The Evolution of Denzel Washington, From 'Malcolm X' to 'The Little Things' (Photos)

Denzel Washington has enjoyed plenty of success in Hollywood


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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 got his third Oscar nomination for his legendary performance as the legendary activist.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.”

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

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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 is Washington’s third film with Antoine Fuqua, who directed him in “Training Day.”

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.
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