In 1984, ten-year-old Jason “Tre” Styles III (Desi Arnez Hines II) lives with his single mother, Reva (Angela Bassett), in Inglewood, California.
When Tre gets into a fight at school, Reva sends him to live in the Crenshaw neighbourhood of South Central in Los Angeles with his father, Jason “Furious” Styles Jr (Larry Fishburne) – a strict but caring and attentive businessman – from whom she hopes Tre will learn valuable life lessons.
In Crenshaw, Tre reunites with his childhood friends Darrin “Doughboy” Baker (Baha Jackson), Doughboy’s half-brother Ricky (Donovan McCrary), and their friend Chris (Kenneth A. Brown). That night, Tre hears Furious shooting at a burglar.
Furious calls the LAPD, and two officers arrive an hour later. The white officer is civil and professional, while the black officer is hostile and demonstrates self-hatred.
Later, Tre and Furious return from a fishing trip to see Doughboy and Chris arrested for theft.
Seven years later, a welcome home party is held for Doughboy (Ice Cube) – now a Rollin 60s Crips member – following his recent release from prison. At the party are Chris (Redge Green) – who is now a paraplegic due to a gunshot wound – and new friends and fellow Crip members Dooky (Dedrick D. Gobert) and Monster (Baldwin C. Sykes).
Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) is now a star running back at Crenshaw High School, hoping to earn a university scholarship (he needs to score at least a 700 on the SAT to qualify). He lives with his mother, Brenda (Tyra Ferrell), girlfriend Shanice (Alysia Rogers), and their toddler son.
Tre (now played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) has grown into a mature, responsible teenager who hopes to attend college with his girlfriend, Brandi (Nia Long).
During a street gathering, Ferris (Raymond D. Turner) – a Crenshaw Mafia Bloods member – provokes Ricky. Everybody comes to Ricky’s defence before Doughboy confronts Ferris and brandishes his handgun, leading to an argument between the gangs. Cooler heads prevail until Ferris fires an automatic weapon into the air, and everybody flees the area.
Tre and Ricky are subsequently pulled over by an LAPD patrol – the lead officer, Coffey (Jesse Ferguson), is the black officer who responded to the burglary years earlier. Coffey holds his gun at Tre’s throat, threatening him. Ricky and the cop’s partner turn their heads in shame . . .
Distraught, Tre goes to Brandi’s house, where he has a breakdown.
The next afternoon, Brenda asks Ricky to run an errand, and he and Tre head to a nearby drugstore. As they depart, a letter is delivered with Ricky’s SAT results.
After leaving the store, Ricky and Tre see Ferris and the Bloods driving around and cut through back alleys to avoid them before splitting up. As they walk in separate directions, the Bloods gun Ricky down.
Doughboy, who realised Tre and Ricky were in trouble when he saw the car circling the block, is distraught over Ricky’s death and helps Tre carry Ricky’s bloodied corpse home, where the women blame Doughboy for causing the shooting. Later, Brenda sobs over Ricky’s test results. Ricky had scored 710 – enough to qualify for the scholarship he sought. The remaining boys vow vengeance on the Bloods.
Furious finds Tre preparing to take his gun but convinces him to abandon his plans for revenge. Moments later, though, Brandi and Furious catch Tre sneaking out to join Doughboy. But later, as the gang drives around the city, Tre leaves the car and returns home.
Doughboy finds the Bloods at a fast-food restaurant, and Monster guns them down as they flee. Doughboy kills Ferris and another wounded gang member.
The next morning, Doughboy visits Tre, understanding Tre’s reasons for abandoning the gang. Doughboy knows he will face retaliation for killing Ferris and accepts the consequences of his crime-ridden life.
The epilogue reveals that Ricky was buried the next day, Doughboy was murdered two weeks later, and Tre later went to college with Brandi in Atlanta.
Director John Singleton was nominated for the Best Director Oscar. Aged just 24, this made him the youngest director ever to receive such an accolade,
Jason “Tre” Styles
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Tre – Age 10
Desi Arnez Hines II
Jason “Furious” Styles Jr.
Darrin “Doughboy” Baker
Doughboy – Age 10
Brandi – Age 10
Ricky Baker – Age 10
Little Chris – Age 10
Kenneth A. Brown
Dedrick D. Gobert
Baldwin C. Sykes
Raymond D. Turner
Bobby – Age 10
John Cothran Jr.
Dee Dee Jacobs