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All Denzel Washington Movies Ranked

Over the course of his decades in show business, Denzel Washington has done pretty much everything — he’s played cops (good and bad), lawyers, reporters, educators, doctors, mobsters, and more, earning multiple Academy Awards and more than a billion dollars in box office grosses along the way. Of course, it’s fairly difficult to do all that without piling up a pretty hefty stack of positive reviews, and Mr. Washington’s filmography has definitely drawn its share, from Oscar winners like GloryTraining Day, and Philadelphia to his collaborations with director Spike Lee, like Malcolm XHe Got Game, and Inside Man. With all of that in mind, we’re here to celebrate by taking a comprehensive look at his career, including the best Denzel Washington movies and the worst. Perfection! Let’s go to work.

#47

Heart Condition (1990)
10%

#47
Adjusted Score: 8694%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Racist police officer Jack Moony (Bob Hoskins) has a vendetta against Napoleon Stone (Denzel Washington), a charismatic black lawyer who... [More]
Directed By: James D. Perriott

#46

John Q (2002)
23%

#46
Adjusted Score: 27005%
Critics Consensus: Washington's performance rises above the material, but John Q pounds the audience over the head with its message.
Synopsis: Story centers on a man whose nine-year-old son is in desperate need of a life-saving transplant. When he discovers that... [More]
Directed By: Nick Cassavetes

#45
#45
Adjusted Score: 32422%
Critics Consensus: A talented cast is wasted on a bland attempt at a suspenseful, serial killer flick.
Synopsis: Policewoman Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) is in hot pursuit of a serial murderer whose calling card is a small shard... [More]
Directed By: Phillip Noyce

#44
#44
Adjusted Score: 30164%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: When Reuben James (Denzel Washington), a decorated paratrooper, is discharged from the British military, he returns to his old neighborhood... [More]
Directed By: Martin Stellman

#43

Virtuosity (1995)
32%

#43
Adjusted Score: 33408%
Critics Consensus: Woefully deficient in thrills or common sense, Virtuosity strands its talented stars in a story whose vision of the future is depressingly short on imagination.
Synopsis: A former cop who has been imprisoned for murdering the psychopath who killed his family, Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) is... [More]
Directed By: Brett Leonard

#42

Man on Fire (2004)
38%

#42
Adjusted Score: 43986%
Critics Consensus: Man on Fire starts out well, but goes over the top in the violent second half.
Synopsis: In a Mexico City wracked by a recent wave of kidnappings, ex-CIA operative John Creasy (Denzel Washington) reluctantly accepts a... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#41

Fallen (1998)
40%

#41
Adjusted Score: 42686%
Critics Consensus: Has an interesting premise. Unfortunately, it's just a recycling of old materials, and not all that thrilling.
Synopsis: After witnessing the execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas), whom he arrested, police detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington),... [More]
Directed By: Gregory Hoblit

#40

The Siege (1998)
44%

#40
Adjusted Score: 46010%
Critics Consensus: An exciting, well-paced action film.
Synopsis: After terrorists attack a bus in Brooklyn, a Broadway theater and FBI headquarters, FBI anti-terrorism expert Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington)... [More]
Directed By: Edward Zwick

#39
#39
Adjusted Score: 59341%
Critics Consensus: An exceptionally well-cast throwback thriller, The Little Things will feel deeply familiar to genre fans -- for better and for worse.
Synopsis: Deputy Sheriff Joe "Deke" Deacon joins forces with Sgt. Jim Baxter to search for a serial killer who's terrorizing Los... [More]
Directed By: John Lee Hancock

#38

The Book of Eli (2010)
46%

#38
Adjusted Score: 53787%
Critics Consensus: It's certainly uneven, and many viewers will find that its reach exceeds its grasp, but The Book of Eli finds the Hughes brothers injecting some fresh stylish fun into the kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland filmgoers have seen more than enough of lately.
Synopsis: Thirty years after war turned the world into a wasteland, a lone warrior named Eli (Denzel Washington) marches across the... [More]

#37

Power (1986)
50%

#37
Adjusted Score: 50303%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Once-noble media consultant Pete St. John (Richard Gere) is now employed by a number of corrupt politicians. A potential client... [More]
Directed By: Sidney Lumet

#36
#36
Adjusted Score: 60559%
Critics Consensus: Despite a strong cast, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 suffers under the excesses of Tony Scott's frantic direction, and fails to measure up to the 1974 original.
Synopsis: Chaos reigns in the New York City subway system when heavily armed criminals, led by a mastermind named Ryder (John... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#35

The Equalizer 2 (2018)
52%

#35
Adjusted Score: 63235%
Critics Consensus: The Equalizer 2 delivers the visceral charge of a standard vigilante thriller, but this reunion of trusted talents ultimately proves a disappointing case study in diminishing returns.
Synopsis: If you have a problem and there is nowhere else to turn, the mysterious and elusive Robert McCall will deliver... [More]
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua

#34
#34
Adjusted Score: 56136%
Critics Consensus: Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington are a compelling team in the overlong Pelican Brief, a pulpy thriller that doesn't quite justify the intellectual remove of Alan J. Pakula's direction.
Synopsis: Taut thriller about a young law student whose legal brief about the assassination of two Supreme Court justices causes her... [More]
Directed By: Alan J. Pakula

#33

Safe House (2012)
53%

#33
Adjusted Score: 61135%
Critics Consensus: Safe House stars Washington and Reynolds are let down by a thin script and choppily edited action sequences.
Synopsis: For the past year, rookie CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) has been eager to prove himself while cooling his... [More]
Directed By: Daniel Espinosa

#32
#32
Adjusted Score: 66896%
Critics Consensus: Intriguing yet heavy-handed, Roman J. Israel, Esq. makes the most of -- but never quite lives up to -- Denzel Washington's magnetic performance in the title role.
Synopsis: Roman J. Israel is an idealistic defense attorney whose life gets upended when his boss and mentor -- the legendary... [More]
Directed By: Dan Gilroy

#31

Déjà Vu (2006)
56%

#31
Adjusted Score: 61767%
Critics Consensus: Tony Scott tries to combine action, science fiction, romance, and explosions into one movie, but the time travel conceit might be too preposterous and the action falls apart under scrutiny.
Synopsis: The team of top-secret program brings ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) into its midst to capture the terrorist (Jim... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#30
#30
Adjusted Score: 62208%
Critics Consensus: Solid performances and a steady directorial hand help The Preacher's Wife offer some reliably heartwarming - albeit fairly predictable - holiday cheer.
Synopsis: A cleric begins to doubt himself and is visited by an angel. The heavenly emissary is supposed to help the... [More]
Directed By: Penny Marshall

#29

The Equalizer (2014)
60%

#29
Adjusted Score: 67535%
Critics Consensus: The Equalizer is more stylishly violent than meaningful, but with Antoine Fuqua behind the cameras and Denzel Washington dispensing justice, it delivers.
Synopsis: Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), a man of mysterious origin who believes he has put the past behind him, dedicates himself... [More]
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua

#28

Out of Time (2003)
64%

#28
Adjusted Score: 68890%
Critics Consensus: A fun and stylish thriller if you can get past the contrivances.
Synopsis: Matt Lee Whitlock (Denzel Washington) is the police chief of a small Florida town, going through a divorce with his... [More]
Directed By: Carl Franklin

#27
#27
Adjusted Score: 82946%
Critics Consensus: The Magnificent Seven never really lives up to the superlative in its title -- or the classics from which it draws inspiration -- but remains a moderately diverting action thriller on its own merits.
Synopsis: Looking to mine for gold, greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek. With... [More]
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua

#26

2 Guns (2013)
65%

#26
Adjusted Score: 71508%
Critics Consensus: Formulaic and often jarringly violent, 2 Guns rests its old-school appeal on the interplay between its charismatic, well-matched stars.
Synopsis: For the past year, DEA agent Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and U.S. Navy intelligence officer Marcus Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) have... [More]
Directed By: Baltasar Kormákur

#25
#25
Adjusted Score: 76982%
Critics Consensus: An inspirational crowd-pleaser with a healthy dose of social commentary, Remember the Titans may be predictable, but it's also well-crafted and features terrific performances.
Synopsis: In Virginia, high school football is a way of life, an institution revered, each game celebrated more lavishly than Christmas,... [More]
Directed By: Boaz Yakin

#24

Training Day (2001)
73%

#24
Adjusted Score: 79312%
Critics Consensus: The ending may be less than satisfying, but Denzel Washington reminds us why he's such a great actor in this taut and brutal police drama.
Synopsis: Police drama about a veteran officer who escorts a rookie on his first day with the LAPD's tough inner-city narcotics... [More]
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua

#23

Ricochet (1991)
74%

#23
Adjusted Score: 73701%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: After tracking down and arresting Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow), a psychotic hit man, rookie Los Angeles police officer Nick... [More]
Directed By: Russell Mulcahy

#22

Cry Freedom (1987)
76%

#22
Adjusted Score: 77400%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Set in apartheid-torn South Africa. Donald Woods is the editor of the East London Daily Express and Steve Biko is... [More]
Directed By: Richard Attenborough

#21

Flight (2012)
77%

#21
Adjusted Score: 87292%
Critics Consensus: Robert Zemeckis makes a triumphant return to live-action cinema with Flight, a thoughtful and provocative character study propelled by a compelling performance from Denzel Washington.
Synopsis: Commercial airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) has a problem with drugs and alcohol, though so far he's managed to... [More]
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis

#20

Antwone Fisher (2002)
78%

#20
Adjusted Score: 82763%
Critics Consensus: Washington's directing debut is a solidly crafted, emotionally touching work.
Synopsis: The touching story of a sailor (Derek Luke) who, prone to violent outbursts, is sent to a naval psychiatrist (Denzel... [More]
Directed By: Denzel Washington

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 84319%
Critics Consensus: A wonderful cast and top-notch script elevate The Great Debaters beyond a familiar formula for a touching, uplifting drama.
Synopsis: Poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) teaches at the predominately black Wiley College in 1935 Texas. He decides... [More]
Directed By: Denzel Washington

#18
#18
Adjusted Score: 86723%
Critics Consensus: While not the classic its predecessor is, this update is well-acted and conjures a chilling resonance.
Synopsis: Years after his squad was ambushed during the Gulf War, Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) finds himself having terrible nightmares.... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Demme

#17

Philadelphia (1993)
81%

#17
Adjusted Score: 81161%
Critics Consensus: Philadelphia indulges in some unfortunate clichés in its quest to impart a meaningful message, but its stellar cast and sensitive direction are more than enough to compensate.
Synopsis: Fearing it would compromise his career, lawyer Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) hides his homosexuality and HIV status at a powerful... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Demme

#16

He Got Game (1998)
81%

#16
Adjusted Score: 83074%
Critics Consensus: Though not without its flaws, He Got Game finds Spike Lee near the top of his game, combining trenchant commentary with his signature visuals and a strong performance from Denzel Washington.
Synopsis: Jake Shuttleworth (Denzel Washington) has spent the last six years in prison after accidentally killing his wife during a violent... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#15
#15
Adjusted Score: 89289%
Critics Consensus: American Gangster is a gritty and entertaining throwback to classic gangster films, with its lead performers firing on all cylinders.
Synopsis: Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) earns his living as a chauffeur to one of Harlem's leading mobsters. After his boss dies,... [More]
Directed By: Ridley Scott

#14
#14
Adjusted Score: 85239%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: After Mina's (Sarita Choudhury) Indian family is ousted from their home in Uganda by dictator Idi Amin, they relocate to... [More]
Directed By: Mira Nair

#13

The Hurricane (1999)
83%

#13
Adjusted Score: 87862%
Critics Consensus: Thanks in large part to one of Denzel Washington's most powerful on-screen performances, The Hurricane is a moving, inspirational sports drama, even if it takes few risks in telling its story.
Synopsis: Denzel Washington is Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a man whose dreams of winning the middleweight boxing title were destroyed when he... [More]
Directed By: Norman Jewison

#12
#12
Adjusted Score: 87938%
Critics Consensus: An emotional and intriguing tale of a military officer who must review the merits of a fallen officer while confronting his own war demons. Effectively depicts the terrors of war as well as its heartbreaking aftermath.
Synopsis: During the 1991 Gulf War, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) accidentally caused a friendly fire incident, a mistake that... [More]
Directed By: Edward Zwick

#11

Inside Man (2006)
86%

#11
Adjusted Score: 94908%
Critics Consensus: Spike Lee's energetic and clever bank-heist thriller is a smart genre film that is not only rewarding on its own terms, but manages to subvert its pulpy trappings with wit and skill.
Synopsis: A tough detective (Denzel Washington) matches wits with a cunning bank robber (Clive Owen), as a tense hostage crisis is... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#10

Unstoppable (2010)
87%

#10
Adjusted Score: 93232%
Critics Consensus: As fast, loud, and relentless as the train at the center of the story, Unstoppable is perfect popcorn entertainment -- and director Tony Scott's best movie in years.
Synopsis: When a massive, unmanned locomotive roars out of control, the threat is more ominous than just a derailment. The train... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#9

The Mighty Quinn (1989)
88%

#9
Adjusted Score: 87552%
Critics Consensus: A deft hybrid of laughs, espionage, and music, The Mighty Quinn is a smart, pleasant entertainment that offers an early example of Denzel Washington's onscreen magnetism.
Synopsis: Police chief Xavier Quinn (Denzel Washington) investigates the gruesome murder of Donald Pater, one of the wealthiest residents on a... [More]
Directed By: Carl Schenkel

#8

Crimson Tide (1995)
88%

#8
Adjusted Score: 90961%
Critics Consensus: Boasting taut, high energy thrills and some cracking dialogue courtesy of an uncredited Quentin Tarantino, Crimson Tide finds director Tony Scott near the top of his action game.
Synopsis: After the Cold War, a breakaway Russian republic with nuclear warheads becomes a possible worldwide threat. U.S. submarine Capt. Frank... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#7

Malcolm X (1992)
89%

#7
Adjusted Score: 93103%
Critics Consensus: Anchored by a powerful performance from Denzel Washington, Spike Lee's biopic of legendary civil rights leader Malcolm X brings his autobiography to life with an epic sweep and a nuanced message.
Synopsis: A tribute to the controversial black activist and leader of the struggle for black liberation. He hit bottom during his... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#6
#6
Adjusted Score: 92748%
Critics Consensus: Kenneth Branagh's love for the material is contagious in this exuberant adaptation.
Synopsis: In this Shakespearean farce, Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and her groom-to-be, Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard), team up with Claudio's commanding officer,... [More]
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh

#5
#5
Adjusted Score: 99009%
Critics Consensus: Humor, interesting characters, and attention to details make the stylish Devil in a Blue Dress an above average noir.
Synopsis: In late 1940s Los Angeles, Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) is an unemployed black World War II veteran with few job... [More]
Directed By: Carl Franklin

#4
#4
Adjusted Score: 92280%
Critics Consensus: A meticulously-crafted murder mystery with incisive observations about race in America, A Soldier's Story benefits from a roundly excellent ensemble and Charles Fuller's politically urgent screenplay.
Synopsis: A black Army investigator (Howard E. Rollins Jr.) travels to a remote military base in the heart of the Louisiana... [More]
Directed By: Norman Jewison

#3

Fences (2016)
92%

#3
Adjusted Score: 107952%
Critics Consensus: From its reunited Broadway stars to its screenplay, the solidly crafted Fences finds its Pulitzer-winning source material fundamentally unchanged -- and still just as powerful.
Synopsis: Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) makes his living as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh. Maxson once dreamed of becoming a... [More]
Directed By: Denzel Washington

#2

Glory (1989)
93%

#2
Adjusted Score: 96363%
Critics Consensus: Bolstered by exceptional cinematography, powerful storytelling, and an Oscar-winning performance by Denzel Washington, Glory remains one of the finest Civil War movies ever made.
Synopsis: Following the Battle of Antietam, Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is offered command of the United States' first all-African-American... [More]
Directed By: Edward Zwick

#1
#1
Adjusted Score: 105946%
Critics Consensus: Led by a stellar Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth strips the classic story down to its visual and narrative essentials.
Synopsis: Power-hungry Macbeth sets his sights on the Scottish throne after receiving a prophecy from three witches.... [More]
Directed By: Joel Coen

Paddington 2 is clearly aimed at younger audiences, and it also appears to be one of the year’s earliest successes, currently sporting an impressive Certified Fresh 100% on the Tomatometer with over 130 reviews. In other words, if you’re taking the whole family to the movies this weekend, it’s probably a pretty safe choice. But there’s another movie opening this week that’s rated PG-13 and stars Liam Neeson, and some of your older kids might be more in the mood for the kind of explosive action it promises. Read on for Christy’s take on both of them, as well as three age-appropriate alternatives to The Commuter you might want to consider if you’re planning on staying home.


THE MOVIES

Paddington 2 (2017) 99%

Rating: PG, for some action and mild rude humor.

This delightful sequel proves that the 2015 live-action family film Paddington was no fluke. Director Paul King once again finds a charming combination of sweetness and smarts, elaborate physical comedy and feel-good sentiment. And the visual effects are just dazzling. The twee bear Paddington (once again voiced by Ben Whishaw) uses his guiding mantra – be kind to others and everything will be OK – to help him navigate a series of misadventures, including being framed for a burglary and going to prison. It may sound dark, but the tone is playful and light. Even Paddington’s hardened fellow prisoners quickly come around to the simple joys of marmalade and bedtime stories. Hugh Grant, as the preening former actor who’s the real criminal, is villainous in a flamboyantly theatrical way. It’s a performance that’s always played for laughs (and always funny). And the fundamental message of both movies – the importance of being decent to people who may seem scary or different – is more important than ever for kids to hear. An excellent choice for the whole family.


The Commuter (2018) 55%

Rating: PG-13, for some intense action/violence and language.

Liam Neeson once again gets to show off his very particular set of skills as an ex-cop who gets dragged into a dangerous scheme while commuting home from New York City. As in the Taken series and other later-career films like Non-Stop and Unknown, Neeson gets to kick all kinds of butt, but he bears the brunt of a lot of hits and kicks here, too, both inside and outside the train. We see a dead body at one point, and several other passengers suffer painful fates including beatings, stabbings, and shootings. There’s quite a bit of language scattered throughout and a doozy of a train wreck at the film’s climax. For older viewers, though, action director Jaume Collet-Serra’s film is a lot of fun and it moves really well. And even though the story eventually goes off the rails – literally and figuratively – it’s certainly never dull. Fine for viewers around ages 12 or 13 and older.


THE RECOMMENDATIONS

If The Commuter is too intense and violent for your kids – and it probably will be — here are some other movies that take place on trains that might be a good fit. All aboard:

The Polar Express (2004) 56%

Rating: G.

The motion-capture performances and visual effects may look creepy and outdated now, given how far we’ve come in terms of technology. But in its day, Robert Zemeckis’ animated adventure was pretty groundbreaking. You’ve probably seen it many times with your family – you may even have watched it over the holidays – but beyond being a Christmas movie, this is also fundamentally a train movie. Based on the book of the same name, The Polar Express follows the adventures of a young boy named Billy (Hayden McFarland) whose belief in Santa Claus is wavering. On Christmas Eve, a train magically pulls up and the conductor (Tom Hanks) invites him aboard for a trip to the North Pole. Along the way, Billy learns lessons about bravery, faith and friendship. The train zooms along, sometimes out of control, but it also runs into several obstacles. And children are sometimes in danger, as is so often the case in animated movies. For this most part, though, this is all wholesome stuff. Fine for the whole family.


Unstoppable (2010) 87%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of action and peril, and some violence.

A train carrying hazardous material is barreling out of control across Pennsylvania, and only Denzel Washington can stop it (with some help from Chris Pine). This is a really intense viewing experience but it’s also a lot of fun, and the material is the perfect fit for the late director Tony Scott’s hyperkinetic style. Based on a true story, Unstoppable stars Washington as a veteran engineer who’s being forced into retirement. Pine plays the younger, cheaper rookie conductor he resents. The two must team up to prevent a massive catastrophe as another train threatens small towns and even a school but full of children at speeds up to 80 mph. Unstoppable isn’t so much violent as it is suspenseful, and the threat of death and destruction looms large. There’s a bit of language here and there. But the movie is also about teamwork and bravery, which is worthwhile. Fine for viewers around 10 and older.


Strangers on a Train (1951) 98%

Rating: PG.

My favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie, and one that tends to get overlooked in favor of his more famous films like Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo and North by Northwest. But in retrospect, its premise has inspired or been referenced in countless other movies, most notably Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma From the Train, which was a darkly comic remake. Based on a novel by the great Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train introduces us to two men who meet in transit and realize after chatting for a bit that they share a similar problem: Each has a person he’d like to rid from his life. So they swap murders – “criss-cross,” as Robert Walker’s character says to Farley Granger’s – making neither of them a suspect in either crime. It’s a rather grown-up concept, executed with masterful camerawork and exquisite tension. For older kids around ages 13 and up – especially those with an interest in classic film – it’s an absolute must-see.

This week, Kenneth Branagh brings his interpretation of Agatha Christie’s distinguished detective Hercule Poirot to theaters in Murder on the Orient Express, a stylish period mystery set aboard a passenger train. But Hollywood has a rich history of telling stories on and about trains, almost from the very beginning, so we thought it would make sense to take a look back at the best train movies to grace the silver screen.

Over the course of his more than 30 years in show business, Denzel Washington has done pretty much everything – he’s played cops (good and bad), lawyers, reporters, educators, doctors, mobsters, and more, earning two Academy Awards and more than a billion dollars in box office grosses along the way. With his most recent film, Fences, Washington not only reprised the role that won him (and co-star Viola Davis) a Tony, but also stepped behind the camera for the first time since 2007’s The Great Debaters. Since the film is racking up some awards buzz, we thought it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a fresh look back at his brightest critical highlights and see where Fences turned up. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. Courage Under Fire (1996) 85%

Released in the years before American audiences developed an allergy to movies about wars in the Middle Eastern desert, Courage Under Fire used a Rashomon-style screenplay (written by Patrick Sheane Duncan) to keep viewers guessing about the final days of Army Captain Emma Walden (Meg Ryan), a Medal of Honor candidate whose death is being investigated by Nathaniel Serling (Washington), a lieutenant colonel with a painful history on the battlefield. To this point, Washington had played a lot of cool and/or affable characters, but Courage served as a reminder that he’s every bit as capable of showing depth; though the movie’s marketing hook had more to do with Ryan’s character than Washington’s, the story is about his redemption just as much as her death. The confidence with which he handled Serling’s troubled journey wasn’t lost on critics; though Washington already had a pair of Oscar nominations to his credit, Courage motivated Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews to note, “Denzel Washington gives as fine a performance as I have seen him give.”

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9. Crimson Tide (1995) 88%

Washington’s long and fruitful partnership with director Tony Scott kicked off with this maritime thriller, which put Washington in a submarine with Gene Hackman, tossed in a subplot about messy post-Cold War Russian politics — as well as some uncredited script doctoring by Quentin Tarantino — and grossed a healthy $154 million worldwide. For Washington, Tide was the third film in a box office-busting trilogy that started with The Pelican Brief and Philadelphia; put together, they combined for a whopping $558 million, and cemented his status as one of the most bankable actors in the industry. Of course, that bankability sustained a bit of a dent with his next release, the painful flop Virtuosity, but the less said about that, the better; we’ll conclude, instead, with the words of the Madison Capital Times’ Rob Thomas, who wrote of Tide, “It’s great to see a high-tech thriller that thrills because of its actors, not its special effects.”

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8. Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) 91%

After putting together a mostly unbroken string of high quality, financially successful projects between 1987 and 1995, Denzel Washington was overdue for what economists like to call a “correction” — and he experienced one after Crimson Tide, entering a lull that found him starring in misguided efforts such as Virtuosity, The Preacher’s Wife, Fallen, and The Siege. It wasn’t all bad, though; despite its failure to find a typically Denzel-sized audience, 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress offered filmgoers a cool little morsel of neo-noir during a time when new entries in the genre were few and far between. Adapted from Walter Mosley’s novel, Devil starred Washington as factory worker-turned-private eye “Easy” Rawlins, whose initial foray into sleuthing for hire is filled with all the hangovers, dames, and threatening goons one could hope for. Despite a sequel-ready ending (and ten more books in Mosley’s Rawlins series), Devil has yet to spawn further installments — a shame for critics like Jeffrey M. Anderson of Combustible Celluloid, who observed, “In the aftermath of the Oscars, it now seems clear that Devil in a Blue Dress was one of the best films of 1995.”

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7. Unstoppable (2010) 87%

A buddy-pic action thriller that takes two quippin’-n’-squabblin’ guys and puts them on board an out-of-control train hurtling toward disaster with a lethal chemical payload, Unstoppable could easily have been the sort of C-level, direct-to-video nonsense that once awaited unlucky Blockbuster patrons who waited to peruse the shelves until after dark on a Saturday night. Director Tony Scott did it up right, however, turning Mark Bomback’s screenplay into a taut, laudably lean 98-minute ride that boasts plenty of visual thrills and a pair of purely entertaining lead performances from Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. “Some movies win you Oscars, and some have you playing second banana to an evil train,” noted an appreciative Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times. “And both have their place.”

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6. Inside Man (2006) 86%

Washington teamed up with Spike Lee for the fourth time in this heist flick, which pitted New York police detective Keith Frazier (Washington) against a bank robber (Clive Owen) who may not be everything he seems. A familiar premise? Absolutely, and there were more than a few people who raised an eyebrow at the knowledge that Spike Lee would direct what Newsweek’s David Ansen called an “unapologetic genre movie.” As far as genre movies go, however, Inside Man is pretty smart stuff — and with a top-shelf cast that surrounded Washington and Owen with Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer, well… It isn’t hard to see why this represented Lee biggest commercial success, or why a sequel is in the planning stages. In the words of CHUD’s Devin Faraci, “Inside Man is the Spike Lee film for people who don’t go to see Spike Lee films, and it’s also a fun treat for people who see everything the man does.”

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5. The Mighty Quinn (1989) 88%

More than a few television actors have difficulty making the transition from the boob tube to the big screen, but Denzel Washington picked up his first Oscar nomination (for his supporting turn as slain South African activist Steven Biko, in 1987’s Cry Freedom) before finishing his six-year run on St. Elsewhere — and then he went on to earn even louder critical applause for 1989’s The Mighty Quinn. Based on A.H.Z Carr’s novel Finding Maubee, the film gave Washington an opportunity to display his seemingly bottomless reserves of cool — and, in the first of what would be many police roles, his gift for brandishing a service revolver. While not a major box office success, Quinn‘s twisty mystery plot, sunny island locale, and a solid cast that included Robert Townsend, Mimi Rogers, and M. Emmet Walsh impressed critics — particularly Roger Ebert, who deemed it one of the year’s best films and wrote, “The Mighty Quinn is a spy thriller, a buddy movie, a musical, a comedy and a picture that is wise about human nature. And yet with all of those qualities, it never seems to strain.”

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4. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) 90%

Following his Academy Award-nominated performance in 1992’s Malcolm X, Washington opted for a decidedly less serious role — that of the matchmaking prince Don Pedro of Aragon in Much Ado About Nothing. Kenneth Branagh’s second Shakespeare adaptation, Much Ado united a colorful cast (including Washington, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Keaton, and Branagh himself) to tell the tale of warring half-brothers (Washington and Reeves) whose squabbling serves as the backdrop for all manner of machinations and misunderstandings surrounding the wedding of Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Hero (Beckinsale). As with most Shakespeare adaptations, Much Ado didn’t make many waves outside the traditional arthouse crowd, but for the folks who saw it, it proved a deft, smartly rearranged version of one of the Bard’s lighter plays. Though some scribes took issue with the film’s eclectic cast, for most critics, its flaws were minor; in the words of the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, “Director Branagh, who altered the play imaginatively for the screen, gives wonderful import to this silliness from long ago.”

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3. Malcolm X (1992) 89%

A lightning rod in life and death, Malcolm X was a natural fit for the biopic treatment — but it isn’t hard to understand why producer Marvin Worth had to labor through 25 years of turnarounds, screenplay revisions, changing leading men (including Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy), and multiple directors before Malcolm X finally made its way to theaters in November of 1992. And even with Washington signed on to play the slain activist, and Spike Lee in the director’s chair, Malcolm didn’t see release without multiple controversies, a creative tug of war between Lee and Warner Bros., and a last-minute influx of cash from a group of donors that included Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan. Somewhat predictably, given Malcolm X’s thorny reputation — not to mention the movie’s three-and-a-half-hour length — this wasn’t a biopic for everyone, but most of those who did see it agreed that, for all its struggle in getting to the screen, Malcolm X was a tribute worthy of its subject. It is, wrote Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “An ambitious, tough, seriously considered biographical film that, with honor, eludes easy characterization.”

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2. Glory (1989) 93%

The first of three films to unite Denzel Washington with director Edward Zwick, Glory arrived in theaters five days before 1989’s other big war drama, Born on the 4th of July — and although July‘s grosses quickly dwarfed Glory‘s, critics were quick to point out that Glory, which dramatized the struggles faced by the Union Army’s first all-black Civil War regiment, was every bit as compelling. Washington starred here as an escaped slave-turned-soldier known as Trip — and although the cast was heavy with talent, including Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Matthew Broderick, it was Washington who walked away with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In a recent Entertainment Weekly retrospective of his career, Washington looked back on Glory, revealing that before he filmed a crucial scene in which his character is flogged, he walked around “calling on the spirits of all the slaves” — and that “that whip actually hurt.” That quote is enough to explain the level of commitment to craft that has helped make Denzel Washington one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, and Glory‘s 122 minutes are enough to tell you why it inspired ReelViews’ James Berardinelli to call it “without question, one of the best movies ever made about the American Civil War.”

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1. Fences (2016) 92%

fences

Playwright August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning Fences confounded filmmakers’ efforts to bring it to cineplexes for years — and then along came Washington, who approached the adaptation after winning a Tony for his starring role in the 2010 Broadway revival. Working from a screenplay written by Wilson before his 2005 passing, Washington reunited with his stage castmate (and fellow Tony winner) Viola Davis to create a theatrical Fences that strove to preserve the original version’s essence as faithfully as possible. As many critics pointed out, the dialogue-driven results couldn’t help but feel a little small on the big screen, but its talented cast — and Washington’s empathetic work behind the camera — were more than enough to compensate for that stagebound feeling. More importantly, its thoughtful, emotionally affecting look at American race relations and socioeconomic conditions remained timely, despite the story’s 1950s period setting; as Robert Abele argued for The Wrap, “Can you tell it’s a play? Absolutely. Does that mean a damn thing? Not when the writing is this richly evocative, and the cast so often soars with it.”

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Denzel Washington
Over the course of his more than 30 years in show business, Denzel Washington has done pretty much everything — he’s played cops (good and bad), lawyers, reporters, educators, doctors, mobsters, and more, earning two Academy Awards and more than a billion dollars in box office grosses along the way. In this weekend’s The Equalizer, Washington reunites with his old pal, director Antoine Fuqua, to deliver one more lethally effective variation on the timeless tale of a mysterious vigilante who brings the pain to a cadre of nasty Russian gangsters in order to protect one of their young victims (Chloë Grace Moretz), and we thought it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a fresh look back at his brightest critical highlights. It’s time for Total Recall!


83%

10. The Hurricane

There probably really isn’t much that can make a person feel better about serving almost 20 years of prison time for a triple homicide you didn’t commit, but on the list of things that might come sort of close, having your life turned into a movie starring Denzel Washington must rank near the top. Washington toplined 1999’s The Hurricane as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the real-life boxer whose long incarceration for three 1966 murders inspired public protests from a number of activists (including Bob Dylan, who wrote the 1975 song “Hurricane” about Rubin). Of course, this being Hollywood, a few liberties were taken with the details of Rubin’s life, which understandably angered some of the people depicted in the film (such as boxer Joey Giardello, who sued The Hurricane‘s producers for libel) as well as a noticeable number of critics (among them the New Yorker’s David Denby, who called it “False, evasive, and factually thin — a liberal fairytale”). No matter how they felt about the film, though, pretty much everyone agreed that Washington was terrific in it — a position exemplified by the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Margaret A. McGurk, who said, “As the center of the drama, Mr. Washington more than fills the screen; he very nearly sets it on fire.”


85%

9. Courage Under Fire

Released in the years before American audiences developed an allergy to movies about wars in the Middle Eastern desert, Courage Under Fire used a Rashomon-style screenplay (written by Patrick Sheane Duncan) to keep viewers guessing about the final days of Army Captain Emma Walden (Meg Ryan), a Medal of Honor candidate whose death is being investigated by Nathaniel Serling (Washington), a lieutenant colonel with a painful history on the battlefield. To this point, Washington had played a lot of cool and/or affable characters, but Courage served as a reminder of the fact that he’s every bit as capable of showing depth; though the movie’s marketing hook had more to do with Ryan’s character than Washington’s, the story is about his redemption just as much as her death. The confidence with which he handled Serling’s troubled journey wasn’t lost on critics; though Washington already had a pair of Oscar nominations to his credit, Courage motivated Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews to note, “Denzel Washington gives as fine a performance as I have seen him give.”


87%

8. Unstoppable

A buddy-pic action thriller that takes two quippin’-‘n’-squabblin’ guys and puts them on board an out-of-control train hurtling toward disaster with a lethal chemical payload, Unstoppable could easily have been the sort of C-level, direct-to-video nonsense that once awaited unlucky Blockbuster patrons who waited to peruse the shelves until after dark on a Saturday night. Director Tony Scott did it up right, however, turning Mark Bomback’s screenplay into a taut, laudably lean 98-minute ride that boasts plenty of visual thrills and a pair of purely entertaining lead performances from Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. “Some movies win you Oscars, and some have you playing second banana to an evil train,” noted an appreciative Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times. “And both have their place.”


86%

7. Inside Man

Washington teamed up with Spike Lee for the fourth time in this heist flick, which pitted New York police detective Keith Frazier (Washington) against a bank robber (Clive Owen) who may not be everything he seems. A familiar premise? Absolutely, and there were more than a few people who raised an eyebrow at the knowledge that Spike Lee would direct what Newsweek’s David Ansen called an “unapologetic genre movie.” As far as genre movies go, however, Inside Man is pretty smart stuff — and with a top-shelf cast that surrounded Washington and Owen with Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer, well… it isn’t hard to see why this represented Lee’s biggest commercial success. In the words of CHUD’s Devin Faraci, “Inside Man is the Spike Lee film for people who don’t go to see Spike Lee films, and it’s also a fun treat for people who see everything the man does.”


88%

6. Crimson Tide

Washington’s long and fruitful partnership with director Tony Scott kicked off with this maritime thriller, which put Washington in a submarine with Gene Hackman, tossed in a subplot about messy post-Cold War Russian politics — as well as some uncredited script doctoring by Quentin Tarantino — and grossed a healthy $154 million worldwide. For Washington, Tide was the third film in a box office-busting trilogy that started with The Pelican Brief and Philadelphia; put together, they combined for a whopping $558 million and cemented his status as one of the most bankable actors in the industry. Of course, that bankability sustained a bit of a dent with his next release, the painful flop Virtuosity, but the less said about that, the better; let us conclude, instead, with the words of the Madison Capital Times’ Rob Thomas, who wrote of Tide, “It’s great to see a high-tech thriller that thrills because of its actors, not its special effects.”


91%

5. Devil in a Blue Dress

After putting together a mostly unbroken string of high quality, financially successful projects between 1987 and 1995, Denzel Washington was overdue for what economists like to call a “correction” — and he experienced one after Crimson Tide, entering a lull that found him starring in misguided efforts such as Virtuosity, The Preacher’s Wife, Fallen, and The Siege. It wasn’t all bad, though; despite its failure to find a typically Denzel-sized audience, 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress offered filmgoers a cool little morsel of neo-noir during a time when new entries in the genre were few and far between. Adapted from Walter Mosley’s novel, Devil starred Washington as factory worker-turned-private eye “Easy” Rawlins, whose initial foray into sleuthing for hire is filled with all the hangovers, dames, and threatening goons one could hope for. Despite a sequel-ready ending (and ten more books in Mosley’s Rawlins series), Devil has yet to spawn further installments — a shame for critics like Jeffrey M. Anderson of Combustible Celluloid, who observed, “In the aftermath of the Oscars, it now seems clear that Devil in a Blue Dress was one of the best films of 1995.”


88%

4. The Mighty Quinn

More than a few television actors have difficulty making the transition from the boob tube to the big screen, but Denzel Washington picked up his first Oscar nomination (for his supporting turn as slain South African activist Steven Biko, in 1987’s Cry Freedom) before finishing his six-year run on St. Elsewhere — and then he went on to earn even louder critical applause for 1989’s The Mighty Quinn. Based on A.H.Z. Carr’s novel Finding Maubee, the film gave Washington an opportunity to display his seemingly bottomless reserves of cool — and, in the first of what would be many police roles, his gift for brandishing a service revolver. While not a major box office success, Quinn‘s twisty mystery plot, sunny island locale, and a solid cast that included Robert Townsend, Mimi Rogers, and M. Emmet Walsh impressed critics — particularly Roger Ebert, who deemed it one of the year’s best films and wrote, “The Mighty Quinn is a spy thriller, a buddy movie, a musical, a comedy and a picture that is wise about human nature. And yet with all of those qualities, it never seems to strain.”


90%

3. Much Ado About Nothing

Following his Academy Award-nominated performance in 1992’s Malcolm X, Washington opted for a decidedly less serious role — that of the matchmaking prince Don Pedro of Aragon in Much Ado About Nothing. Kenneth Branagh’s second Shakespeare adaptation, Much Ado united a colorful cast (including Washington, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Keaton, and Branagh himself) to tell the tale of warring half-brothers (Washington and Reeves) whose squabbling serves as the backdrop for all manner of machinations and misunderstandings surrounding the wedding of Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Hero (Beckinsale). As with most Shakespeare adaptations, Much Ado didn’t make many waves outside the traditional arthouse crowd, but for the folks who saw it, it proved a deft, smartly rearranged version of one of the Bard’s lighter plays. Though some scribes took issue with the film’s eclectic cast, for most critics, its flaws were minor; in the words of the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, “Director Branagh, who altered the play imaginatively for the screen, gives wonderful import to this silliness from long ago.”


89%

2. Malcolm X

A lightning rod in life and death, Malcolm X was a natural fit for the biopic treatment — but it isn’t hard to understand why producer Marvin Worth had to labor through 25 years of turnarounds, screenplay revisions, changing leading men (including Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy), and multiple directors before Malcolm X finally made its way to theaters in November of 1992. And even with Washington signed on to play the slain activist, and Spike Lee in the director’s chair, Malcolm didn’t see release without multiple controversies, a creative tug of war between Lee and Warner Bros., and a last-minute influx of cash from a group of donors that included Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan. Somewhat predictably, given Malcolm X’s thorny reputation — not to mention the movie’s three-and-a-half-hour length — this wasn’t a biopic for everyone, but most of those who did see it (including 91 percent of Tomatometer critics) agreed that, for all its struggle in getting to the screen, Malcolm X was a tribute worthy of its subject. It is, wrote Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “An ambitious, tough, seriously considered biographical film that, with honor, eludes easy characterization.”


93%

1. Glory

The first of three films to unite Denzel Washington with director Edward Zwick, Glory arrived in theaters five days before 1989’s other big war drama, Born on the 4th of July — and although July‘s grosses quickly dwarfed Glory‘s, critics were quick to point out that Glory, which dramatized the struggles faced by the Union Army’s first all-black Civil War regiment, was every bit as compelling. Washington starred here as an escaped slave-turned-soldier known as Trip — and although the cast was heavy with talent, including Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Matthew Broderick, it was Washington who walked away with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In an Entertainment Weekly retrospective of his career, Washington looked back on Glory, revealing that before he filmed a crucial scene in which his character is flogged, he walked around “calling on the spirits of all the slaves” — and that “that whip actually hurt.” That quote is enough to explain the level of commitment to craft that has helped make Denzel Washington one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, and Glory‘s 122 minutes are enough to tell you why it inspired ReelViews’ James Berardinelli to call it “without question, one of the best movies ever made about the American Civil War.”


In case you were wondering, here are Washington’s top ten movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Remember the Titans — 93%
2. Glory — 93%

3. Malcolm X — 91%
4. Man on Fire — 90%
5. Training Day — 89%
6. Philadelphia — 89%
7. Cry Freedom — 89%
8. American Gangster — 87%

9. The Hurricane — 87%

10. Much Ado About Nothing — 87%


Take a look through Washington’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Equalizer.

Finally, here’s the opening for St. Elsewhere, the show that brought Washington to prominence:

If you scanned the credits for Unstoppable, you may have noticed a familiar name near the top: Mimi Rogers. Best known as a versatile actress, Rogers made a splash as a producer in 2010 by shepherding the based-on-true-events tale of a runaway train to the big screen. Producer is just one of Rogers’s talents, however — in addition to her widely-praised performances in such diverse films as The Rapture, The Prince of Tides, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Rogers is also one of Hollywood’s finest competitive poker players. With the Certified Fresh Unstoppable hitting DVD shelves this week, we talked with Rogers about her favorite movies, the rigors of producing films, and what she learned from some of her previous directors.

 



MASH
(1970, 89% Tomatometer)



MASH. To me, MASH is the superb realization of [Robert] Altman. Amazing. Whether it’s the improvisational nature, the way he layers dialogue, the way that he has scenes that are alive on every level. The rebelliousness, the anarchy, the humor. You know, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould were just [great]. To me, it was sort of like the perfect realization of what he does, although McCabe & Mrs. Miller is another favorite.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974, 86% Tomatometer)



Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is another one of my favorites. Jeff Bridges, just, wow.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969,
91% Tomatometer)



I like a lot Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was hilarious, it was incredibly well done and well written. The chemistry between those two is spectacular. And I fell deeply and madly in love with them.


Cool Hand Luke
(1967,
100% Tomatometer)



I like Cool Hand Luke. To me, it’s an iconic [Paul] Newman performance. Everything from Newman to George Kennedy to just watching that spirit, and the sort of bitter triumph of that spirit even at the end. An amazing, unforgettable movie for me.


The Exorcist
(1973, 85% Tomatometer)



I like The Exorcist. I mean, for me, it worked on such a psychological level. For me, it sort of grasped the idea of what horror is, what the mind can conjure up.

Next, Rogers talks about bringing Unstoppable to the big screen.

RT: You’ve been in big movies; you’ve been in little movies; you’ve done comedy, horror; you’re a producer; you’re a poker player. Is there a pattern to your career?

Mimi Rogers: Chaos theory, baby. No, no, I guess there’s not a pattern. You know, I started producing however many years ago, which is not an abnormal route to take. Acting is wonderful; it can be, obviously, a very gratifying business, but it’s not a business where you have much control. I’m a big reader, I’m a big storyteller, I’m a big fan of really well told stories, and that sort of motivated me twelve or thirteen years ago to start saying, you know, “Hey, I have some ideas that I think would actually make great movies. Why not try and make that happen?” And, you know, I work with my husband, and we don’t really have an agenda. It’s not any type of genre, it’s not commercial, or indie; it’s anything that appeals to us, anything that we think is an interesting story to tell. This was an article that he had found, and that he brought to me and said, “I think maybe there’s a movie here.” And I read it and said, “Ohh, yeah.”

You’re talking about the true story about the train that was without a conductor for a bit, which is obviously a little different from how it’s portrayed on screen.

But surprisingly, not that different. It’s actually not that different. You know, the only aspect that became fictional is really what happened at the very end, when Chris [Pine] had to jump out and be driven to the front. But in terms of the size of the train, what was on the train, the stakes in terms of the amount of devastation and death, the attempt at the derailment… All of that happened. Almost everything in the movie did actually happen.

[rtimage]siteImageId=10240635[/rtimage]
Has being a producer given you any new perspective on the acting process? Or is it two different hats you’re wearing?

Well, it is really two different hats. I sort of liken being a producer to being a parent; you’re in charge, you’re supposed to pay for everything. Everybody comes to you with their problems, and you never get thanked. Being an actor is a much more childlike position. You only have to think about yourself. [laughs]

As an actress, you had a chance to work with directors like Michael Cimino, Robert Altman, Barbra Streisand, and Ridley Scott. Were you taking notes for your future career as a producer?

Well, it’s interesting, because you definitely glean something very different and very useful from each of them. Obviously, in working with Ridley, just a staggering sense of visuals, and what you can do with the camera. He’s not an incredibly verbal director, and he likes to sort of cast people that he feels sort of already have the role in hand, not something that has to be broken down or seriously explained, because he does a lot of the storytelling through the visuals. You see you know, how you can do that and convey a sense of time, place, and identity through what you see and how it’s shown.

Working with Barbra was insanely great. She’s a genius on so many levels, and watching her perfectionism and understanding what that really means. She knows how she wants it, she knows how it would be best realized, and she’s not going to settle for less. That’s kind of a great position to take.

[rtimage]siteImageId=10240636[/rtimage]
Some of the movies you made before were award-winners, but this is a much bigger scale thing. What was the big difference? Is there a lot more to keep track of?

Well, obviously, it took us years and years to get it brought to the screen. What we felt about it from the beginning was that it was just sort of rooted in the tradition of great American, sort of blue collar, ordinary person, hero-based action films. The fact that it was rooted in reality was kind of what made it doable because things happen in the movie that literally are stranger than fiction, that if you’d written it in a fictional story, a million people would have said, “Well, that could never happen, that could never happen, and that could never happen.” But our intention from the get-go was to make a really big, fun, fast, highly entertaining commercial film.


Are there any poker movies that get it right?

Not really. Not yet. I mean, there are movies that get gambling addiction right, but in terms of getting poker playing right? Not really. I think it’s just a lot more esoteric than people think. It took a long time to get a movie about chess with any sort of grain of true reality. The actual real mentality, I just don’t think it has been captured yet.


Unstoppable arrives on home video today in the US.

This week, we are faced once again with a limited selection of worthy choices on home video. Of the four new releases, only one received a wide theatrical run; at least it was a well-reviewed movie. Outside of those four, which also include a Japanese animated film, a documentary, and the latest Woody Allen feature, we have just three others to mention, all with varying degrees of “classic” written all over them. One features a standout Robert Downey Jr. performance, one is a famously controversial Marlon Brando vehicle, and one is a bona fide award-winner from Sidney Lumet. So have a look and see if there’s anything worth picking up!



Unstoppable

87%

One supposes an action film about a runaway train could have depth and nuance — but if it did it probably couldn’t keep all those swish pans and quick edits, and Tony Scott’s not to do that. It hardly matters. Between Chris Pine’s hot-headed husband and Denzel Washington’s long-suffering senior conductor, there are as many sparks in the cabin as there are coming off the tracks. Blu-Ray promises to make those sparks come clear and loud with Dolby Surround sound and a digital transfer. Extras include a script development feature, an “anatomy of a scene,” director commentary, “Hanging off the Rails” about the stunts, and “The Fastest Track,” a making-of featurette.



You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

46%

Woody Allen continues to churn out movies like there’s no tomorrow, but in the past ten years or so, his directorial efforts have been mostly hit-or-miss; only three of his eleven films since 2000 have been rated Fresh, and unfortunately, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not one of them. Despite featuring an all-star cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, and Freida Pinto, Tall Dark Stranger struck most critics as formulaic, a paint-by-numbers effort by Allen that fails to break any new ground for the auteur. For what it’s worth, the cast does what it can with the script, but the interweaving storylines about one family’s romantic adventures largely left critics feeling like Allen had run out of ideas. Still, for those who are looking for a trademark Woody Allen film, this might do the trick, even if these sorts of situations have been better explored in many of his earlier works.



Waiting for Superman

90%

Sending your kids to school is a watershed moment for any parent, but the fear of your kid not making friends or suffering under a Dickensian kindergarten teacher can’t match the stress of choosing a school in our socio-economic climate. Budgets take their toll on libraries, teachers are trapped in a corner to get supplies, monies are sent to one neighborhood over another — the public school/private school divide seems impossible to straddle. Not that Davis Guggenheim’s doc fixes the matter (it’s a doc, not public policy) but it’s the biggest primer to hit theaters, and since it’s from the guy that made An Inconvenient Truth (and It Might Get Loud, but who’s counting) we’re likely to think his doc is sovereign. Do your research, parents, but revel and relax with this high quality rendering of the doc of the summer. Extras include an interview with the director, a “making of” for the title track by John Legend (that also features commentary by Guggenheim and producer Leslie Chilcott), and featurettes about the changes that have happened in public education since the making of the film.



Summer Wars

78%

Unless you’re specifically into Japanese animation, you may not have known about this small release produced by Madhouse Inc. last year. Founded in 1972, Madhouse is the company that, once upon a time, brought us cult favorite Ninja Scroll, and more recently, the works of the late Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika). Directed by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), Summer Wars centers around a high school-aged math genius who is falsely accused of hacking into a virtual reality computer world called Oz, which he helps moderate part-time. As the real culprit, Oz’s artificial intelligence program called “Love Machine,” continues to hack into other systems outside of Oz, Kenji and his friends must stop it from spreading real-world harm. As with many recent animated films coming out of Japan, Summer Wars is packed with fantastic visuals, particularly during the Oz-centric sequences, but it’s also plagued by storytelling that is sometimes clunky and difficult to follow. However, most critics who saw it felt it was a rewarding experience, and if you’re into anime, chances are you’ll find it appropriately engaging.



Network – Blu-Ray

92%

Sidney Lumet’s satirical look at the world of television is, by now, well-known and oft-quoted (“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”), so there’s not much we could say about the Oscar-winning film that hasn’t already been said. With that in mind, we’d simply like to point you to the Blu-Ray re-release of the film and, if you haven’t seen it before, to encourage you to give a look at some top-notch performances (Peter Finch won the Best Actor Oscar, Faye Dunaway won Best Actress, and Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress) and a first rate script (Paddy Chayefsky won the Oscar for his screenplay). For those unfamiliar with the story, it revolves around the ratings-driven exploits at the fictional UBS network, whose Evening News anchorman, Howard Beale (Finch), becomes something of a celebrity mouthpiece when news of his imminent firing leads him to rant on-air and to threaten committing suicide during his last broadcast. Needless to say, the film was a critical darling, even during its initial 1976 release, and now that much of the story seems eerily prophetic, Network feels that much more relevant to contemporary times. At a Certified Fresh 90% on the Tomatometer, this is one of those classics that’s worth a rewatch – even more so in high definition.



Last Tango in Paris – Blu-Ray

83%

Bernardo Bertolucci’s steamy art film garnered much international controversy upon its initial release, with its overt sexual themes offending the delicate sensibilities of moviegoers around the world. Government crackdowns and censorship ensued, outraged crowds appeared at screenings to boo those attending the film, and legendary critic Pauline Kael’s positive review of the film became the most famous and arguably the most influential of her career. Last Tango in Paris was a cultural phenomenon, simultaneously redefining the scope of and reinforcing the power of cinema. This week, the film, which stars Marlon Brando as a depressed hotel owner and recent widower who engages in an anonymous affair with a Parisian woman, gets the hi-def treatment, as it arrives for the first time on Blu-Ray. Brando’s mesmerizing performance and the film’s poignant albeit sexually charged themes earned it an 81% on the Tomatometer, so it’s worth watching for more than just Brando’s hi-def buttocks. Side note: Maria Schneider, who plays opposite Brando as Jeanne, died of cancer just a week and a half ago (2/3/2011) at the age of 58.



Chaplin – 15th Anniversary Blu-Ray

60%

Time has done little to diminish the genius of Charlie Chaplin. Four decades after his death, his films are as funny and touching as ever, and his Little Tramp character – with the signature bowler hat, moustache, spinning cane, and duck walk — is as iconic today as in his 1920s heyday. That said, he remains an elusive figure, and Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1992 biopic Chaplin added little light to the man’s genius – much less his scandalous affairs and leftist politics. It wasn’t for a lack of trying – Robert Downey Jr. received an Oscar nomination for his eerie impersonation of the Little Tramp, and its period décor is exquisite. But critics found the film lacking in depth, as it attempted to pack in the details of Chaplin’s life without illuminating them, or getting into the head of its subject. Still, it’s more entertaining than a Wikipedia entry, and Downey is magnificent. The 15th anniversary Blu-ray release features several documentaries on the making of the film and Chaplin himself, but the juiciest special feature is a short home movie featuring Chaplin and his wife (and Modern Times co-star) Paulette Goddard.

Written by Ryan Fujitani, Sara Vizcarrondo, and Tim Ryan.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a runaway train (Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine), chat show intrigue (Morning Glory, starring Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford), and an alien invasion (Skyline, starring Donald Faison and Eric Balfour). What do the critics have to say?



[tomatometer]MovieID=770814364[/tomatometer]

Unstoppable

Director Tony Scott has taken some knocks in recent years, but give the man credit: he knows how to stage a white-knuckle action scene. And in Unstoppable, the tale of an out-of-control locomotive, critics say he’s reeled off a whole string of them, making for one of the most purely enjoyable action flicks of the year. Denzel Washington and Chis Pine star as a pair of railway employees who must regain control of a train that contains an absurd amount of toxic chemicals before it decimates an entire town. It’s a tantalizingly simple premise that the pundits say yields some terrific set pieces; they also say the Certified Fresh Unstoppable is taut, briskly paced, and impeccably crafted. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we list some memorable train movies.)



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Morning Glory

Rachel McAdams is a movie star. She’s brought charm and spunk to a lot of roles before, but critics say Morning Glory offers definitive proof she’s the real deal. Unfortunately, they also note the rest of the movie doesn’t rise to the quality of its leading lady; it’s a relatively toothless satire of television that offers a few big laughs but ultimately feels like something of a missed opportunity. McAdams stars as a young go-getter on a failing network morning show who hopes to improve ratings by adding a legendary news anchor (Harrison Ford) to the cast; unfortunately, her new charge is grumpy about working on such a news-lite program. Can our heroine make the show a ratings winner – and find love in the process? The pundits say Morning Glory is mostly affable, with a few moments of inspiration, but that despite strong work from McAdams, it’s not quite as substantial as it could have been (Find out what star Jeff Goldblum’s Five Favorite Films are here.)



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Skyline

It appears the folks behind Skyline were afraid that movie critics would act like a bunch of Chicken Littles, since the film wasn’t screened in the U.S. prior to release. Skyline tells the tale of a group of friends who discover that aliens are abducting every human being; our ragtag heroes realize they are the only hope to save humanity. Kids, put down those back issues of Omni and guess that Tomatometer!


Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Disco and Atomic War, a documentary about how Western pop culture helped overthrow a totalitarian regime in Estonia, is at 80 percent.
  • Tiny Furniture, a festival favorite about post-collegiate confusion, is at 67 percent.
  • Cool It, a documentary profile of Bjorn Lomborg and his unorthodox climate change policy recommendations, is at 36 percent.

Unstoppable

We don’t see them produced as often as we used to, but Hollywood has been making movies about trains since the dawn of cinema. It’s a long, rich tradition that stretches back to the silent era, so when we saw that Tony Scott and Denzel Washington’s latest collaboration, Unstoppable, was an action thriller about a killer runaway train loaded with nuclear explosives… well, naturally, we decided to dedicate this week’s Total Recall to some of the most noteworthy entries in the long list of railroad movies. At a mere dozen entries, this chronologically-arranged list is obviously far from complete, but we think you’ll find some of your favorites (and at least one unnecessary sequel). Which movies would you add? Let us know in the comments!


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The Great Train Robbery

Though it’s probably the shortest film ever to get the Total Recall treatment, the 12-minute The Great Train Robbery may also be the most influential: not only did it establish a new benchmark for narrative filmmaking, but it also utilized a number of new techniques, including cross-cutting, double exposure, and shooting on location. Accomplishing in just a few minutes what many films fail to do in two hours, Robbery established our lengthy cinematic love affair with the railroad; it was, as Dennis Schwartz of Ozus’ World Movie Reviews wrote, “The most widely viewed picture of its time.”


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The General

1927’s The General found Buster Keaton taking his peerless physical comedy to a more ambitious level, dramatizing a legendary Civil War raid with some of the most dangerous, complicated, and expensive stunts of the silent film era. An unmitigated critical and commercial disaster at the time of its release, The General was one of Keaton’s biggest disappointments, but it was really just a movie ahead of its time; in the years since, it’s made numerous top critics’ Best Movies lists, made the top 20 in the AFI’s “100 Years…100 Laughs,” and been enshrined in the National Film Registry. It is, in the words of the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr, “An almost perfect entertainment.”


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Strangers on a Train

Trains were a recurring theme in Alfred Hitchcock’s work, popping up as plot devices (The 39 Steps and North by Northwest) or even almost characters unto themselves (The Lady Vanishes). For the purposes of this list, however, we’re climbing aboard 1951’s Strangers on a Train, Hitch’s troubled adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel. From the script’s tortured birth to the director’s battles with Warner Bros. over casting, nothing seemed to come easily during Strangers‘ production, and early reviews were lukewarm — but almost 50 years later, it’s regarded as one of the master’s finest works, both as a smart adaptation of the book and as a rich, subtext-heavy thriller. “Two men, a problem, and a crime is an old theme,” wrote Mark Athitakis for Filmcritic.com, “but the list of works that exploit it perfectly is a short one. Strangers on a Train belongs on it.”


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Murder on the Orient Express

Sidney Lumet lined up an all-star cast for this adaptation of the 1934 Agatha Christie novel, and although Christie famously felt Albert Finney lacked a splendid enough mustache to play Hercule Poirot, 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express still steamed its way to six Academy Award nominations (including a Best Supporting Actress win for Ingrid Bergman) and heaps of critical acclaim. Packed with old-fashioned intrigue and bolstered by the talents of Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, and Vanessa Redgrave — not to mention Finney and Bergman — Express earned the admiration of the New York Times’ Vincent Canby, who appreciated the way it “recalls that innocent, pre-Amtrak time when the Orient was still mysterious and railroad travel was full of exotic possibilities.”


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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The 2009 remake offers serviceable, slick action thrills, but for the grittiest, sweatiest train movie of them all, you’ve got to go back to the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Released in 1974, it’s the story of a grizzled New York Transit Authority cop (Walter Matthau) forced to defuse a hostage crisis when a gang of criminals (led by Robert Shaw) commandeers a subway train and gives the authorities one hour to deliver a $1 million ransom. (Hey, it was a long time ago.) Taut, smartly written, and adroitly balanced between sharp dialogue and nifty set pieces, Pelham has come to be regarded as a somewhat overlooked classic of the era; it is, as William Thomas wrote for Empire Magazine, “The kind of gritty, relentless thriller that could only come from the ’70s.”


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Silver Streak

The first of four collaborations between Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, 1976’s Silver Streak stars Wilder as George Caldwell, a shy book editor whose plans for a boring L.A.-Chicago train ride go awry when he finds himself embroiled in a complicated (and rather deadly) plot to cover up the truth about a pair of forged Rembrandts. Just when poor George thinks he’s lucked into some railway nookie with a fellow passenger (Jill Clayburgh), he ends up the unwitting target of a gangster (Ray Walston) who has him tossed off the train — twice! — and he needs the help of an impeccably mustachioed crook (Pryor) to save the day (and the lady). It’s very silly, and just as uneven, but Silver Streak has more than enough inspired moments to make up for the bumpy spots; as David Nusair observed for Reel Film Reviews, “the entire film might just be worth a look for the sequence in which Pryor teaches Wilder how to be black.”

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Runaway Train

What do you get when you take a train in the Alaskan wilderness, put an insane Jon Voight on it, give him Eric Roberts for a sidekick, and throw in a little Danny Trejo for good measure? The answer lies in this ‘80s action classic about a violent lunatic (Voight) who escapes from prison with the help of a dimwitted convict (Roberts) and ends up stowing away on a train that just happens to be on a collision course…with DEATH! Ahem. The cast and the premise suggest cheesy B-movie thrills, but Runaway Train boasts a surprisingly impressive pedigree — the script was based on a Kurosawa screenplay, and director Andrei Konchalovsky was still years away from succumbing to the nonsense of Tango & Cash. As Geoff Andrew wrote for Time Out, “Somehow one leaves aside the blatant implausibilities, the coincidences, even Eric Roberts, and takes great pleasure in a breakneck ride to the end of the line.”


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Throw Momma from the Train

In 1987, Strangers on a Train received a darkly comedic update in the form of Throw Momma from the Train, a Danny DeVito directorial effort about a struggling writer (Billy Crystal) whose plagiarist ex-wife (Kate Mulgrew) is living large on the success of a book she stole from him, and the browbeaten middle-aged college student (DeVito) who cooks up a plan to get rid of her — as well as his own battle axe of a mother (Anne Ramsey). While far from a universal success with critics (the Washington Post’s Rita Kempley suggested filmgoers “throw the whole thing in front of a subway and hope it gets dragged for a couple of miles”), Throw Momma‘s blend of mordant humor and well-cast comic foils earned admiration from writers like Ken Hanke of the Asheville Mountain Xpress, who called it “A rather sweet little comedy masquerading as a black comedy.”


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Under Siege 2: Dark Territory

It’s irredeemably silly — and it’s considered a disappointment even in the often painful context of the Steven Seagal filmography — but we’d be remiss if we didn’t tip our conductor’s cap to Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, the train-bound sequel to Seagal’s 1992 hit about Casey Ryback, a NAVY Seal-turned-chef with a John McClane-like propensity for crossing paths with maniacal villains. Having saved the world from a boat in Under Siege, Ryback hit the rails here, riding with his niece (Katherine Heigl) on a journey to visit the grave of her father; before they can get there, though, their train is hijacked by Travis Dane (a scenery-gobbling Eric Bogosian), who intends to earn a billion-dollar payday by using a space laser to blow up the East Coast. It’s no wonder there was never an Under Siege 3 — not yet, anyway — but this is the only movie on this (or any) list whose climax features the bad guy having his fingers cut off by a helicopter door. As the Arizona Daily Star’s Phil Villarreal shrugged in his begrudgingly positive review, “Run-of-the-mill Seagal. Could be better, could be worse.”


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The Polar Express

Yeah, yeah, we know — Robert Zemeckis probably needs to step away from the mo-cap machine and give us a movie that doesn’t star dead-eyed animatrons. But in this cynical age, isn’t it worth something to have a film that believes so clearly in wonder — and goes to such great lengths to share that wonder with its audience? It may not be worth a great deal of critical goodwill, as evidenced by The Polar Express‘ underwhelming 56 percent on the Tomatometer, but between its $300 million theatrical gross, the Polar Express amusement park ride, and the general lack of modern Christmas movies for kids that aren’t thoroughly crass, it’s easy to understand why so many people agree with Tony Toscano of Talking Pictures, who praised it as “A warm fuzzy for the holidays.”


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The Darjeeling Limited

People in the movies just don’t travel by train as much as they used to — unless, that is, they’re the sort of lovable eccentrics that populate Wes Anderson movies. For example: 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, named for the train booked by Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson) to take himself and his brothers Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrien Brody) on a trip across India. They haven’t seen each other since the death of their father a year previous, and their squabbling quickly makes it apparent why; in fact, it gets them kicked off the train, adding another surreal component to a journey that already had plenty of them. “Brothers and other strangers ride The Darjeeling Limited,” exhorted Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, calling it “Wes Anderson’s captivating road movie that views life as a Great Train of Being.”


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Transsiberian

An ensemble cast, a slowly unraveling mystery, and a railway journey where little is as it seems — Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian was released in 2008, but it’s stocked with timeless cinematic ingredients. And it makes smart use of them, too; the smartly twisted script, co-written by Anderson and Will Conroy, recalls themes that will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen a Hitchcock film (such as Strangers on a Train, perhaps?), but it isn’t slavishly derivative — and it’s solidly cast, with Woody Harrelson, Kate Mara, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, and Eduardo Noriega turning in superlative work. As Roger Ebert appreciatively noted, “Transsiberian starts in neutral, taking the time to introduce its characters, and then goes from second into high like greased lightning. I was a little surprised to notice how thoroughly it wound me up. This is a good one.”


Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Unstoppable.

Finally, here’s a great locomotive song from the King:

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