Denzel Washington: ranking of his 10 best films

They say it was a tear, a silent lonely tear, that earned Denzel Washington his first Oscar. In the scene, a runaway slave turned soldier was whipped by a colonel during the Civil War for an absurd reason. Without blinking and without letting a groan, staring at the colonel, Washington showed the inner strength, rebellion and dignity of his character, who ends up being one of the most fierce soldiers in the battalion. That movie was Glory times and it was the first of many successes marked by bullets, drama and social vindication.

Since then Denzel Washington has appeared in more than 50 movies, swearing up to 200 swear words, winning three Golden Globes, a Tony Award for his theatrical work, and another Oscar for Training Day, having been nominated in total up to 9 times. He is a character actor full of nuances, like a street Tom Hanks with the rage of the downtrodden within.

His career oscillates between prestigious drama and action cinema, but in some films as well as in others, Washington has always infused his characters with that inner strength that earned him his first statuette. Whether with a sawed-off shotgun in hand or in court, taking the law into their own hands or fighting hand in hand with the institutions, Denzel Washington’s characters always respond to injustice. That is why he has often embodied real fighters such as the South African activist Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter or the poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson from The great debate.

The desire for justice of his characters in an unjust world has also led him to play progressively more angry or disenchanted characters, ordinary men capable of kidnapping a hospital to achieve a transplant for their son (John Q) or tough guys take up arms and a heart of gold as the protagonists of The fire of revenge Y The Equalizer (Denzel Washington’s only franchise). Also to antiheroes who have accepted the rules of the underworld as the corrupt cop of Training Day or the defeated idealist of Roman J. Israel, Esq.

A regular collaborator of Spike Lee, Atoine Fuqua and the late Tony Scott and father of the promising John David Washington, he is a lovable mother and an actor of unmistakable character. It’s Denzel Washington, and these are his best movies.

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‘American Gangster’ (2007)

After having brought the inspiring lives of so many real characters to the cinema, Washington put himself in a much more ambiguous but just as truthful role as the Harlem kingpin, Frank Lucas, who during the 60s and 70s starred in a plot of rise and fall in the world of crime worthy of Martin Scorsese. Your secret? He put heroin in the coffins returning from Vietnam.

It goes without saying that Ridley Scott, the director of the film, is nowhere near Martin Scorsese, but Denzel Washington’s cold blood and glimpses of his good heart to his family and the poor of Harlem, his work ethic and his rage when he begins to lose control, as well as his rivalry with the cop played by Russell Crowe turn American Ganster on a splendid trip to Harlem at the time.


‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ (2017)

For this film, Washington grew his afro, his belly, and even removed dental implants to become a disenchanted lawyer, an idealist who feels more outdated than the maroon suits he wears and decides to turn his career around. fed up with caring for others in an unfair judicial system and a society that doesn’t care about anything.


‘Fences’ (2016)

The film compendium of all the facets of the actor. Washington produced, performed and directed Fences from the same play that had earned him a Tony on Broadway, and he neither tried to hide his theatrical origins nor barely changed the cast, with him and Viola Davis in the lead roles.

It is a period drama about black life in the 1950s, where Washington plays the tough patriarch Troy Maxson, unfaithful husband, stern father and garbage collector in Eisenhower’s America. A man destroyed inside who drags his disappointments and regrets. However, the one who shone the most was Viola Davis who would win an Oscar for the film.


‘The flight’ (2012)

An alcoholic pilot, addicted to drugs and very old-fashioned miraculously saves hundreds of people in a flight thanks to a forced landing of the plane, but the investigation arrives and the pilot will have to suffer that they question what for him has been an act of heroism.

The plot of The flight may remind you of Tom Hanks in Sully, although it was several years ahead of him. Both films seem like mirrors of each other and of two of the best actors in the industry. Faced with the serenity of Hanks’s character, Denzel Washington unfolds a record that is the opposite, going from confidence to doubt, from fear to rage and finally to redemption.


‘Hurricane Carter’ (1999)

The same Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to whom Bob Dylan dedicated one of his best songs inspired this film based on true events about the fight of a boxer wrongly accused of a triple murder that he did not commit. It is one of the many correct films that Washington’s work has raised to a higher level, of an intensity of emotion. And thanks to her a few years later it hit theaters But, de Will Smith.


‘Glory Times’ (1989)

Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick and Andre Braugher worked with director Edward Zwick on one of his best films about America’s great forgotten war deeds. Glory times It is about the first and most fierce battalion made up of African Americans, the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, which fought in the Civil War against the slave-owning South and against the racial prejudices that despite everything existed in the Union.

His portrayal of Private Trip, a former fugitive and rebellious slave defined by his frankness and lucidity, earned Washington his first Oscar as “best supporting actor” and ended up launching a career that during the 1980s had just leaped into the movies from the theater and that it was already a promise after Scream freedom.


‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

Tom Hanks would say from this movie that Denzel Washington has been the co-star from whom he had learned the most. They both played two Philadelphia attorneys. Hanks, a promising young man who is fired from a prestigious law firm after his bosses discover that he has contracted AIDS and decides to sue them; Washington, the only lawyer willing to take the case at a time when AIDS was a social stigma.

Tom Hanks’ character was the more Oscar-winning of the two and won all the awards, but Denzel Washington’s performance had to convey a fascinating struggle on two fronts: with public opinion in court and with his own prejudices in his jurisdiction. internal. And also Antonio Banderas appears. Few dramas of the 90s bring together so much talent, in the best moment of each actor, with such good results.


‘Macbeth’ (2021)

Joel Coen has crowned him Macbeth for a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, more expressionist than ever, with a hypnotic black and white aesthetic reminiscent of The lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019) without losing the playful side of the Coen brothers, now separated.

Washington makes a Macbeth as poetic as in the original lines, with a gray beard and a tragic voice and an intensity more internalized than ever. It has just been released in the United States and is already one of the favorites for the Oscars.


‘Training Day’ (2001)

Denzel Washington has barely played villains in his career, but the first time he stepped into the shoes of one was to win his second Oscar. Corrupt cop Alonzo Harris, who subjects rookie Jake Joyt (Ethan Hawke) through an initiation ritual of sinister intentions that will unfold very gradually, is the actor’s most iconic and fascinating role. His interpretation is uncomfortable and makes us always doubt his intentions, but when the end comes and the character crosses the line, there is only one of the best endings of a police movie.

Neck chains and cigar gansta, the electrifying corrupt cop in Washington is the greatest black antihero in cinema.


‘Malcolm X’ (1992)

Without a doubt the most important role of his career. An epic biopic of more than three hours about the immense figure of Malcolm X, the ardent defender of civil rights. Spike Lee and Washington worked hand-in-hand with the character to show his journey from petty criminal and prisoner to preacher, leader, and martyr. A succession of very different phases in which the actor had to refine his register to show the man who Malcolm Little was at each moment and how from each of his experiences he extracted that truth that drove his political militancy.

Unlike Kingsley Ben-Adir’s off Malcolm X in One night in Miami …, Denzel Washington infused him with a strength that can be felt both in his intimate scenes and in his fiery speeches and that makes it impossible not to be drawn to him. The best incarnation of Malcolm X on screen, with all the fire and charisma of the leading civil rights defender.

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Denzel Washington: ranking of his 10 best films