Denzel Washington Turns 61: Actor’s Biggest Hit Movies, Career Highlights So Far

Actor Denzel Washington turned 61-years-old on Monday, December 28.

Even after spending several decades as a big-screen actor, the Flight star is still an unstoppable force at the box office. For many years, Washington has been able to add hit after hit to his growing filmography.

However, many of his biggest fans and critics today may not remember his very first feature film character: Roger Porter.

Washington’s big debut as Roger Porter was back in 1981, 34 years ago, in the Michael Schulz-directed film, Carbon Copy, starring George Segal.

Washington played the long-lost African-American son of successful Jewish businessman Walter Whitney (played by George Segal). The film may not have immediately cemented Denzel as a box office star, but it did prove that he had an impressive range and versatility by starring in a movie that transitioned between comedy and drama.

Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Denzel had quite a few more supporting roles in films like A Soldier’s Story and Cry Freedom as well as a leading role in the 1989 film The Mighty Quinn.

However, many fans and critics would agree that Denzel Washington made his first major impact on the big screen when he played Private Silas Trip in the 1989 film Glory.

Trip, an escaped slave, was recruited by Colonel Robert Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick) to serve on the first all-black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil Army.

Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of Denzel’s performance, and the film overall, was the epic flogging scene. As punishment for going AWOL, Shaw orders Trip to be flogged in front of the rest of the troops. Staring directly at Shaw while being flogged, Denzel Washington eventually cried a single tear from his right eye.

That performance confirmed Denzel Washington’s role in Hollywood as a successful actor, leading to his second Oscar nomination and first win for “Best Supporting Actor.”

In his acceptance speech for the Academy Award, he began by briefly expressing his excitement over getting to use the notes for his acceptance speech. He continued by eloquently thanking the crew, his friend/manager as well as his mother. He paid tribute to his first agent, the soldiers that he helped to portray on the big screen and also made a heartwarming comment about his son.

“My son said he was gonna make one of these out of clay for me, now I got the model for him. I want to thank my first agent, the late Ruth Aronson, who believed in me. I’d also like to pay homage to the 54th, the black soldiers who helped to make this country free.”

Between 1987 and 2012, Denzel Washington was nominated for an Academy Award six times, including four “Best Actor” nominations: Malcolm X(1992), The Hurricane(1999), Training Day(2001) and Flight(2012).

Washington earned his second Oscar, and first “Best Actor” award, for the Antoine Fuqua-directed film Training Day.

Denzel Washington
(Photo By Getty Images)

During his acceptance speech for that particular award, he paid tribute to another actor who inspired him: Sidney Poitier. Poitier had received an award the same night in a beautiful moment that Denzel referenced at the beginning of his own speech.

“Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney [Poitier], they finally give it to me, what’d they do? They give it to him the same night. I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir. Nothing I would rather do. God bless you.”

Denzel further explained that his dream in college when he first started acting was to become “the best actor in the world” even though his classmates looked at him like he was crazy. However, he was able to blend that opposition into a well-stated life lesson as part of his acceptance speech.

“Life has taught me to just try and be the best that I can be, and I thank the Academy for saying to me that on this given night I was the best that I could be.”

Over the past three decades, Denzel Washington has starred in a leading role in over 30 films, generating over $3.7 billion at the box office worldwide.

According to Box Office Mojo, here is a list of his top 10 box office hits worldwide (so far) as a leading actor.

  1. American Gangster
  2. Safe House
  3. Philadelphia
  4. The Pelican Brief
  5. The Equalizer
  6. Inside Man
  7. Deja Vu
  8. Unstoppable
  9. Flight
  10. Crimson Tide

Keep in mind that Denzel Washington has also done a lot more than just star on the big-screen. He has directed two films: Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters. He has also delivered award-winning performances on the theatrical stage.

With a number of new projects in different stages of production, it does not seem as if 61-year-old Denzel Washington has any plans of slowing down anytime soon.

[Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images]

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