We all have our definitions for what makes something badass, but I think all bros can agree that Denzel Washington epitomizes what it is to be an alpha male who is always in charge and never takes orders from anyone other than himself.
What makes Denzel’s career so impressive is that no matter what the role is — football coach, detective, human rights activist, drug kingpin, bodyguard, prisoner, boxer, pilot, he brings the same amount of swagger to each character and it radiates off the screen from the opening frame. In fact, he’s bringing that signature swagger back in The Equalizer (directed by Antoine Fuqua), Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless. For Washington’s sake, let’s hope history repeats itself, because the last time he and Antoine Fuqua in a movie, he walked away with an Oscar.
While the audience knows right away that this isn’t somebody you want to fuck with, it takes the surrounding characters more time to learn that invaluable lesson. As a result, there’s always somebody looking to challenge him at the top of the food chain and there’s always somebody getting owned.
Denzel wouldn’t have it any other way.
As the infamous Alonzo Harris (Washington’s most notorious role to date) says: “to protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” Sadly for the rest of Hollywood, there just isn’t another wolf quite like Denzel around.
He’s an impenetrable force with enough bravado to take on an entire army of drug dealing mercenaries — Mexican, Russian, or Thai; it doesn’t make a difference, while maintaining enough charisma to have you cheering him on even when he’s the bad guy.
No other actor can command our respect and our fear, simultaneously, like Washington does. And he always makes it look so damn easy.
Here are 10 badass moments from his illustrious career:
1. King Kong speech: Training Day
Creating this list is not as enjoyable as one might think because there are easily 10 scenes from Training Day that can qualify as badass (don’t worry, there will be an honorable mention section at the end). Nonetheless, this is the scene that really defines the Alonzo Harris character and that eventually helped Washington win the Academy Award that year.
When he barks, “I’m the police, I run shit here. You just live here!” you really get a sense of his contempt not only for his fellow man, but also for the world in general. He believes he’s a deity — untouchable and unbeatable (in his words, “you can shoot me, but you can’t kill me”).
Despite his inevitable death at the hands of the Russian mob in the very next scene (another classic Denzel moment), he’s the opposite of vulnerable here. He’s still commands that respect and fear — yelling and laughing uncontrollably, like a crazed wolf — like he has the entire film, even though deep down he knows this is the end.
2. Somebody or Nobody – American Gangster
Take that, Idris Elba!
Man, this scene never gets old no matter how many times you watch it. Frank Lucas (Washington) is having a routine family breakfast, describing to his men what makes a good businessman — “honest, integrity, hard work, family — never forgetting where we came from,” when he decides to collect from a local gangster who owes him money.
When the man gives him even the slightest amount of back talk, Frank doesn’t even hesitate to pull out his gun and point it right at his head. The thug scoffs — obviously, not knowing the type of dude he’s crossed — and a second later, he’s got a bullet in his head.
As always, the lesson here is don’t mess with Denzel.
3. Lala’s Boyfriend Gets Knocked Out – He Got Game
I wouldn’t be doing my job correctly if I didn’t include this scene on this list, as it’s undoubtedly my favorite Denzel moment of all time. I’ve always wondered, did Spike Lee actually write the throat chop into the script or was it all improvised? Either way, it doesn’t get better than that classic Denzel stare down at the 1:42 mark. Pure gold.
Of course, the scene’s greatness is elevated by the fact that Denzel is playing Jake Shuttlesworth, the father of a basketball protégée, Jesus, and he’s on one week’s parole from the state penitentiary. Can’t think that the warden would be too happy when he hears about this little skirmish — the opposite of ideal prisoner behavior.
4. What Makes A Narcotics Officer – Training Day
“To be truly effective, a good narcotics agent must know and love narcotics.”
It was impossible to not return back to Training Day before heading towards the back nine of this top 10 list.
In this pivotal scene, Alonzo puts the strangle hold on Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) by stopping the car in the middle of a Los Angeles intersection, pulling his gun on him, and demanding that he smokes some weed they just confiscated from Snoop Dogg. Jake is completely helpless because he wants to be moved into Alonzo’s narcotics division and he will do anything — like smoke PCP — to prove himself worth of that distinct opportunity.
Alonzo spends a lot of the film preaching to Jake about what it takes to be a narcotics detective — and what it takes to be a man, but there’s no greater dialogue between the two than this one. It’s an absolute staple in the most classic Denzel scenes of all time.
5. “THIS IS NO DEMOCRACY, ITS A DICTATORSHIP, I AM THE LAW!!!!” – Remember the Titans
Sometimes a man’s power can be measured solely by the facial expression of those who surround him. The way that the faces drop in this scene, from elated to puzzled to scared, really says everything you need to know about coach Herman Boone.
Sure, there are some better scenes from Remember the Titans (the Gettysburg speech and the Who’s Your Daddy bit, come to mind), but this is the most quintessential Denzel moment of the film. Although coach Boone couldn’t be more morally separated from Alonzo Harris, you can see that same “I’m in charge, motherfucker” sparkle in his eye. Speaking of being in charge of a situation…
6. The Free Slave – Glory
If you haven’t seen Glory yet, please do yourself the favor and donate three hours of your weekend to screening it.
This scene absolutely earned Denzel his first Oscar back in 1989 (notice: the tear that rolls down his eye) and set him on the path to become a leading actor in Hollywood. He takes General Robert Gould Shaw’s brutality without breaking his facial expression and ultimately triumphs over it, but the episode leaves a scar that remains long after the whip is put down and reminds Private Trip of a painful truth — he’s still a slave even if he’s fighting to get rid of slavery.
7. Malcom X Plays Russian Roulette – Malcolm X
Another oldie, but a goodie. Similar to Training Day and Remember the Titans, I think this list could be comprised strictly of clips from just Malcolm X — Denzel is that much of a BA in it, embodying the violent black nationalist leader. In this scene, Malcolm X and one of his early associates try to determine who was in charge — you can guess how it ends, but I recommend you watch the four-minute clip.
The telling line here is, “don’t you ever cross somebody who isn’t afraid to die.” After Denzel gets the opposition to succumb to his power, he lets off that classic smile at the 4:05. It’s almost bright enough to make you forget that he was just playing Russian roulette seconds earlier.
8. Robert McCall – The Equalizer
We haven’t seen The Equalizer yet — it’s release date is Sept 26, 2014 — but based on the trailer it looks like it could be one for the ages.
If you think we missed any of Denzel’s bad ass movie moments, tell us using #TheEqualizer