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Denzel Washington’s 10 Best Performances

10. Detective Keith Frazier

10. Detective Keith Frazier

Inside Man (2006)

Washington uses his wit and charm to play a hostage negotiator with the NYPD. Through the power of his speeches and the subtlety of his physical movements, Washington makes a memorable impression every time he is on screen. 

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9. Frank Lucas

9. Frank Lucas

American Gangster (2007)

As an infamous crime lord and drug smuggler, Washington reminds us how charismatic he can be, even when playing the villain. His intense emotion may have even overshadowed the hero in this film. 

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8. Captain William "Whip" Whitaker

8. Captain William "Whip" Whitaker

Flight (2012)

This movie earned Washington an Academy Award nomination for his role as a commercial pilot with a substance abuse problem who must overcome his personal failings to save the lives of those onboard his aircraft. This movie makes Washington's ability to play conflicted characters undeniable. 

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7. Detective Alonzo Harris

7. Detective Alonzo Harris

Training Day (2001)

Training Day is arguably Washington's most quotable movie. Harris, a crooked cop who doesn’t take grief from anyone, is not an easy character to capture. However, Washington is able to give such a demanding performance that we have a hard time imagining anyone else playing this role. 

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6. Lt. Commander Ron Hunter

6. Lt. Commander Ron Hunter

Crimson Tide (1995)

Hunter is a military officer who struggles with pulling the trigger on nuclear weapons. Through the analysis of his situation, the film asks important questions about how far people should go in war. Here, Washington proves he is able to hold his own against veteran actor, Gene Hackman.

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5. Joe Miller

5. Joe Miller

Philadelphia (1993)

Philadelphia portrays Washington as a lawyer who takes on the case of a homosexual man who contracts AIDS and is fired because of his personal life. Through the eyes of Joe Miller, the film is able to comment on how society treats those who don’t fit the norm.

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4. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

4. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

The Hurricane (1999)

As a heavyweight boxer and prison inmate, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter may be Washington’s most transformative role. He is constantly beaten down, but never gives up hope. It is this spirit of victory that draws viewers to form an empathetic bond with the character.

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3. Coach Herman Boone

3. Coach Herman Boone

Remember the Titans (2000)

In the heat of desegregating schools, Washington plays a football coach who must unite a group of boys constantly at each other’s throats, all while the citizens of the town hope for his failure. This role gave Washington an opportunity to display his ability to deliver those inspirational speeches that we all know and love.

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2. Malcolm X

2. Malcolm X

Malcolm X (1991)

Tackling the persona of a historical figure is always daunting, especially when it is that of an iconic civil rights activist. Malcolm X gave Washington an opportunity to demonstrate his ability to be commanding, motivational, and unequivocally human.  

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1. Private Silas Trip

1. Private Silas Trip

Glory (1989)

Even if you haven’t seen this movie, you are sure to have seen the shot of Washington with a single tear running down his face. It's no surprise that this role won Washington his first Academy Award and cemented him as a powerful force in the film industry.

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