Denzel Washington’s 7 best movie performances

He’s won 2 Oscars, has a Lifetime Achievement Award and has earned over 200 acting nominations in his prolific career. With portrayals of real-life figures such as South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in “Cry Freedom,” Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X in “Malcolm X,” football coach Herman Boone in “Remember the Titans,” educator Melvin B. Tolson in “The Great Debaters,” and drug kingpin Frank Lucas in “American Gangster,” Denzel Washington has carved out an impressive and lucrative career.  He has created characters that will stand the test of time and further builds upon his Oscar worthy screen presence in his latest movie, “The Equalizer 3.”


“King Kong ain’t got s*** on me!” – Alonzo Harris

In “Training Day,” one of modern Hollywood’s most famous screenplays, he exposed the dark side of the L.A. police force and earned himself an Oscar for Best Actor as a corrupt narcotics officer delivering one of the most quotable lines that has stuck with fans over the years. A harrowing, intense drama, it starred Washington as narcotics officer Alonzo and Ethan Hawke as Jake Hoyt, a rookie cop on his first day working with the Los Angeles Police Department’s tough inner-city narcotics unit and is considered one of his finest roles. With quotable lines and many memorable scenes, the film is a rollercoaster from beginning to end and received multiple award nominations for Washington scouring him his second Academy Award.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures


“I’ve been lying about my drinking my whole life.” – Whip Whitaker

In the Robert Zemeckis directed drama, Washington played an airline pilot who saves almost all his passengers on his malfunctioning airliner which eventually crashed, but an investigation into the accident revealed something troubling. For Washington, the film marked the first time he worked with Zemeckis, and there were endless conversations with the director and screenwriter John Gatins about his character. A movie which also stars Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly and John Goodman, “Flight” is the story of an airline pilot, Whip Whitaker (Washington), who miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, saving nearly every soul on board. Afterwards, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more is learned, more questions than answers arise as to who he really is, and what really happened on Flight 227. It soon becomes apparent during the investigation that he had consumed alcohol prior to the flight and could face possible criminal negligence charges, despite his heroic efforts. It’s a character study about a guy really struggling with his own demons and what should have been a typical day of work for him becomes a series of unfortunate events.

Denzel Washington


“Life don’t owe you nothing. You owe it to yourself.” – Troy Maxson

Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Washington pulled double duty not only starring, but directing this stage to screen classic which follows Troy (Washington), a 57-year-old working-class man who struggles with providing for his family. The play was originally staged on Broadway in 2010 with Washington and Viola Davis playing Troy and Rose. The actors reunited again for the big screen adaption, which was later chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of 2016 and also stars Jovan Adepo. “Fences” was nominated for numerous awards, including four Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Davis), and Best Adapted Screenplay with Viola Davis winning for her performance.


“So you seek revenge?” – Sam Chisolm

Director Antoine Fuqua’s ensemble driven western flick was Washington’s first Western and he was initially hesitant about starring in one until Fuqua convinced him to come onboard. A more diverse Hollywood adaptation of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 “Seven Samurai” in 1954 and John Sturges “The Magnificent Seven,” it’s the story of a small farming community that hires seven mercenaries to protect their community from local bandits.

Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt star in Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN


“A man once told me that you step out of your door in the morning, and you are already in trouble.” –  Easy Rawlins

One of the most stylish and intelligent detective pictures in years, this 1995 adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel had Washington playing Easy Rawlins, an aircraft factory worker who is laid off and becomes a private eye. Hired to find a missing woman, he becomes entangled in a complex but satisfying case involving sex, corruption and racism. Directed by Carl Franklin, it’s a whodunit drama that also stars Don Cheadle and is stylish and well written with an intricate plot.


“Hate put me in prison. Love’s gonna bust me out.” – Hurricane Carter

One of Washington’s most powerful on-screen performances, this moving, inspirational sports drama is based on the true story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a prizefighter who was convicted in 1966 of a murder he didn’t commit and spent 19 years in prison before being exonerated and released. The film received multiple award nominations including Academy Award and SAG Award nominations for Best Actor for Washington. Denzel Washington won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama for his role as Carter.

(l to r) Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee star in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.


“You gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.” – Robert McCall

A slow boil with a stellar cast “The Equalizer” which was released in 2014 and based on the television series that aired in the ‘80s, follows Washington as he portrays Robert McCall, a middle-aged retired intelligence officer living a peaceful and solitary existence in Boston who aptly deserves a dose of justice to those deserving of it. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Washington plays McCall with a quiet but angry determination, giving us a character that has absolutely no conscience about torturing someone. The first installment would be the beginning of a multi-project collaboration between Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington. “The Equalizer’s” success spawned a trilogy with the latest installment “The Equalizer 3” hits theaters on September 1.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.

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