13 Times Denzel Washington Has Dispensed a Special Brand of Justice

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The Equalizer opens in theaters Friday. That is exciting because Denzel Washington is in it, and every Denzel Washington movie is great, even the ones that stink, and sometimes especially the ones that stink.

But it’s maybe a little more exciting than usual because of the following line, used on The Equalizer’s Wikipedia page to describe the movie: “Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall [Denzel’s character] comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened.”








Holdonasec because my whole body just exploded into a million tiny bits wow how am I even typing this.

No actor in Hollywood is better at serving justice, be it vengeance-based, “a special brand,” or otherwise, than Denzel Washington. He’s cooler than Samuel L. Jackson, he’s (somehow) more intimidating than The Rock, and he’s more believable than just about anybody who’s known for throwing punches or kicking things onscreen (such as basically everyone in The Expendables franchise).

Here is an attempt to identify (and celebrate) 13 types of special justice Denzel has dispensed in his movies.

Flight: Denzel Washington vs. Gravity

The universe looked down onto Earth and said, “That plane right there,” pointing at the one Denzel was flying, “that plane needs to crash right now.” Denzel, drunk, responded, “Nope.” Gravity was like, “Don’t worry, Universe. I got this.” Then Denzel smirked, “Oh, for real? Why don’t you tell Isaac Newton to eat my shorts, Gravity?” And then he landed the plane goddamn upside down.

Aeronautical Justice: Dispensed.

Safe House: Denzel Washington vs. Corruption in the Government

My greatest wish is that while Denzel was tearing the upper echelon of various government branches to ribbons, he’d have taken a bit of time to let Ryan Reynolds know it’s OK to move your face while you’re acting. I don’t understand how Reynolds can’t be a good actor for just one movie in a row.

Anti-Terrorism Justice: Dispensed.

The Book of Eli: Denzel Washington vs. Postapocalyptic Religion Pirate

Denzel plays a nomad who is carrying a Bible (possibly the last on earth) across the country. He kills lots of people who try to rob him (mostly of his Bible, but also of some other things). There’s one part where he cuts off a guy’s hand because the guy pushes him. When it happens, the guy looks at where his hand used to be, then asks, “Why’d you do that?” Then Denzel kills all of his friends. That’s in, like, the first 10 minutes. Oh, also, it turns out Denzel is blind. 10.0 movie.1

Religious Justice: Dispensed.

John Q: Denzel Washington vs. HMOs

Denzel’s son needed a heart. The hospital wouldn’t give it to him because Denzel’s insurance didn’t cover it. Guess what? Denzel took everyone in a section of the hospital hostage and now his son has a heart.

Health Care Reform Justice: Dispensed.2

Training Day: Denzel Washington vs. Roger


Denzel needed money. Roger had money. Guess what? Now Roger’s dead and Denzel has money.3

Self-Serving Justice: Dispensed.4

Remember the Titans: Denzel Washington vs. Fun, an All-American, and Racism


Sorry, fun.

Business-Only Justice: Dispensed.

Sorry, All-American.

Patriarchal Justice: Dispensed.

Sorry, racism. There is no room for you here. There is only room for Denzel’s stern gaze and maybe also some of his teeth.

Ideological Justice: Dispensed.

He Got Game: Denzel Washington vs. Lala’s Boyfriend on the Side


Denzel tries to talk to Ray Allen’s girlfriend, Lala. Her side-boyfriend comes running over. He gets in Denzel’s face. Then he gets his face busted open. Welcome to America, bro.

Also, if you have a woman on the side, the phrase you use is “side-chick.” Please, please, please tell me that if you have a man on the side the phrase you use is “side-dick.”

Side-Dick Justice: Dispensed.

Fallen: Denzel Washington vs. the Demon Azazel

Denzel is a detective. He chases and captures a serial killer. The serial killer is executed. It turns out that the serial killer was possessed by a demon named Azazel that is trying to force the apocalypse to happen. Oh, great. Now Denzel is chasing a demon. That’s a little thing called going zero to 100 real quick.

Occult Justice: Attempted, but not actually dispensed. Denzel ends up killing himself trying to evaporate the demon, but the demon hides inside of a cat. 1998 was weird.

Virtuosity: Denzel Washington vs. Russell Crowe As the Internet As a Person (or Something)

I don’t know what TF was going on in this movie. All that I know is Denzel kills Crowe by punching into the back of his head and pulling out what’s supposed to be a supermicroprocessor or something:


E-Justice: Dispensed.

Philadelphia: Denzel Washington vs. the Largest Corporate Law Firm in Philadelphia

We could use a little more Denzel Washington in this world.

Bigotry Justice: Dispensed. #RIPTomHanks

Malcolm X: Denzel Washington vs. Rudy


Poor Rudy. He got his arms and legs pulled off here.

Russian Roulette Justice: Dispensed.

Filed Under: Movies, Denzel Washington, The Equalizer, Flight

Shea Serrano is a staff writer for Grantland. His latest book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed, is a New York Times best seller and is available everywhere.

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