The Ten Best Samuel L. Jackson Movies

Samuel L. Jackson has been in 7,000 films, but we took on the cyclopean task of finding the Ten Best. We also got a Word-of-the-Day calendar and have been dying to use ‘cyclopean’ in a sentence.
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By  · Published on September 14th, 2008

Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in over seven thousand films. This is a fact. If you decide to double-check that fact by visiting his IMDB page, you’ll notice that not only is he prolific, but he’s also modestly whittled that number down to a healthy figure closer to 100 so that other actors don’t spiral into deep depression over Mr. Jackson’s incredible achievement.

He’s an icon that gladly lends his visage and talents to almost any film that asks him. He’s become an institution unto himself, playing diverse roles that range from Bad Ass to Totally Bad Ass. He once kicked Chuck Norris’ ass.

Despite the difficulty of finding a top ten – a paltry .14% of the corpus of his work – I got totally hammered, turned my hat into a shark’s fin, and manned up for the task. After waking up three days later, I realized my list was just Deep Blue Sea listed ten times, so I did some editing, and here’s what I came up with:

10. The 51st State

In a surprisingly cool flick about the power of money and suggestion, Jackson plays the golf-loving, Scotsman chemist Elmo McElroy whose making the deal of a lifetime selling his new designer drug to the high-powered hands that want it. Jackson’s cool when he needs to be and somehow manages to make wearing a kilt bad ass.

9. The Long Kiss Goodnight

It might just be Shane Black’s genius writing, but the film is made even better by Jackson’s delivery of some incredible dialog. He plays Mitch Henessy, a detective helping a young woman with amnesia remember her troubled past. Besides a slew of memorable lines, Jackson also makes it cool to be a Mormon who just smoked a pack of Newport and drank three vodka tonics.

8. Coach Carter

Jackson takes his turn in the time-honored genre of the controversially uplifting sports drama. Based on a true story, he plays Coach Ken Carter who transforms an undefeated team by canceling their games until they pull their grades up. It’s an incredibly honest performance where Jackson steps out of his high-concept safety zone to share an intimate story with a powerful lesson.

7. Black Snake Moan

This highly underrated movie was one of the best of 2006 – thanks in no small part to Sam Jackson’s portrayal of Lazarus. It’s a story of questionable morality, compulsive behavioral disorders and the strangest kind of love that can exist between a weathered old bluesman and the nymphomaniacal white girl he’s got chained up in his living room for her own good. And, yes, that’s the kind of love we can all get behind.

6. Coming to America

Considering this is the second funniest movie ever made, it should be much higher up on the list, but Jackson only has a small role in it. Exploding into the action at a pivotal moment, he tries to stick up the local neighborhood McDowell’s (with the golden arcs, not the golden arches) and gets beat down by Eddie Murphy’s Akeem. One of his first films, it’s not often that we get to see a star being born with a double-barrel shotgun.

5. Die Hard: With a Vengeance

Graciously, Jackson turns down his own badassness a few notches in order to give John McClane the spotlight. Few people thought that a third installment of the series could be as good as the first, but With a Vengeance strapped audiences in and lit the fuse of the bomb planted under their seats. Jackson plays Zeus Carver, an everyman just struggling to make ends meet and raise his boys right who gets dragged into a plot to steal all the gold from the Federal Reserve. Never backing down from a challenge, Jackson solves some convoluted riddles and tries not to let McClane get him killed.

4. Jurassic Park

Hold on to your butts. The other Rejects will claim that it’s only my unnatural love for Jurassic Park that finds it so high up on the list. They’ll say that my uncanny ability to quote every line from it from beginning to end is a sign of obsession. Are they jealous? Yes. Jackson shines through even in his small role as engineer Ray Arnold. He may have been unable to get Jurassic Park back online, but he selflessly volunteers to take a suicide mission to go throw the main breakers back on. Good show, Mr. Arnold. And good show for not saying the magic word and hating that hacker crap.

3. Do The Right Thing

Yes, Jackson’s character is named Mister Senor Love Daddy. Legend has it that this is also Jackson’s birth name. He ushered us into the film telling us all to wake up and throughout the movie, gave us a consistent through-line of double-truth. Jackson added his own brand of flavor to an already hip cast and a story that shook audiences down to their roots. With a whirlwind of violence swelling in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, Love Daddy just wants us all to take a chill in the cool-out corner.

2. The Incredibles

When casting the coolest superhero around, of course the creators of The Incredibles turned to Jackson to lend his vocal acting talents to round out the ice-controlling Frozone. The Oscar-winning film was taken to the next level with the family-friendly badassness of Jackson, whether he was being level-headed, trying to convince Mr. Incredible to let the past be the past or taking down giant evil robots while spouting ice-related puns.

1. Pulp Fiction

Was there any doubt of what #1 would be? Jackson’s turn as Jules Winnfield is downright Shakespearean. He broke our concentration, had never heard of a country called “What,” and explained to us, in violent detail, the path of the righteous man. Who else could steal our Big Kahuna burger and make us want to memorize Ezekiel 25:17? Jackson continued his relationship with QT, but no role would ever quite live up to the time when he threw on the black dress suit, ruminated on Divine Intervention, and asked if Marcellus Wallace looked like a bitch.

The haters will claim that Sam Jackson doesn’t deserve a list. They’ll call him over-exposed. They’ll forget that he’s an Oscar nominee. They’ll say that since I stole the jacket he wore during the opening of the 2007 Video Game Awards that I’m unhinged. But it’s not crazy to appreciate this level of talent – an actor who gives 100% to every role he takes on and takes on every role he’s offered. He’s an icon of our time. A devastating film presence that has earned the accolades and popularity that he’s worked his black ass off for. Besides, after making 7,000 movies, it was inevitable that he be in a few good ones.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.