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Looking at the top 15 of Denzel’s career

Greg W. Locke

Greg W. Locke

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 3, 2021

This past weekend saw the release of a new Denzel Washington film called The Little Things. Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie, The Founder, Saving Mr. Banks), the script was initially set to be directed by Steven Spielberg in the early ’90s, but ultimately sat on a shelf unproduced for over 20 years.

Perhaps more than any film since the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet several months ago, audiences have been looking forward to The Little Things as something of a sure-thing throwback crime thriller about a sheriff (Washington), a detective (Rami Malik), and a serial killer (a zany, eccentric Jared Leto). 

Released on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day, the film had the attention of the American film world and, ultimately, was written off as a major failure before the end of its first weekend of release. The film didn’t bring people to the theaters and HBO Max didn’t see a notable spike in subscribers.

Right now the film holds a Metacritic score of 54/100, with A.O. Scott calling the movie “watchable.” And here’s the thing about that: pretty much every Denzel Washington film is watchable. 

And so this week, rather than talking about the upcoming Oscars or Golden Globes, we’re going to look at one of the most talked about, most celebrated and most loved American actors of all-time: Denzel Washington.

Washington is, without question, a very good actor. He’s won two Oscars and countless other stage and screen awards. You can cast him as a lead in a film and know that you’re going to get the full attention of the press, which is invaluable in the movie industry. You can drop him into a drama, a thriller, an action film, a period piece, a war film, or a play, and he’ll seem at home.

That being said, I would never put Washington on the level of contemporary method chameleons like Meryl Streep, David Thewlis, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Javier Bardem, Christian Bale, or the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. These actors approach(ed) nearly every role they’ve taken as an opportunity to build a character from scratch. Meanwhile, Denzel is always 80 percent Denzel, and leans on his charisma and intelligence to carry a performance.

Looking over Washington’s IMDb page, it’s hard not to be in awe of his filmography. He could retire right now and easily be considered the most notable black male actor in history. The son of a minister, Washington’s career has stuttered quite a bit over the past decade, as he’s become outwardly more puritanical in his views of the industry and thus his choice of projects. For the most part, these days Washington typically picks more wholesome or classical projects, his next film being Joel Coen’s solo directorial debut, Macbeth.

As he enters the final 15 or 20 years of his career, the 66-year-old actor’s choices of projects should be interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if he slows down his output and maybe takes the time to do more stage and perhaps even direct more films himself. No matter what he does, I’m certain that he could never make another film and still remain a household name for several future generations.

Because this is ScreenTime, we’re going to offer up a Best of Denzel list in order to illustrate the greatness of Washington’s career. 

And here’s the thing about that: a lot of Washington’s movies aren’t that great. The man hasn’t been in nearly as many classics as someone like Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep, but he’s always, in everything he’s in, so extremely watchable. Now onward to the list:

1. Malcolm X (dir. Spike Lee)

2. He Got Game (dir. Spike Lee)

3. Philadelphia (dir. Jonathan Demme)

4. Inside Man (dir. Spike Lee)

5. Training Day (dir. Antoine Fuqua)

6. Unstoppable (dir. Tony Scott)

7. Crimson Tide (dir. Tony Scott)

8. The Hurricane (dir. Normal Jewison)

9. Flight (dir. Robert Zemeckis)

10. American Gangster (dir. Ridley Scott)

11. Mo’ Better Blues (dir. Spike Lee)

12. Fences (dir. Denzel Washington)

13. Courage Under Fire (dir. Edward Zwick)

14. Remember the Titans (dir. Boaz Yakin)

15. The Siege (dir. Edward Zwick)

Notice that, as usual with ScreenTime lists, the best films are almost always made by directors of note. Also notice that The Little Things didn’t make the cut. 

That being said, if you’re considering watching The Little Things, I say do it. Sure, the reviews are bad and the word of mouth ain’t great, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable watch that very much harkens back to the gloomy crime thrillers of the 1990s and early 2000s that so many of us enjoyed. Just maybe lower your expectations a little.


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