- Alternate Character Interpretation: Did Alonzo set Hoyt up with Smiley knowing that Smiley would find the wallet and spare him or was he actually setting him up to die? His dialogue in the initial scene with Letty implies the former but it's never solidly confirmed. Much of Alonzo's motivations and how much he's actually planned things up is very ambiguous.
- Consolation Award: Many thought Denzel Washington won Best Actor to compensate many lauded but not awarded performances that preceded. Specially for a fierce competitor that year (and ironically both actors faced off against each other in Virtuosity).
- Esoteric Happy Ending: Jake survives the day's events on his first day as a narcotics officer, with Alonzo now dead. However, he has to give a report on how his supervisor was killed, and provide evidence of his criminal actions...to the Three Wise Men, the very same corrupt high-ranking police officials gave Alonzo carte blanche to do as he pleased.
- It's never specifically said that The Three Wise Men ARE corrupt. It might be assumed as such since they are so cynical and jaded, but the lawyer, whom Alonzo says will "snatch [Hoyt's] nuts out and use them for dice" if he screws up, seems genuinely worried that Alonzo won't survive his deadline with the Russians, and the long-faced older cop feels the need to reiterate what Alonzo already knows: the Russians will whack him, regardless of his status as a well-respected cop or not. Even Harris Yulin's character, the cigar-smoking detective who says he's gonna find the subject of his story and kill him, can't be written off entirely, because cops can be said to talk about all the stuff they'd like to do to various perps they know will get off but will never actually do.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: In this movie directed by Antoine Fuqua, Denzel Washington's character is in debt with the Russian mafia. Come 2014, Fuqua directs The Equalizer, with Washington playing the main character who fights the Russian mafia!
- Magnificent Bastard: Alonzo, naturally, particularly with respect to Roger.
- Memetic Mutation:
- Moral Event Horizon: Alonzo himself crosses this when he kills Roger, just so that he can take the money that the latter has. And if that wasn't enough, he also leaves Jake to be killed by Smiley and his gang.
- Narm: When Alonzo randomly mutters, "poo-butt ass..." during the PCP scene.
- Narm Charm:
- A man screaming "King Kong ain't got shit on me!" should make you laugh your ass off. Instead, it is one of the most dramatic moments of the film.
- When Alonzo yells: "I'M SURGICAL WITH THIS BITCH, JAKE!"
- Retroactive Recognition:
- Terry Crews plays an unnamed gangbanger.
- Tuco got his shit... pushed in, bro! Big time!
- Evil Is Sexy: Artemis, the female sicario working for Los Muertos.
- The Woobie: Both Frank and Kyle, due to Bill's death.