Next weekend in The Equalizer, Denzel Washington takes his latest swing at the retired-badass-seeks-vengeance role we’ve seen offered several times over the last decade (here‘s an example). But if anyone can make this tired storyline feel new again, it’s Denzel. He’s been kicking ass and taking names for decades, and it doesn’t look like he’s throwing in the towel any time soon. In honor of this, let’s take a look at 8 of Denzel Washington’s most badass movie roles.
8. Tobin Frost: Safe House
In his most recent trip down bad guy lane, Washington plays Tobin Frost, a treasonous ex CIA operative being guarded by the local safe house keeper, played by Ryan Reynolds. Denzel can make salt and pepper hair look more badass than anyone. Combine that with his reputation and his eerily calm demeanor and you get the best kind of combination of scary and cool. Although this high action thriller is mediocre at best, Denzel elevates it with a performance in a way only he can.
Most Badass Moment: When the safe house is invaded, Tobin Frost sits in his chair, unperturbed, giving a panicked Matt Weston a pep talk. Watch it here.
7. Coach Herman Boone: Remember the Titans
Herman Boone is appointed the head coach of the football team in the newly desegregated T. C. Williams High School. He’s fighting for students, parents, and professionals who don’t want him to succeed, but he pushes ahead to do what he thinks is best for both his real family and his football family. If you ask me, there’s nothing more badass than a guy who’s trying to teach his family morals and his players to respect one another as human beings. Washington brings intensity and heart to one of my generation’s most beloved football films.
Most Badass Moment: Coach Boone takes the team on a field trip on foot to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. Watch him deliver one of his most restrained, yet compelling motivational speeches here.
6. Eli: The Book of Eli
In a post apocalyptic world, a man is determined to do whatever it takes to protect one of the last remaining copies of the Holy Bible from falling into the wrong hands. Washington takes no prisoners as Eli, a lone ranger with superb fighting skills and little desire to make friends along the way. He doesn’t want any trouble, and he sure as hell doesn’t want to be bothered, but anyone who gets in his way is in for some serious ass kicking.
Most Badass Moment: Eli takes on a bar full of bikers without batting an eye. Watch it here.
5. John Creasy: Man on Fire
John Creasy is a burdened, alcoholic former CIA officer who is hired to be the bodyguard for daughter of a wealthy businessman. Washington lends his typical hardened, no muss no fuss personality to the role, but softens a bit in his interactions with Pita (Dakota Fanning). When she’s kidnapped he snaps, going on a vengeful murder spree in order to track down those responsible for taking Pita. That scene where he severs a guy’s fingers one by one to get information? Cringeworthy to say the least.
Most Badass Moment: In a film filled with torture and revenge, the moments he adjusts his tough-as-nails attitude to help Pita train for swimming are genuinely badass. The gunshot holds no fear. Watch it here.
4. Private Silas Trip: Glory
Denzel Washington won his first Oscar early in his career for Best Supporting Actor as Private Silas Trip in Glory. Trip is one of the former slaves that joins the first all African American unit in the Union Army during the Civil War. Washington really put himself on the map as a rising star with his gripping, emotional, and scene stealing performance. The honesty and vulnerability he brought to this proud, stubborn character made him stand out among a cast of heavy hitters.
Most Badass Moment: Trip takes a flogging in front of the entire unit. Watch as the camera closes in on his face rather than his back during this brutal scene and try not to shed a tear by the time one slides down Trip’s cheek. See it here.
3. Malcolm X: Malcolm X
Many Denzel fans insist several of his performances deserved an Oscar win for Best Actor long before he finally snagged one for Training Day in 2001. His portrayal of activist Malcolm X is one of those performances. Washington walks us every step up the way through the pivotal moments of Malcolm X’s life, from his days as a petty criminal with some swagger in a zoot suit to his ultimate assassination, becoming a complete embodiment of this historical figure. And what’s more badass than someone who stands up for his beliefs and inspires others?
Most Badass Moment: Malcolm X gives his fair share of riveting speeches, but one of my favorite scenes is when takes the prison chaplain to church over the color of Jesus’s skin. Watch it here.
2. Frank Lucas: American Gangster
American Gangster follows the rise and fall of limo driver turned power gangster and drug lord Frank Lucas. Washington slips into the role of this powerful albeit family oriented villain like you would your comfiest pair of shoes. He’s the portrait of calm as he balances taking care of his mother, teaching his family about honesty and integrity, and supplying the people with the most affordable, potent herion around. Don’t be deceived by his strict moral code and restrained demeanor, he’s as ruthless as they come. Most Badass Moment: Lucas casually walks out of a family meal to confront a business associate about some money he’s owed and proceeds to perform a public execution without blinking an eye. Watch it here.
1. Detective Alonzo Harris: Training Day
In 2001 Washington shifted gears to take on his first villainous role as Detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day. Washington plays the unsympathetic, crooked narcotics cop with ruthless authority, commanding the screen with his no nonsense demeanor and take no prisoners attitude. This role earned him a long overdue Academy Award for Best Actor that year, which cemented both Denzel Washington and Detective Harris as forces to be reckoned with. I don’t know about you, but I never realized how truly badass Washington could be until this movie. That glint in his eye scares the hell out of me.
Most Badass Moment: When things begin crashing down around Detective Harris, watch him completely lose his cool and drop the famous King Kong line here.
So do you agree with the moments of sheer undeniable badass-ness listed above? Disagree? Hit the comments section and tell us your thoughts.