Denzel Washington's career is one of the all-time best.
We highlight 18 of his essential performances, including his best role.
Movies like "Glory," "Training Day," and "Malcolm X" all made the list.
Over 40 years, Denzel Washington has built one of the best careers in Hollywood.
With two Oscar wins and six nominations, he's delivered performances that will never be forgotten. There are the dramas like "Training Day" and "Malcolm X," to the thrillers like "The Equalizer" and "The Bone Collector."
And surprisingly, he's done all of this without playing the franchise game - outside of "The Equalizer," he's never made a sequel to any of his movies.
Here are the 18 essential Denzel Washington roles, ranked to the all-time best of his career.
18. "The Bone Collector" (1999)
In this tense thriller — also starring a then-up-and-coming Angelina Jolie — Washington gives a great performance as a quadriplegic ex-homicide detective. He must share all his knowledge and instincts with a new recruit (Jolie) who, after discovering a gruesome murder, realizes a serial killer is on the loose.
From a hospital bed, Washington delivers more dramatic chops than most who have starred in the crime drama genre.
17. "Crimson Tide" (1995)
In the first of what would be numerous collaborations with director Tony Scott, Washington goes up against Gene Hackman in one of the best thrillers of 1995.
Set inside a submarine, Washington plays a by-the-book first officer who stages a mutiny after the ship's captain (Hackman) is prepared to launch its nuclear missiles following a message from headquarters that is hard to authenticate.
The toe-to-toe performances by both actors are a joy to watch.
16. “The Equalizer” (2014)
This marks the only movie franchise Washington has been involved in (so far).
In the original and 2018 sequel, Washington plays a former Marine who reluctantly uses his special skills to protect those in need. Washington delivers big time in this thriller.
15. "Roman J. Israel, Esq." (2017)
In his most recent Oscar-nominated performance, Washington plays a defense attorney who has to make some dramatic decisions (both personal and professional).
Though set around dry legal jargon, Washington once again proves that he can make any material engaging to watch.
14. "American Gangster" (2007)
Playing notorious crime boss Frank Lucas, Washington is the perfect adversary opposite Russell Crowe as a New York City cop tasked with bringing down Lucas' drug empire.
Washington delivers a layered performance as Lucas, a gangster who is cold-blooded but also shows signs of good-heartedness towards family and the impoverished in Harlem.
13. "Mo' Better Blues" (1990)
Marking his first time working with Spike Lee, Washington delivers a to-this-day unappreciated performance as a jazz trumpeter who must deal with a series of bad decisions.
12. "He Got Game" (1998)
In another Lee movie, Washington plays the father of a high school basketball phenom (played by real-life NBA star Ray Allen). He's temporarily released from prison to convince his son to go to play ball at a certain college.
Washington delivers a powerful performance as a man who must find a way to reconnect with a son who gave up on his father long ago but owes everything to him.
11. "Courage Under Fire" (1996)
This fantastic drama stars Washington as an Army officer who must investigate if the acts of a chopper commander (Meg Ryan) are worthy of the Medal of Honor.
Washington's character must deal with his own personal troubles while he's investigating, which builds the drama.
10. "The Hurricane" (1999)
In this Oscar-nominated performance by Washington, we follow the life of real-life boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who spends close to 20 years in prison after being wronfully convicted of murder.
Set mostly in prison, we watch as Carter goes from rage to submission as prison life brings him down. That is until a young man makes it his quest to get him out.
9. "Cry Freedom" (1987)
Marking Washington's first Oscar nomination and the role that would launch his career to star status, he plays Steve Biko, a South African anti-apartheid activist.
8. “Flight” (2012)
In this Robert Zemeckis drama, Washington plays an airline pilot who is able to save most of the passengers after an incredible plane crash. However, as media attention builds on him and an internal investigation is conducted, it's revealed that Washington's character is an alcoholic and drug addict.
The incredible performance by Washington would earn him an Oscar nomination.
7. "Remember the Titans" (2000)
Based on a true story, Washington delivers a perfect performance as Coach Herman Boone, who coaches an integrated football team in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971.
6. "Fences" (2016)
After playing the role on Broadway, Washington took August Wilson's play to the screen. He didn't just star in it — he also directed.
The movie follows a working-class father (Washington) trying to raise his family in the 1950s while also dealing with his own demons.
The role would lead to, you guessed it, an Oscar nomination.
5. "Devil in a Blue Dress" (1995)
This is the best Denzel Washington role you've never seen (but should). Based on the pulpy 1990 Walter Mosley novel of the same name, Washington plays Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins. Rawlins is looking for work in late 1940s Los Angeles when he finds himself in a political scandal after he's hired to find a woman.
This is the character we would want to see Washington take on again.
4. "Philadelphia" (1993)
This classic from director Jonathan Damme stars Washington as a homophobic lawyer who decides to help a fellow lawyer (Tom Hanks) who has been fired by his firm after they learn he is HIV positive.
3. "Glory" (1989)
In the role that would place Washington as one of the standout actors of his era, he plays one of the soldiers of the first all-black volunteer company in the Union Army during the Civil War.
As the troubled Private Trip, Washington delivers a rage-filled performance that by the end becomes heartbreakingly inspiring.
Washington would earn his first-ever Oscar (for best supporting actor) thanks to the performance.
2. "Training Day" (2001)
Washington would win the best actor Oscar for the performance as a crooked cop in this gritty drama.
Rarely ever playing the villain over his career, he shocked audiences playing corrupt narcotics officer, Alonzo.
1. "Malcolm X" (1992)
Under the direction of Spike Lee, Washington delivers an epic performance as he chronicles the life of Malcolm Little, who would go on to be known as Malcolm X.
The movie showcases Malcolm X's youth as a small-time crook who completely changes his life while in prison after joining the Nation of Islam. Washington delivers an incredible performance as we see him transform into the controversial civil rights leader.
The role is unlike anything he's done before or since.
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