Noovie 9: Best Denzel Washington Movies, Ranked

"The Little Things" legend has already won 2 Oscars. Here, we rank the 9 best Denzel Washington movies.

By Chuck Walton

Denzel Washington in "The Little Things."

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

"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.

Crimson Tide

Thriller / 1995

After the Cold War, a breakaway Russian republic with nuclear warheads becomes a possible worldwide threat. U.S. submarine Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) signs on a relatively green but highly recommended Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) to the USS Alabama, which may be the only ship able to stop a possible Armageddon. When Ramsay insists that the Alabama must act aggressively, Hunter, fearing they will start rather than stop a disaster, leads a potential mutiny to stop him.

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.

Devil in a Blue Dress

Mystery / 1995

In late 1940s Los Angeles, Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) is an unemployed black World War II veteran with few job prospects. At a bar, Easy meets DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore), a mysterious white man looking for someone to investigate the disappearance of a missing white woman named Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), who he suspects is hiding out in one of the city's black jazz clubs. Strapped for money and facing house payments, Easy takes the job, but soon finds himself in over his head.

7. Fences

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.


Drama / 2016

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) makes his living as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh. Maxson once dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, but was deemed too old when the major leagues began admitting black athletes. Bitter over his missed opportunity, Troy creates further tension in his family when he squashes his son's (Jovan Adepo) chance to meet a college football recruiter.

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.

Cry Freedom

Biography / 1987

Set in apartheid-torn South Africa. Donald Woods is the editor of the East London Daily Express and Steve Biko is a young black leader struggling to improve life in the townships. The two form an unlikely friendship but when Biko is taken into police custody and then murdered, Woods is placed under house arrest. Fearing for his family's safety, he decides to smuggle them over the border.

5. Flight

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.


Drama / 2012

Commercial airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) has a problem with drugs and alcohol, though so far he's managed to complete his flights safely. His luck runs out when a disastrous mechanical malfunction sends his plane hurtling toward the ground. Whip pulls off a miraculous crash-landing that results in only six lives lost. Shaken to the core, Whip vows to get sober -- but when the crash investigation exposes his addiction, he finds himself in an even worse situation.

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.

Training Day

Crime Drama / 2001

Police drama about a veteran officer who escorts a rookie on his first day with the LAPD's tough inner-city narcotics unit. "Training Day" is a blistering action drama that asks the audience to decide what is necessary, what is heroic and what crosses the line in the harrowing gray zone of fighting urban crime. Does law-abiding law enforcement come at the expense of justice and public safety? If so, do we demand safe streets at any cost?

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.

The Hurricane

Drama / 1999

Denzel Washington is Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a man whose dreams of winning the middleweight boxing title were destroyed when he was arrested along with another man for the murders of 3 people in a New Jersey bar. Wrongfully accused, Carter and John Artis were sentenced to 3 life terms in prison.

2. Glory

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.


Drama / 1989

Following the Battle of Antietam, Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is offered command of the United States' first all-African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. With junior officer Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), Shaw puts together a strong and proud unit, including the escaped slave Trip (Denzel Washington) and the wise gravedigger John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman). At first limited to menial manual tasks, the regiment fights to be placed in the heat of battle.

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.

Malcolm X

Biography / 1992

A tribute to the controversial black activist and leader of the struggle for black liberation. He hit bottom during his imprisonment in the '50s, he became a Black Muslim and then a leader in the Nation of Islam. His assassination in 1965 left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride.