Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood and has made enough of an impact to gain him a star on the Walk of Fame. His skills range from the comedic to the dramatic, all of which he proves in his decades-long body of work. Well-known for his ability to sell dialogue, even his smallest of roles become iconic, like his occasional cameos throughout the series The Boondocks.
Despite being in his 70s, Jackson is still cranking out film after film as director, producer, and actor. As one of the highest-grossing actors of all time, Jackson received an honorary Oscar, from Denzel Washington no less, at the awards ceremony earlier this year for his contributions to the industry. Currently, he’s working on The Marvelsand Secret Invasion, both of which aren’t expected to release until 2023. Until then, here’s a look at his best movies, ranked.
Updated July 21, 2022: If you love Samuel L. Jackson, you’ll be happy to know we’ve updated this article with additional content and entries.
11 Snakes on a Plane (2006)
While not as serious as some of Jackson’s other well-known works, Snakes on a Plane has its own charms to it. Special agent Neville Flynn, played by Jackson, is assigned to protect a key witness. Things go terribly wrong when thousands of exotic snakes, made hostile by a pheromone, are released onto the plane in an attempt to assassinate the witness. Agent Flyyn does everything necessary to protect his witness and the innocent civilians on the plane. Jackson carries the film on his shoulders and through his strong performance, he single-handedly saves Snakes on a Plane from being a total disaster of a film.
10 Black Snake Moan (2006)
Faced with a recently abused nymphomaniac Rae, the quiet Lazarus takes her in and tries to take care of her. After numerous attempts to leave Lazarus to get her fix, Lazarus is forced to chain Rae up to try to help her with her addiction. This unusual storyline of Black Snake Moan has Jackson at the forefront as a religious man of conviction with strong morals and enough of a heart to try to help someone, even though they may not want it. With Christina Ricci by his side, Jackson releases a fatherly air from Lazarus and a strict but forgiving temperament.
9 The Avengers (2012)
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.
8 Do The Right Thing (1989)
Do the Right Thing follows pizza boy Mookie in Brooklyn who goes about his business until, one day, his friend Buggin’ Out gets into an argument with Sal, the owner of the pizzeria, about the lack of Black representation on his Wall of Fame despite being in a predominantly black neighborhood. Tensions rise within the community and eventually lead to an all-out assault on the pizzeria. Jackson has a small role as the radio host, Mister Señor Love Daddy. He acts as a bit of a narrator to what’s happening throughout the film and also adds to the more comedic aspect of the film to prevent the content from getting too heavy. This role may be small, but Jackson still shows his presence and makes a statement.
7 Jurassic Park (1993)
When archeologists Alan and Ellia are brought to a remote island where dinosaurs are being brought back, things go awry when the power goes down, and they don’t have the security to protect them from the carnivorous beasts. Jurassic Park was the beginning of a long series of films that eventually led to the creation of the Jurassic World films. Jackson plays a minor role as Ray Arnold, a tech worker who helps maintain the park’s security. He has few lines and is quickly killed off, but still, his performance is a memorable one as his character is often quoted for “hold onto your butts.” He was even memorable enough to get his own action figure immortalizing his final moments in the film.
6 The Incredibles (2004)
The Incredibles follows Bob and Helen Parr, ex-superheroes in hiding, who are forced to live normal lives without their powers, but things change when Bob finds a new way to use his powers for good. With a small role as Mr. Incredible’s best friend, who also happens to have superpowers of his own, Jackson shines in his role. Well-known for the “Where’s my super suit?!” scene where he argues with his wife about going out to help the public rather than stay home and have dinner with her, Jackson’s Frozone is arguably one of the most iconic characters to come out of The Incredibles.
5 Jungle Fever (1991)
A story of infidelity and interracial relations, Jungle Fever follows young, married Flipper who begins having an affair with his white secretary Angie. When he is kicked out by his wife, Flipper decides to start courting Angie only to be met by disapproval from friends, family, and strangers. Jackson stars as Gator, Flipper’s brother who causes trouble within his family’s household, constantly badgering them for money and even resorting to stealing their television for money for drugs before eventually being shot by his own father. His character makes a strong statement about the disproportionate effects of drugs not only on the individuals themselves but on the Black community as a whole.
4 Unbreakable (2000)
The sole survivor of a train crash, David discovers that there may be something more to his good fortune than mere luck, and he may in fact have superhuman abilities. Elijah Price meets David and helps him discover his powers. Playing the disabled but cunning Elijah Price in Unbreakable, Jackson works his character to the max. Everything about him leads us to trust Elijah, but the reality of who he is, is well-hidden. Unbreakable truly shows off Jackson’s skills as an actor who is more than just a strong character. Unbreakable was the first in a trilogy of films including Glass and Split that would later be referred to as the Unbreakable franchise. Still, Unbreakable is considered to be one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films.
3 Jackie Brown (1997)
Our title character flight attendant Jackie Brown is caught smuggling money for her boss Ordell Robbie. The detectives on her case want her help taking Robbie down, but seeing that as too much of a risk, Jackie decides to double-cross and leave with the stolen money. Jackson stars as the wanted arms dealer that Jackie works for. As a strong and powerful criminal, Robbie confidently moves large amounts of money and weapons while successfully evading the law, a role that Jackson portrays with ease. Jackie Brown is often neglected, but it was powerful enough to win Jackson a Silver Bear for Best Actor.
2 Django Unchained (2012)
Newly freed enslaved man Django goes on a quest to free his wife Hildy from Candieland. Playing the role of Steven, the enslaved person of the house — amidst Leonardo DiCaprio’s intimidating performance as Monsieur Candie where he infamously shattered a glass, cutting his hand open and smearing the blood on Hildy’s face — Samuel L. Jackson still shines in Django Unchained. He’s a wise old man who has enough power to advise Monsieur Candie about the possible danger of Django, having a bad feeling about him and his associate Dr. Shultz. Jackson even had a conversation with DiCaprio about the use of the N-word throughout the film and how he told him to handle it as an actor.
1 Pulp Fiction (1994)
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.