Samuel L. Jackson probably best known for being a bad guy, he is also the highest-grossing actor of all time. The 72-year-old star of the screen, who started his career as “Gang member No. 2” in Ragtime has gone on to lead massive franchises in the MCU, not to mention picking up a host of accolades for his work with Quentin Tarantino. As if a four-decade-long career wasn’t enough, Jackson is a cash machine.
The films in which he has appeared have collectively grossed over USD$27 billion worldwide, breaking box office records and making him one of the most popular actors of all time. Roles like Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction and Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown have garnered him critical acclaim, but when it comes to picking your favorite Samuel L. Jackson performance, everybody’s got their own list. Even, apparently, the man himself.
In an interview with Stephen Colbert, the film legend revealed his favorite Samuel L. Jackson movies, and let us be the first to say, there are some glaring omissions. Despite being the only role in his career to have netted him an Academy Award nomination, the Tarantino classic Pulp Fiction didn’t make the cut. In fact, only one of the pair’s collaborations was good enough to crack Jackon’s top five. But when your filmography reads like the Mount Rushmore of modern cinema, you can be forgiven for forgetting a few. After all, he was late to his own funeral in Goodfellas.
In the interview, Jackson reveals that while many actors say they can’t watch their own movies, he certainly isn’t one. “It’s a watch-me business. I got into this because I love acting, but when I was doing theatre, I always wanted to watch the plays with me in them, and I couldn’t,” Jackson said. “With the opportunity to make stuff and then watch it, I watch it. If I’m channel-surfing and I haven’t really found anything that I want to watch or if I’m not specifically looking for something and I pass something I’m in, I watch it.”
Here is a list of the best Samuel L. Jackson movies of all time, as picked by Samuel L. Jackson himself.
1. The Long Kiss Goodnight
An unexpected hit when it was first released, The Long Kiss Goodnight is a brutal, bullish, and downright hilarious action-comedy. It follows Samantha Caine, an amnesia sufferer with a mysterious past. When spooky characters begin to haunt her, she sets off on a search to discover her true identity. Samuel L. Jackson plays ineffective private Mitch Hennessey who has been hired to help Samantha uncover the truth, which turns out to be far more interesting than he thought.
Initial release: 11 October 1996 (USA)
Director: Renny Harlin
Box office: $89.5 million
Budget: $65 million
Sequel: The Long Kiss Goodnight 2
2. A Time to Kill
The film adaptation of John Grisham’s compelling 1989 novel of the same name, A Time to Kill, is Jackson’s dramatic best. The screen legend plays Carl Lee Hailey, who, after his ten-year-old daughter is raped, murders her perpetrators. He then faces a trial and calls upon his inexperienced lawyer friend Jake Tyler, played by a young Matthew McConaughey, to help him win the case.
Release date: 15 August 1996 (Australia)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Adapted from: A time to kill
Nominations: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture
Awards: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture
3. Jackie Brown
A masterpiece of modern cinema, Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown is captivating from start to finish. When a flight attendant is caught smuggling gun money, she is forced to choose between teaming up with the cops to bust her arms dealer boss or keeping her mouth shut and going to jail. In the film, Jackson plays Ordell Robbie, the gun-running boss being monitored by the ATF.
Release date: 5 March 1998 (Australia)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Produced by: Lawrence Bender
Adapted from: Rum Punch
Nominations: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
4. The Red Violin
A surprising addition to the list of best Samuel L. Jackson movies, François Girard’s 1998 film The Red Violin is one you may not have watched. Spanning four centuries and five countries, the film tells the story of a mysterious red-colored violin and its many owners, starting with its construction in Cremona in 1681. The future is forecast by tarot cards, before making its way to Montreal in 1997, where an appraiser, played by Jackson identifies it and it goes to auction.
Release date: 9 September 1999 (Australia)
Director: François Girard
Music by: John Corigliano
Language: English; French; German; Italian; Mandarin
Awards: Academy Award for Best Music (Original Score)
5. One Eight Seven
If you haven’t seen One Eight Seven, you’re in for a treat. The 1997 flick was the first top-billed starring role for Jackson, who plays a Los Angeles teacher caught with gang trouble in an urban high school. Heart-breaking and brutal, the urban story is worth a watch.
Initial release: 30 July 1997 (USA)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Music by: David Darling; Michael Stearns
Box office: $5.7 million
Produced by: Bruce Davey; Stephen McEveety