6 Best Movies to Watch by Denzel Washington

Staff & contributors

There’s a vein of reality running through He Got Game that gives this Spike Lee joint a sense of pulsating immediacy. For one, the young basketball prodigy at its center is played by real-life pro Ray Allen, who shot the movie during the sport’s off-season period in 1997. The film also draws on a host of other ballers and ancillary figures — including coaches and commentators — to fully convince us of the hype around Jesus Shuttlesworth (Allen), a Coney Island high-schooler who’s been crowned America’s top college draft pick.

Lee takes this premise to much more interesting places than sports movies usually go. The plot is a melodrama of sorts, in which Jesus’ incarcerated father Jake (a top-tier Denzel Washington) must convince his son to declare for the governor’s alma mater in exchange for a reduced sentence. The pair are estranged — Jake is in prison for the death of Jesus’ mother — making this as much a tense examination of family and forgiveness as it is a sports movie. And what a sports movie it is: Lee makes his love of basketball not just abundantly clear but also infectious, opening the film on soaring, balletic images of the sport that suggest it’s no mere game, but something unifying, artistic, and ultimately salvatory.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Al Palagonia, Arthur J. Nascarella, Bill Nunn, Bill Walton, Charles Barkley, Chasey Lain, Denzel Washington, Dick Vitale, George Karl, Hill Harper, Jennifer Esposito, Jill Kelly, Jim Boeheim, Jim Brown, John Turturro, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Kim Director, Leonard Roberts, Lonette McKee, Michael Jordan, Milla Jovovich, Ned Beatty, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Rick Fox, Robin Roberts, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ron Cephas Jones, Rosario Dawson, Roy Williams, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Zelda Harris

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R

, 2016

There is a chance we will be known as the generation that perfected mixing the two mediums of movie and theater. Think Hateful 8, Horace & Pete, Wild Tales, and Fences! A movie not only packed with Broadway talent, it's also based on a Pulitzer-winning play by August Wilson. The play element is both strong and visible, the movie is dialogue packed, and takes place almost exclusively in the characters' house, not to mention most of the events happen within the span of a few days. The movie element comes through beautiful aesthetics and rich scenery, as well as some of Hollywood's best talent: Denzel Washington (who is also the director) and Viola Davis. They had both actually won Tony Awards for their performances reviving the play back in 2010. Denzel is a black garbage collector who was once a promising baseball player and a victim of racial discrimination. His psyche is as rich as it is determined and he is used to taking out his deep-rooted feelings of anger on his loved ones. His wife (Davis), his son, and his friends are the targets of this hurt and anger, but they also have a lot to deal with on their own. A beautiful if maybe slow play-movie. Do not watch it expecting "things to happen", but watch it to be mesmerized by the acting, the writing, and the underlying tensions it addresses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Christopher Mele, Denzel Washington, Joe Fishel, Jovan Adepo, Lesley Boone, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, Saniyya Sidney, Stephen Henderson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Viola Davis

Director: Denzel Washington

Rating: PG-13

Far from feeling like English literature homework, this version of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of errors fizzes with vitality and wit. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in his own sumptuous adaptation, which also features a banquet of dashing talent in their prime, including Emma Thompson and a winning Denzel Washington.

Even amongst the film’s superlative ensemble (which also features a melodramatically villainous Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton as a farcically inept policeman), Thompson stands out for her instinctive grasp of Shakespeare’s genius and easy ability to lift it off the page and give it sparkling life. As Beatrice, she deals out wry cut-downs of Branagh’s vain Benedick, all while trying to suppress the roiling romantic tension that nevertheless persists between them. It might not be set to the music of ABBA, but with Patrick Doyle’s radiant score, an intoxicatingly beautiful Tuscan setting, and an infectious, non-stop party vibe, the joyous Much Ado About Nothing feels more akin to Mamma Mia than any of cinema’s other Shakespeare adaptations.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Lowe, Andy Hockley, Ben Elton, Brian Blessed, Chris Barnes, Conrad Nelson, Denzel Washington, Edward Jewesbury, Emma Thompson, Gerard Horan, Imelda Staunton, Jimmy Yuill, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Patrick Doyle, Phyllida Law, Richard Briers, Richard Clifford, Robert Sean Leonard

Director: Kenneth Branagh

The story of Antwone Fisher as told by Denzel Washington (in his directorial debut) may be a bit too straightforward for its own good, but it only proves the strength of his eye and ear for performance. In addition to turning in his own understated yet authoritative performance, Washington gets a powerhouse turn out of Derek Luke, who allows every new revelation about Fisher to strengthen every aspect of his work. What the film gets right about talking about mental health (that other movies get so wrong) is that it knows that providing an explanation for why someone is the way they are shouldn't be a dramatic climax. What Antwone Fisher emphasizes is healing, community, and the dignity of the person working through these issues.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Charles Robinson, Cory Hodges, De'Angelo Wilson, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Earl Billings, Gary A. Jones, James Brolin, Joy Bryant, Kente Scott, Kevin Connolly, Kim Johnson, Leonard Earl Howze, Malcolm David Kelley, Novella Nelson, Rainoldo Gooding, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Stephen Snedden, Sung Kang, Vernee Watson-Johnson, Viola Davis, Yolonda Ross

Director: Denzel Washington

Joel Coen's minimalist vision of the Scottish play emphasizes that these monstrous acts of hubris and violence are carried out not because of madness or magical prophecy, but out of the rational yet selfish decisions made by grown adults. It's a distinctly character-focused interpretation of Shakespeare that should be insightful for students and fans alike, as Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand lend more sedate performances to what have become two of the grandest characters in theater history. The Tragedy of Macbeth weaken the impact of some of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies due to the film's more hurried runtime, but it makes for a great tribute nonetheless. Come for the stunningly lit black-and-white sets, stay for the gleefully creepy performance by Kathryn Hunter as the three witches.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, War

Actor: Alex Hassell, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Thompson, Corey Hawkins, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hutchison, Frances McDormand, Harry Melling, Jacob McCarthy, James Udom, Jefferson Mays, Kathryn Hunter, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Lucas Barker, Matt Helm, Max Baker, Miles Anderson, Moses Ingram, Nancy Daly, Olivia Washington, Peter Janov, Ralph Ineson, Richard Short, Robert Gilbert, Scott Subiono, Sean Patrick Thomas, Stephen Root, Susan James Berger, Wayne T. Carr

Director: Joel Coen

While at first it seems like this third installment in Antoine Fuqua's series of Denzel Washington star vehicles is setting itself up to be a more serious and thoughtful story of personal absolution, it gradually becomes clear that The Equalizer 3 has no story to tell. Very, very little happens in this movie, and all the time we spend with Washington (still somehow compelling, even when he's on autopilot) drinking tea and chatting with locals doesn't lead to any character relationships worth caring for. Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk seem to want to create a sense of familiarity with this Italian town, through which we should ideally see the things Robert McCall grows to value in his violent life. But even the prettiest landscapes (shot by Robert Richardson) can't make up for how empty and misjudged the writing is.

There are approximately two short action scenes in The Equalizer 3, neither of which has the clockwork precision of the fights in the first film, or the environmental inventiveness of the climax of the second film. And while an action movie can aspire to something beyond its action, the fact that this installment has abandoned it completely is a genuinely perplexing choice.

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Adolfo Margiotta, Agostino Chiummariello, Andrea Dodero, Andrea Scarduzio, Arcangelo Iannace, Beatrice Aiello, Bruno Bilotta, Dakota Fanning, Daniele Ornatelli, Daniele Perrone, Danilo Capuzi, David Denman, Dea Lanzaro, Denzel Washington, Diego Riace, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Gaia Scodellaro, Gianluigi Scilla, Giovanni Scotti, Lucia Zotti, Luigi Catani, Marco Giuliani, Mariarosaria Mingione, Marta Zoffoli, Mauro Cremonini, Melissa Leo, Niccolò Senni, Remo Girone, Salvatore Ruocco, Simona Distefano, Sonia Ammar, Valerio Da Silva, Zakaria Hamza

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rating: R