Spike Lee's towering 1992 biopic Malcolm X is a mesmerizing showcase for star Denzel Washington. Both Lee and Washington delivered their best work—Lee, to his credit, also co-wrote the film's sprawling, meticulously layered screenplay (with Arnold Perl), adapting The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

One of the screenplay's (and, in turn, the movie's) most fascinating sections comes early on, when a younger Malcolm Little (who'd eventually replace the Little with X when he joined the Nation of Islam) is a hotshot, zoot-suit-wearing criminal soaking up guidance from numbers-running Harlem gangster West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo). It's a small role, but Lindo—who'd return to the Spike Lee business with an even better performance in the 1995 film Clockers—nails Archie's enviable but untrustworthy swag with real panache, as well as his mental deterioration later in life.