Samuel L. Jackson is a household name and has been the eye-patched face of the larger-than-life Marvel Cinematic Universe in his role as Nick Fury for over a decade. Before he was assembling the Avengers, Jackson established himself as a major talent and character actor. Jackson started appearing in film as early as 1972 but began his rise to stardom with small roles in the Spike Lee Joints “School Daze,” and “Do The Right Thing.” The best Samuel L. Jackson films are action-packed examples of his amazing acting skills and prolific performances.
Jackson is highly decorated as the winner of several major film awards for his work in dramatic films. With a seeming ability to melt into character roles, Jackson exemplifies the topic of recent research. Some of the greatest actors of all time, like Marlon Brando or Daniel Day-Lewis, are known for fully immersing themselves in their characters. While method acting is often seen as a somewhat extreme approach to portraying a character, fascinating new research exploring the neurological implications of acting suggest all actors may suppress their core sense of self while playing a new role.
By 1993, Jackson was appearing regularly as a supporting character with a few lines as in movies like “Jurassic Park” and even as a comedic lead in “Loaded Weapon 1” with Emilio Esteves. Things changed in 1994 when audiences met Jules Winnfield, one of the principal ensemble characters in the vignette-driven classic “Pulp Fiction,” directed by Quentin Tarantino. Jackson became an instant pop-culture icon, and he then decided to continue mainstream character work. Starting in 1999, Jackson’s portrayal of Jedi Master Mace Windu in the “Star Wars” prequel franchise would see him as a major character on t-shirts, toy shelves, and several forms of media. Researchers have even studied careers like his: by mapping the career arcs of many famous actors, the research team found that for most, their most successful year — defined as the year with their most credited roles — is usually near the start of their career. The researchers identified several clear signals that can be used to predict with about 85 percent accuracy if an actor’s most successful year has passed or not.
In 2008 with the release of “Iron Man” starring Robert Downey Jr., Jackson had not yet passed his most successful year as the best was yet to come. As Nick Fury, organizer of the original team of the Avengers in the MCU, Jackson continued to maintain his mainstream pop culture relevance. Despite heavy involvement in family-friendly films, Samuel Jackson also continued his years-long partnership with director Tarantino and others. Appearing in R-rated films where his ability to deliver expletive laden dialogue in ultra-violent scenarios became his trademark style, audiences were drawn to his performances and still watch his films in droves. Due largely to cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jackson has now appeared in over 150 films said to have grossed $27 billion+ worldwide and is undeniably one of the biggest box office names of all time.
After considering all of this, it is easy to lose perspective that more than anything else, Samuel L. Jackson is the definition of cool and an absolute icon of American excellence in film. For those who are curious as well as fans wanting to revisit classic film moments, we offer our list of the top five best Samuel L. Jackson films. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
The List: Best Samuel L. Jackson Films, According to Fans
Nearly all our sources cite “Pulp Fiction” as the film that propelled Samuel Jackson to stardom. “Jackson’s killer Jules is an amazing creation: super-cool, unfazed by anything, a pop-culture prophet and a seer, with a strange sense of the mystical and the sublime. Jackson was hardly a newcomer when he took the role, being 46 years old, with 28 film credits behind him. But Jules seemed to emerge fully formed: the magnificent, blackly comic antihero who shaped our perception of everything Jackson did afterwards or before; and the yardstick of deadpan crime cool that every tough guy had to measure himself against,” raves The Guardian.
For those who remember the 1994 release, Jackson had become an instant-hit and gained immediate pop-culture relevance that endures today. “Jackson earned his only Oscar nomination to date for this groundbreaking film that became a bit of a pop culture sensation upon its release. The film made Tarantino one of the most sought-after directors in film and spawned many crime caper films that became labeled as Tarantino-esque. Jackson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar but lost the award to Martin Landau for ‘Ed Wood.’ (Apparently Jackson was quite disappointed with his loss. It is fun to watch on youtube his explicative included reaction when Landau’s name is announced as the winner.),” explains Gold Derby.
“Finally, at the top of the list, we have his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece ‘Pulp Fiction.’ Cast as the philosophical Jules Winnfield, Jackson shines as this hit-man who recites the same passage from the Bible to his victims before killing them as a form of some sort of redemption. Towards the end of the film, Jules tells Vincent that he intends to retire from his life as a hitman, stating that their survival of the events that occurred throughout the film was divine intervention. Jackson’s performance in ‘Pulp Fiction’ makes it his best as it is the most iconic, the most moving, and the most memorable of any of his roles,” gushes MovieWeb.
In 2012, after more than four years of post-credit teasers and cameo stingers, audiences finally got to see Jackson as Nick Fury in action. “By box office sales and word of mouth, ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ franchise is most likely the series with the most eyes that have ever been on Samuel L. Jackson. In this first film featuring the all-stars of the MCU, Jackson’s Nick Fury recruits many of the most famous heroes in the world to prevent catastrophic destruction from overtaking the planet. This role is a little less humorous than some of Jackson’s other work, but it shows his willingness to venture into mainstream movies, something other big name actors sometimes dread doing when they’re pursuing acclaim. This film was famously the springboard for dozens of Marvel projects in the decade-plus since its release,” details The Manual.
“Jackson stars as Nick Fury, the leader of the titular superhero team, in this blockbuster hit. The movie’s impressive box office performance and positive reception contribute to its high ranking on this list of Samuel L. Jackson movies,” briefly states Buddy TV.
All the MCU films prior to “The Avengers” feel like a prologue to the grand narrative payoff that happens in this movie. “The MCU may have formally kicked off with 2008’s Iron Man, but The Avengers still feels like it holds the universe’s official genesis. The beloved superhero characters have grown immensely since their first introductions to each other. In the groundbreaking 2012 film, they must come together and learn to fight as a team if they’re going to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity. Jackson is reliably superb in his scene-stealing portrayal of head-honcho Nick Fury,” writes MovieWeb.
Despite a dive into mainstream franchise work, many of Jackson’s most well-loved roles are in Tarantino films. His character work in 1997’s “Jackie Brown” is an engaging highlight in an otherwise slow film. “Ordell feels like the synthesis of both Jackson and Tarantino’s strengths — a broadly sketched character with plenty of meaty dialogue and an undercurrent of simmering menace. His unique appearance was an intentional choice on Jackson’s part. As told The AV Club, ‘[Robbie’s] chin braid was an homage to me and Quentin’s love of Hong Kong movies.’ ‘Jackie Brown’ signifies the epitome of Jackson as a performer — he can be menacing, engaging, and appealing from moment to moment. He owns the screen whenever he is on it, and that’s why he is one of our greatest living actors,” lauds /Film.
“Of all the villains Jackson has played, Ordell might be the most unsettling. The actor delivers a master class on how to flash crazy eyes in ‘Jackie Brown,’ presenting us with a character who might not kill everyone in the room right now, but, y’know, irritate him and you never know what might happen. Such is the power of the character’s hair-trigger violence that, even when Ordell isn’t onscreen, we feel palpable anxiety wondering what he could be up to. Much of the credit goes to Jackson, who even conceived the criminal’s striking look: As Quentin Tarantino later said, ‘The whole thing with the long hair and the goatee, the whole kind of samurai, mad priest, mad kung fu priest on the mountain look he had — Sam came up with that. And it was just terrific. It just made it,’” details Vulture.
Simply put, “Jackson brings Elmore Leonard’s Ordell Robbie character to life with such a mix of evil and charisma (of course helped by the words and direction of Tarantino) it’s almost a shame to see his demise at the end,” adds Insider.
Villainy is where Jackson seems to give some of his most iconic performances. “He’s simply remarkable as Elijah Price, the man whom all the kids call Mr. Glass. Elijah has experienced unimaginable pain, not just physically, but spiritually, as he searches the globe for his polar opposite… Jackson’s final monologue will still make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Sometimes, the villain hides in plain sight. And sometimes, maybe a couple of movies later, you end up wondering if the villain is in fact a villain at all or just someone who’s… complicated. Kudos to writer-director M. Night Shyamalan for revisiting this character 20 years later and explaining how there was a method to his madness all along,” states Collider.
“Jackson gives one of his most eccentric performances in this early film from M Night Shyamalan. Willis plays David, a security guard who somehow emerges unscathed from a train crash that kills everybody else… He (Jackson) believes he is the polar opposite to David, that their destinies are fused and that David has to follow his vocation as a superhero. It is a great performance from Jackson: his angular presence shimmers with charismatic hauteur,” posits The Guardian.
“In retrospect, M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Unbreakable’ was ahead of its time — a masterclass commentary on comic book superheroism. The somber, grounded film presaged the deconstructions and realistic tones that would become de rigueur after the comic book blockbuster boom… Jackson’s chemistry with Willis is as strong as ever in “Unbreakable” (less so in the long-promised follow-up ‘Glass’). Like many Jackson characters, Price has a penchant for purple and dressing stylishly,” adds /Film.
In what is possibly his most bombastic performance to date, Jackson’s portrayal of the villainous Stephen is unforgettable. “In this western film, Jackson plays the role of Stephen, the loyal but cruel house slave of the villainous Calvin Candie. He received widespread praise for his portrayal of the character, and the movie was a commercial and critical success,” offers Buddy TV.
Having appeared in six of Tarantino’s films, audiences now have an expectation of memorable characters when the two collaborate. “Jackson and Tarantino continued their successful collaboration with this movie by tackling the topic of slavery. It revolves around the story of a slave who has an unorthodox partnership with a bounty hunter. This is one of the most successful films by Tarantino which also grandly showcased the acting range of Jackson. His role as a Machiavellian manservant to a slave owner is remarkable. This movie was a commercial and critical success, generating more than $425 million worldwide and earning numerous award nominations including five Oscar nominations, of which it won two Oscars. Jackson also received several award nominations and won the Black Steel Award for Best Supporting Actor and an Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture,” as stated by Chillopedia.
“Tarantino’s outrageously brash revenge western, set on a slave plantation in the antebellum US, features one of Jackson’s most brilliant and controversial performances. The revolting plantation owner, Calvin Candie, is played by Leonardo DiCaprio; Jamie Foxx is the rebellious slave Django; and Jackson plays Candie’s household servant Stephen, a satirical Uncle Tom figure with a bald head, a death-ray stare and a Parkinson’s-type tremor, who is fanatically loyal to the master and deeply suspicious of Django. In 2012, Hollywood was nervous about slavery in a way it isn’t now, but the character of Stephen would be audacious and provocative at any time,” claims The Guardian.
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