The Evolution of Denzel Washington, From ‘Malcolm X’ to ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ (Photos)

Denzel Washington has enjoyed plenty of success in Hollywood

denzel washington

denzel washington

Three Oscars, three Golden Globes, a Tony and a lifetime of memorable performances. Denzel Washington has proven that he is one of the most iconic actors in Hollywood today. Let’s look back at his long career.

denzel washington kid


Here’s a picture of him as a kid that was used in a Boys & Girls Club of America ad, just to show you he was born with that steely-eyed gaze.

denzel washington St. Elsewhere


After getting started in Maryland and Off-Broadway theatre, Washington got his first major role on the ’80s hit medical TV show “St. Elsewhere” as Dr. Philip Chandler.

denzel washington cry freedom


In 1987, Washington earned his first Academy Award nomination playing South African activist Steve Biko in “Cry Freedom.”

Denzel Washington Glory


Two years later, Washington won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his work in “Glory.” Washington plays Silas Trip, a bitter runaway slave who joins the Union in the Civil War, but who doesn’t believe victory will bring him freedom.

mo better blues denzel washington

40 Acres and a Mule

In 1990, Washington worked with Spike Lee to make the film “Mo’ Better Blues.” Washington plays Bleek Gilliam, a jazz trumpeter whose life spirals out of control as he makes one bad decision after another.

denzel washington malcolm x

40 Acres and a Mule

Two years later, Washington reunited with Lee to make what is considered one of the defining works of both men’s careers: “Malcolm X.” Washington received his third Oscar nomination for his legendary performance as the legendary activist.

philadelphia denzel washington


In 1993, Washington starred alongside Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia” as Joe Miller, a personal injury lawyer hired by a gay man with AIDS to represent him in a wrongful termination lawsuit connected to his disease.

Crimson Tide Denzel Washington


In 1995, Washington began taking more high-octane roles, namely the lead in “Crimson Tide” alongside Gene Hackman. The two men play commanding officers on a submarine who engage in a bitter struggle for power while a rebellion in Russia threatens to re-start the Cold War.

Denzel Washington The Hurrican


One of Washington’s more polarizing films was the 1999 biopic “The Hurricane.” He plays Rubin Carter, a boxer who was convicted of triple murder and spent 20 years in prison before he was exonerated. The film earned Washington a Golden Globe, but also received criticism for taking liberties with the facts of the case.

Denzel Washington Remember the Titans


In 2000, Washington introduced himself to a new generation of moviegoers in the Disney film “Remember The Titans” as the coach of a recently desegregated high school football team.

training day cbs

Warner Bros. Pictures

The following year, Washington became the first African-American actor since Sidney Poitier to win a Best Actor Oscar when he played against type as the corrupt cop Alonzo Harris in “Training Day.”

antwone fisher denzel washington

20th Century Fox

2002 saw Washington make his directorial debut with “Antwone Fisher,” a story about a Navy sailor with a troubled past that he sorts through with the help of a kindly psychologist.

crimson tide denzel washington

Paramount Pictures

In the mid 2000s, Washington built on his “Crimson Tide” reputation and starred in a series of successful thrillers. Among these was a remake of the 1962 classic “The Manchurian Candidate.”

American Gangster

Universal Pictures

In 2007, Washington played against type again as infamous Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas in Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster.”

Paramount Pictures

In 2012, Washington earned his fourth Best Actor Oscar nomination and sixth nomination overall for his work in “Flight.” In the Robert Zemeckis film, he played an airline pilot who saves nearly everyone on board when he makes an emergency crash landing. Still, six people die in the crash, and the pilot’s new popularity is short-lived when it is discovered that he was flying while intoxicated.

magnificent seven denzel washington chris pratt


Fresh off receiving the Cecil B. Demille Award at the Golden Globes, Washington reunited with “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua to star in a new rendition of one of the greatest Westerns of all time, “The Magnificent Seven.” Washington played Sam Chisholm, a bounty hunter who rounds up a new Seven to protect a town from a vicious robber baron.


Paramount Pictures

He earned two more Oscar nominations starring in (and producing) a screen adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences,” a tale of a former Negro League pitcher who struggles to deal with his new life as a garbage man. Washington played the lead role in a Broadway revival in 2010, for which he won a Tony Award. He also directed the film.

roman j israel esq

Sony Pictures

To the surprise of many awards prognosticators, Washington earned Oscar nom No. 9 for his performance as a crusading attorney  in writer-director Dan Gilroy’s 2017 legal drama “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Equalizer 2


In July 2018, Washington returned to his thriller side with “Equalizer 2,” the sequel to a brutal action thriller he made in 2014 about a widowed man who embraces his past as a ruthless vigilante to help the helpless. This was Washington’s third film with Antoine Fuqua, who directed him in “Training Day.”

The Little Things

Warner Bros.

In the 2021 thriller “The Little Things,” Washington plays a small-town cop who teams up with an L.A. County sheriff’s detective (Rami Malek) to hunt down a serial killer.

the tragedy of macbeth

A24/Apple TV+

Washington worked for the first time with director Joel Coen in the Shakespeare adaptation “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” in which he played Macbeth opposite Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth.

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