10) Philadelphia (1993)
Although Tom Hanks rightfully won a lot of praise (and the Oscar) for his performance as a gay lawyer axed by his firm because he’d contracted AIDS, Denzel actually has the more difficult role. He plays a homophobic ambulance chaser who begrudgingly accepts Hanks’ character’s case and comes to fight his own prejudices in the process.
9) Antwone Fisher (2002)
Denzel took over the director’s chair for the first time in this touching film inspired by a true story. Antwone Fisher is an introverted young man haunted by demons from his past. Denzel uses his considerable gravitas and good humor to coax the Fisher character (played by Derek Luke) out of his shell. The finale shouldn’t leave a single dry eye in the house.
8) Inside Man (2006)
In this his fourth collaboration with Spike Lee, Denzel puts a charming spin on his role as a hostage negotiator dogged by corruption claims who is caught in the middle of a very twisted bank heist. This is major movie star bravado at its best.
7) Remember The Titans (2000)
Through the sheer grittiness of his performance, Denzel was able to transform this hokey, albeit true, story of football coach Herman Boone, who successfully integrated T. C. Williams High School’s football team in the early 1970s, into a modern day sports classic.
6) American Gangster (2007)
Denzel’s ice-cold portrayal of legendary Harlem gangster Frank Lucas helped make this film his biggest box office hit to date. It also inspired one of Jay-Z’s greatest albums. Who can forget the moment he capped Idris Elba’s character before all of Harlem?
5) Flight (2012)
Denzel is unafraid to take on this unglamorous and largely unsympathetic role as ‘Whip’ Whitaker, a drink and drug addicted pilot, who manages to successfully land a malfunctioning aircraft. He should expect yet another Oscar nomination for this one.
4) Training Day (2001)
Denzel shocked audiences with his first over-the-top (and instantly quotable) villainous role as Alonzo Harris, a horribly corrupt and calculating LA narcotics detective. Washington finally won the Best Actor Academy Award for this performance, which cemented his status as one of the great bad-asses of cinema history.
3) The Hurricane (1999)
Some critics quibbled about the accuracy of this biopic about the wrongfully accused boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, but no one can second guess Denzel’s astonishing performance. Not only did he transform his body for the role but he convincingly played a character across several decades with big-time charisma. A knockout.
2) Glory (1989)
Denzel broke through as a bona fide movie star as the rebellious slave turned solider ‘Trip’ in this harrowing Civil War film. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the film, which celebrated the legacy of legendary 54th regiment.
1) Malcolm X (1992)
It’s no surprise that many viewers felt Denzel didn’t just play Malcolm — he became him. After years of research (he also played the iconic civil rights leader on stage) and the great efforts of Spike Lee, Denzel brought this unforgettable, inspiring performance to the big screen. Sadly, Denzel was snubbed at the Oscars for this role — but fans will remember it as his greatest.
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With five Academy Award nominations and two wins, Denzel Washington is the most acclaimed African-American actor in modern Hollywood history. A consistently popular leading man, his career on the big screen has spanned nearly thirty years and includes forays into genres as diverse as thrillers, romantic comedies and dramatic biopics. In more ways than one, he is the consummate movie star.
He’s also rarely made a completely awful film (ok, well maybe Virtuosity) and so it’s hard to single out his best performance. Nevertheless, theGrio has given it a try. Some of our picks for the best performances from this beloved Hollywood icon include: American Gangster, Antwone Fisher, Glory, Inside Man, Malcolm X, and The Hurricane.
As his latest film Flight opens this weekend to rave reviews and plenty of Oscar buzz, we take a look back at this beloved actor’s best work.