Denzel Washington’s Lost Role In 2023 Thriller Prevented A Perfect 30-Year Reunion From Happening

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Summary

  • Denzel Washington missed a 30-year reunion with Julia Roberts due to his exit from the 2023 Netflix movie Leave the World Behind.
  • Leave the World Behind was set to be Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts’ first movie together since The Pelican Brief in 1993.
  • Leave the World Behind could have potentially redeemed the poor critical response to The Pelican Brief by pairing Denzel Washington with Julia Roberts again after three decades.



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Leave the World Behind would have been an actor reunion 30 years in the making if Denzel Washington‘s role in the 2023 Netflix thriller had worked out. Written and directed by Sam Esmail, Leave the World Behind is based on Rumaan Alam’s 2020 apocalyptic novel of the same name about a family vacation that gets interrupted by the proclaimed owners of their rental home warning of an impending blackout and subsequent societal collapse.


Originally, Denzel Washington was supposed to star as G.H. Scott in Leave the World Behind. However, it was announced in September 2021 that Mahershala Ali had replaced Washington in Leave the World Behind after he left the project. While Ali did a great job as G.H. Scott, the role had a deeper significance for Washington because of his history with another member of the Leave the World Behind cast. If he’d stayed on the project, Leave the World Behind would have been Washington’s first movie with one of his past co-stars in three decades.

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Leave The World Behind Would Have Been A Pelican Brief Reunion For Denzel Washington & Julia Roberts

Denzel Washington as Grant Grantham in The Pelican Brief


Leave the World Behind would have reunited Denzel Washington with Julia Roberts, who plays Amanda Sandford in the Netflix movie, after they first shared the screen in the 1993 legal thriller The Pelican Brief. Serving as Alan J. Pakula’s penultimate film before his death in 1998, The Pelican Brief is a film adaptation of John Grisham’s 1992 novel about a law student named Darby Shaw (Roberts) and a newspaper reporter named Gray Grantham (Washington). While working on the titular legal brief about the assassination of two Supreme Court justices, Darby becomes a target herself and enlists Grantham’s help.

Washington’s exit prevented this 30-year reunion with Roberts from coming to fruition onscreen in Leave the World Behind.


Washington and Roberts have not starred in another movie together since The Pelican Brief, but that was all about to change with Leave the World Behind in 2023. In addition to starring, Washington was also set to produce the film alongside Roberts. They were shaping up to be quite the powerhouse duo both in front and behind the camera, but sadly, Washington’s exit prevented this 30-year reunion with Roberts from coming to fruition onscreen in Leave the World Behind.

Washington has also starred alongside another
Leave the World Behind
star, Ethan Hawke, in both
Training Day
(2001) and
The Magnificent Seven
(2016).

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Leave The World Behind Could Have Redeemed Denzel Washington & Julia Roberts’ Thriller

Leave The World Behind Had Better Critical Reception Than The Pelican Brief

Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief

Leave the World Behind was set to deliver Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts’ long-awaited onscreen reunion after ThePelican Brief, which could have redeemed the 1993 legal thriller’s poor critical performance. Despite its major star power, The Pelican Brief was not received well by critics, as reflected by its 55% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Though Roberts was already in a bit of a “Rotten” slump since Pretty Woman in 1990, The Pelican Brief broke Denzel Washington’s “Fresh” Rotten Tomatoes streak in the ’90s.

Rotten Tomatoes did not exist for another five years after
The Pelican Brief
was released, so these streaks are only in retrospect.

It would have been a different movie with Washington in it, but it’s hard to imagine that Leave the World Behind’s reviews wouldn’t have amounted to a score that was as good or even better.


While it has a significantly lower audience score of 35% than The Pelican Brief‘s 61% rating, Leave the World Behind was a much bigger hit with critics. The Netflix apocalyptic thriller holds a 73% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, on which the consensus is that Leave the World Behind is “an exceptionally well-acted apocalyptic thriller.” If Washington never left, Leave the World Behind‘s “Fresh” rating could have made up for The Pelican Brief‘s “Rotten” status.

Of course, it would have been a different movie with Washington in it, but it’s hard to imagine that Leave the World Behind‘s reviews wouldn’t have amounted to a score that was as good or even better with his presence, especially paired with Roberts. Critics conceded that these two made for “a compelling team” in The Pelican Brief and were the highlights of the otherwise disappointing film.Leave the World Behind was Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts’ chance to fulfill their true collaborative potential after The Pelican Brief failed to fully showcase their talents.


Movie Title

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score

The Pelican Brief (1993)

55%

61%

Leave the World Behind (2023)

73%

35%

Sources: Rotten Tomatoes, Rotten Tomatoes

Leave the World Behind

A family’s getaway to a luxurious rental home takes an ominous turn when a cyberattack knocks out their devices, and two strangers appear at their door.

Director
Sam Esmail

Release Date
December 8, 2023

Runtime
141 Minutes

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