The Big Picture

  • Denzel Washington’s
    is an underrated supernatural thriller that stands out in his filmography.
  • The film’s occult imagery and horror elements make it a refreshing addition to Washington’s work.
  • Fallen
    is often compared to
    , but it has its own bold and ambitious narrative.

Few actors have as impressive a resume than Denzel Washington. He has made himself a household name through a mix of iconic films that are either critically acclaimed, commercially successful, or culturally resonant. From Malcolm X to his multiple Tony Scott collaborations, Washington proves himself over and over to be one of the most capable leading men. With charm and magnetic gravitas, Washington is an actor who commands respect and elevates every project he touches.

Outside his usual fare, Washington’s filmography has not included many genre films. But in 1998, Washington starred in one underrated thriller that takes some surprising turns into the supernatural: Fallen. The film came out amid a wave of grimy crime mysteries, but distinguishes itself by leaning more into horror than any of its contemporaries. While it was not incredibly well received at the time, Fallen has garnered a reputation as a cult film in the present day, and it should be viewed as a standout in Washington’s filmography due to the overt horror elements.

‘Fallen’ Remains Denzel Washington’s Only Horror Film

Fallen follows Washington as a Philadelphia detective, John Hobbes, who finds himself on the tail of a mysterious serial killer with a personal tie to his past. Hobbes had put away another killer, Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas), with the exact same methodology. However, a string of copycat crimes begin cropping up after Reese’s execution. The mystery of who is continuing Reese’s murderous streak takes a turn for the cryptic when Hobbes uncovers signs pointing to demonic possession.

Fallen‘s occult imagery, demonic overtones, and horror stylings are distinctive in Washington’s filmography because he has not starred in any other proper horror movies. A-list stars don’t often lend their talents to horror movies, in an industry where critical and awards bodies often tend to write the genre off as schlocky unless the film is serious enough to be considered art, in which case they might insist on calling it a thriller instead. But Fallen is not that kind of movie. Fallen is a little bit schlocky but in an exciting and refreshing way. It is a surprising standout in Washington’s body of work because of the overt and unflinching genre elements, and his placement in the film elevates it quite a bit.


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The unfortunate fact that Fallen was seen as a disappointment at the time may have kept Washington from wanting to return to the horror genre in later years. Fallen did not make back its budget during its theatrical release, and critics largely wrote it off, but the film has grown to be fondly remembered. Fallen could easily become a cult-classic when discovered by new generations of film fans revisiting Washington’s less-iconic films. As with lesser-known classics, all it takes is a timely drop on a popular streaming service for an older movie to blow up, and honestly, Washington trying to outwit a demonic serial killer is a pitch that should really sell itself.

‘Fallen’ Builds on the Dark Crime Thriller Boom Caused By ‘Se7en,’ but Stands Out as Much More Than a Copycat

David Fincher‘s Se7en sent chills through the box office in 1995, and many studios scrambled to capitalize on audiences’ taste for a macabre, disturbing detective thriller. This resulted in many films throughout the late 1990s that essentially felt like spin-offs of Fincher’s cryptic, downbeat crime movie. Washington famously passed on Se7en, and has publicly expressed regret on the decision. Fallen is the first of a few movies Washington seemed to make in an effort to atone for passing on Fincher’s film. This list also includes The Bone Collector, released the following year. That one co-stars Angelina Jolie, and follows Washington as a detective chasing a killer who leaves clues behind at every crime scene. One movie that sat in developmental hell since the 1990s, and eventually came out in 2021, also belongs in the same wheelhouse: The Little Things, which sees Washington and Rami Malek chasing another serial killer.

None of these movies are quite able to live up to Se7en, but Fallen easily works the best out of Washington’s three films in that lane. The supernatural elements, great characters supported by performances from John Goodman and Donald Sutherland, and the wild twists taken in the narrative make Fallen a movie that stands out among many of the 1990s crime thrillers of this type.

‘Fallen’s Ending Draws Further Comparisons to ‘Se7en’

The film’s bleak ending garners another comparison to Se7en, where unexpected turns in the story lead to moments of triumph quickly undercut by evil prevailing in one way or another. Washington is usually a capable hero, able to resolve whatever conflict a film’s plot throws his way. However, in Fallen, his character’s sharp detective work is only able to go so far as he plunges further into a hunt against evil incarnate. The comparisons to Se7en are warranted for the times, but compared to a great number of crime thrillers that came out in the mid-to-late 1990s, it is a disservice to write Fallen off as nothing but derivative. The film’s setup is certainly familiar, but each subsequent narrative turn raises the stakes and turns the story into something far more bold and ambitious than a mere retread of another film.

While Washington has yet to return to a straightforward horror film, his one foray into the genre proved he can bring his gravitas and charisma to any kind of film in an effortless fashion. Fallen deserves as much hype as the beloved action films Washington headlined over the last couple of decades, and offers a great performance from him in a movie unlike anything he’s done before. Fallen takes big swings that are deserving of its cult-status and allows Washington attempt a new genre in his extensive filmography.

Fallen is currently available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the U.S.


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