Samuel L. Jackson: 20 Can't-Miss Performances

Another celebrity birthday is upon us, as our man Samuel L. Jackson turns 72 today. Get the party started with one of his 20 best pictures.

By Jesse Conner

Samuel L. Jackson in "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith."

© 20th Century Fox/courtesy Everett Collection

Pulp Fiction

This film is the one that fans of Jackson are likely to be quoting in their sleep, as it features the iconic scene where his character Jules recites a biblical verse with pistol in his hand, unleashing his wrath upon an unfortunate soul who has wronged his employer.

Pulp Fiction

Crime Drama / 1994 / R

Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) are hitmen with a penchant for philosophical discussions. In this ultra-hip, multi-strand crime movie, their storyline is interwoven with those of their boss, gangster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) ; his actress wife, Mia (Uma Thurman) ; struggling boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) ; master fixer Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) and a nervous pair of armed robbers, "Pumpkin" (Tim Roth) and "Honey Bunny" (Amanda Plummer).

Do The Right Thing

The smoothest radio personality in the neighborhood, Jackson is Mister Señor Love Daddy and he lets his charm and charisma do the talking, showing audiences early on in his career that he was ready for the spotlight.

Do the Right Thing

Drama / 1989 / R

Salvatore "Sal" Fragione (Danny Aiello) is the Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A neighborhood local, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), becomes upset when he sees that the pizzeria's Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. Buggin' Out believes a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to Buggin' Out and to other people in the neighborhood, and tensions rise.

Jackie Brown

Another one of Jackson's scene-stealing performances, he's an arms dealer that seems to be a reasonable, trustworthy "friend" to those who work with him...but who's also quick to the pull trigger if he feels he's been double-crossed.

Jackie Brown

Crime Drama / 1997 / R

When flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is busted smuggling money for her arms dealer boss, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) want her help to bring down Robbie. Facing jail time for her silence or death for her cooperation, Brown decides instead to double-cross both parties and make off with the smuggled money. Meanwhile, she enlists the help of bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a man who loves her.

Black Snake Moan

What is probably a sympathetic but also disturbing role Jackson took on in his career, he's cast here as a guy who keeps a young, afflicted woman locked in his house in order to help her get clean and cleanse her of her "wickedness."

Black Snake Moan

Drama / 2007 / R

After her lover (Justin Timberlake) leaves to serve in the military, Rae (Christina Ricci) gives in to her raging libido and leaps into a life of wild abandon. Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), a troubled bluesman, finds Rae beaten and left for dead. He takes her in and holds her captive in an attempt to help her find a cure for her affliction.

Fresh

A complicated situation arises where a young boy witnesses a murder, so in order to choose the right path of what to do next, he leans on the skills that he learned from his drunken father (played by Jackson) who knows all about making the right move from his days as a speed-chess champ.

Fresh

Drama / 1994 / R

Fresh (Sean Nelson) is a 12-year-old drug dealer who finds himself trapped in a web of poverty, corruption and racial tension in Brooklyn, New York. When his drug-addict sister Nichole (N'Bushe Wright) starts sleeping with local drug lord Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito), Fresh calls upon the skills he learned playing chess with his alcoholic father and speed-chess champion Sam (Samuel L. Jackson) and devises a complex strategy that will free both himself and his sister.

The Hateful Eight

Jackson can easily fit into any Tarantino flick, and in this one he's a bounty hunter who plays by no rules and will murder any man in cold blood that gets in the way of his bounty.

The Hateful Eight

Western / 2015 / R

While racing toward the town of Red Rock in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) encounter another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a man who claims to be a sheriff. Hoping to find shelter from a blizzard, the group travels to a stagecoach stopover located on a mountain pass. Greeted there by four strangers, the eight travelers soon learn that they may not make it to their destination after all.

Jungle Fever

In another early breakout role, the chameleon actor plays a crackhead named Gator who tries to convince his brother to give him money. If that doesn't work, he's more than willing to rob an elderly person.

Jungle Fever

Drama / 1991 / R

A married black lawyer named Flipper (Wesley Snipes) begins an affair with Angie (Annabella Sciorra), his white secretary. When the news is leaked through an acquaintance, Flipper's wife (Lonette McKee) kicks him out of the house. Flipper decides to begin courting his mistress, only to be greeted by disapproval from friends, family and even strangers. The relationship continues to be strained in a society not ready to accept it, and people are hurt during its inception.

Django Unchained

This is hands-down a most unique and ironic role. Jackson is the right-hand man to a slave owner, yet he's a slave himself. Because he's the head house slave, though, he can order all of the other slaves around in a demeaning way with no qualms about it.

Django Unchained

Western / 2012 / R

Two years before the Civil War, Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave, finds himself accompanying an unorthodox German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on a mission to capture the vicious Brittle brothers. Their mission successful, Schultz frees Django, and together they hunt the South's most-wanted criminals. Their travels take them to the infamous plantation of shady Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), where Django's long-lost wife (Kerry Washington) is still a slave.

Die Hard with a Vengeance

Jackson's character Zeus Carver is just minding his own business...until he meets detective John McClane on the street. After that, all bets are off.

Die Hard With a Vengeance

Action / 1995 / R

Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is now divorced, alcoholic and jobless after getting fired for his reckless behavior and bad attitude. He is called back into action, however, when a cryptic terrorist (Jeremy Irons) takes New York City hostage in a lethal game of "Simon Says" and refuses to speak with anyone but McClane. Teaming up with a street-savvy electrician named Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), McClane dashes through the city, trying to stay one step ahead of a murderous plot.

Unbreakable

Jackson pairs with Willis once more. This role is one of an actual supervillain, born with bones so weak that they break like glass. For reasons to be revealed later, he's hellbent on finding the superhero of the story who is supposed to be unbreakable.

Unbreakable

Thriller / 2000 / PG-13

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is the sole survivor of a devastating train wreck. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is a mysterious stranger who offers a bizarre explanation as to why David escaped without a single scratch -- an explanation which threatens to change David's family and his life forever.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

If you're a Star Wars fan, then you'll never forget Jackson's portrayal of Mace Windu, the only jedi to grace the big screen with a purple lightsaber.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Action / 2005 / PG-13

It has been three years since the Clone Wars began. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from General Grievous, the commander of the droid armies, but Grievous escapes. Suspicions are raised within the Jedi Council concerning Chancellor Palpatine, with whom Anakin has formed a bond. Asked to spy on the chancellor, and full of bitterness toward the Jedi Council, Anakin embraces the Dark Side.

Captain Marvel

Though his first cinematic entrance into the MCU was in "Iron 2," Jackson's character Nick Fury really gets his time to shine in this film. From an MCU timeline perspective this is actually before the Avengers assemble, and before Fury loses sight in his left eye.

Captain Marvel

Action / 2019 / PG-13

Captain Marvel is an extraterrestrial Kree warrior who finds herself caught in the middle of an intergalactic battle between her people and the Skrulls. Living on Earth in 1995, she keeps having recurring memories of another life as U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With help from Nick Fury, Captain Marvel tries to uncover the secrets of her past while harnessing her special superpowers to end the war with the evil Skrulls.

Snakes on a Plane

From the title, this film's exactly what it sounds like, and Jackson's character Agent Neville Flynn from the FBI is not messing around letting loose one of Jackson's famously explicit lines about how he's "had it" with the snakes on the plane.

Snakes on a Plane

Action / 2006 / R

FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) boards a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles, escorting a witness to trial. An on-board assassin releases a crate of deadly serpents in an attempt to kill the witness. Flynn and a host of frightened passengers and crew must band together to survive the slithery threat.

Coach Carter

This one's an inspiring role where Jackson plays a high school basketball coach who's determined to show his players discipline on the court and in their classes so that they can be the best versions of themselves everywhere.

Coach Carter

Drama / 2005 / PG-13

In 1999, Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) returns to his old high school in Richmond, California, to get the basketball team into shape. With tough rules and academic discipline, he succeeds in setting the players on a winning streak. But when their grades start to suffer, Carter locks them out of the gym and shuts down their championship season. When he is criticized by the players and their parents, he sticks to his guns, determined that they excel in class as well as on the court.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

Jackson jumps into his role as an ill-experienced private investigator who is hired to help a woman with amnesia figure out who she is. He quickly finds he may have bitten off more than he can chew.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

Action / 1996 / R

Schoolteacher and single mother Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) lives an average suburban life -- until she begins having strange memories of unexplained violence and discovers that she has physical skills that she never imagined. Hiring private detective Mitch Hennessey (Samuel L. Jackson) to probe into her past, Samantha discovers that she's a well-trained government assassin who went missing after suffering a bout of amnesia and that her former handlers want her back in their employ.

Shaft

One of Jackson's coolest characters is where he's able to let it all hang out as former NYPD Detective John Shaft II (deference to his poppa, the o.g. from the inital '70s film series). This is the type of man that doesn't play by anyone's rules...and we're all the better for it.

Shaft

Action / 2000 / R

Crooked cops on the take -- small-time drug lords -- sleazy informers and sadistic rich kids ready to kill --- for police detective John Shaft, its just another night in the underbelly of New York City, another shift facing down cops and criminals who want him dead and a legal system that thrives on money, not justice.

A Time to Kill

This one deals with some sensitive, unsettling themes as Jackson's character Carl Lee Hailey has a daughter who is taken advantage of...leading him to take matters into his own hands...and later being put on trial to determine if his actions were justified.

A Time to Kill

Drama / 1996 / R

Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) is a heartbroken black father who avenges his daughter's brutal rape by shooting the bigoted men responsible for the crime as they are on their way to trial. He turns to Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), an untested lawyer, to defend him. Brigance struggles to believe that he can get Hailey acquitted in this small, segregated Southern town, given Hailey's race and the deliberate nature of his crimes, but Carl has unshakable faith in him.

Changing Lanes

What starts as an unfortunate car accident turns into an all-out war between two complete strangers, when Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck go head-to-head with no rest stop in sight.

Changing Lanes

Drama / 2002 / R

A rush-hour fender-bender on New York City's crowded FDR Drive, under most circumstances, wouldn't set off a chain reaction that could decimate two people's lives. But on this day, at this time, a minor collision will turn two complete strangers into vicious adversaries. Their means of destroying each other might be different, but their goals, ultimately, will be the same: Each will systematically try to dismantle the other's life in a reckless effort to reclaim something he has lost.

The Negotiator

In this role, Jackson is a hostage negotiator who believes he's been set up, and who'll have to do his best to convince a fellow negotiator that he's innocent.

The Negotiator

Crime Drama / 1998 / R

Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson) is considered the best police hostage negotiator in Chicago. After a friend warns him that someone is embezzling from a disability fund, the person is found dead. Internal affairs investigator Niebaum (J.T. Walsh) discovers the gun used had been handled by Roman. When no one believes his innocence, Roman takes Niebaum hostage. When Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey) arrives to hear Roman's demands, the two skilled negotiators begin a tense stand-off.

One Eight Seven

At a troubled school where death threats come by the dozen, Jackson is the teacher who's fed up with the "kids" thinking that they run the school. This time, it may end up with his students learning the hard way.

One Eight Seven

Drama / 1997 / R

When a student writes the police code for homicide, 187, inside a textbook owned by teacher Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson), he feels threatened. The principal dismisses the incident, but, soon after, Trevor is stabbed by the same student. Fifteen months later, a physically and emotionally scarred Trevor relocates to California and takes up substitute teaching. To his dismay, his new school is as full of dangerously undisciplined students as the last one, driving Trevor over the edge.

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