It seems like the word prolific was invented to describe Samuel L. Jackson.
Since his first screen appearance in 1972, Jackson has appeared in almost 200 films, and it's rare that any of his performances are described as "phoned in." A talented and energetic performer, almost every one of Jackson's performances are worth seeing. Most of us remember him for his action-packed and wise-cracking roles but he's actually crafted many types of characters over the years. With so many to choose from, it can be a daunting body of work to tackle, but ScreenRant has you covered. Read on for 10 of the very best.
10 Mr. Barron (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children)
This may seem like a strange choice, as the movie it's from is definitely bad. Still, Jackson's performance is especially endearing. Armed with a bizarre hairdo, colored contact lenses, and axe hands, it seems like Jackson's character, Mr. Barron, will be altogether too much. In lesser axe hands maybe, but Jackson is one of the few actors on earth who could make it all work, and work it does.
Playing his signature blend of menace and humor, Jackson fits perfectly into the tone of a family film. The performance is good enough to make you wonder why he hasn't done more.
9 P.K. Highsmith (The Other Guys)
Never afraid to parody his tough guy image, none of Jackson's comedy roles have come close to touching The Other Guys. Paired brilliantly with Dwayne Johnson, Jackson's P.K. Highsmith is every action hero he ever played, turned up to 11. When Jackson and Johnson's luck runs out, one line ("Aim for the bushes") launches them into one of the funniest gags of the last decade. While the entire set up is inspired, the bit would not work without Jackson knocking it out of the park.
8 Mr. Señor Love Daddy (Do The Right Thing)
Mr. Señor Love Daddy, Jackson's monologuing DJ from Do the Right Thing, isn't actually in the movie that much. Still, this performance represents one of Sir L's finest talents; his skill with a well-placed cameo. From small roles from before he was famous (Goodfellas, Jurassic Park) to bit parts that trade on his star image (Kill Bill, Out of Sight, Iron Man) Jackson knows exactly how to make a quick, great impression. Mr. Señor Love Daddy, whose soulful interludes pepper the runtime of Do the Right Thing, might just be the peak of his cameo-ing abilities.
7 Coach Carter (Coach Carter)
Amidst his various action franchises, Jackson took a break to do this entirely solid sports drama, now may be among his best-known roles. Coach Carter is also notable in another way; it's one of the few films where he's unambiguously the lead.
Essentially a wish-fulfillment fantasy where Sam Jackson is your basketball coach, Jackson embodies Carter with wisdom and grace. As formuliac as the film ends up being, Jackson consistently elevates it into something more.
6 Odell Robbie (Jackie Brown)
If this list proves anything, it's that Samuel L. Jackson loves (and excels at) playing villains. From Kingsman to Lakeview Terrace, Jackson can do a wide range of evil characters, and make it all look effortless. Still, there is usually a method to Sam Jack's on-screen madness. Most of his bad guys either veer into cartoonish supervillany or are imbued with the feeling that they (and Jackson) are having fun.
Not so for Odell Robbie, the gangster he plays in Tarantino's Jackie Brown. The disinterest with which Odell commits crimes is disturbing, and in stark contrast with the passion most of Jackson's characters bring to their misdeeds. The scene where Odell spends 10 minutes arguing a friend into helping him, only to turn around and kill him moments later, is legitimately chilling. With the possible exception of Frozone, Jackson has never again played someone this cold.
5 Stephen (Django Unchained)
There are a lot of complicated conversations to have around Django, especially looking back on it now, but Jackson's performance within it is undeniable. Saddled with an unforgiving, complicated role, it's kind of a miracle he pulls it off the way he does. Alternately pathetic and terrifying, Stephen is a character we are never quite sure what to think of. While Stephen is pretty consistently vile from the beginning, Jackson lets the character's self-hatred slip through the cracks, and in a few fleeting moments, allows him to become sympathetic. Stephen was a tough line to walk, and Jackson walked it beautifully.
4 Elijah Price (Unbreakable, And Only Unbreakable)
Speaking of complicated performances, some of Jackson's most understated work can be found in 2000's Unbreakable. For much of the film, Elijah Price is something of an enigma, but Jackson always makes that mystery engaging.
Suffering from a debilitating bone disease, Price is clearly carrying a lot of childhood trauma, and he's bottled up so tightly it seems that like it could spill out at any moment. When it finally does, the revelation of what that pain has caused results in M. Night Shyamalan's best twist ever and caps off a terrific movie. Jackson, for his part, is fantastic as a character who never again wants to appear vulnerable.
3 Marquis Warren (The Hateful Eight)
Marquis Warren, the vile, viciously violent bounty hunter at the center of The Hateful Eight, might be the finest Samuel L performance of the 21st century. Warren, with good reason, is mad as heck from the first frame of the film, and that anger is hypnotizing. Warren seethes nastiness, and it's a testament to Jackson's talents that he remains so engaging. Part of what makes Warren's rage so memorable, perhaps, is that Jackson infuses it with an almost childlike glee. He laughs like someone who has lived through so much that it has legitimately become funny. It's the laugh of someone completely disconnected from their own humanity.
If the Hateful Eight is Tarantino's microcosm of modern-day American society, Warren is a living, breathing reminder of its cruelties. Serving as both a perpetrator and victim of brutal, gruesome violence, this character, and this performance, are impossible to forget.
2 Mitch Hennessy (The Long Kiss Goodnight)
Many of Jackson's best characters the most powerful, smartest, and scariest guys in the room. One of his finest, however, showcases a tough guy who doesn't always have a handle on everything. Practicing for a similar role in Captain Marvel, The Long Kiss Goodnight has Jackson riffing on his image of perfect 90's cool. Sammy J's slick private eye finds himself paired with Gina Davis' amnesiac suburban mom, as she attempts to uncover her past. Davis' exterior isn't all that it seems, however, and her mysterious amnesia begins giving way to Jason Bourne-esque spy skills.
The fact that the movie is so good definitely influences this pick, but Jackson makes the most of the role, and is clearly having a lot of fun. The movie wouldn't be half as good without Jackson's horrified reaction shots, which take every scene of hyperviolence to new heights. He also manages to sell the heck out of a quiet character moment near the end of the film, when his character makes a surprisingly humanistic choice. For such a great career of playing badasses, it's refreshing to watch Jackson take the back seat to someone else. The man himself even agrees.
1 Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
What else could it be? In the role that would go on to define his career, Jackson plays Jules Winnfield, the burger-loving hitman who at the center of many of the film's chapters. While everything has been said about his other two scenes, Jackson's final sequence in the film might be his best. Hours after a dramatic crisis of faith, Winnfield finds himself in the midst of a tense robbery. Attempting to remain calm, Jules talks the various parties down to a peaceful solution, and in doing so, makes them play a game.
By reciting a bible verse, Jules makes the man who attempted to rob him guess, in essence, Jules' true nature. Is he a good man, forced to do evil in a bad world? Or is he an evil man, trying his best to change his ways? Ultimately, it's a game Jackson plays with his audience in almost every role. What is the true nature of his character, and in which way do they struggle against it? As with all great actors, the answer with Jackson is always in flux.