10 Best Denzel Washington Movies, Ranked

Denzel Washington is 1 of the defining major males of the final 3 decades, possessing turned in towering performances on each stage and screen. He very first came to focus on the NBC hospital drama St. Elsewhere in the ’80s, prior to gaining crucial acclaim for roles in Glory and Cry Freedom. Stardom followed from the ’90s onward, which includes a string of blockbuster action motion pictures. At age 69, he’s nonetheless an action hero, with 2023’s The Equalizer 3 raking in massive box workplace returns.



Washington has impressively avoided getting typecast and continues to seem in a diversity of projects. He clearly has a knack for deciding on the suitable projects, and turning down these that are not a excellent match. “My career is based on saying no,” he has stated. With at least 60 motion pictures below his belt and ten Oscar nominations to his name, Washington is a correct Hollywood juggernaut. Here are his ten ideal motion pictures, ranked.

10 ‘Cry Freedom’ (1987)

Director: Richard Attenborough

“You can beat or jail me or even kill me, but I am not going to be what you want me to be!” Cry Freedom is a character study of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko (Washington) and his pal, journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline). Although initially skeptical of 1 a different, the two males kind a close bond. After Biko is killed by government safety forces, Woods sets out to expose the truth. Consequently, Biko’s death drew worldwide focus, turning him into a resistance icon.

This was an early function that pushed Washington outdoors his comfort zone and showed what he was capable of. Here, he faces the challenge of placing on a foreign accent and embodying a individual from a incredibly distinct culture. He far more than rises to the occasion, as does Kline. Their performances are clear highlights. The film itself is a genuine epic, dragging at instances but telling a very important story, in particular for the time it was released.

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9 ‘The Equalizer’ (2014)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Denzel Washington as Robert McCall aiming his gun at a person offscreen in The Equalizer
Image by way of Sony Pictures Releasing

“I don’t have a lot of time. Which means you don’t have any.” Reinventing the 1980s Television series, The Equalizer centers on Robert McCall (Washington), a former black ops agent now major a quiet life. However, when he witnesses the brutal beating of a sex worker named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) at the hands of Russian gangsters, McCall’s sense of justice is reignited. Dusting off his formidable expertise, he resolves to confront the criminals, drawing the ire of the complete mob in the course of action.

In quite a few techniques, The Equalizer is merely a generic action flick, with two-dimensional villains and a largely-predictable plot. What sets it apart is Washington’s charisma. The script does not give him all that considerably to function with, but he succeeds in producing McCall really feel genuine and compelling. In specific, he imbues the character with intelligence, courage, and flinty determination. No surprise then that The Equalizer resonated with audiences: it grossed a whopping $192m and spawned two sequels in speedy succession.

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8 ‘Remember the Titans’ (2000)

Directed by Boaz Yakin

Herman Boone — ‘Remember The Titans’ (2000) (1)

“If you survive camp, you will be on the team. If you survive.” Alexandria, Virginia, 1971: coach Herman Boone (Washington) is appointed as the head coach of the newly integrated T.C. Williams High School football group, considerably to the dismay of the white former head coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton). As tensions run higher in the neighborhood, Coach Boone faces the daunting process of forging his players into a cohesive group.

The character of Boone is a excellent match for Washington. The scenes of him placing the players by means of the ringer of his intense education are in particular memorable. As Entertainment Weeklymemorably quipped: “He gets to play Martin Luther King Jr. and Vince Lombardi rolled into one.” Overall, Remember the Titans largely sticks to really feel-excellent sports film formulas, but it rewards from getting primarily based on a correct story and featuring quite a few terrific performances and quite a few terrific lines. The outcome is a heartwarming tale that will probably continue to delight viewers for quite a few years to come. Though flawed, it ranks amongst the finest football films ever created.

Remember The Titans

Release Date
September 29, 2000

Boaz Yakin


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7 ‘Inside Man’ (2006)

Directed by Spike Lee

“When there’s blood on the streets, somebody’s gotta go to jail.” Master thief Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) leads a group of skilled criminals in executing a seemingly flawless heist at a Manhattan bank. However, factors take an unexpected turn when Detective Keith Frazier (Washington), is referred to as in to negotiate with Russell and resolve the tense standoff. As Frazier delves deeper into the circumstance, he realizes that there is far more to the robbery than meets the eye.

Inside Man was the fourth collaboration amongst Washington and Spike Lee and their most commercially prosperous, becoming the director’s highest-grossing film. The film’s appeal is apparent. It’s a clever genre film that serves up a steady stream of thrills alongside implicit social commentary. It’s also fashionable. Lee gets a tiny experimental at instances, most notably with a scene that is intercut with shots from a child’s uber-violent video game. As usually, considerably rides on Washington. Intriguingly, he has stated that he took inspiration for Frazier from his Broadway overall performance of Julius Caesar. “I kind of thought of Frazier as Brutus goes to Brooklyn,” he explains.

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6 ‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in 'Philadelphia.'
Image by way of TCM 

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: forget everything you’ve seen on television and in the movies.” Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), a prosperous lawyer, is unjustly fired from his prestigious law firm following his employers find out he is gay and has AIDS. Determined to seek justice, Andrew hires Joe Miller (Washington), a reluctant and initially close-minded lawyer, to represent him in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Hanks won his very first Oscar for the function, but Washington’s overall performance is also worthy of praise. He turns what could have been a stock character into a surprisingly layered figure. Miller grapples with his personal struggles and adjustments significantly more than the course of the film. He shines, in particular, when Jonathan Demme shoots him in intimate close-up, conveying so considerably with just subtle expressions. At instances, Philadelphia could look a tiny heavy-handed, specifically when watching it now. But the film is undeniably warmhearted, and it was ahead of its time in engaging with this topic matter.

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5 ‘Man on Fire’ (2004)

Directed by Tony Scott

Denzel Washington as John Creasy walking away from a fiery background in Man on Fire
Image by way of 20th Century Studios

“It’s off to the next life for you. I guarantee you, you won’t be lonely.” Washington when far more embodies the spirit of righteous vengeance in this incendiary action thriller. He plays John Creasy, a former CIA operative who becomes a bodyguard for the young Lupita Ramos (Dakota Fanning). Initially distant and disillusioned, Creasy types a surprisingly robust bond with the girl. When she is kidnapped, Creasey sets out to raise hell.

Man on Fire is gritty exploitation cinema with a massive spending budget. The violence is difficult-hitting, amplified by dynamic editing and unconventional camerawork. Washington and director Tony Scott worked collectively 5 instances, resulting in gems like Crimson Tide and Unstoppable, but this is their ideal project. Indeed, Quentin Tarantinodeclared the pair to be “one of the best actor-director combinations of our time”. Scott, in specific, clearly had a soft spot for the supply material, as he had been attempting to direct the film because the early ’80s.

Man on Fire

Release Date
April 23, 2004

146 minutes

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4 ‘Malcolm X’ (1992)

Directed by Spike Lee

Malcolm X - 1992
Image via Warner Bros.

“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us!” Once once more, Washington requires on the function of a civil rights leader, this time playing Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X. The film charts his complete life, from his troubled youth to his rise to prominence as a firebrand fighter for justice. It’s a really sweeping biopic, spanning the 1930s to the ’60s, and clocking in at some 3 hours and twenty minutes.

Washington’s overall performance right here is arguably the higher point of his profession. Malcolm X was an influential and controversial figure, far more of a symbol than a genuine individual in the eyes of quite a few. Playing such a function properly is no simple feat. But Washington succeeds in humanizing this legendary activist, leaning into all his complexity and contradiction. The film remains a terrific entry point for any person curious to understand far more about Malcolm X’s life. Interesting bit of trivia: Malcolm X is the sole acting credit of Nelson Mandela, who has a cameo at the finish as a Soweto college teacher.

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3 ‘Glory’ (1989)

Directed by Edward Zwick

Glory - 1989 (1)
Image via Tri-Star Pictures

“I ran away when I was 12 years old and I ain’t never looked back.” This historical drama tells the correct story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1 of the very first all-Black regiments in the Union Army in the course of the Civil War. They show unwavering courage, regardless of facing danger from the enemy and prejudice from quite a few of their brothers-in-arms.

Washington won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his function as Private Trip, a young officer who appears out for his regiment. He gets quite a few of the film’s most stirring moments, like the climactic scene exactly where he lastly raises the American flag. The finish solution is a one of a kind and moving Civil War film that engages with a thicket of thorny queries. Most of all, it is fascinating watching the Black soldiers wrestle with their allegiance to a nation that does not but treat them as equals. The complete conflict requires on a distinct light when noticed by means of their eyes.

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2 ‘American Gangster’ (2007)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, pointing a gun in American Gangster
Image by way of Universal Pictures

“The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.” Ridley Scott‘s gritty crime drama revolves about Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas (Washington) and Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), the detective determined to bring him down. It’s a premise that is been carried out quite a few instances prior to, but American Gangster stands out thanks to a far more sophisticated, character-driven screenplay by Steven Zaillian.

Scott builds on the script’s strong foundation costume and production style, as properly as an energetic soundtrack featuring 1970s R&ampB soul classics. On the acting side, Washington clearly enjoys this corrupted character, exuding self-assurance and menace in equal measure. He ready for the function by meeting with the genuine Lucas and extensively practicing his Southern accent. He’s so charismatic in the portion that some critics accused the film of glorifying and romanticizing the criminal. Regardless of exactly where 1 stands on that situation, there is no denying Washington’s electrifying overall performance. He tends to make Lucas a memorable crime boss on the level of Tony Montana or Tony Soprano.

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1 ‘Training Day’ (2001)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris in 'Training Day'

“To protect the sheep, you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” Training Day follows rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), as he embarks on his very first day below the tutelage of seasoned narcotics officer Alonzo Harris (Washington). What starts as an chance for Jake to prove himself speedily turns into a harrowing journey of corruption and moral ambiguity. Alonzo’s unorthodox solutions push Jake to his limits as they navigate the harmful streets of South Central LA.

Washington is at his most intense and kinetic right here, firing on all cylinders. Harris is the darkest character in his filmography, prepared to commit evil acts in pursuit of criminals. Washington is recognized for playing heroes and decent males, but right here he brilliantly subverts this image, akin to what Heath Ledger did in The Dark Knight. It tends to make for a fascinating contrast and a terrific demonstration of his variety. As a outcome, the function won him the Best Actor Oscar.

Training Day

Release Date
October 5, 2001

122 minutes

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