Principal photography began in June 2013 on location and took place in different cities of Massachusetts. This was the first film to have Village Roadshow Pictures co-finance the deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment since Saving Silverman in 2001. The film had its world premiere at 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2014, and was released worldwide on September 26.
The film received mixed reviews from critics, who highly praised the visual style, acting, soundtrack and action sequences but criticized its violence, script and plot. Nonetheless, it became a commercial success with a worldwide box office gross of over $192 million. A sequel has been confirmed, with Washington reprising his role.
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a retired CIA black ops operative who lives quietly in Boston, Massachusetts and works at a Home Mart hardware store; McCall befriends many of his co-workers and helps a security guard trainee named Ralph pass his qualification exam. McCall promised his recently deceased wife that he would leave his old life behind. Unable to sleep, McCall spends some late nights reading in a 24/7 diner where he befriends Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenaged prostitute for the Russian Mafia; McCall regales Alina with philosophical interpretations of the book he is reading (The Old Man and the Sea). One night, Alina is hospitalized following a brutal beating by her pimp, Slavi (David Meunier). McCall enters a restaurant owned by the Russian mob and offers to buy Alina's freedom from Slavi for $9,800, but Slavi refuses, dismissing McCall as old and impotent. Failing in this approach, McCall considers the room, estimating it would take him 16 seconds to clear it. He subsequently kills Slavi and four of his men with skillful close combat efficiency. To slight dismay, McCall realizes that it took him 19 seconds to accomplish his task and quietly lectures the dying Slavi that his death could have been avoided had he taken the money.
In response to the death of Slavi and his crew, Russian Mafia boss Vladimir Pushkevich (Vladimir Kulich) sends his enforcer, Teddy Rensen (Marton Csokas), to Boston to find and eliminate the culprit. In the meantime, Ralph withdraws his security guard application and instead goes to work with his mother at the family restaurant; McCall learns that the restaurant was set on fire by corrupt policemen as an act of extortion. McCall confronts the corrupt policemen, beats them, forces them to pay back all the money they have extorted, and threatens to publicize their crimes. Ralph then returns to Home Mart and passes his test, becoming a security guard at the store.
Rensen determines that McCall is the culprit in the attack on Slavi and his crew. McCall repeatedly outsmarts Rensen and his pursuers and completes more acts of vigilantism. McCall then visits retired CIA operatives Susan (Melissa Leo) and Brian Plummer (Bill Pullman) in Virginia; Susan helps him acquire intelligence on Pushkevich's activities. It is revealed that Rensen's real name is Nicolai Itchenko and that he is an ex-Spetsnaz who ran a wing of the secret police; Susan describes him as "a sociopath with a business card". Brian reveals to McCall that he had a "nice funeral"; the Plummers are relieved, though not surprised, that he is still alive. After McCall leaves, Susan remarks to Brian that McCall was not actually looking for help, but was asking for permission.
After returning to Boston, McCall captures Frank Masters (David Harbour)--a corrupt policeman bribed by Pushkevich--by trapping him in his car and flooding the vehicle with tailpipe exhaust to force him to cooperate. Masters relents and helps McCall destroy one of Pushkevich's local money laundering operations. McCall confronts Itchenko at dinner, pledging to bring down Pushkevich's criminal enterprise. When McCall destroys a container ship Pushkevich used to smuggle goods, Pushkevich orders Itchenko to kill McCall; Pushkevich adds that until the deed is done, Itchenko may not return home to Moscow.
Itchenko and his men go to the Home Mart and take Ralph and several of McCall's other coworkers hostage, threatening to kill them if McCall does not surrender. McCall enters the store, disables most of the lighting, and tells Ralph to get the hostages to safety. McCall then kills Itchenko's henchmen one by one using booby traps constructed with items in the store. After a struggle between McCall and one of Itchenko's men, Ralph comes back to pull the injured McCall out of the store, but is shot in the leg himself. McCall tells Ralph to turn on the electricity at the breaker box in exactly 40 seconds, giving him his digital watch for precision. McCall sets up small containers of propane and oxygen in a microwave oven. The electricity turns it on, causing an explosion that kills the last of Itchenko's men. Afterwards, McCall confronts Itchenko and kills him with a nail gun.
Later, McCall then travels to Moscow, confronts Pushkevich, and sets a trap which electrocutes and kills him. McCall returns to Boston and is approached by Alina, who has recovered from her wounds, found a legitimate job, and taken up reading. Alina thanks him for giving her a second chance. McCall is inspired to continue using his skills to help people in need and posts an online advertisement, now identifying himself as "The Equalizer". He soon receives another plea for help and agrees to answer it.
In June 2010 it was announced that Russell Crowe was looking to bring The Equalizer to the big screen directed by Paul Haggis, with Crowe attached to play Robert McCall.
In December 2011, it was reported that Denzel Washington would star in the title role of the film version, to be financed by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Escape Artists. Director Antoine Fuqua came on board to direct on March 21, 2013, reuniting him with Washington after their successful collaboration on the 2001 Oscar-winning film Training Day. Chloë Grace Moretz was announced as a co-star on May 10, 2013, Anna Kendrick, Kelly Macdonald and Nina Dobrev were also considered. On May 31, 2013, Melissa Leo was cast in the film. Leo previously worked with Washington in the 2012 film Flight, and with Fuqua in Olympus Has Fallen (2013). Marton Csokas was cast to play the villain on May 17th.
Filming began in June 2013 with locations in Salisbury, Hamilton, Chelsea, Haverhill, and Boston, Massachusetts.
On June 21, 2013, Harry Gregson-Williams was hired to compose the music for the film. Varèse Sarabande released a soundtrack album for The Equalizer on September 23, 2014.
On August 25, 2014, previews of the song "Guts Over Fear", by rapper Eminem and featuring Sia, with production by Emile Haynie, premiered in trailers for the film. The song also plays over the closing credits.
The first official image from the film was released on December 6, 2013. Sony originally planned on an April 11, 2014 release date, but pushed it back to September 26, 2014. The first official poster for the film was released on April 16, 2014. On April 22, USA Today revealed photos from the film. On May 24, the trailer for the film was released. On June 12, another official trailer for the film was released. On July 16, the IMAX poster for the film was released.
The film had a premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2014. Sony released the film in IMAX screen theaters worldwide on September 26, 2014.
The Equalizer grossed $101.5 million in North America and $90.8 million in other territories for a worldwide gross of $192.3 million, against a net production budget of $55 million.
The film was released on September 26, 2014, in the United States and earned $12.6 million from 3,236 theaters in its first opening night including the $1.45 million it earned from 2,693 screens from Thursday night showings. On the second day the film earned $13.5 million and $8.1 million on the third day. Its opening day is the third biggest for Washington, tailing behind American Gangster ($15.8 million) and Safe House ($13.6 million). On its opening weekend the film earned $35,000,000 ($10,816 per theater) and debuted at number one at the box office. The film broke several records at the box office during its opening weekend including the biggest R-rated debut of September, surpassing Jackass: Number Two record ($29 million), the biggest IMAX opener of September, the biggest debut weekend gross for Antoine surpassing Olympus Has Fallen ($30 million), the third biggest domestic opening for Washington behind the aforementioned American Gangster ($43.6 million) and Safe House ($40.2 million) and the fourth biggest for a film released in September. It earned $3.3 million from 352 IMAX theaters. Audiences for the debut weekend of the film were 52% male and 48% female, with 65% of ticket buyers over 30 years old.
The Equalizer earned $17.8 million overseas from 65 territories from 4,500 screens during its opening weekend with $1.4 million of the gross coming from 137 IMAX theaters. The film broke several September openings record in various territories including the UK, Netherlands, Israel, and Egypt. Top openings include the UK ($2.9 million), Russia ($2.7 million), Mexico ($1.4 million), Brazil ($1.3 million) United Arab Emirates ($875,000) and Malaysia ($650,000). Showings from Village Roadshow markets grossed an estimate $2.4 million with top openings including Australia ($1.9 million), New Zealand ($180,000) and Singapore ($300,000).
On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film holds an approval rating of 60% based on 179 reviews, and an average rating of 5.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Equalizer is more stylishly violent than meaningful, but with Antoine Fuqua behind the cameras and Denzel Washington dispensing justice, it delivers." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 57 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
On February 24, 2014, seven months before the release of the film, it was announced that Sony Pictures and Escape Artists were planning a sequel, with Richard Wenk penning the script. In early October 2014, Fuqua said in an interview that there would be a sequel to the film only if audiences and Washington wanted it. He said it was an interesting character and the sequel could have more of an international flavor. On April 22, 2015, a sequel was confirmed, with Washington returning to his role. On June 11, 2015, Sony set September 29, 2017 as the release date for The Equalizer 2, although Fuqua had not confirmed if he would return. On September 23, 2016, Washington officially was confirmed to reprise his role. In November 2016, Sony announced that the sequel was pushed back to September 14, 2018, and Fuqua would return to direct.
In July 2017, Columbia Pictures announced that a portion of the filming would take place in the Brant Rock area of Marshfield, MA. Filming is scheduled for two weeks in November 2017.