The Denzel Genre

There is an unwritten movie-going rule that you inherently cannot go wrong with a Denzel Washington movie.

The Denzel Genre

The film’s plot, or lack there of, is inconsequential, because the next two hours is sure to be packed with intensity, tenacious gum chewing, some yelling, and a healthy amount of proud black-man stares. Denzel Washington never fails in making a compelling film, and somehow he can make virtually any subject matter inspirational.

After the credits roll on a Denzel film you’ll be thinking “Goddamm I wanna join a debate team,” or “Goddamm I wanna be a submarine capitan,” or “Goddamm I wanna be a crooked cop.” No matter what you’re walking out of that theater saying, “Goddamm I’m proud to be alive.”

Mr. Washington is unanimously considered one of the top 5 actors of his generation. He was won two Academy Awards for his iconic performances in “Glory” and “Training Day.” In fact behind Sidney Poitier, he’s generally considered the best African-American dramatic actor of all-time.

But have you ever noticed there is something all too familiar about Denzel’s films? Maybe it has to do with the fact that Washington, an A-list actor of immense talent and prestige, started being typecast 30 years ago — as himself.

In the 39 motion pictures that Denzel Washington has starred in, he has played a cop, government agent, or military figure in a remarkable 20 of them. So in more than half of Denzel’s films he’s playing some version of a previous character from an earlier film.

This had led me to the conclusion that Denzel Washington deserves his very own movie genre. When browsing the Netflix categories it should read: Westerns, Quirky Romantic Comedies, Denzel, Martial Arts Films, Dolph Lundgren, and Dramas.

What makes Denzel so unique is the fact that actors of his stature are normally very careful about being typecast, and their poor choices and paycheck decisions are publicly criticized by the media and popcorn-eating general public. But not Denzel. He could announce a “Deja Vu” sequel tomorrow and garner praise. Which can only mean we are either afraid of him, or he’s truly infallible.

As anyone with a television already knows, Denzel has a new movie coming out, “Unstoppable.”It’s his fifth film under the direction of Tony Scott. The plot revolves around rugged train conductors, Denzel and young-gun Chris Pine, stopping a runaway train full of toxic chemicals from blowing up a city full of women, children and puppies.

Sound familiar? That’s because Denzel was in a train film last year as well, saving women and children from the evil terrorist John Travolta, in “Taking Pelhem 1, 2, 3,” directed by none other than train enthusiast Tony Scott.

But as much as I want to dismiss “Unstoppable” as just another Denzel flick, I have to submit to the fact that the Denzel genre is incredibly entertaining, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with “just another Denzel flick.”

In anticipation of Washington’s new film, here is a short guide to some of the films that made the Denzel Genre possible.


Unstoppable & Taking Pelham 1, 2, 3

When Denzel finds something he likes, he sticks to it. There is nothing wrong with having soup in a sourdough bread bowl everyday for lunch, but doing a similar Tony Scott film in back to back years might draw some criticism. But to hell with the people that don’t want to see him in back-to-back train movies. In one he’s a freight train conductor and the other he’s a subway switchboard operator. Completely different.

Out of Time, Man on Fire
Now we got Denzel as a cop and Denzel as a bodyguard. We got Denzel as a former CIA assassin turned body guard for diplomatic children and Denzel as a police chief who wears Hawaiian shirts being conned in an adulterous affair gone bad? Um, both films are set in warm weather! Ok, maybe the plots are completely different, but Denzel has and uses a gun in both and I can’t really tell the difference between the two.


Remember the Titans
If you didn’t already know, Denzel is pretty damn proud of his heritage, as he well should be. In many most of his films there are undertones of poor race relations, especially in period pieces. “Remember the Titans” is all about race and a little football, but mostly pride, yelling, and intense open-mouth gum chewing.

Malcolm X
When you’re playing Malcolm X you better be proud and intimidating and Denzel’s got that in spades. You’re not going to see David Allen Grier in that role anytime soon. This clip from the film says it all: under no circumstances should you ever look Denzel in the eye and think you’re better than him.


Crimson Tide
What do you get when a racist nuclear submarine captain and his black second in command disagree? A box office smash on the high seas, and mutiny. Denzel Trivia: Quentin Tarantino apparently did some uncredited script changes that added a few words white people don’t say around Denzel if they know what’s good for them. Apparently Denzel didn’t like the new dialogue and chewed Quint’s ass out on set.

John Q
Heath care sucks, and Denzel Washington is here to prove that, by holding an entire hospital hostage so his son could get a heart transplant. Maybe I could rent him at the dentist’s office so I can get the tooth I chipped after a bike accident fixed one of these days.


One of the most underrated and inspiring war movies ever made. Denzel is a brash, tough, arrogant, yet pitiable as a slave fighting in the Massachusetts 44th Regimen. The role gave Denzel his much-deserved first Oscar. It had every element of a Denzel film: pride, intensity, intimidating stares, racial tension. When he picks up the flag storming Fort McKinley, he was sending a message to the film industry that he’s about to take over.

Training Day
The most famous Denzel film of all-time. (Although I have not seen “Unstoppable” yet, so I don’t want to be too quick to judge.) Most famous Denzel soliloquy of all-time. There’s not much else to say.