10. Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)
First on our list of top 10 Denzel Washington movies begins with a film that didn’t blowout the numbers. Roman J. Israel, Esq. didn’t wow fans likely because it was different role for the actor. But it is a great film.
And it is not the first time Mr. Washington has played a lawyer (Philadelphia 1993 was another). He plays Roman, a man stuck in the 70s. An extremely knowledgeable attorney with the ability to remember little things about previous trials.
What makes Roman J. Israel so good is the honest character that Denzel nails. A great legal mind living his life by the book. He takes pride in doing things the right way.
Things go sideways however, when Mr. Israel concludes that he’s getting the short end of the stick. And he decides to take advantage of an opportunity.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell
Release date: November 17, 2017
Runtime: 122 minutes
9. Remember the Titans (2000)
Fans may not have thought they’d see the famous Mount Vernon native in a football movie. But that’s just what we’ve got in Remember the Titans.
Titans is not the Golden Globe winner’s latest film, but it is one of his most inspirational. It’s based on the true story of coach Herman Boone. Boone tries to integrate the T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, in the 70s.
Indeed, there are lots of race-related issues that this story faces. But the quick wit, intelligence, and patience of his character helps to balance things.
Coach Boone manages to get bigoted parents, hostile faculty members, and narrow-minded players, to come together for a higher purpose.
Director: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Donald Faison, Nicole Ari Parker
Release date: September 29, 2000
Runtime: 113 minutes
8. The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)
Continuing our official list is the Oscar nominated The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Cinema pro Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men, Hail, Caesar!, and The Big Lebowski), take on a Shakespeare staple. Macbeth is played by leading man, Lady Macbeth by Frances McDormand, and King Duncan by Brendan Gleeson.
Filled with betrayal and rivals, The Tragedy of Macbeth takes us on a familiar path. With the support of an ambitious wife, and the prophecy of all-knowing witches, Macbeth will stop at nothing to fulfill his destiny.
Power is a very tricky thing. It’s incredibly hard to acquire, and even more to keep. And in the case of power-hungry Macbeth—and his quest for the Scottish throne—that person is Macduff (Corey Hawkins).
Macbeth is the thespian’s second go at Shakespeare (The first was 1993’s Much Ado About Nothing), but it is this new movie that is one of Denzel’s best.
Director: Joel Coen
Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson
Release date: December 25, 2021
Runtime: 105 minutes
7. American Gangster (2007)
Couldn’t wait for this gangster picture. And it is one the best drug dealer performances you’ll watch on the big screen.
Dramas like this one are so good because of the main star of course, but also because it is based on the true story of Frank Lucas. Frank assumes the reigns of heroin kingpin after his boss dies of heart attack.
“Blue Magic. That’s a brand name.”
The movie would not have been as good if Frank hadn’t decided to run his drug operation like a regular company. He viewed his drug business as a cut above the rest.
Lucas avoids the middleman by traveling to Thailand to get his product. To say his method of doing business was disruptive to his competition is an understatement.
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, Armand Assante, John Ortiz, John Hawkes, RZA
Release date: November 2, 2007
Runtime: 157 minutes
6. Fences (2016)
The Oscar winner pulls double duty in his directorial debut film Fences. A dialogue and character rich film with a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson.
Washington’s film and acting performance received commercial success and critic praise. Box office sales tripled the film’s budget. But enough of that, why is the film Fences one of Denzel’s best?
The latest movies tend to focus on special effects, costumes, etc. however, the Fences movie concentrates on the actors. Their story alone is front and center.
The movie revolves around Troy Maxson (Washington) a city garbage collector who missed an opportunity to play Major League Baseball because of racism. This is one demon that haunts Troy. Another is killing a man during a robbery.
But that was a long ago, and he tries to do right by his wife Rose (Viola Davis). He is constantly tested by his two sons Lyons (Russell Hornsby) and Cory (Jovan Adepo), his mentally impaired brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), and even Death.
Director: Denzel Washington
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney
Release date: December 16, 2016
Runtime: 139 minutes
5. The Equalizer (2014)
Okay we’re at the halfway point–the 5 greatest appearances by one of cinema’s finest. At first glance The Equalizer movie doesn’t seem like it would be special enough to warrant a spot on our lineup. But it does.
Robert McCall lives in Boston and works at a hardware store. Some nights he reads in a diner, and it is here that he meets Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenage prostitute working for the Russian mafia.
One night, Alina is hospitalized after being beaten by her pimp, Slavi (David Meunier). McCall visits Alina’s hospital room and speaks with her friend, Mandy (Haley Bennett), then visits Slavi and offers to buy Alina’s freedom. Slavi refuses, so McCall kills Slavi and his men.
But the story is just getting started. Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich), Slavi’s boss and a Russian mafia kingpin, sends his enforcer, Teddy Rensen (Marton Csokas), to find and kill McCall. Rensen visits Mandy, questioning her about who could have killed Slavi.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
Release date: September 26, 2014
Runtime: 132 minutes
4. Safe House (2012)
This Ryan Reynolds co-star movie is filled with action!
In Cape Town, South Africa, junior CIA officer Matt Weston is serving as a “housekeeper”, an operative in charge of securing and maintaining a local CIA safe house in case of an operation. He calls his mentor and immediate superior, David Barlow, and asks about a station in Paris, where he hopes to follow his live-in girlfriend, Ana.
Barlow tells him he’s not qualified for the position, which frustrates Matt as he has not had a “houseguest” during his yearlong assignment, and thus has been unable to gain field experience. Barlow promises to reconsider in a few months.
But it’s not just Denzel and Ryan who put in great performances, fellow cast Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, and Vera Farmiga round things out perfectly.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick
Release date: February 10, 2012
Runtime: 115 minutes
3. Fallen (1998)
Gregory Hoblit directed this supernatural thriller in 1998. The Tony Award winning thespian plays a Philadelphia police detective who is investigating occult murders committed by an apparent copycat killer.
John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini and Elias Koteas also star. Warner Bros. released Fallen on January 16, 1998. Despite this Denzel movie not doing well at the box office, it has gained a cult following and is considered one of Washington’s most underrated films.
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini, Elias Koteas
Release date: January 16, 1998
Runtime: 124 minutes
2. Training Day (2001)
The Fordham University alumni has more cop roles than some actor’s entire resumes.
Training Day starts with an ambitious LAPD Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), who is up for promotion. He’s assigned to Detective Alonzo Harris, a highly decorated narcotics officer, for a one-day evaluation.
In a single day Hoyt sees Alonzo let two rapists go free, steal $4 million, and kill an unarmed man in cold blood. Hoyt starts slow, but he quickly discerns that he’d better get with the program, or he will not make it back home.
His Oscar winning performance in this movie was beyond apparent, it was guaranteed. Unquestionably, fans had never seen this talented actor play such a ruthless, lowdown, thug character before.
Obviously, Mr. Method Actor’s filmography includes several police officer dramas (The Little Things, Inside Man, The Bone Collector, and more), but his Alonzo portrayal is the best.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Cliff Curtis, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg
Release date: October 5, 2001
Runtime: 122 minutes
1. Malcolm X (1992)
Our #1 ranked Denzel picture is Malcolm X. The American epic biographical drama film about the African American activist Malcolm X. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, the mega hit received some financial backing from Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson and others.
Along with directing duties Lee has a supporting role, while Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and future South African president Nelson Mandela make cameo appearances. It is the second of four film collaborations between Washington and Lee.
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee
Release date: November 18, 1992
Runtime: 201 minutes