Denzel Washington is still believable in action film roles. Washington wields weapons as well as any star, and films like Ricochet and Crimson Tide early on displayed a charismatic but hard edged persona that would eventually meld perfectly with the action genre.
Denzel has shown his gruff, intimidating style in films like The Siege, John Q, and Deja Vu, but it’s these five performances that put Washington on a pedestal as an action icon.
5.) The Book of Eli
While the film is not exactly Denzel’s best, his character Eli, is a monster of a foe, chopping, slicing and stabbing his way through a dystopian wasteland of morally reprehensible evil-doers. Eli quotes and carries a book that contains a message of wholesomeness, and when Gary Oldman’s antagonist seeks to take the book from him, Eli uses his lethal skills to eviscerate every enemy standing in his path.
The revelation about Eli — in the film’s last act — only furthers the notion that he’s the most dangerous post-apocalyptic man.
In one of Russell Crowe’s first starring roles, Denzel plays a former police officer turned convict who is a guinea pig for a virtual reality program meant to train law enforcers. Crowe is the ultimate virtual killer — composed from the profiles of America’s most notorious serial murderers — and Denzel is one of the only subjects that can push the virtual program to the limit.
When Crowe’s SID program becomes manifested in the real world, Denzel is called upon to take on the sentient being. Like Eli, Virtuosity is not a great film, but it perfectly displays Washington’s knack for playing a badass.
3.) Man on Fire
When it comes to revenge, the last person you want clipping your finger tips is Denzel. When a child he’s protecting is kidnapped, Washington’s Creasy blazes a warpath in order to get the little girl back to her mother. Creasy tortures, shoots, and shoves bombs up bad guys’ rectums in order to find the little girl who warmed his heart and helped him put down the booze that was hindering him for a good portion of his life.
Man on Fire is a remake of the 1987 film of the same name, but Tony Scott’s multi-camera style mixed with Washington’s indomitable magnetism make for an unforgettable revenge fantasy.
2.) American Gangster
Denzel plays Frank Lucas, the real-life heroin kingpin who flooded New York with his “Blue Magic” brand during the 70s. If you need an example of how ruthless Lucas could be, no scene could be clearer than when he shoots a rival (Idris Elba) in broad daylight for not paying him his due. Denzel was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the smooth but nefarious Lucas.
1.) Training Day
Even though he’s a police officer, Denzel is at his baddest in his Oscar-winning role as Detective Alonzo Harris. Harris fools his partner (Ethan Hawke) into smoking PCP, kills a former associate for his stash of money, sets up said partner to be murdered by a gang, then revels in his villainy by proclaiming that “King Kong ain’t got sh*t on me!”