Denzel Washington: 7 Iconic Roles The Award-Winning Actor Has Played

BY Dora Abena Dzaka November 1, 2023 4:31 PM EDT
Photo Credit: File:Denzel Washington (29479254650).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The iconic roles played by Denzel Washington have over the years shown that he is immensely versatile, charismatic, and intense making him fit so well in character.

Denzel Washington, a native of New York, has shown himself to be a multi-talented artist throughout his career which began with Broadway plays before transitioning to television.

For decades, the Man On Fire star has been portrayed by film critics as one of Hollywood’s most natural and reliable actors, always delving deeply into the minds and emotions of the characters he plays.

Washington barely seems to break a sweat, but few other great movie stars can swing from wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Book of Eli to a 1940s gumshoe in Devil in a Blue Dress to a real-life Harlem crime boss in American Gangster. Let’s start by looking at Denzel Washington’s seven most iconic roles.

Frank Lucas – American Gangster (2007)

Ridley Scott’s crime drama features a head-to-head match between Washington and Russell Crowe. He assumed a new role in real life as a sincere limo driver who later became a drug dealer. We are completely astounded by his bravery in disclosing the identities of the corrupt police officers in New York.

John Quincy Archibald – John Q (2002)

The audience is divided between humanity and law enforcement by Washington as a helpless father, who chooses to take a hospital full of patients hostage in order for the authorities to permit his sick son to receive a heart transplant. The film turned into an unexpected box-office hit and a career booster for Washington.

Malcolm X – “Malcolm X” (1992)

In the film directed by Spike Lee, Washington plays a controversial African-American Muslim human rights activist who, prior to his assassination in 1965, was accused of preaching black supremacist views.

Joe Miller – “Philadelphia” (1993)

While all eyes were on Tom Hanks’s character, gay lawyer Andrew Beckett, who got AIDS, Washington, in the role of a homophobic small-time lawyer, was able to capitalize on the audience’s ignorance and acceptance of the terminal illness.

Steve Biko – “Cry Freedom” (1987)

In the British drama film, Washington plays a black activist from South Africa. He works alongside Kevin Kline, who was beaten to death while in police custody after speaking out against apartheid at a gathering. Washington was nominated for his first Oscar for this supporting role.

Rubin Carter – “Hurricane” (1999)

Washington’s performance in Norman Jewison’s biographical film is particularly noteworthy, not for his prowess in the ring but rather for his poignant portrayal of a driven boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder and was eventually released from prison after serving two decades. In 1999, “Hurricane” brought him the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama.

Dudley – “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996)

A delightful treat for the romance genre, an angel appears on Earth in the form of a handsome black man and transforms the life of Reverend Henry Biggs’s family. The angel also has a bittersweet romance with his wife, Julia, played by the late Whitney Houston. Before Whitney Houston agreed to play Julia Biggs, Washington persuaded her for a full year.

Detective Alonzo Harris – “Training Day” (2001)

Washington and his fellow African-American actors will always remember March 25, 2001, as the star won his first-ever Academy Award for Best Actor at the Oscars for his exceptional, faultless, and breathtaking portrayal of a villain. The moment he speaks in the movie, the audience is impressed by his crazy-dog behavior as a drug police officer.