Denzel Washington’s storied career has led to a number of impressive feats at the Academy Awards. With his ninth acting nomination this year for Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Washington is the most nominated Black actor in the history of the awards. He is also one of only 37 performers to win two acting Oscars, with his victories for “Glory” (1989) and “Training Day” (2001). Voters have had a number of chances to award Washington a third win, though, a feat only six actors have accomplished. He currently ranks fourth in our current combined odds to take home that historic third win this year for “Macbeth,” and if he does not win, he will have lost seven acting races. Which of those performances should have netted the actor a third trophy? Below, read about all of Denzel Washington’s Oscar losses and then take our poll.
Washington earned his first Oscar nomination in 1988 in the Supporting Actor category for “Cry Freedom.” Directed by Richard Attenborough, “Cry Freedom” stars Washington as South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who was killed by security forces, and Kevin Kline as journalist Donald Woods, who reports on Biko’s death. The film earned three Oscar nominations, but Washington lost to Sean Connery for “The Untouchables.” Just two years later, Washington won his first Oscar in this category for “Glory.”
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Three years after his “Glory” victory, Washington returned with his third notice and first in Best Actor for “Malcolm X” under the direction of Spike Lee. Stepping into the shoes of another historical figure, Washington starred in the title role as the film chronicles the Black Nationalist leader’s life story from his childhood through his assassination. The film earned a second nomination for Costumes, but Washington lost his bid to overdue first-time winner Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman.”
Washington earned his fourth bid in 2000 for “The Hurricane.” Another biopic, “The Hurricane” centers on real-life boxer Rubin Carter, who spent 20 years in prison for a triple homicide that he did not commit, but who finally has his conviction overturned through the assistance of Canadian activists. Washington was the sole Oscar nominee for the film and he lost to Kevin Spacey for “American Beauty.” Two years later, Washington won his second Academy Award for “Training Day.”
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After winning two acting Oscars in just under 15 years, Washington waited a long time to return to the awards to contend for a third, but finally did over a decade later in 2013 when he landed a bid for “Flight.” Directed by Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis, “Flight” starred Washington as a pilot who deftly handles his aircraft’s malfunction during flight with minimal casualties, but later faces scrutiny and disciplinary action when tests reveal his elevated blood alcohol levels. Washington contended for the film against fellow two-time winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who ultimately took home his third prize for “Lincoln.”
A long-time admirer of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, Washington earned his 17th nomination for the adaptation of the acclaimed drama “Fences.” In the film, Washington reprised the role of Troy Maxson that he played in a revival on Broadway for which he won a Tony Award. The play centers on Troy, a former baseball player for the Negro leagues and current garbage collector who has tumultuous relationships with his wife Rose and son Cory. Washington also produced and directed the movie, and received Oscar bids for both his performance and as producer. “Fences” netted four nominations and won for supporting actress Viola Davis, but Washington lost to Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea.”
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One year later, Washington earned another nomination for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” making him the first Black actor to earn back-to-back lead nominations. He stars in the title role, an idealistic and brilliant civil rights attorney who thrives at back office legal work but makes a number of costly mistakes and unethical decisions when he is forced to work on cases directly with clients. Washington was the only nominee for the film, and the award went to Gary Oldman for “Darkest Hour.”
This year, Washington earned his ninth acting nomination and tenth overall for Joel Coen’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Washington stars in the title role, whose battlefield triumphs lead to three witches’ prophesy that he shall become king, but spurred on by the hubristic Lady Macbeth (three-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand), he pursues power tyrannically until his demise. The film is currently nominated for three Oscars, including Washington, Production Design, and Cinematography, but according to our odds, Will Smith (“King Richard”) looks most likely to win Best Actor.
Which of Washington’s six prior Oscar losses should he have prevailed for? Take our poll below and sound off in the comments and in our forums.
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