Shaft’s Big Score! turns Fifty

Fifty years ago, at 8 p.m. on 20 June 1972, SHAFT’S BIG SCORE!, the sequel to 1971’s ground-breaking SHAFT, received its Gala Benefit Premiere at New York’s Cinerama Theatre. The premiere was attended by members of the cast and crew, with Richard Roundtree also accompanied by his 103-year-old grandmother. The beneficiaries were the Studio Museum and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters.
New York Daily News ad on 20 June 1972.
The film would open to the New York public the following day at the Cinerama, as well as the 59th Street Twin #2 and the RKO 86th Street Twin #2. In the first five days, across these three theatres, the movie reportedly set house records for each, earning a total of $115,599.
Openings followed at the Miligram in Philadelphia on Thursday 22 June and The Roosevelt Theatre in Chicago the following day. A benefit Midwest premiere, attended by Richard Roundtree Moses Gunn and Kathy Imrie, was held at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on Monday 26 June. The movie opened in Los Angeles and 56 other major cities on Wednesday 28 June and a 10-city promotional tour of cast and crew took place over a period of two weeks.
Variety, 5 July 1972

On 5 July, Variety reported the film had grossed $2,175,811 by the end of the second week following its New York opening and its first week on wide release. In total, the movie went on to gross close to $10 million at the US box office (with $4 million in domestic rentals) from a budget of $2,294,228. Whilst short of the earnings from the first movie, this was still impressive enough to guarantee another healthy profit for MGM. The film’s UK opening would follow on 10 August at the Empire in Leicester Square in London.

A Caribbean setting had initially been proposed for the sequel, with an outline from Joe Greene (aka B.B. Johnson) briefly considered before producer Roger Lewis submitted a full screenplay using the same location. However, that script was vetoed by Shaft creator and co-producer Ernest Tidyman, who felt it was weak and ultimately pushed forward his own original story. Tidyman’s script returned to the gangster roots of the original and was initially set in Chicago, as the production team had shown a desire to shoot there. But when it became apparent officials would not be enthusiastic to see their city portrayed in a bad light, the production was relocated to New York.
Richard Roundtree and Gordon Parks on location at Cypress Hills Cemetery, Queens, New York.

Most of the crew from SHAFT returned, with Gordon Parks again in the director’s chair and providing the music score (after Isaac Hayes could not agree on terms). The bigger budget enabled Parks to shoot in Panavision and include a protracted but dynamic chase finale involving cars, a speedboat, and a helicopter. This led many reviewers to compare Shaft more closely with James Bond – something the producers would pick up on and run with for the following year’s SHAFT IN AFRICA.