27. 'A Soldier's Story' (1984)
Washington is just one member of the ensemble cast for Norman Jewison's Oscar-nominated mystery about the murder of an officer at an African-American military camp during World War II. But he immediately stands out – as a bespectacled hard-ass whose contempt for his superiors runs deep. (Washington had also played the same part in the original theatrical iteration of this story, titled A Soldier's Play.) In a lot of his early roles, the actor got noticed for the humanity, playfulness or compelling melancholy he brought to the parts; here, it's his intensity that strikes you. And, without giving too much away, there turns out to be a reason for that. Essential early Denzel viewing.