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16 Denzel Washington Action Movies, Ranked Worst To Best

October 10, 20239 Mins Read


  • Denzel Washington has acted in 16 action movies throughout his career.
  • Some of Washington’s action flicks, like
    The Siege
    , fall short due to weak scripts and lack of substance.
  • However, Washington’s best action movies are some of the greatest works of his career, delivering high emotional stakes and meaningful dialogue.

Denzel Washington has acted in 16 action movies over the course of his distinguished career, making it worthwhile to rank his many action flicks from worst to best. Washington is one of the premier actors working today, winning two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes across his 40-year career as an actor. He has earned several notable lifetime achievement awards, and in 2020 he was named the greatest actor of the 21st century by the New York Times.

Washington has acted in a wide variety of films throughout his career, but the genre he probably acts in the most is action. His commanding presence on-screen, memorable voice, and impeccable ability to convey emotion through his expressions, make him a perfect fit as a leading man in the action-thriller genre. Denzel Washington’s best movies in this category include some of the biggest hits of the last few decades, as well as one or two disappointing uses of this incredible actor’s ability.


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16 Virtuosity (1995)

Denzel Washington in Virtuosity

Virtuosity is one of the weaker overall films in Denzel Washington’s lengthy filmography. Starring alongside Russell Crowe, Washington’s skill as an actor is not enough to redeem this subpar script and ultimately underwhelming premise. Virtuosity falls short of creating any real emotional investment in its audience, stringing events together without taking much time to develop characters and give the audience a reason to care. Washington is not to blame for the film’s shortcomings, but there are plenty of them, and they earn Virtuosity the lowest spot in this ranking.

15 The Siege (1998)

Denzel Washington in The Siege.

1998 action-thriller The Siege is another subpar entry in Denzel Washington’s distinguished career. The Siege follows Washington’s FBI agent, Anthony Hubbard, as he fights against a terrorist cell wreaking havoc in New York City. This action flick provides plenty of action, but very little substance, relying mostly on Washington’s powerful presence to capture the audience’s attention. While Denzel Washington is perfectly capable of that, the result is still an underwhelming movie that ranks near the bottom of Washington’s many action films.

14 Safe House (2012)

Denzel Washington Holds a Knife to Ryan Reynolds' Throat in a Scene from the Movie Safe House

Safe House, released in 2012, stars Washington and Ryan Reynolds as two CIA agents under attack from a mysterious group of mercenaries. While both Washington and Reynolds put in strong performances, the screenplay is ultimately underwhelming and the action sequences leave much to be desired. Safe House is not the worst of Denzel Washington’s action movies, it does create some real intrigue and his chemistry with Reynolds is gripping, but the unconvincing narrative keeps the film in the lower tier of this ranking.

13 The Book Of Eli (2010)

A composite image of Denzel Washington from The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic action film with a star-studded cast that includes Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, and Jennifer Beals. Following Washington’s nomadic protagonist, Eli, as he seeks to deliver a mysterious book to a safe location, The Book of Eli relies heavily on its cast to drive interest in its somewhat stale premise. It is visually engaging, however, and the narrative is carefully crafted to maintain suspense up to the end of The Book of Eli, making it worth a watch, even if it’s not the best action film Denzel Washington has to offer.

12 The Taking Of Pelham 123 (2009)

Denzel Washington as Walter Garber talking into a microphone in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

The Taking of Pelham 123 follows Denzel Washington’s subway train operator as he is forced to negotiate with a dangerous criminal who hijacks one of the cars on his train. Washington’s performance is as good as always, but the events feel a bit rushed and the directing is slightly wild. Critics have suggested that this rendition of The Taking of Pelham 123 fails to live up the original version of the film, released in 1974. Even so, there are strong points in the film, including Washington’s performance, that keep it from ranking any lower than 12th.

11 The Equalizer 2 (2018)

McCall walking amid debris with a machine gun in The Equalizer 2

The Equalizer 2 is the worst movie in the Equalizer trilogy, but it’s not all bad. The film was relatively successful, benefiting from the fame of its predecessor and successfully crafting some solid action sequences. It also includes some of Denzel Washington’s best scenes in The Equalizer movies, but its narrative is less engaging than either of the other films in the trilogy. Still, this is a solid entry in Denzel Washington’s action-movie filmography, and its story is good enough to merit a mid-tier ranking.

10 The Magnificent 7 (2016)

The main characters in The Magnificent 7.

2016’s The Magnificent 7 is a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, starring Washington and Chris Pratt. The Magnificent 7 delivers some riveting action sequences and its talented cast performs well, but the narrative ends up making it a disappointing rendition of the 1960 classic. Even so, The Magnificent 7‘s beautiful filming locations and powerful score make it another solid, mid-tier film in Denzel Washington’s long list of action films.

9 Déjà Vu (2006)

Denzel Washington Is Driving a Truck in Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu follows Denzel Washington’s ATF Special Agent Douglas Carlin as he travels back in time to prevent a terrorist attack and save the woman he loves. This riveting narrative is complemented by a characteristically powerful performance from Washington, and while its premise feels a little far-fetched, it delivers an exciting two hours of action with real stakes. This isn’t the best action film Washington has ever made, but it’s far from the worst.

8 The Equalizer (2014)

denzel washington as mccall and marton csokas as teddy in the equalizer

The Equalizer is one of Washington’s more famous films with its wide-scale success leading to the creation of Denzel Washington’s only movie franchise. The film follows Washington’s retired ex-marine turned vigilante after befriending a young prostitute with ties to the Russian mafia. The Equalizer is full of incredible action sequences, and its narrative is truly thrilling, but the film does lack a real defining purpose, outside another entertainingly violent spectacle.


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7 2 Guns (2013)

Denzel Washington in 2 Guns 

2 Guns, starring Washington and Mark Wahlberg, follows two undercover law enforcement officers who are initially unaware of each other’s double loyalties as they simultaneously seek to infiltrate a drug lord’s operation. This film is full of intense action sequences, and though Wahlberg and Washington build strong chemistry together, the narrative lets 2 Guns down somewhat. 2 Guns has plenty of appeal as a spectacle, but it lacks conviction and ultimately feels hollow. Even so, the well-layered humor meshes nicely with the action to make 2 Guns an entertaining watch.

6 Man On Fire (2004)

Denzel Washington as John W. Creasy talks to a man in Man on Fire

Man on Fire stars Washington as John Creasy, an alcoholic former CIA officer who becomes a bodyguard after leaving the CIA. When the young girl Creasy is guarding is abducted in Mexico City, Creasy races against time to find the people who took her and make them pay for crossing him. Man on Fire‘s action sequences complement a strong cast and a boldly dark narrative that make for a thrilling overall experience. The danger of Man on Fire is that its depressingly dark narrative, realistic as it is, can leave viewers feeling hopelessly dejected.


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5 The Equalizer 3 (2023)

Denzel Washington as Robert McCall in The Equalizer 3

The Equalizer 3 is the best movie in this riveting trilogy, riding a gripping narrative to the conclusion of Washington’s only movie franchise. With as much visceral action as the other entries in The Equalizer series, The Equalizer 3 raises the stakes and executes an outstanding overall action movie with beautiful cinematography and a haunting score. Though The Equalizer 3 could probably be classified as another spectacle-driven action movie, its script is good enough to make the action feel like it has a purpose.

4 Training Day (2001)

Denzel Washington as Det. Alonzo Harris speaking with Ethan Hawke as Officer Jake Hoyt inside Alonzo's car in Training Day

Training Day follows Denzel Washington’s Detective Alonzo Harris as he takes Ethan Hawke’s Officer Jake Hoyt through his first day of training on the LAPD narcotics team. Harris and Hoyt are pitted against extremely violent resistance, doing their best to uphold the law no matter what. The film evokes ethical questions about how far law enforcement can go to enforce the law, and Washington’s powerful performance won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Training Day is gripping and meaningful, and it’s easily one of Washington’s best action flicks.

3 Ricochet (1991)

Denzel Washington as Assistant District Attorney Nick Styles in Ricochet

In the 1991 action thriller, Ricochet, Denzel Washington portrays an ex-cop turned District Attorney forced to grapple with a vengeful criminal he arrested while working as a police officer. Washington’s performance is strong as usual, carrying the lead role with his typical physicality and irresistible presence. Ricochet delivers a gripping narrative full of realistic action sequences and smart dialogue. Ricochet has more substance than many of Washington’s other action films, and its expert direction keeps the tension high throughout.

2 Unstoppable (2010)

Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in Unstoppable

Unstoppable is one of Denzel Washington’s best movies regardless of genre. Starring alongside Chris Pine, Washington plays a veteran train technician tasked with stopping a runaway freight train threatening to run off the rails and crash in a highly populated area. Based on a true story, Unstoppable tells an incredible tale of determination and resourcefulness as the film’s protagonists risk their lives to stop the train from crashing into their hometown. With high emotional stakes and meaningful dialogue, Unstoppable is an altogether outstanding film.

1 Crimson Tide (1995)

Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide

Crimson Tide follows the conflict between two US marines in a nuclear submarine during a nuclear standoff with Russia. Crimson Tide is an edge-of-your-seat type of film that builds incredible tension right from the off. The film benefits from strong performances and biting dialogue that drives the narrative with a sense of purpose and reality. Washington is excellent as the second-in-command to Gene Hackman’s commanding officer, delivering every line with purposeful conviction. Thanks to all of those things, Crimson Tide is one of Denzel Washington‘s best-ever movies and his best action movie.

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