There was a joke in the Ted 2 trailer that if you’ve seen any movie, ever, and there was a black guy, it was probably Samuel L. Jackson. Of course, that was only a joke, but there’s more truth to it than you’d expect. Over his entire career, Jackson has been one of the hardest working actors in the biz, showing up in more than 100 roles and earning more than $4.5 billion in the box office.
Over the course of his lengthy and storied career, there are a few roles that really stand head and shoulders above the rest. Samuel L. Jackson has played a cop, a criminal, a Jedi knight, a superhero, and many more diverse roles. It’s safe to say he has a pretty wide range. Take a look at these roles that brought Jackson to the Hollywood big leagues.
Gator in Jungle Fever
Samuel L. Jackson has acting credits as early as the 1970’s, but his breakthrough role didn’t come around until 1991, when he played Gator in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991). One of his standout scenes is when he comes to his younger brother (Wesley Snipes) and asks him for some cash for drugs. His ability to put the mentality of a drug addict into perspective is eerie and makes more logical sense than one would like to admit.
Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction
It’s hard picking out Samuel L. Jackson’s best acting role out of his long list of credits. But if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I’d say it’s the scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) where he did just that when he went to an apartment with his partner Vince (John Travolta) to handle business for his employer, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Just moments earlier, he was carefree and talking about establishing boundaries with other people’s lovers, then quickly got into character and owned the entire room with the help of a pistol and a memorized Bible verse.
Hold-Up Man in Coming to America
He was far from the top of the bill in Coming to America (1988), but Samuel L. Jackson and his above average cursing skills made his scene an unforgettable one. He’s simply credited as “Hold-Up Man,” which is appropriate given that his job was to stick up a fast food restaurant just to be swiftly dealt with by Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall).
Zeus Carver in Die Hard: With A Vengeance
Remember what I said earlier about super-cops? Well, there is no other super-cop like John McClane in the Die Hard series. One thing that makes him such a good enforcer of the law is that he’s willing to put himself on the line for the greater good. In Die Hard: With a Vengeance, that was truly put to the test. Luckily, a good-hearted store owner named Zeus was able to help him out.
Lucius Best/Frozone in The Incredibles
There are only a few precious moments in movies that make me laugh every time, no matter how many times I’ve seen them. In The Incredibles (2004), Samuel L. Jackson gives us some additional perspective into what home life can be like for superheroes. In this instance, we learn that they’ve got to pick their battles wisely (before your family gets fed up and hides your supersuit).
Ken Carter in Coach Carter
Even though he’s arguably always looked older and distinguished, Samuel L. Jackson was even more qualified to play authoritarian roles as time went on. One of our first times seeing this was when he helped coach a group of young men in both basketball and life in Coach Carter (2005).
Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Given that he’s signed a nine-movie deal with Marvel Studios and has already completed over half of those, it’s pretty hard to just pick one good Nick Fury moment. So we’ll go with the one where he did the most damage in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).
Neville Flynn in Snakes On a Plane
Come on. You knew it was coming. While this list is full of roles where Samuel L. Jackson was either serious or light-hearted, Snakes On a Plane (2006) is an unintentional combination of the two: a film that tries to be serious but it’s existence is already hilarious to begin with. That makes two snake-themed movies for Jackson in 2006. Is this how he got to more than 100 movies?
Stephen in Django Unchained
Samuel L. Jackson has been in a handful of Quentin Tarantino films. Other than Pulp Fiction, his role in Django Unchained (2012) is probably the most memorable as he plays an elderly house slave that’s far too attached to his master and is seemingly out to get the titular character for psychological reasons that would take way too long to properly analyze.
Russell Franklin in Deep Blue Sea
Oh, this is such a strong “… did that really just happen?” moment! In Deep Blue Sea (1999), Samuel L. Jackson’s character took it upon himself to bring the crew of an underwater base together before they started to panic. He shared a secret he’d never told before, and helped ease everyone’s nerves before before the hyper-intelligent sharks that were coming for them arrived. It even looked like he was going to be the hero. But, then he got eaten.
Elijah Price in Unbreakable
In 2000, Samuel L. Jackson starred alongside Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. Jackson plays Elijah Price, a man that’s become captivated with the mythology of comic books, but can hardly support his own body weight due to a medical condition that makes his bones especially brittle. Jackson gives a dynamite performance, back before M. Night Shyamalan twists were a punchline.