5 Mediocre War Movies That Would Have Been Better with Denzel Washington

(Columbia Pictures)

Denzel Washington is returning for his third outing as Marine Corps veteran and former Defense Intelligence Agency operative Robert McCall in "The Equalizer 3." The "Equalizer" series isn't the only time he's portrayed a military character; "Courage Under Fire," "Glory" and "Crimson Tide" wouldn't be the same without him.

But Denzel wanted more. In a 2012 interview with GQ, Washington said he wanted a part in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" and the part of Sgt. Elias in "Platoon" (which ultimately went to Willem Dafoe).

While having Denzel in either (or both) would have been awesome, these are classics. They don't need a bump. There are many, many lesser war movies that would have been supremely enhanced by his presence.

1. Behind Enemy Lines

"Behind Enemy Lines" is based on the story of Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady being shot down over Bosnia and his six-day effort to make radio contact while evading the enemy. That's where the similarities end. In the movie, naval aviator Lt. Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) gets shot down and uncovers an ethnic cleansing taking place while Rear Adm. Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman) disobeys orders to rescue him.

If Denzel had been the aviator shot down, we would have gotten a "Crimson Tide" reunion, where Hackman is fighting for Washington instead of against him. There's also a fight scene at the end that would have looked way different for our hero -- and very different for the villain.

2. Navy SEALs

The 1990s film "Navy SEALs" was forgettable then, and it's forgettable now. This movie is more like a recruiting commercial for Naval Special Warfare that got out of hand than a feature film. Indeed, real-world SEALs say Charlie Sheen waking up on a beach after drinking all night is the only realistic depiction of SEALs in the entire movie.

Now, "Navy SEALs" wouldn't have been a more realistic movie if Denzel had been cast in it, but it still would have been a better movie. Adding him to a cast of post-"Platoon" Sheen, Dennis Haysbert ("Heat," "24") and Bill Paxton ("Aliens," "Predator 2") would have made it a lot more memorable.

3. U-571

"U-571" stars Matthew McConaughey ("Free State of Jones") as a submarine skipper during World War II, leading sailors on a mission to capture the Nazis' Enigma coded messaging system. It's a pretty good popcorn movie, but there's something missing from the story that would make it a war movie favorite.

You probably might have guessed that "something" is Denzel. I have no direct evidence for this, but adding his performance to that of McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi would have put this submarine movie on the same level as "Das Boot."

4. Cold Mountain

"Cold Mountain" is the Civil War-era story of a Confederate soldier who deserts to rejoin his lady love. It's a decent movie, but it's far from the level of "Glory." A lot of critics panned it, pretty much saying it was a desperate reach for an Oscar nomination. They might have a point. It's an OK movie, but it's not great. There are better ways to kill 2½ hours.

This film is an adaptation of a book, and a lot of book adaptations don't really live up to the quality of the book. If you put Denzel in place of Jude Law, this movie becomes an entirely different story, and that Oscar nomination is all but guaranteed.

5. The Hurt Locker

I know it won an Academy Award for Best Picture, but even if you take out all the military inaccuracies, it's still not that great. It's definitely not better than "Inglourious Basterds," which was also nominated for the award that year.

Maybe this is just some "Training Day" memories talking, but it seems like "The Hurt Locker" would be much more believable if Denzel snuck off Camp Victory by hijacking an Iraqi merchant, then committed breaking and entering into some stranger's house.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, or on LinkedIn.

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