(Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson)

From Quentin Tarantino to Martin Scorsese: Samuel L. Jackson’s 15 best films

You ain’t got but one life. You ought to live it the way you want.”

Samuel L. Jackson is fantastic and enigmatic, badass and splendid, in unimaginable ways. Vocal about his political beliefs and about the systemic racism that pervades American society as well as the rest of the world, Jackson has been involved in the Black Power movement which, in turn, empowered him. He has always stressed how “we’ve come a long way in our thinking, but also in our moral decay”.

Having had a somewhat tragic and traumatic childhood, Jackson developed a stutter which he initially overcame on-screen by using the word “motherfucker”. Mentored by the legendary Morgan Freeman, Jackson got his first big break in Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas in which he starred alongside a heavyweight ensemble in a small yet significant role. 

After Jackson had emerged sober from rehab in New York following a battle against addiction, he played the role of a severe crack addict, and the role was termed “cathartic” by the actor himself. His role in Jungle Fever prompted the creation of a special Supporting Actor award and the emergence of a Hollywood icon. “It was a funny kind of thing. By the time I was out of rehab, about a week or so later I was on set and we were ready to start shooting,” he later commented. 

Shortly after, Jackson caught Quentin Tarantino’s attention as Big Don in True Romance after which the director wrote the character of Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction just for Jackson which was overwhelming at the time. Thus began their legendary friendship which has resulted in many brilliant films in which Jackson was “overwhelmed, thankful, arrogant” at this opportunity. The actor has starred in various other roles that made him the legend too. 

As the iconic actor turns 72 today, we take a look at 15 best films starring Samuel “motherfuckin'” Jackson. 

Samuel L. Jackson’s top 15 films ranked from worst to best: 

15. Glass (M. Night Shyamalan, 2019)

The final instalment in the Unbreakable trilogy, Glass revolves around Elijah Price, a shrewd criminal mastermind, who interrogates David Dunn and the man with 23 different personalities, Beast while they are fighting against each other, and has access to their deepest secrets. 

Samuel L. Jackson plays the mysterious Elijah Price and was brilliant in his supporting role. Despite Unbreakable being a box office failure, as a true sport, Jackson was keen on starring in the third and final part of the trilogy.   

“I believe that if everyone sees what just a few people become when they wholly embrace their gifts, others will awaken. Belief in oneself is contagious.”

14. XXX (Rob Cohen, 2002)

Infamous for his daredevil public stunts, Xander Cage is appointed by Agent Gibbons to embark on a dangerous undercover mission where he is pitted against a far more intelligent and deadly enemy than his understanding. 

The first instalment in this widely acclaimed series, the film stars heavyweight actors like Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson and more. Jackson plays the National Security Agency official Augustus Gibbons who appoints Xander to be a part of this mission; he uses his leverage to pardon Xander’s crimes in return. 

With a massive fan following, it is almost a cult film now and has received high praise, including Roger Ebert saying “in its own punk way, XXX is as good as a good Bond movie, and that’s saying something”. 

 “A small price I paid for putting foot to ass for my country.”

13. Chi-Raq (Spike Lee, 2015)

Jackson plays the narrator Dolmedes, clad in fedoras and bright suits, strolling through the film with his commentary. The film is poignant yet funny, mournful yet guffaw-inducing and sensual. Spike Lee’s brilliance shines through, and the message is of utmost importance. Based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, the film boasts splendid performances that leave the audience moved and entertained at the same time. 

In an attempt to put an end to the gang violence, the women of Chicago Southside team up to start a “No Peace, No Pussy” campaign where they declare a self-proclaimed sex strike as a punishment on their warring husbands. Soon it inspires women all over the world to do so, compelling the violent men to ponder over their decisions. 

“Even though we live in terror town, we deserve respect.” 

12. Fresh (Boaz Yakin, 1994)

Chess saves the day yet again when a 12-year-old drug peddler Michael, inspired by his drunkard father and speed chess prodigy’s lesson, comes up with a brilliant plan of action to save himself and his drug-addicted sibling from their dreary lives.

Jackson plays the alcoholic chess master Sam. He is at his finest and most “focused” in the role. Roger Ebert has praised the film as well as the performances by saying it is “a movie filled with drama and excitement, unfolding a plot of brilliant complexity”.

“Anything lost can be found again, except for time wasted.”

11. Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997)

This indie film revolves around Eve Batiste who has the ability of second sight to look deeper into the value of events. After she sees her father being an infidel, she grows distant and estranged from her family. After her father is alleged to have molested her sister, Eve’s wrath knows no bound and she embarks on a warpath to avenge her.

Jackson plays the disagreeable Louis Batiste, the cheating father who is the epitome of evil. Despite being a respectable person of colour, he is simply vile in our eyes. The ending of the film makes him an ambiguous character, bringing his morality into grey questioning. The film has a recurrent theme of doubting one’s memory, forgiveness as well as the mysticism and supernatural beliefs of the South.

 “Some things are better left unsaid.”

10.  Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) 

A childhood favourite for us all, Jurassic Park never fails to astonish and mesmerise us. With the extinct dinosaurs being cloned to comprise a theme park, it is a visual delight with its wonderful animation as well as scathingly terrifying with the message which essentially asks us not to disrupt nature’s pattern. 

Jackson appears in a nearly forgotten role as Ray Arnold, the chief engineer, who has to clean up Nedry’s mess and has to reboot the system; however, he gets killed in the process. Terrifying yet wildly entertaining, this remains one of Spielberg’s finest and most memorable creations. T-Rex for the win!

 Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

9. True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)

When Elvis fanatic and comic book-aficionado Clarence meets sex worker Alabama, they quickly fall in love, and Clarence ends up killing her pimp Drexl. They discover cocaine in Alabama’s bag which was supposed to contain her belongings. They hit the road in hopes of selling the cocaine in California for a good amount but is soon pursued by the dangerous mob. 

Samuel L. Jackson plays the supporting role of Big Don in this film that boasts of an incredible cast and an even more stellar supporting cast including Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt and more. Following Reservoir Dogs’s success, Tarantino wrote this screenplay which proved to be a major breakthrough for him. Although he was supposed to direct it, he got bored in the classic Tarintinian fashion and sold the script which in turn became one of Tony Scott’s finest directorial ventures. 

Now I know I’m pretty, but I’m not as pretty as a pair of titties.”

8. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)

Adapted from John Grisham’s novel of the same name, this legal cliff-hanger is charged with the problems of racial discrimination. A ten-year-old African American child, Tonya, is abducted, brutally raped and beaten mercilessly by two local white men, before being killed. Enraged, her father, Carl Lee Hailey, seeks help from his friend, Jake Brigance, a just, white lawyer.

Realising how difficult it is for a black man to get justice for his young daughter, Carl takes matters into his own hands, revenge killing both rapists, and unwittingly injures the local Deputy. Carl is imprisoned and subjected to the death penalty; what follows is a gripping courtroom drama where Brigance fights relentlessly to bring justice to Carl and his family. Jackson delivers a moving, heartfelt performance as the bruised father who has nothing but vengeance for the monsters that have violated his young, innocent daughter.

“N*****, negro, black, African-American, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them. Now throw out your points of law, Jake. If you was on that jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free? That’s how you save my ass. That’s how you save us both.”

7. Marvel Films (various directors, 2008-)  

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has had a massive fan following. With recurrent superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye comprising an invincible group termed the Avengers, evil forces are defeated, and cities are saved. While most of these superheroes have standalone movies, they have appeared together in the biggest ensemble film of all time, Avengers: Endgame (2019), along with other heroes such as Spiderman, Ant-Man, Black Panther and more. 

Samuel L. Jackson plays Nick Fury, the character’s description in the comic books does not match the films as it had been altered to meet Jackson’s features. Fury is the mastermind behind some of the Avengers’ most essential and dangerous missions and is as indispensable as his eye-patch and black coat. Watch the films to find out how he got the scar (spoiler alert: you shall not be dissatisfied!).

“There was an idea, Stark knows this, called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to fight the battles we never could.”

6. Jackie Brown  (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)

Although Elmore Leonard’s book Rum Punch had a white protagonist, Tarantino, in an attempt to be able to work with his favourite 1970s blaxploitation actress Pam Grier, changed the race of the character. Pam plays the eponymous character Jackie Brown who is a flight attendant for Cabo Air. She is caught between the cops and a gun runner as she helps smuggle drugs and money for Ordell Robbie, outdoing everybody with the help of a bail bondsman played by Robert Forster, whose career had been revived by Tarantino as well.  

Jackson played Ordell Robbie and termed it as one of his most favourite roles. Although Tarantino was criticised for overusing the word ‘blaxploitation’ and “devaluating it and its significance”, Jackson sprung to his friend’s defence by stating, “Did they have another name to call the (black) people they were talking about at the time? If you’re going to deal with the language of the time, you deal with the language of the time. And that was the language of the time. I grew up in the South. I heard ‘n*****’ all my life. I’m not disturbed by it.”

“Look, I hate to be the kinda nigga does a nigga a favour, then, BAM!, hits a nigga up for a favour in return.”

5. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)

Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was supposed to be a sequel to Django Unchained but became a standalone film with its own set of characters. The film revolves around a bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren who claims to be the sheriff when he meets The Hangman ad his prisoner. When a blizzard strikes, they meet four more strangers, and they soon learn that there is more to it than meets the eye, and they might not reach their destination at all. 

Jackson plays Marquis Warren, the civil war veteran. In his sixth collaboration with Tarantino, Jackson has revealed how he is in close contact with all the castmates. Talking about Tarantino, he revealed: “People say a lot of things about Quentin, that he’s racist. But every character that he’s ever written for me has been a very intelligent, very driven person. I know I’m going to do it, there’s no question. He’s not calling me to say, ‘will you be in my movie?’ He’s just calling me to say, ‘this is the part that I just wrote for you,’ and I’m like, ‘okay, great.'”

“Move a little sudden or a little strange, you gon’ get a bullet. Not a warning, not a question, a bullet.”

4. Kill Bill: Vol 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)

Borrowing elements across all movie genres, Tarantino creates a well-crafted and intriguing masterpiece is the story of a femme fatale, named The Bride, who aided by her indomitable spirit and unwavering determination, embarks on a quest for revenge. Having been in a coma for four years after her jealous ex tried to take her life, the Bride is motivated by an insatiable thirst to avenge her unborn child, her wedding party as well as the four precious years of her life. With a planned hit list and lust for vengeance, the Bride completes her quest till she reaches the titular Bill.

In this film, The Bride continues her revenge campaign against the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and continues to hunt down the sadistic Bill.  Samuel L. Jackson plays Rufus, a piano player who is one of the casualties at Two Pines, killed by Elle Driver. He was supposed to play at The Bride and her fiancee’s wedding.  

I am gonna ask you questions, and every time you don’t give me answers, I’m gonna cut something off. And I promise you, they will be things you will miss!”

3. Django Unchained  (Quentin Tarantino, 2012) 

Rescued by a German travelling bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz, Black Slave and “the fastest gun in the South”, Django Freeman, sets out on a journey to free his wife, Broomhilda, from a despicable, narcissistic and malicious Mississippi plantation owner and brutal slave-fight enthusiast, Calvin Candie.

Jackson played Stephen, Candie’s chief slave. No other Tarantino character is as brutal and treacherous as Stephen, who has viciously taken advantage of the systemic oppression the slaves are subjected to by being an ally of the White Master. He actively partakes in subjugating his fellow black compatriots and derives pleasure from seeing hem in disadvantageous situations. Despite his brief on-screen presence, he evokes hatred in our hearts and is one of the most wicked, sneaky and ruthless characters ever created by Tarantino. Watch the film to find out what happens to him and whether he deserves worse.

Oh yes sir, I… I missed you. Like a, like a hog miss slop. Like a…a baby miss mammy’s titty. I miss you like I misses a rock in my shoe.”

2. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) 

Pulp fiction is a product of Tarantino’s eccentric mastery and made him a household name. The narrative transcends chronology not only to mirror the anthological structure of Tarantino’s favourite pulp magazines but also to allow Jules to experience an emotional epiphany during the climactic scene. Samuel L. Jackson plays this badass character and plays the role with full power and madness. 

Uncompromising and brash, Jules is exceptionally quick-witted and self-aware. He is a ruthless killer who shoots men unrelentingly before standing over their bodies, pulling out fictional biblical verses. Eloquent and smart, Jules questions the ways of the world, unlike the morally ambiguous Vincent and is prone to change. Only an actor as great and versatile as Samuel Jackson could balance the wonderful contradiction of being both an intense motormouth reeking of violence as well as the shepherd, protecting the weak from the tyranny of the evil. Jackson’s epic and badass portrayal along with perfect delivery of magnificent monologues made Jules Winnfield go down in history as the most famous and memorable Tarintinian character.  

“If my answers frighten you, then you should stop asking scary questions.”

1. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)

Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, the film revolves around the lives of three pivotal figures and their lives as a part of 1960s and ‘70s New York mafia. It follows the journey of a young, petty criminal Henry Hill, who along with his friends, the jack-of-all-trades Jimmy Conway and the intimidating Tommy DeVito, ascends the organised crime ladder to live a life of luxury. Unbeknownst to him, the brutalities soon cause a sea change in their lives, bringing into the picture the question of survival.  

An obvious fan favourite, this film made Scorsese the household name he is. The film, which questions the extent of willful ignorance on the part of an individual towards his compatriot’s immorality, stars an incredible ensemble comprising Robert De Niro, Jo Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino. Jackson played Stacks Edwards, naive and unsuspecting, who partook in the infamous Lufthansa Heist. However, his character had not been given the importance that it deserved. That said, it was factually accurate in terms of his involvement as well as death. 

Now Go Home & Get Your Fuckin’ Shinebox!”

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