Denzel Washington’s Highest Grossing Film Had a Reaction Unlike ‘Anything I’ve Done Before’

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Actor Denzel Washington managed to connect with audiences with his wide range of characters and films. But the reaction for his highest grossing film was one that even blew him away.

What’s Denzel Washington’s highest-grossing film?

Denzel Washington posing at the American Film Institute's 47th Life Achievement Award Gala while wearing a suit.
Denzel Washington | Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic

Out of all the movies Washington’s done, American Gangster still reigns supreme as the actor’s top grossing film. The feature saw the Safe House star play real-life drug kingpin Frank Lucas, and grossed $267 million according to The Numbers. Washington was attracted to the role because it had an interesting dynamic with Russell Crowe’s character in the film. Crowe played a cop living a less than honest life, which had an interesting parallel to Washington’s Frank Lucas.

“That one man appears to be so straight and honest in his police work is so dishonest in his private life. Another man who seems to be so dishonest in his work life is so honest in his private life. And how these two guys came together and actually, to this day, are still friends. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to work with a great actor again and, actually, a great filmmaker. To be in my home town,” Washington once told Rotten Tomatoes.

Washington also remembered the feature because of the fans’ surreal response, which was a unique experience.

“Yes, it’s been a good last quarter. The reaction to American Gangster has been unlike anything I’ve done before,” Washington said in an interview with the Orange County Register.

How Denzel Washington felt about playing a bad guy so long after ‘Training Day’

American Gangster saw Washington experiment with villainy in a way he hadn’t since Training Day. The 2001 cop feature marked the first time Washington played a bad guy, which earned him an Oscar win. According to Female, Washington shared he was always interested in playing those types of characters. But the opportunity didn’t present itself until Training Day.

“It’s not for want of trying. It’s just that no one has ever asked me to play a bad guy before. That’s not how Hollywood perceives me,” Washington said.

When Washington finally found himself in the shoes of someone despicable, he thrived in the role.

“It’s a huge honor and privilege to play real-life heroes, but there is a different kind of excitement and reward for an actor in playing a villain. I have to admit I had a lot of fun playing Harris in Training Day,” he said.

Despite enjoying himself, Washington pretty much went back to playing more heroic characters until American Gangster came along. In a resurfaced interview with First Showing, Washington shared he had no issue getting back in touch with his darker side for the film.

“A good story is a good story,” Washington said. “I just think that before Training Day, I hadn’t really been offered that kind of role. After Training Day, that was all I was offered… No, that’s not true, but I was offered more of that kind of thing. But it just comes down to good material, great actor to work with and great filmmaker. It wasn’t that complicated.”

Denzel Washington’s ‘Training Day’ director wanted to shoot ‘American Gangster’

Washington’s American Gangster was shot by Ridley Scott. But before Scott got his hands on the project, Emancipation filmmaker Antoine Fuqua was eyeing the feature. But creative differences caused him to part ways with the film, which Fuqua considered one of his biggest regrets.

“It breaks my heart just to say it out loud,” Fuqua said in a 2022 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I didn’t know enough then. I don’t think I navigated it the way I should have, or had a full perspective and understanding of the business, like the fiscal responsibilities and the pressure that everyone’s under, including the executives. You do have to pause and take in the big picture. That one got away from me, and that will always break my heart. That was a chance for me to work with Denzel again in the genre that I grew up loving.”

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