Charismatic actor Denzel Washington is no stranger to critical acclaim, having received ten Oscar nominations throughout his career, for nine different films. Most recently, he was nominated for best actor this year, for his role in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Let’s take a look at every time the legendary actor was nominated for the prestigious award, and every time he won.
Denzel Washington’s first Oscar nomination was for best supporting actor in 1988 for the film Cry Freedom which was directed by Richard Attenborough. The film was also nominated for best original score and best original song but left the Oscars with no awards. Based on real-life events Washington played Steve Biko, a member of an anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the 1970s. Cry Freedom followed journalist Donald Woods, played by Kevin Kline who came to befriend Biko, and when Biko was found dead in police custody, Woods was determined to uncover the truth of what happened to him. Washington was up against some fierce competition that year and lost the Oscar to Sean Connery for The Untouchables.
Only two years after his first nomination, Denzel was nominated in 1990 for Glory which was directed by Edward Zwick. This would be the role that earned him his first Academy Award for best supporting actor, as he managed to beat out the competition and win the Oscar. The film also managed to win best cinematography and best sound, netting five nominations total. Glory followed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which was an African-American regiment in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Washington played Pvt. Silas Trip, a member of the regiment, alongside Matthew Broderick who played Colonel Robert Shaw the commanding officer, and Morgan Freeman. The film was critically acclaimed at the time and might be one of the best Civil War films of all time, with Washington’s performance a standout.
Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee, got Denzel Washington his third Academy Award nomination and his first nomination for best actor in 1993. Washington played the titular character, Malcolm X, the African-American human rights activist and prominent figure in the civil rights movement, who was assassinated in 1965. Angela Bassett played Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife. The film was a great biographical film about Malcolm X’s life, and it also managed to pick up a nomination for Best Costume Design. Denzel Washington failed to take home an Oscar that year, losing to Al Pacino for his role as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman.
Washington’s next Academy Award nomination was seven years after Malcolm X, for best actor in 2000 for The Hurricane which was directed by Norman Jewison. Denzel starred as a former boxer named Rubin ‘The Hurricane’ Carter in the biographical sports drama. It told the story of how Carter was wrongfully imprisoned for a triple homicide, his trial, and eventual release. Washington did not take home the Oscar that year, instead, the best actor award was won by Kevin Spacey for his role in American Beauty as Lester Burnham.
Washington was nominated for one of his more famous roles in the Antoine Fuqua directed, Training Day in 2002. Up for best actor, Denzel won the Academy Award for his role as Alonzo Harris, the corrupt narcotics detective in the crime thriller. His costar Ethan Hawke was also nominated for his role as the officer that Harris attempted to corrupt in the film, Jake Hoyt. The two actors’ performances were applauded by critics, made evident by Washington’s win. The film followed Harris and Hoyt as they navigated the corruption and gangs that made up a day in the life of two LAPD officers.
Denzel’s next nomination would not be until Flight in 2013 when he was nominated for best actor. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Flight was about an alcoholic pilot played by Washington, named William “Whip” Whitaker Sr. who after a mechanical failure managed to crash land the plane with minimal casualties. The film followed the aftermath of the crash, and the investigation into Whitaker that happened afterward, uncovering his abuse. Washington was up against Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, where he played Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately for Denzel, Day-Lewis took home the award that year.
The only Denzel Washington film where he was nominated for best actor that he also directed was in 2017 when he was nominated for the film based on the August Wilson stage play, Fences. The film was a period family drama, with Washington playing the father of the family Troy Maxson, as they dealt with financial strain, family issues, and issues about race while also exploring a generation gap. The film was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Viola Davis who played Rose Lee Maxson, Troy’s wife, won Best Supporting Actress. Quite memorably the film that won best picture that year was Moonlight, while Denzel lost to Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea.
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Washington was then nominated for best actor in 2018, only a year later, playing the titular character in Roman J. Israel, Esq. which was directed by Dan Gilroy. The film was a legal drama starring Denzel and Colin Farrell as George Pierce. The film followed Roman J. Israel as he struggled to withhold his idyllic notion of the law, while succumbing to corruption in a sense, eventually seeing the error of his ways. Gary Oldman won the Best Actor Oscar in 2018, for playing Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, with Washington returning home empty-handed yet again.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Denzel’s most recent nomination, this year, in 2022 was for best actor in a black and white retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, The Tragedy of Macbeth, which was directed by Joel Coen, one-half of the lauded Coen brothers. Washington played Lord Macbeth, while Frances McDormand played Lady Macbeth. The film was received well by critics, praising the adaptation, and was also nominated for best cinematography and best production design. Denzel did not walk away with the Oscar this year, instead, the best actor award went to Will Smith for King Richard where he played the father of tennis stars, Serena and Venus Williams, Richard Williams. Of course, this win was embroiled in controversy as Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock while the comedian was presenting the award for best documentary feature film earlier in the night.
That’s a total of two wins and ten nominations for Denzel Washington so far. Let’s hope the superb actor manages to claim another Academy Award in the next few years, as he has always been deserving of industry recognition.