Some actors transform themselves from role to role in ways a normal person could never imagine – be it weight gain, weight loss, the adoption of an accent, new posture or even lifestyle. But Samuel L. Jackson found a different way: his hairstyle.
The next chance fans will have to gaze upon Jackson’s chameleon-like scalp will be the upcoming Oldboy and RoboCop remakes. With that Oldboy yellow mohawk in mind, and RoboCop‘s first trailer showing him sporting a haircut that can only be described as ‘running for president,’ we thought a refresher on the history of Jackson’s fictional locks was in order.
Read on for our list of the Top 10 Samuel L. Jackson Hairstyles in Movies.
As Seen In: Unbreakable (2000)
We should have known that when Jackson crossed paths with director M. Night Shyamalan the result would be unforgettable. While Unbreakable is certainly not saddled with the criticism of later Shyamalan films, Jackson’s character ‘Elijah Price’ is memorable for several reasons; his hair chief among them.
That immovable, unfaltering haircut is the signature of a man who’s got more important things to worry about than style. Discovering whether superhumans are real is sure to be time-consuming, so we’ll give him a pass. But we doubt that Shyamalan hoped that haircut would be the element of the film that most stuck with us.
As Seen In: The Great White Hype (1996)
Although the film may not be as well-known as some on our list, Jackson’s hairstyle for the film is among the most absurd. Playing boxing promoter ‘Rev. Fred Sultan’ – a clear reference to legendary promoter Don King – The Great White Hype dealt with the issues (and profitability) of racism in the world of heavyweight boxing, with Jackson’s hair nearly as controversial in itself.
Where Don King decided to send his hair skyward, Sultan went… a different direction. This ‘grey caesar’ hairstyle would look strange on anyone – a fact Jackson seemed aware of, since it’s concealed beneath hats for much of the film. But in the scenes where it is shown for the world to enjoy, it is a sight to behold.
As Seen In: The Man (2005)
When picturing ‘Samuel L. Jackson playing an ATF agent’ one of the last hairstyles that come to mind will be ‘a head full of mini twists.’ Yet that’s exactly what Jackson fans got with The Man (granted, the film co-starring Eugene Levy helps it make a bit more sense).
Even if the hairstyle wasn’t forgettable, the film largely was; there’s also reason to believe that Jackson felt less fondly for the twists as he did for other hairstyles in his repertoire, considering it was the last we’d see of them. Still, the film proved that the actor can make just about any hairstyle seem badass if given the right facial hair to match.
As Seen In: The Caveman’s Valentine (2001)
Jackson sporting an out-of-control beard and head full of dreadlocks may seem at home in a comedy, but both times the actor has donned the look – The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) and later Resurrecting the Champ (2007) – the films in question weren’t played for laughs.
We don’t know if it’s coincidence that both characters were homeless, or in need of psychiatric evaluation, but the dreads certainly helped sell the idea. It’s possible that Jackson prefers dirty dreads and a wild beard when playing someone on the fringes of society, but the results prove that audiences won’t always line up to see the actor’s hair.
As Seen In: The Negotiator (2000)
As hostage negotiator ‘Danny Roman,’ a middle-aged police officer with a wife and family, audiences might expect a somewhat pedestrian haircut (he’s no ATF agent, after all). And in The Negotiator, they essentially did. But if nothing else, Jackson’s turn as the wrongfully-accused hero of the film showed that when Samuel L. Jackson chooses a hairstyle for his character, even ‘normal’ isn’t always guaranteed to be normal.
It’s hard to say if Jackson thought: ‘it’s just normal hair, would it be unreasonable to dye it brown?’ Viewers can debate the idea, but for us, it was hard to look away. Luckily, the film was a fairly solid, action-heavy thriller – but seeing Jackson in chocolate locks is unquestionably one of the reasons we watch the movie every time it appears on TV.
As Seen In: Formula 51 (2000)
In hindsight, it seems a match made in heaven: Samuel L. Jackson, and corn rows. Truthfully, there are few actors we would trust to pull off the hairstyle without it seeming like they were trying to come off as more intimidating than they truly were. But in Formula 51, the chosen hairdo of ‘Elmo McElroy’ seemed right at home.
That makes it one of the most exceptional instances of Jackson’s method of ‘hair-acting’; his role as the mind behind a new street drug may welcome the hair, but his education as a master chemist and fondness for golf? That’s grounds for a boring haircut if we’ve ever heard of one. Who knows: maybe the corn rows and facial hair are just to distract people from the kilt.
As Seen In: Jumper (2008)
There are controversial haircuts, and there are ridiculous ones. As the central antagonist in Jumper, Jackson’s ‘Roland Cox’ defied the theory that deadly members of ancient organizations must be taken seriously. That was due almost entirely to his close-cropped, whitened hair.
We’re willing to suspend our disbelief when it comes to teleporting, but expecting us to believe that every single hair on Cox’s head went completely white while his goatee clings to color is too much. The sticking point for Jumper is that the hairstyle might have actually worked in another film, on another character; but to put it atop a character supposed to be taken seriously was asking too much. The movie may still have its fans, but Cox’s locks sure don’t.
As Seen In: Pulp Fiction (1994)
There’s no way we couldn’t pay special tribute to one of Jackson’s greatest onscreen hairdos. Strange to think that director Quentin Tarantino had originally written Pulp Fiction‘s fast-talking hitman ‘Jules Winfield’ as bearing a sizable afro – it was only luck that the now-infamous Jheri curl wig made its way on set.
In hindsight, a massive afro on the Bible-quoting Jules next to the long-haired Travolta might have pushed the duo into pure farce; but the Jheri curl showed that Jules was a man who did what he pleased, regardless of what society thought. Surprisingly, Jackson’s memorable performance didn’t lead to a resurgence in the hairstyle. Jackson proved that no one could ever again compete with the style he brought to a head full of curls.
As Seen In: Jackie Brown (2000)
It may be the only film of Quentin Tarantino’s that he didn’t also write, but Jackie Brown still gave Samuel L. Jackson the chance to create the look of his own character, ‘Ordell Robbie.’ Injecting some of his own interests – the Kangol hats and Toronto Raptors bag – Jackson decided to not only give Ordell shoulder-length brown hair, but a braided, bearded goatee to go along with it.
More than any other, Ordell’s hairstyle actually makes a case for Jackson being onto something with his practice of hair-switching. There isn’t that much of a difference between Ordell and several other roles Jackson has performed – but with that ponytail and goatee, we’ll never mistake him for anyone else.
As Seen In: Soul Men (2008)
It’s hard to recommend anyone go out of their way to watch Soul Men (aside from it being Bernie Mac’s last role), but in the world of Samuel L. Jackson’s hair, it’s a marathon. Some of the entries on our list have featured one odd look, but in this chronicling of of two former backup singers, ‘Louis Hinds’ doesn’t have to settle on just one.
Afros, ponytails, braids and more find their way into Hinds’ repertoire over the course of the film, offering something of a crash-course in Jackson’s hair history. It’s a shame the film itself isn’t particularly memorable, but maybe there’s a lesson to be learned: when it comes to Samuel L. Jackson and his hair, it’s more important to think of quality, not quantity.
Any actor with a resumé as long as Samuel L. Jackson has ranked up plenty of both memorable and forgettable roles, but his hairstyle seems to compensate for a losing picture as best it can.
There are sure to be some memorable hairdo’s that we have left off the list, so which ones do you hold most dear? Or will you take the controversial stance that a hairless Jackson is the best of the bunch?
We’ll see where the ‘professional wrestler’ and ‘country club’ looks land in our list when Oldboy releases Nov. 27, 2013 and RoboCop on Feb. 7, 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.