This feature originally ran in September 2014. We’re reposting it in celebration of Denzel Washington’s 67th birthday today (December 28th).
Top Performances is a recurring feature in which we definitively handpick the very best performances from an iconic actor or actress.
Six-time Academy Award nominee and two-time winner. Can play it over-the-top, but knows when he needs to play it cool, to play down. One of the more gracious actors you’ll ever see on the big screen. I’m talking, of course, about Denzel Washington, and through careful consideration, we’ve gone through his filmography to select his 10 finest performances (Keep in mind these rankings are based on Washington’s performances, not the movies in which he performed.)
Below are Washington’s 10 best roles.
— Justin Gerber
10. The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)
Washington is no stranger to Shakespeare, on screen or on the stage, including Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado About Nothing and roles in theater productions of Coriolanus, The Tragedy of Richard III, and Julius Caesar. It’s that experience, plus decades of being an absolute king of cinema, that makes him so captivating to watch in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Joel Coen’s film at times feels overwhelmed by style over substance, but there are moments when Washington seems to truly relish the dark turns of the play, where MacBeth’s innate frustrated ambition cannot be contained, and in those moments he proves himself as one of our greatest actors. It’s a commanding performance, and Washington’s mastery of the language makes the drama feel as alive and relevant as if it were written last week.
Choice Denzel Line:
“Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell — that summons thee to Heaven, or to Hell.” — Liz Shannon Miller