Spike Lee shot to mainstream attention as the writer and director of incendiary socially-conscious dramas, even if his early titles like She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze and Do the Right Thing had a heavy comedic bent.
Denzel Washington‘s first collaboration with Lee came in 1990’s Mo’ Better Blues, but when they re-teamed for Malcolm X two years later it marked both the filmmaker’s first foray into straightforward dramatic territory, and Washington’s most high profile leading role to date.
Of course, the actor already had an Academy Award under his belt having scooped a supporting prize for Glory, but Malcolm X was the first time he’d been recognized in the lead category. Almost 30 years later and it still ranks as one of the best performances he’s ever given, which is no mean feat when you consider the sheer strength of his back catalogue since then.
The poignant biopic remains one of Lee’s biggest box office hits after earning $73 million, even if the film was entirely shut out of the Oscar conversation with the exception of its leading man and Ruth E. Carter’s production design. In fact, most people think Denzel was robbed, with Al Pacino contentiously landing Best Actor for his over-the-top performance in Scent of a Woman instead.
Malcolm X is now streaming on Netflix, and while Washington’s movies almost always crack the Top 10 eventually, it’ll be interesting to see if a period-set drama manages the same feat, when it’s typically been his action thrillers that have dominated the most-watched chart.