One of the best actors of all time is undoubtedly Denzel Washington. His catalog is diverse and without question impressive due to his versatility as an actor on camera and on stages. His portrayals of fictional or nonfiction characters can always guarantee the audience a stirring speech and it doesn’t matter which film it is in.
Instead of ranking My Top 10 Denzel Washington FILMS I am going to solely focus on his best performances which, believe me when I say this, was not an easy task in the slightest. I will rank his best performances in film (excluding television) from 10-1 like I always do. I expect your thoughts on the list down below.
10. Lt. Commander Ron Hunter – Crimson Tide (1993): Battling with the likes of Gene Hackman is something to be proud of and he rose to be an elite alongside Hackman in a film that makes sure you feel claustrophobic as well as inspired and polarized with his on screen performance in the Tony Scott directed film.
9. Major Ben Marco – The Manchurian Candidate (2004): It’s always exciting when you can see a competent actor take on something as heavy handed as paranoia. This remake of the original 1962 film is impressive, but all in part to Washington’s performance as a paranoid soldier is captivating and equally as somber. To contrast from the normal roles he brings to the screen, it’s something unique to see him vulnerable.
8. Joe Miller – Philadelphia (1993): As the issues with HIV/AIDs were only really beginning in the 90’s, Philadelphia brought the subject to light in a big way and saw Tom Hanks take home his first Oscar of two back to back, but it was the contrast of Washington as an ignorant lawyer that gets us going. His transformation through the film from very reluctantly trying to seek justice for a gay man to a man that breaks down his own barriers is inspiring as are most of Denzel’s performances.
7. Frank Lucas – American Gangster (2007): Gangsters are always magnetic characters with personalities that often conflict our own due to the polarizing nature of their being and there wasn’t a gangster you wanted to roll with more than the steely eyed, drug-kingpin, and family man that was Frank Lucas. Washington establishes himself as a bonafied gangster in this film while showcasing his calm demeanor in a fearful but warm way and it’s captivating.
6. Coach Herman Boone – Remember the Titans (2000): It doesn’t take much to have a Coach Boone quote slip out on your daily routines. I know I say “water is for cowards” speech in the gym every other day and it doesn’t get old… to me at least. For younger audiences, this was the first impression we were given of Denzel Washington and boy what a good gateway film to see him go to work. Through adversity in a racially divided time, the character of Boone through Denzel’s performance brought a fearless and meaningful character to life as well as inspire different people to want to understand what family is all about.
5. William “Whip” Whitaker, Sr. – Flight (2012): Understated is the fact that Denzel is great at being imperfect characters. As a functioning alcoholic and pilot, Denzel brings the sorrows of a troubled man who falls to the liquid devils known as alcohol and his calm demeanor mixed with an unstable character is a cocktail no one could resist. Like the film itself, where Denzel goes as a character in the movie is unpredictable and defies our expectations and garnered another Oscar nomination for his role.
4. Private Trip – Glory (1989): His first Oscar win for Supporting-Actor as a former slave who turns soldier during the American Civil War is visceral and inspiring and showed us the iconic “Denzel tear” that memes love pulling from. Such a brave and relentless character while being able to sympathize with him made us pull to him like gravity that had Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick.
3. Detective Alonzo Harris – Training Day (2001): King Kong definitely doesn’t have sh** on Denzel in this movie. A vile and corrupt LAPD officer, Denzel wins his second Oscar and first for Best-Actor and brings some of his most quoted lines since Remember the Titans with the gravitas that brought him home the gold. I think this was a film that he was great in, but he won the Oscar for the wrong film.
(Keep reading the list to figure out which one he should have won for)
2. Malcolm X – Malcolm X (1992): When we hear Spike Lee, most of us roll our eyes and think of Knicks games, but what we often forget is that his works with Denzel in the past have brought some of the most iconic performances in D.W.’s respective career. As X, we see a cradle to the grave story about one of the most iconic figures in American history portrayed by a man built to bring him to life. Denzel as Malcolm X is eye opening, passionate, and genuine with the flare that Washington brings to all of his films and is understated as one of the great biopic roles.
1. Rubin Carter – The Hurricane (1999): It seems fitting that every great actor gets a great boxing film and this was Denzel’s Raging Bull, only it wasn’t anything like Raging Bull. Telling the true story of wrongfully accused Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, Washington gets shredded to portray the once great boxer who is accused of a crime he didn’t do and suffers for 20 years in prison. His performance brings the best emotion I think we’ve seen from D.W. and his slowly vanishing hope that he will be a free man is heartbreaking to say the least. This was the role he deserved an Oscar for rather than Training Day.