Denzel Washington might not be one of the top stars in Hollywood when it comes to the box office, but he easily sits near the top when it comes to overall talent. The actor has taken on a variety of roles, from dramas to action movies, from good guys to evil men, and delivered great performances throughout his entire career.
Washington has earned an impressive nine Oscar nominations for his acting, winning to of them. He has played everyone from real-life characters to Spike Lee creations and over-the-top action heroes and made every single one of them memorable. Through a career that has almost lasted 40 years, here are the 10 best Denzel Washington movies, based on IMDb ratings.
10 THE GREAT DEBATERS (7.6)
Denzel Washington directed this movie, based on an article written about the Wiley College debate team. Washington not only directed the film (his second following Antwone Fisher), but he starred in the movie as well. Washington was debate coach Melvin B. Tolson.
The film showed Tolson take his historically black college debate team and helped them and help them rise to equal footing with white colleges in the American south in the ’30s. Despite Jim Crow laws and public lynchings, he succeeds, and his team gets to debate Harvard.
9 THE HURRICANE (7.6)
In 1999, Denzel Washington took on the role of real-life boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. The film tells the story of a former middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted of a triple murder in New Jersey. To prepare for this role, Washington underwent long, intensive boxing training.
The movie shows Carter’s arrest and his time in prison. It also deals with the teenager who helped get Carter released after reading his biography, The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to 45472. Washington picked up an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globes win for his performance.
8 INSIDE MAN (7.6)
Denzel Washington’s final collaboration with Spike Lee came in 2006 with the heist movie Inside Man. The film was a departure for Lee, and was a more mainstream heist movie with Washington starring as an NYPD hostage negotiator. Also starring in the film is Clive Owen, as the mastermind behind the heist, Jodie Foster was a power broker and Christopher Plummer as the ban’s founder.
Inside Man stands at the top of the list as the highest-grossing Spike Lee movie of his career with $88 million domestically and $184 million worldwide.
7 MALCOLM X (7.7)
In 1992, Denzel Washington teamed up with Spike Lee to tell the story of Malcolm X in this biopic. This was the second Spike Lee movie that Denzel Washington appeared in following Mo’ Better Blues. Based on Alex Haley’s 1965 Malcolm X biography, the film follows the life of Malcolm X, focusing on several key events that led to his eventual death.
Washington picked up an Oscar nomination for his role in the film. In 2010, the Library of Congress added the movie to its National Film Registry. Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Nelson Mandela all made cameo appearances.
6 PHILADELPHIA (7.7)
Released in 1993 by director Jonathan Demme, Philadelphia has the honor of being one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to deal with homosexuality, homophobia, and the AIDS virus. It ended up as a massive critical success, winning Tom Hanks the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance.
Hanks starred as a gay attorney who contracted the AIDS virus. His firm fires him after learning of his condition, and people start to treat him differently. An initially homophobic attorney named Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) takes his case because he sees similarities in the discriminatory actions.
5 MAN ON FIRE (7.7)
In a slightly surprising addition to this list, Denzel Washington enjoyed a string of films that have him starring as an older action hero, usually setting out to protect people in need. Directed by Tony Scott, Man on Fire stars Washington as a former U.S. Marine Corps officer John Creasy, who is down on his luck.
However, when a wealthy businessman hires him as a bodyguard to his nine-year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning), he starts to bond with the girl and finds a new purpose in life. When the girl is kidnapped, Creasy makes it his life’s mission to find the people responsible and make them pay.
4 TRAINING DAY (7.7)
In almost every movie that Denzel Washington appeared in, he was the good guy or at least the protagonist. However, the one time that he went completely against type, he won an Oscar. In the movie Training Day, Washington was a veteran LAPD narcotics officer who takes in a younger officer played by Ethan Hawke.
Alonzo Harris is a crooked cop, taking payoffs, but sure that his way is the best when it comes to dealing with the crime on the streets. Washington is scary and dominates every scene that he appears in, earning his Oscar win for this Antoine Fuqua film.
3 GLORY (7.8)
In the oldest movie on this list, Denzel Washington starred alongside Matthew Broderick in Edward Zwick’s 1989 movie Glory. The film told the true-life story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War — the Union’s second African-American regiment in that war.
Broderick is a Union Captain who accepts a promotion to colonel to lead the Regiment and Washington stars as a recruit by the name of Silas Trip, a free African-American. Despite learning that the Confederacy declared that all African-American soldiers are to be executed, the Regiment fights on. Washington won his first Oscar for his performance.
2 AMERICAN GANGSTER (7.8)
Ridley Scott directed Denzel Washington in the 2007 crime drama American Gangster. Here, Washington portrayed true-life crime lord Frank Lucas, a gangster who smuggles drugs into the United States, and a police detective portrayed by Russell Crowe, who sets out to bring him down.
The film shows Lucas as a smart businessman and family man who tries to stay out of the spotlight but made one mistake when he attracted the attention of Det. Richie Roberts. When corruption in the police department rose to the top, it turned out that the drug dealer might not be the worst criminal of the bunch.
1 REMEMBER THE TITANS (7.8)
It should come as no surprise that the highest-rated movie of Denzel Washington’s career on a site such as IMDb would be one based in the world of inspirational sports stories. That is the cast with Remember the Titans, a high school football movie based in Virginia.
As with many of Washington’s best performances, this was based on a true-life story. This one was a successful high school football coach named Herman Boone, who set out to integrate his football team as an act of protest against the true to life racism that was prevalent in his part of the country during the ’70s .
NEXT: 10 Most Inspirational Sports Movies