Samuel L Jackson. The first few things to go through your mind when you hear that name maybe the famous expletive, every Tarantino flick he has appeared in or his recent affiliations with the Marvel Universe. What many new audiences aren’t aware of is his expansive range of delivery and emotions, which made him a tour de force in the 90s and most of the movies now are merely a mockery of this phenomenal actor’s appearances from that period. With almost a hundred credits and being the highest all time box-office star with his films grossing $5 billion at the box office, Jackson is one of those rare performers who can come up with a striking performance in a small room and shoot down super-villains in a multi-million setup. Though he has never been a leading man like Depp or Cruise, he has displayed great versatility in supporting roles that are integral to the movie and usually is the backbone of the ensemble cast.
He is probably the most iconic figure in the entertainment industry working in animated movies and games, apart from live action films. Now, for this list I will be leaving out characters like Nick Fury, Mace Windu, Frozone or Nevin Flynn because though they are very popular among movie-goers they are a mile away from being his best and I will be exploring features from the 90s that are now overlooked because of his stardom in the 21st century. Here are the list of top Samuel L. Jackson movies, selected from his impressive filmography. You can watch some of Samuel L. Jackson movies on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.
10. The Sunset Limited (2011)
‘The Sunset Limited’ is probably the most lesser known movie on the list being a TV feature, but it is at the same time a brooding and provocative piece of cinema. Now it doesn’t come close to ‘The Man From Earth’s intellect and profound philosophy, but restricts itself to personal issues concerning our day to day lives.
SLJ plays Black, an optimist who believes in God and heaven and that everyone has a path they are destined to tread on, while Tommy Lee Jones plays White, a slightly nihilistic man whose views of the world are exhausted by the changes that have taken place and his inability to influence them. Though the 2000s haven’t been quite fruitful in terms of displaying his acting prowess, this film is a reminder and with some great monologues Jackson steals the show. We also expect a change in Jones’s character after Jackson’s dominating presence and arguments, but instead are presented a change within Black, questioning himself. His best quote from the film: The light is all around you but you don’t see nothing but shadow. And you’re the one causing it. It’s you. You’re the shadow! That’s the point.
9. One Eighty Seven (1997)
This was Samuel L Jackson’s first lead role in a feature, after either playing antagonists or supporting characters (‘Pulp Fiction’ wasn’t a lead role). He plays Trevor Garfield, a black school teacher who gets embroiled in lethal gang trouble after he fails a student. Though the movie as a whole is not very moving like ‘American History X’ and may falter in its writing, it’s a very apt representation of the underprivileged sections and the life of teachers in those conditions.
Though the film was criticized, Jackson’s performance was noted for his commitment to portray the issue on-screen as a man who’s torn apart to choose between his existence and life, both of which are snatched away from him. His best quote from the film: : Are you willing to die for stupidity Cesar? Cause ya see I am, if it’ll teach you something.
8. A Time To Kill (1996)
Samuel L Jackson was everywhere during the 90s, and he was gritty and compelling in every role he played irrespective of the quality of the movie. Based on Grisham’s novel of the same name, the movie is based on a trial that involves a black man Carl Lee (SLJ) who murders his daughter’s rapists. Though this feels revisited, the difference is the men were white and this evolves into a handicapped situation for Carl who not only faces injustice with the crime on his daughter but also towards his own by a white supremacist population.
Matthew McConaughey delivers a Gregory Peck-like performance and will be on the tip of your tongue once you watch it but there’s no denying how important Jackson’s supporting performance is. It is a thinking man’s movie and though you end up sympathizing for Carl Lee, the question about the morality of his action does split you in two halves. His best quote from the film:: America is a war and you are on the other side.
7. Hard Eight (1996)
‘Hard Eight’ is a great debut from Paul Thomas Anderson and in his trademark style prefers his love for its characters over the plot. PTA is a fascinating writer and his sublimely woven Jimmy is done full justice by Jackson. Jimmy is a security in-charge whose apparent geniality and light-handed nature is a big distraction from his craftiness, and though he may obviously not possess the wits of Sydney (the protagonist), he is quite an opportunist with a surprisingly bad nose for smelling trouble. His revelation also works as a turning point in the movie, with the viewers made to turn back to the first half and re-evaluate the meaning behind it and view the characters in a different light altogether. His best quote from the film:: Bottom line, Sydney. No matter how hard you try… you’re not his father.
6. Jungle Fever (1991)
In one of his roles in a Spike Lee joint, Jackson was so good that the juries at Cannes had to create a Best Supporting Actor Award specially for him. ‘Jungle Fever’ basically explores an interracial relationship in the 90s and the effects it had on different backgrounds of the society. Jungle Fever is meticulously built with each character representing a particular section whose adversities are unknown to most audiences. Jackson plays Gator, a cocaine addict and the brother of Snipes’s character.
Gator’s always broke and troubles his family for money to spend on crack, and though he knows he’s a burden his addiction has now taken control of him and help is something he never gets. Jackson made this character so memorable with his authenticity, because of his own drug problems. He had gotten out of rehab for his own cocaine addiction and by genuinely displaying the antics of an addict, wanted to highlight how drugs have ruined many middle class families. His best quote from the film: I swear before God… and four more white people! This is the last time!
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5. The Negotiator (1998)
Jackson followed his role in ‘Jackie Brown’ with this power packed performance and effortlessly overshadows Kevin Spacey, which I guess had to do with Jackson’s imposing characterization that successfully uses two qualities he became famous for : vengeance and anger. Jackson plays Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator who becomes the scapegoat for a massive conspiracy in his department and steps in the boots of a hostage taker to find the truth. You’ll never see Jackson angrier in an other film but not for a moment does he let his outspoken nature get the better of him and there are traces of despair and zeal detectable on his face.
The film is an intelligent thriller and we are kept in dark about the identity of the perpetrators, with Jackson tirelessly twisting officials to bide time. With the job of proving himself as a dangerous psychopath to the officials and at the same time trying to convince the hostages of his innocence and his intention to get under the surface of the conspiracy, he is simply brilliant and this is one performance that seems to have been forgotten. His best quote from the film:: When your friends betray you, sometimes the only people you can trust are strangers.
4. Die Hard: With A Vengeance (1995)
After the second film bombed at the box office and was bashed by critics, the makers of the franchise adopted a new approach that had already gained appreciation after the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series : the buddy cop method. With John McClane by his side, Jackson’s Zeus Carver explores a part of him he refrained from accepting and we see his character developing from a nobody who has never touched a gun to a guy who is the perfect sidekick to McClane’s heroics. His street-smart wits complements McClane’s own unorthodox take on battling terrorists and his comical relief means we get to see McClane kick more ass.
Most buddy cop movies usually paired trained officers together, but with this pairing the movie gets multidimensional tackling a lot of issues such as racism and the dramatic tension in the city of New York. Jackson also has some hilariously good delivery and makes McClane know a piece of his mind from time to time. His best quote from the film:: Yeah, Zeus! As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don’t fuck with me or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus! You got a problem with that?
3. Unbreakable (2000)
One of the finest negative performances and Samuel L Jackson portrays a character quite opposite from his usual self, an ominous and calm person who goes by the alias Elijah Price a.k.a Mr Glass. This is the most layered character Jackson has taken on and unlike his usual movies he has very little control on himself, mainly physically because of his condition that renders his bones extremely fragile. But don’t even think for a second that his inability sits down well with him, and being the manipulative mastermind he is, he controls others’ lives by playing one card at a time.
Mr Glass is someone of the Lex Luthor mould, a man who appears to be a respectable part of the society and intends on changing the world for the better, but all of this turns out to be a mere facade he built in his search for a superhero and justifies himself as the necessary evil. The deception wouldn’t have been possible without Jackson’s demeanor and with restricted physical movements it comes down to his body language to express Price’s mental state which is shown to be fragile for the entirety of the film. With the release of ‘Split’, I hope we do get to see Jackson in that classy wheelchair again. His best quote from the film: : The Ending Monologue, finest delivery from SLJ in a film.
2. Jackie Brown (1997)
Ordell Robbie is arguably Jackson’s best performance as an actor and the only reason why it’s a runner-up is because of the impact the #1 choice had on SLJ’s career and the whole industry. In Tarantino’s most overlooked film, Jackson portrays a black market ammo-narc dealer who’s forced to use couriers to run his business due to the ATF’s surveillance over him.
Robbie’s a man who believes in morals as much as an atheist believes in god. Though Tarantino’s characters are criticized for being over-the-top, Robbie’s character is archetype of power-hungry people present in today’s worlds. His relationships are completely physical, they are a form of matter for him to step on and keep moving forward and throughout the movie we see him disposing of them impulsively. He compensates for intelligence and composure with craftiness and guns, and is frankly the best villain in a Tarantino movie after Hans Landa. His best quote from the film:: My ass may be dumb, but I ain’t no dumbass.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Reject ‘Pulp Fiction’ as his greatest and he will strike upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison the list and since I do not want to be a dressing for sandwiches like Marvin, its his portrayal of Jules Winnfield that demands the top spot. The movie that put both him and Tarantino on the map and earned them Oscar nods was his 30th movie and though he had remarkable performances in Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ and ‘Jungle Fever’ he became the Undisputed Badass of Hollywood after this.
Tarantino had written the character for Jackson and though his genius cannot be underappreciated, transforming a character such as him from a piece of paper to the golden screen is a herculean task and Jules is not only outspokenly loud and brutal, but a man of values and honor. His change towards the end is quite ironic though with Jackson getting typecasted as the brash guy in real life. His best quote from the film:: Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherf*cker, say what one more goddamn time!
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