"The Little Things" features 3 Academy Award winners – Rami Malek, Jared Leto, and Denzel Washington. But only one has been at the top of his game and the industry for over 30 years. These are his absolute greatest, the 9 best Denzel Washington movies, counting down to number one…
9. Crimson Tide
Not many actors can go head to head with Gene Hackman. Denzel Washington's not only up to the challenge, he's likely the victor in a lot of moviegoers' minds. As competing submarine commanders, it's hard to really know who exactly comes out on top in this Tony Scott actioner. But it's sure fun to watch the fireworks.
8. Devil in a Blue Dress
Easily one of the most quality and underrated in the Denzel filmography, this awesome film noir from director Carl Franklin ("One False Move") features our hero as an easy-going World War II vet named Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, who finds himself falling down the rabbit hole in search of a missing LA woman named Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals). Future MCU star Don Cheadle also overperforms in the best way as Easy's bff, Raymond "Mouse" Alexander.
Denzel directs and stars in this intense acting masterclass based on the acclaimed August Wilson play. He plays a bitter husband and father in '50s Philadelphia whose lost dream of becoming a pro baseball player fuels a conflict with his teen-aged son, an aspiring football player. Viola Davis plays the long-suffering wife caught between the two. Davis earned a well-deserved Oscar for the role, while Washington, the movie and screenplay were all also nominated.
6. Cry Freedom
Before "Cry Freedom," Denzel Washington was mostly known for playing a convincing and charismatic young doctor on tv's "St. Elsewhere." Playing South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, he lifted his acting game to the next level, seeming to become the young leader who was tragically killed for his beliefs. More than 30 years after its release, "Cry Freedom" is still as relevant as ever, and one of the best of the actor's early performances.
Nominated once more for a Best Actor Academy Award, Washington is somewhat of a revelation in director Robert Zemeckis' drama "Flight." Yes, he's a top airline pilot, something we'd expect from the veteran leading man. But, he's seriously flawed. Like, seriously. Washington manages to save his plane, and most of the passengers and crew when things literally go topsy turvy, but it turns out, the guy's also addicted to all kinds of pills, beverages and substances – which turns up in the subsequent investigation. It's a heavy performance and movie, and quite a good one.
4. Training Day
Denzel's second Oscar win, and his first for Best Actor, is a total whirlwind performance – all bravura, bravado, and over-the-top-amazingness. He's Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris, a mountain of a man and a cop who doesn't take crap from anyone, and regularly dispenses it in brute force on anyone that dares to oppose him. He's good at his job, and he's also corrupt to the core, which makes life just a little bit (no, a lot) difficult for new rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, nominated for an Oscar, too, for being able to hold his own in the frame with this guy). It's not subtle, but it is incredible.
3. The Hurricane
Some think Washington won his Oscar for "Training Day" in part because Academy Awards voters missed the boat by not handing him the trophy for "The Hurricane." To this, we say…yeah, that sounds about right. The actor is stunning as wrongly convicted middleweight boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Washington transforms himself into a totally credible boxing champion, and is also credible as a man deteriorating over the decades in prison, until a Brooklyn teen and his foster family decide to fight for him.
There's a scene in "Glory," an unbroken shot of Washington's Civil War-era soldier and former slave being whipped, that announces the actor as the Oscar winner (his first for Supporting Actor). Centuries of pain and injustice and turmoil are conveyed, captured by repeated lashings and a single tear that falls from his eye. In that moment, the racism that still courses through our society in different ways, becomes self-evident. The rest of the movie, too, is just as stirring, as black soldiers are finally allowed to join the Union Army and fight for their freedom.
1. Malcolm X
It's truly amazing and awesome that Spike Lee is being touted for awards consideration in 2021 as the director of "Da 5 Bloods," and Denzel Washington as well as the producer of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Film fans need to go back asap to see the two collaborate on the epic "Malcolm X." It is a masterpiece, and it's Washington's finest performance, transforming into the legendary activist through the various eras of his life. Watching the film and Denzel is a potent reminder of why he is one of the best actors of ours, or any generation.
About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.