Ranking the 50 Samuel L. Jackson characters I’ve watched
I recently watched my 50th Samuel L. Jackson movie, which is by far the most movies I’ve seen for any actor. Second place is a tie between Matt Damon and Robert De Niro, of which I have only seen 38 movies of each. To celebrate this monumental achievement I have decided to rank each of the 50 characters that Samuel L. Jackson has played.
Note: Sammy J has played the same actor in multiple movies, I have split these out into each individual movie. I have also excluded some Marvel movies where he only played a role in a post-credit scene.
Group E: The Bad
The next group is going to be about movies/characters that I don’t even remember watching, but before that I have to list out the characters that I wish I had forgotten. Even good actors give bad performances sometimes.
#50 — George Washington Williams, The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
For this to be at the bottom of the list is actually a pretty good sign for Mr. Jackson. It’s not a horrible performance, but it is weirdly out of place in a fairly bad movie. Usually he’s so over-the-top and charismatic that you forgive his characters not fitting with the environment around him, but this is too tempered down to get away with it.
#49 — Barron, Miss Peregrines’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
This one is actually a worse performance, but because he plays it so over-the-top it ends up being kind of charming and nice reprieve from an otherwise bland and boring movie.
#48 to #46 — Agent Augustus Gibbons, xXx Trilogy (2002–2017)
The order of this would be State of the Union (48), xXx (47) then Return of Xander Cage (46) and the overall reason is this: the character is paper thin. Sure he has some Sam Jackson charm but the character is so dumb and contradictory that it’s just hard to buy into.
#45 — Chaney, Oldboy (2013)
I penalize this role not because of his performance but because this is a bad remake that never should’ve been made.
Group D: The Forgotten
To be honest I just don’t really remember these movies or his performance in them, so I’m just going to arbitrarily assign a ranking to these and include some pictures where I was curious and did research to see what role he played.
#44 — Roland, Jumper (2008)
#43 — Elmo McElroy, Formula 51 (2001)
#42 — West, Basic (2003)
#41 — Richie, Meeting Evil (2012)
#40 — Hold-Up Man, Coming to America (1988)
#39 — Robby, Patriot Games (1992)
#38 — Wes Luger, Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)
#37 — Stacks Edwards, Goodfellas (1990)
#36 — Mister Senor Love Daddy, Do The Right Thing (1989)
#35 — Rufus, Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
#34 — Jimmy, Hard Eight
#33 — Sgt. Dan ‘Hondo’ Harrelson, S.W.A.T. (2003)
#32 — Ordell Robbie, Jackie Brown (1997)
#31 — Octopus, The Spirit (2008)
Group C: The Standard Sammy J
This is the run-of-the-mill Sammy J performance. Always delightful, but these ones didn’t knock it out of the park.
#30 — Zeus Carter, Die Hard: With A Vengeance (1995)
Almost put this in Group D as it’s a pretty straight forward performance, not too over-the-top but just a solid contribution to the second best Die Hard movie.
#29 — Dr. Harry Adams, Sphere (1998)
For some reason he looks older in the Goodfellas scene that was shot 8 years earlier.
#28 — Doyle Gipson, Changing Lanes (2002)
A forgettable movie, but some classic SLJ rage going on.
#27 — Neville Flynn, Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Steven Segall built an entire filmography around movies with flimsy plots that are just an excuse to get him to fight people. This seems like a similar movie except instead of an excuse it’s just an excuse to get Sam Jackson angry and yelling.
#26 to #24 — Mace Windu, Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999–2005)
I’m going with an order of: Episode 1 (#46) because he doesn’t do anything, Episode III (#45) because he does stuff but it’s all terrible decisions, and Episode II (#44) because he cuts a dude’s head off.
#23 — Lazarus, Black Snake Moan (2007)
Just look at them eyes. This also a type of character he plays that I really like, where it’s somewhat on the good side but still kind of a bad person, and never really quite sure how to feel about him.
#22 — Coach Ken Carter, Coach Carter (2005)
I kind of wish I had Samuel L Jackson on the sidelines yelling at me every time I played sports.
#21 to #17 — Nick Fury, Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–2015)
I’m going with Captain America 1, Iron Man 2, and Avengers 2 for spots 21 to 19 in whichever order you want because his role is pretty forgettable, but going with Winter Solder for #18 (good car chase, gets shot like a champ, and good hanging up of eye patch scene) and Avengers at #17 because he drove that movie and kept a very wide-ranging plot stable.
#16 — P.K. Highsmith, The Other Guys (2010)
He stood toe-to-toe with The Rock in a comedy role and held his own. A range he hasn’t shown enough of elsewhere in his filmography.
Group B: Gettin’ to the good stuff
We’ve gotten through the muck of 35 roles that are decent, but mostly just rely on Samuel L Jackson being Samuel L Jackson. These next 15 roles are the ones in my opinion that set him apart and make you cast him in other roles to begin with.
#15 — Russell Franklin, Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Probably the best ‘getting eaten’ scene of all time.
#14 — Darius Kincaid, The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)
I’m not a big fan of the movie overall, but it’s a great showcase of all the things Sammy J does well. He yells, he flirts between good and bad, he’s charming. It’s a solid role for him.
#13 — The Narrator, I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Every once in a while, Sam decides to not yell so much, and the result is that he actually makes a really good narrator in a pretty good documentary. (No, that’s not a picture of him)
#12 — Pat Novak, Robocop (2014)
I’m being hypocritical here because I penalized his role in Oldboy because it was an unnecessary remake and this is also an unnecessary remake. However, this is one of the few things that made it stand out and be separate from the original, and a fitting part for SLJ.
#11 — Arnold, Jurassic Park (1993)
“Hold on to your butts” — because a great career is about to get started.
#10 — Frozone, The Incredibles (2004)
Somebody better tell this man where his super suit is.
#9 — Preston Packard, Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Didn’t like the movie, but liked the character and the performance. I wish it had been in service of a better story.
#8 — Gerald Olin, 1408 (2007)
I think this is a really under-rated performance in an under-rated movie. It has that perfect balance of playing the character evil but straight. It would’ve been very easy to play this over-the-top, but he nails it.
Group A: The Good Stuff
I no longer have to justify these, these are all great performances in great films. If you haven’t seen any of them, go out and do so. (#6 possible exempted from ‘great film’ status)
#7 — Stephen, Django Unchained (2012)
One of the few times he played pure bad guy. Outside his usual cast-typed role but fits the tone of the movie perfectly.
#6 — John Shaft, Shaft (2000)
Just listen to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2NaN_QNFUo (and yes I know he’s not the original Shaft…but really, he was born to play the role)
#5 — Valentine, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
There are so many ways that character could’ve been bad (just at Julianne Moore’s attempt to do it in Kingsman 2) but somehow he adds actual depth a James Bond-esque super villain.
#4 — Black, Sunset Limited (2011)
This is probably the best pure acting that Samuel L Jackson has done. This whole movie is him and Tommy Lee Jones (who also does a great job) just sitting in a room talking, and I was completely enthralled the entire time. I won’t say any more than that, but I really encourage you to give this movie a chance.
#3 — Elijah Price, Unbreakable (2000)
“Your bones don’t break, mine do. That’s clear. Your cells react to bacteria and viruses differently than mine. You don’t get sick, I do. That’s also clear. But for some reason, you and I react the exact same way to water. We swallow it too fast, we choke. We get some in our lungs, we drown. However unreal it may seem, we are connected, you and I. We’re on the same curve, just on opposite ends.”
#2 — Major Marquis Warren, The Hateful Eight (2015)
There are a few other roles here that I’ve highlighted for that playing fine line between being a typical protagonist while still being a bit of an asshole. It’s a class of anti-hero that few can pull off, and this is Sammy J’s best version of it.
#1 — Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction (1994)
Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.”