Denzel Washington first became well-known for his role in the medical drama St. Elsewhere. He then made appearances in Cry Freedom and A Soldier’s Tale. Washington’s portrayal of Private Silas Trip in the Civil War drama Glory earned him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Over the 1990s, Washington established himself as a starring man, making appearances in films including Malcolm X, Much Ado About Nothing, The Pelican Brief, Philadelphia, and The Hurricane. In addition, Washington has gone on to play characters in a variety of films, including Flight, The Great Debaters, American Gangster, Training Day, and Remember the Titans.
Throughout the course of a career spanning more than four decades, Washington has received numerous awards, including a Tony Award, two Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and two Silver Bears. He received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, and in 2020, The New York Times named him the finest actor of the twenty-first century. President Joe Biden also presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Washington in 2022. He was able to adapt to every part and genre, which helped him to establish himself as a great actor. According to Rotten Tomatoes, these are the best films in which Denzel Washington has a leading role.
Table Of Content
- 1 American Gangster (2007) — 81%
- 2 Courage Under Fire (1996) — 86%
- 3 Crimson Tide (1995) — 89%
- 4 Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) — 92%
- 5 Fences (2016) — 92%
- 6 Giving Voice (2020) — 100%
- 7 Glory (1989) — 94%
- 8 Inside Man (2006) — 86%
- 9 Malcolm X (1992) — 89%
- 10 Mississippi Masala (1991) — 92%
- 11 Much Ado About Nothing (1993) — 90%
- 12 The Hurricane (1999) — 83%
- 13 The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) — 92%
- 14 Unstoppable (2010) — 87%
American Gangster (2007) — 81%
The biographical crime film American Gangster, which was written by Steven Zaillian, was directed and produced by Ridley Scott. The fictional film is based on the criminal exploits of La Grange, North Carolina, mobster Frank Lucas. One of the most prominent mobsters in Harlem hires Lucas as a driver. He becomes one of the most well-known crime lords in the inner city after the death of his employer by bringing drugs into the nation on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War. He accomplishes this by employing his own cunning and strict moral standards.
Experienced detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) hunts for ways to prosecute his adversary after noticing a change in the mob’s power structure. Finally, Roberts’ special task squad captures Lucas. Despite backlash from the real-life agents depicted in the movie, American Gangster received 21 nominations, including two Oscar Awards for Best Art Design and Best Supporting Actress (Ruby Dee).
Courage Under Fire (1996) — 86%
Washington and filmmaker Edward Zwick reunited for Courage Under Fire after their collaboration on 1989’s Glory. The film Courage Under Fire tells the compelling tale of an Army cover-up (and the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor), based on actual events. During the Gulf War of 1991, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Washington) committed a costly blunder that led to a friendly fire incident, but his superiors hushed it up.
During the conflict, he is tasked with investigating the death of Army Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), who was killed in action while assisting in the evacuation of a downed helicopter’s crew. Yet as Serling probes the Walden’s crew, he learns that their versions of events diverge. After their successful collaborations, Zwick and Washington got back again for The Siege in 1998.
Crimson Tide (1995) — 89%
In the movie Crimson Tide, during a period of political upheaval in Russia, ultra-nationalists threaten to launch nuclear missiles against the United States and Japan. After the Cold War, a nuclear-armed Russia that broke away could be a menace to the entire world. In the movie Armageddon, Gene Hackman plays Frank Ramsey, the captain of a U.S. submarine that may be the only thing standing between us and total destruction.
Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter of Washington is somewhat inexperienced but is well-recommended. In order to stop Ramsay from ordering the Alabama to respond violently, Hunter plans a potential mutiny out of fear that they would actually cause a disaster rather than prevent it. The storyline of the movie is based on an actual incident that took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) — 92%
SONY IMAGES When Devil in a Blue Dress was published, it took us back to late 1940s Los Angeles, where Easy Rawlins (Washington) is an unemployed World War II veteran with few alternatives for employment. Easy meets eccentric DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) in a bar. Albright is looking for someone to look into the whereabouts of a missing white woman named Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), who he thinks has been hiding out in one of the city’s black jazz clubs.
Easy accepts the job because he needs the money and has to pay his rent, but he quickly realises that he is in over his head. This 1990 neo-noir mystery-thriller film, written and directed by Carl Franklin, is based on the same-titled novel by Walter Mosley.
Fences (2016) — 92%
In the movie Fences, Washington portrays Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Maxson had always wanted to play baseball professionally, but when Black athletes began to be welcomed into the major leagues, he was deemed to be too old. Troy, who is bitter over his missed opportunity, exacerbates family conflict by forbidding his son Jovan Adepo from meeting with a college football recruiter. Reviewers gave the movie high marks for its plot, pacing, photography, emotional tone, performances by Washington and Viola Davis, and Washington’s direction.
Giving Voice (2020) — 100%
As a documentary, the 2020 movie Giving Voice stands out from the others on this list. Tens of thousands of students compete each year since the playwright August Wilson passed away in 2005 for the chance to perform a monologue from one of his plays in a competition’s final round on Broadway.
James D. Stern and Fernando Villena’s inspirational film Giving Voice goes into further depth about this competition and explains how the playwright’s legacy is inspiring a new generation. The 2018 August Wilson Monologue Competition is shown in the movie. Together with other well-known actors who have appeared in Wilson’s works-related films, including Viola Davis, Jack Viertel, Gerardo Navarro, Nia Sarfo, Freedom Martin, Cody Merridith, Callie Holley, and Aaron Guy—Washington makes an appearance in the movie.
Glory (1989) — 94%
Glory, Zwick’s historical military drama, is about the valiant exploits of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first African-American battalions in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is given command of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the country’s first all-African-American regiment, following the Battle of Antietam. With the help of his subordinate officer Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), Shaw assembles a strong and courageous squad that includes John Rawlins, a wise gravedigger, and escaped slave Trip (Washington) (Morgan Freeman).
The unit, which was previously limited to strenuous physical labour, fights to be placed in the thick of battle. Kevin Jarre’s script was influenced by the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Dash by Peter F. Hamilton as well as the private correspondence of Col. Robert Gould Shaw.
Inside Man (2006) — 86%
Inside Man mostly focuses on a complicated bank heist that lasts for a full day on Wall Street. Christopher Plummer plays Arthur Case, the bank’s founder, while Denzel Washington plays Detective Keith Frazier, the NYPD officer who takes hostages, Clive Owen plays Dalton Russell, the heist’s mastermind, and Jodie Foster plays Madeleine White, a Manhattan power broker who gets involved at Case’s (Plummer’s) request to keep something in his safe deposit box safe from the robbers.
Spike Lee, the director, tried unsuccessfully from 2006 through 2011 to raise money for Inside Man 2, but it never happened. The follow-up Inside Man: Most Wanted was released in 2019 on Netflix and through direct video distribution, with a whole new cast and production team.
Malcolm X (1992) — 89%
The movie Malcolm X honoured the polarising revolutionary and charismatic leader of the Black liberation movement of the same name. The main source of inspiration for the writing was Alex Haley’s 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The book was co-written by Haley and Malcolm X in 1963 and published after Malcolm X’s demise.
The film dramatises important events in the life of Malcolm X (Washington), including his criminal career, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his membership in the Nation of Islam and his later break with the group, his marriage to Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett), his pilgrimage to Mecca and reevaluation of his views on white people, and his assassination in 1965. (which left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride). The movie was “one of the great screen biographies, honouring the sweep of an American life that bottomed out in prison before its hero recreated himself,” according to film reviewer Roger Ebert, who put it at the top.
Mississippi Masala (1991) — 92%
The complexities of love in today’s heterogeneous culture are examined in Mississippi Masala. Years after her Indian family was forced to flee their home in Uganda due to the government of Idi Amin, 20-something Mina (Sarita Choudhury) finds herself working in a hotel in the far-off state of Mississippi. There, an intense relationship with the seductive carpet cleaner Demetrius (Washington) exposes the disparities between the local Indian and African American populations and challenges the prejudices of their traditional families.
By tackling serious issues like racial prejudice, colour discrimination, cultural friction, and relocation with selfless comedy and incisive observations, director Mira Nair brings up a lovely, sensual, and revolutionary understanding of love’s potential to burst down the barriers that separate us.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993) — 90%
Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing approaches William Shakespeare’s lofty play with a lighter touch. Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and her fiance Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) team up with Don Pedro, Claudio’s commanding officer (Washington), to create a matchmaking scheme the week before their wedding. They are pursuing the clever pair Benedick and Beatrice (Kieran Branagh and Emma Thompson), which will be challenging given their shared disdain of love and one another. Meanwhile, invasive Don John (Keanu Reeves) has plans to ruin the wedding.
The Hurricane (1999) — 83%
Norman Jewison produced and directed the biographical sports drama film The Hurricane. Washington plays Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, a former middleweight boxer who was wrongfully convicted of three murders at a Paterson, New Jersey club. The script that Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon created was inspired by Carter’s 1974 autobiography The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to 45472 and Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton’s 1991 non-fiction book Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Freeing of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter.
The film chronicles Carter’s arrest, his incarceration, and his eventual release thanks to the generosity and devotion of a young girl from Brooklyn named Lesra Martin, who gets intrigued by Carter’s life and circumstances after reading Carter’s autobiography. Martin is a Brooklyn native. Martin persuades his foster family in Canada to devote themselves to Carter’s cause.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) — 92%
The Tragedy of Macbeth, written, directed, and produced by Joel Coen, is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy Macbeth. This is the first film that the Coen brothers have ever each independently directed. For his portrayal of Macbeth, Washington was nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor.
At the 94th Academy Awards, the film received nominations for Best Production Design and Best Cinematography. Time Out’s Dave Calhoun described it as “brief, crisp, and violent,” and compared it to “a far earlier cinema, when filmmakers hardly walked outdoors and played magic with shadow and light on soundstages.”
Unstoppable (2010) — 87%
The movie Unstoppable investigates what transpires when a big, autonomous train roars out of control and offers a danger beyond a straightforward derailment. The biosphere would be devastated by an accident, which would wipe out the whole human population because the train is carrying dangerous chemicals. The only people who can stop the locomotive safely are an experienced engineer (Washington) and a young conductor (Chris Pine), who must risk their lives to save everyone in the runaway train’s path. The CSX 8888 incident, which took place in Ohio in 2001, served as the inspiration for the film. The movie was Tony Scott’s last endeavour before he passed away in 2012.
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