MCM: Denzel Washington


Denzel Washington is arguably one of the most famous American actors of the last 40 years, with a career that spans period Shakespearean films to gritty modern cop flicks, and everything in between. He’s in pre-production right now on Macbeth, co-starring Frances McDormand, and slated for a 2021 release, so I’m keeping a close eye on developments. Hopefully it will be a period film, so we can review it!


Wilma (1979)

Denzel Washington’s first major film role was in this biopic about Olympic track-and-field phenom Wilma Rudolph.


A Soldier’s Story (1984)

A film about a Black military lawyer sent to investigate the murder of a Black soldier in Louisiana at the end of World War II.


Glory (1989)

A film about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of first all-Black army regiments during the Civil War, Denzel Washington would receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Private Silas Trip.


Malcolm X (1992)

Malcolm X (1992)

Denzel Washington would garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Malcolm X, in the critically acclaimed film directed by Spike Lee.


Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Denzel Washington plays Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon and half-brother to Keanu Reeves’ Don John.


Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

A noir film set in 1948, Denzel Washington plays Easy Rawlins, who becomes a private investigator after being laid off from his aircraft manufacturing job.


The Hurricane (1999)

A biopic about Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, a boxing champ who was wrongly convicted of murder and imprisoned for 20 years. The film spans the years 1966 to 1985.


American Gangster (2007)

Set in 1968, Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas in this fictionalized account of Lucas’ life as a heroin smuggler during the height of the Vietnam War, and the feds tasked with taking his criminal enterprise down.


The Great Debaters (2007)

Set in the 1930s at a historically Black college, Wiley College, Denzel Washington plays debate team coach Melvin B. Tolson, who is determined to defy the odds set against his team in the Jim Crow era South.


The Magnificent Seven (2016)

A remake of the 1960 film of the same name (which is in turn based on the 1954 Kurosawa film, The Seven Samurai), Denzel Washington is U.S. Marshall Sam Chisholm, leader of the Seven.


Fences (2016)

Denzel Washington received the Best Actor Oscar for his role in this film, opposite Viola Davis, as a married couple navigating their often messy, imperfect lives together in 1950s Pittsburgh.


What’s your favorite Denzel Washington historical film? Share it with us in the comments!

22 Responses

  1. LadySlippers

    Sorry, I’m fanning my face with that yummy pic of Denzel and Keanu. I’ll answer you later…. lol

  2. Shashwat

    I loved him in Malcolm X and Fences.Surprisingly he doesn’t give off a conventional “Shakespearean actor” vibe but does amazing in gritty modern dramas,where I know him from.
    Waiting to see him in Macbeth(one of the few Shakespearean plays I can enjoy and suspend my disbelief over far-fetched plotlines.Well,that and Baconlet and the Henry stuff).

  3. Luanna

    EXCELLENT choice for MCM! He’s so handsome, a great actor, and has done a lot of great historical roles.

  4. Katie O.

    I think it falls just outside the purview of the blog, but my favorite is Remember the Titans. It’s actually one of my favorite movies in general. That and Much Ado About Nothing. I think he does an excellent job with Shakespeare’s language. I can’t wait to see him in Macbeth!

  5. Nzie

    Ah, this reminds me–I really wanted to see Fences but I think it came out around the holidays and wasn’t showing near me by the time I could get to it. I read another August Wilson play in college and found it really moving… can’t believe I lost track of this one, especially starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, both of whom I find very compelling as actors. I’ll have to fix this! I think I saw some of Malcolm X but it was ages ago. He was great in Glory. Curious about MacBeth (I may have been alone in this but I didn’t love the one with Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender).

    • Al Don

      “(I may have been alone in this but I didn’t love the one with Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender)”

      Far from it. I thought it had good cinematography, but the acting, in an effort to be grounded I guess, was completely devoid of subtext. The entire movie was spoken as if in a daze. There were also a few odd adaptation choices. It does suffer in comparison to the versions delivered by the masterful Polanski, Welles, and Kurosawa.

  6. Margaret

    What about “Remember the Titans”? Do the ’70s not count as “frock-y” enought?

  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    It’s so tough to answer your question because so many of these films are just soooo good. In my mind, Malcolm X is Denzel at his sexiest and Much Ado About Nothing is Denzel at his most beautiful. Those films are tied for favorites in different ways. The Hurricane is very good, too, plus you get to drool over Liev Schrieber. I never heard of Wilma, and I had no idea about Macbeth. I’m definitely going to keep a look out for that one. I think I read that Denzel has a production deal with HBO (?) to produce all of August Wilson’s plays. I hope he does so. Jitney is my favorite August Wilson play, and I think it would be great if it were widened in scope into a movie. A GREAT Man Candy Monday choice.

    P.S. I’m also fanning myself over that pic of Denzel and Keanu. Kenneth Branagh had all the right sun-kissed elements for Much Ado… Sigh… I’ve longed too see Denzel do more Shakespeare ever since then. I haven’t seen the Fassbender-Cotillard version, but I had I hopes for it…

    • Misty

      Wow! Ok, I was going to say he is an awesome actor in everything he puts his hands on, but Wow! That was a beautiful way to put it: ‘Malcolm X is Denzel at his sexiest and Much Ado About Nothing is Denzel at his most beautiful’

  8. Cedric A

    Devil in a Blue Dress is easily my favorite Denzel films. He was just a regular cat just trying to get by in that flick. Plus one of the best cinematic shots I’ve ever seen when he and Don Cheadle stand over Tom Sizemore as his character takes his last breaths.

    • Heather Ripley

      Agree @Cedric A, he was best (and most sexy) in Devil in a Blue Dress. Great tension in that film.
      Though not a FF, I also really enjoyed D.W. as Detective Frazier in “The Inside Man”, also with Clive Owen. A fascinating thriller with an ending I that really surprised me, and talk about Man Candy!!

  9. Lady Herminia De Pagan

    I know it’s outside your period, but his portrayal of Steven Biko in Cry Freedom was a conscious raising movie for me. Before watching the movie in 8th grade I didn’t understand how insidious evil could be.

  10. M.E. Lawrence

    I’m fond of “Glory,” because D.W. plays the stereotypical fiery-young-rebel role with such conviction and skill.

    • Lady Hermina de Pagan

      The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic speculative fiction and the rest of his body of work is considered contemporary fiction and does not qualify for a frock flick.


    I love all of Denzel’s films that I have seen…but I am picking Fences, because 1) I saw him and Viola Davis in their Tony-winning roles in the stage version on Broadway, and 2) I live in Pittsburgh about 2 miles from August Wilson’s “The Hill” where it was filmed…I’ve been there many times and aside from the time change, that’s what it’s still like.

  12. backwardschic

    Love this list!! Just one small thing — Denzel didn’t win the Oscar for Fences, he lost to Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. Viola Davis did win for Supporting, though!

  13. Roxana.

    I was startled by Denzel’s Don Pedro way back when I first saw Much Ado. But once I realized I was supposed to ignore skin color and just accept him ad Don Pedro I was fine with it. Better than fine actually, he was great in the role. One was moderately surprised Beatrice turned him down! I was so much into his wise prince portrayal that I was disappointed in him for falling for his brother’s trickery.