The 10 Best Films of Denzel Washington's Career

Feb 3, 2006

The Bottom Line Denzel Washington is one of the best actors that it has been my treat to watch in film, and this is my list of his 10 best films.

Denzel Washington is one of those actors that you can watch again and again, and even when you think you have seen the best he has to offer, he can surprise you with yet another stellar acting role. Through the years he has been in many films, and I have liked just about every one of them. He is a bankable actor in my book, and I can be pretty confident that if he is a star in the film, then I am going to ultimately enjoy it. Because of that, I decided I wanted to come up with a list of what I feel are Denzel Washington's best films. My list runs the range of his acting talent, and I think that there are a lot of films on there that every viewer could enjoy.

The 10 best films starring Denzel Washington:

10. Man On Fire

Washington plays Creasy, a bodyguard with a haunting past who is tasked to watch over a girl played by Dakota Fanning. He seems to have nothing to live for, and at first is in the job just to make some money and keep doing what he thinks he is good at. Soon enough though, this innocent little girl gets under his skin, and his love for her grows exponentially. Now he really cares about watching out for her, but one day while picking her up from a piano practice, she is kidnapped by Mexican terrorists. In a country where kidnappings happen daily, it seems the police are in over their heads, and Creasy must take action into his own hands. Washington shows a lot of vengeance and that he has a dark side, as he creates a bloodbath of carnage all in pursuit of finding this girl. At times the film has some gaps in story, but Washington gives such a strong performance that the films still ends up being good.

9. Malcolm X

Denzel Washington is of course in the role of Malcolm X in this 1992 Spike Lee Joint. The film serves as a biopic of the famous civil rights leader starting with his early days, and leading all the way up to his assassination on stage. Through the movie, we get to see a lot of different sides of the story, and find out what truly put Malcolm X on the path that he made for himself. We get to see his troubles youth and how he had to go to jail to truly wake up to what he needed to do. The film is a deep story about racism and the troubles that Malcolm Little had to face all the way up until the day that he died. The message from the movie though, is that his mission and what he stood for became bigger than the man. Washington was the perfect person for this role, and you truly are lulled into thinking that you are really watching Malcolm on the screen. His role picked up Washington an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor that year.

8. Out Of Time

A lot of fans just didn't like this film about a Florida Police Chief, but I really liked it because it was taught, and it kept me guessing until the very end. Washington plays Matthias Lee Whitlock, who isn't what you would call a completely above the board officer of the law. Using seized money to help out a woman in need, he thinks he has figured out a way to help someone by barely breaking the rules. But when the woman ends up dead, and a double homicide has taken place, he suddenly finds himself as the prime suspect in a case where all of the evidence points directly at him. His ex-wife is brought in to work on the case, and Matthias has to stay one step ahead of law enforcement if he is going to figure out what happened before everything zeros in on him. It is a very exciting film, and I really enjoyed it, simply because I could never figure out what was going to happen next. Washington played a different type of character; one that was not always in control, and that is probably why I liked his role here so much.

7. Glory

During the civil war, the first all-black volunteer group of soldiers springs up for the Union, and Washington plays one of the soldiers; Private Trip. There are many prejudices prevalent even on his side of the army, and his fellow soldiers have to fight to be accepted way before they get the chance to fight against the Confederates. This is a story all about how it matters not what the color of your skin is when it comes to courage and bravery. This volunteer group works its way up to seeing battle in a key fight that the Union has to win. With actors Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, and Andre Braugher surrounding him, Washington made a name for himself in a role that was at times hard to watch. Fighting for his freedom, Trip isn't your normal soldier, and even though he isn't the star of the movie, he steals nearly every scene that he is in. He was so good that he took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Glory.

6. Remember The Titans

Coach Herman Boone in the newly hired football coach at T.C. Williams High School in Virginia. Taking place in 1971, Washington is in the role as that coach who is brought in to supervise the fan favorite Coach Bill Yost (Played by Will Patten). With forced integration on their backs, black and white football players are going to be playing side by side whether they like it or not. Luckily for them, they have two coaches that are not going to stand by and let racism motivate their players. Instead, they are going to make them work even harder, and come into the season as a team. In a volatile situation, Boone has inspire all of his players, and show that winning is more important than the differences they might think they have. Washington is as good as ever here in the role of the coach who will accept nothing but the best from his players. Although a little predictable, the story is based on a true one, and holds your attention because of that story, and because of the superb acting that Washington and Patten bring to the screen.

5. Courage Under Fire

Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Serling has been tasked with the investigation of Captain Karen Walden, and the decision of whether or not she deserves the Medal of Honor she is up for. Living with demons of his own from a tragedy that he caused, he is quite despondent, and appears at first to not really care about the job he has. But when he starts to find differences in the stories that he is told by the men that worked with the Captain, he starts to uncover a story that nobody expected him to find. The story is shown in a series of flashbacks as each of the characters tells a different version of what happened on an ill-fated helicopter mission during Desert Storm. With great supporting roles by Meg Ryan, Matt Damon, and Lou Diamond Phillips, Serling has to get to the bottom of this story before the truth is lost. This is a great story about what can go wrong in the field of battle, and Washington is superb as the man searching for answers that don't want to be found.

4. Fallen

One of the most original detective stories you are going to come across, Washington plays Detective John Hobbes, who has served as a witness to the execution of a very evil serial killer. But something happens before the execution, and Washington must race to figure out just what has occurred. It seems that the killer Reese had been possessed by some evil force, which had passed on to someone else before his mortal body was killed. This means that the evil is still out there, and unfortunately for our main characters, it can pass from person to person with a simple touch. Now Hobbes has to not only wrap his mind around what is happening, but prove that he isn't crazy, and put a stop to it all at the same time. John Goodman and Donald Sutherland are outstanding as two other cops in the film, and this is one of freakiest films you will come across with acting talent like this. Washington was great as Hobbes, and this is one of those movies that you actually have to watch a second time to make sure you didn't miss something the first time. Scary at times, this is Washington's best "thriller."

3. Training Day

Training Day brought Denzel Washington his first Academy Award for Best Actor in a motion picture. To put it bluntly, he was outstanding as Detective Alonzo Harris. Harris skirts the lines of morality and ethics by being the cop that he wants to be. This involves breaking the law, but he does it in a fashion where he thinks that the ends justify the means. If he is taking criminals off of the streets, then he feels he should have free run of the streets. He pretty much does as well, until he takes on a new trainee on a fateful day that is going to end with a lot of drama. Training Day takes place in the span of one day, and we get to see Ethan Hawke as the new transfer coming to work for Hobbes, who has a reputation of being a great cop. Working as narcotics officers, everything becomes an in-your-face confrontation as the exciting film shows exactly how far Washington can take his acting talents. Serving basically as the antagonist in this film, I think this is Washington's best individual acting performance ever, and it is a part that I can watch him play over and over again.

2. Philadelphia

Lawyer Joe Miller has no real knowledge of AIDS, or how it is contracted, and his fears are evident when he is approached by Andrew Beckett to be represented. Beckett feels that he has been wrongly terminated because he is sick, and he wants Miller to take on his case. Miller is Denzel Washington, and across from him is Tom Hanks in the role of Beckett. Together they shine a light on a lot of assumptions and myths that come along with this virus, and the deep story of a man being wrongfully terminated takes center stage for us. The majority of the important parts to this case take place in the courtroom, as a team of lawyers takes on Miller in a case that he surely can't win. But he has right on his side, and Miller soon realizes that if he overcomes his own prejudice about the virus, that he can defend Beckett to the best of his abilities. Hanks is really the one that makes the film, but with the assistance of Washington makes this a movie that people will not soon forget.

1. Crimson Tide

By far my favorite of all Denzel Washington's films, Crimson Tide is a movie I can watch over and over again, and still never get tired of the story. Washington plays Lt. Commander Ron Hunter, who is the X-O of the submarine Alabama. His Captain is Frank Ramsey, played by none other than Gene Hackman. Both are head-strong men, who are dedicated to the job, but both of them view their responsibilities a little differently. When the Alabama is sent on a mission to the Russian coast, they find themselves on the verge of World War 3. A Russian nuclear base has been compromised, and the Alabama could have to make the first strike before Russia can launch their missiles. Damage to the submarine causes an important message to be cut short, and the crew of the Alabama must make the decision of whether to fire now, or wait for confirmation on an order to launch. That is where Hackman and Washington face off, and in some of the best back-and-forth acting that I have seen, they strike gold as the two leading officers of the boat. Neither is willing to back down, and when Hunter challenges the authority of the Captain everything breaks down. I really enjoy both Washington and Hackman as these characters, and I think that this a movie that is enjoyable from the opening sequence to the very end.

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