 3:21
10. "Come On" Darrell "Delite" Allamby / Billy Lawrence Billy Lawrence featuring MC Lyte 4:09
11. "Let It Go" Keith Crouch / Glenn McKinney / Roy Dog Pennon Ray J 4:53
12. "Hey Joe" (Live) Billy Roberts Seal 4:20
13. "The Heist" Jamali Cathorn / Ericka Martin / Kim Savage Da 5 Footaz 4:04
14. "From Yo Blind Side"   X-Man featuring H Squad 4:04
Total length: 61:23

"Up Against the Wind" (runtime – 4:28), sung by Lori Perry 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 Christopher Young
Released November 19, 1996
Genre Film score
Length 10:25
Label Varese Sarabande
Producer Christopher Young
Lori Perry
Christopher Young film scores chronology
Set It Off
Head Above Water

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

Track listingEdit

No. Title Artist/Performer Length
1. "Up Against The Wind" Lori Perry 3:29
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 Perry 4:28
Total length: 10:25

Awards and nominationsEdit

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' 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 linksEdit