It’s an odd thing to say about an actor as respected and decorated as Denzel Washington, but the guy might actually be a bit underrated. Throughout his illustrious career, he’s earned a reputation for playing a certain type – men of intense dignity and honour, whether it’s a Civil Rights icon, a dogged lawyer or a working-class hero. But as consistently great as he is in those roles, he’s just as impressive occupying more flawed characters. Shoot, at times, he’s proven he can do straight-up evil with the best of them.
Picking the 7 greatest Denzel Washington movies is difficult, given that he frequently elevates lesser material just by showing up on screen. But the films listed below are truly the best of the best.
The movie that made Denzel a star, and rekindled the cult of one of America’s great black heroes (in the early ’90s you could hardly move for baseball caps with a big ‘X’ on the front). Denzel plays the black activist, radical and convert to Islam, striding with purpose out of the small-time streets of Omaha, Nebraska and into the halls of history.
2. Training Day
After years playing noble, Oscar-friendly heroes, Denzel scored his first Best Actor win as the dirtiest cop in the LAPD. Detective Alonzo Harris has become an icon of screen evil, and it’s all down to Denzel’s performance: he’s genuinely creepy here, so unashamedly vicious and corrupt you wish he played bad guys more often.
3. The Tragedy of Macbeth
It took a while, but thanks to Joel ‘Hey, Where’s Ethan?’ Coen, we finally got to see Denzel in one of the most iconic acting roles in all the performing arts. Coen, in his solo directorial debut, strips Shakespeare’s classic story to its essentials, allowing Washington’s performance as the tormented King of Scotland to truly fill the screen. He doesn’t disappoint.