Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The 5 Best And 5 Worst Samuel L. Jackson Movies

Few actors in recent decades have left as indelible a mark on Hollywood as Samuel L. Jackson. Since breaking through with a memorable supporting turn in Spike Lee's sophomore feature School Daze, Jackson has gone on to play everything from acerbic sidekicks and double-dealing criminals to brilliant scientists and villainous masterminds. That's before you even mention a certain eye patch-wearing boss in the MCU and the first Jedi of color in the Star Wars prequels.

It's worth noting how many of cinema's greatest directors Jackson has worked with — Spielberg, Lee, Scorsese, Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson among them. To put it simply, Jackson has portrayed every sort of bad mother-you-know-what imaginable on screen in his now four-decade-long career. Of course, not all of the movies that comprise his nearly 200 screen credits are created equal. There's even a couple of unmitigated stinkers in the bunch. To help you sort the finer moments from the more forgettable entries in the beloved actor's oeuvre, here's a list of the five best and five worst Samuel L. Jackson movies.   

Best - Unbreakable

With so many credits to his name, picking the best and worst moments from Jackson's career is sure to inspire a certain level of debate. But if there's a single movie in Jackson's filmography that every single one of his fans can agree deserves a spot on the "best" list, it may very well be M. Night Shyamalan's brooding, pseudo-superhero yarn Unbreakable.

In the film, Jackson plays Elijah Price, a mysterious superhero enthusiast and dealer of rare comic book artwork. He suffers from osteogenesis, a rare genetic disorder that causes his bones to shatter with the ease of glass. For those who haven't seen the film, that last bit of information is vital to the narrative, serving as a sort of jumping-off point for a gritty, grounded take on what becomes a dual origin story.  

As with much of Shyamalan's best work, Unbreakable unfolds with enough twists and turns to keep your head spinning long after it's over. And trust us when we tell you you'll be thinking about this film even longer than that, if only because Jackson's revelatory performance as the story's wounded/tortured/twisted puller of strings is the sort that gets inside your head refuses to leave. Here's hoping he finds that sinister edge once again when Glass hits theaters in March.

Worst - Jumper

Jumper was a film on every sci-fi fan's radar back in 2008. The movie is based on a compelling Steven Gould novel about a young man with the ability to teleport and a centuries-old war between two factions known as "Jumpers" and "Paladins." The fact that the film was helmed by Doug Liman (fresh off of hits in The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and sported a cast including Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, Jamie Bell, Diane Lane, Michael Rooker, Kristen Stewart, and Samuel L. Jackson didn't exactly hurt matters. It seemed to have all the makings of the next big franchise.

But once Jumper was finally released, it was revealed to be little more than a bloated mishmash of intriguing ideas and effects-driven bombast stitched together with the elegance of a sledgehammer smashing a watermelon. To say that the reviews were unkind would be an understatement, with critics and audiences alike laying much of the film's failure at Christensen's feet. To be blunt, Christensen delivers a staggeringly lifeless performance in the lead role, zapping the film of anything resembling heart or charm before it even begins. Much of the cast, Jackson included, try to make up for Christensen's lack of energy by playing their parts way over the top. It doesn't work, and though Jumper turned a tidy profit overseas, it was an unmitigated failure stateside that cast and crew are still trying to forget.

Best - Do The Right Thing

If you're familiar with Samuel L. Jackson's story, then you know he struggled mightily in his early career, battling addiction and typecasting for nearly two decades before getting a real break in movies. That break came via a recent film school grad making his second feature. Of course, that filmmaker turned out to be Spike Lee, who cast Jackson in a small role in his 1988 film School Daze. Lee liked what he saw, and the burgeoning auteur quickly offered Jackson a small but vital role in his next film, the racially-charged drama Do The Right Thing.

There's not much we can say about Do The Right Thing that hasn't already been said. The film is an undisputed masterpiece beloved by critics and audiences for 30 years now. Roger Ebert pegged it as one of his "Great Movie" picks. It was the movie the Obamas went to see on their first date. It was also the movie that gave most film lovers their first real exposure to Samuel L. Jackson.

Jackson (with that now-unmistakable voice) made the most of the moment as motor-mouthed DJ Mister Señor Love Daddy, opening the film with a hearty, hilarious monologue and dropping back in at key dramatic moments. Needless to say, there's no shortage of reasons to see Do The Right Thing, but if you haven't, just know that Samuel L. Jackson is pretty great in it, and it's arguably the best film he's ever been in.

Worst - Cell

In 2007, Jackson teamed up with John Cusack on an under-the-radar "haunted hotel" horror flick called 1408. Though the pair didn't share much screen time together, their chemistry is a big part of what made 1408 — based on a Stephen King short story — such a surprising critical and box office success. It's a big reason fans of both actors were excited when they announced they were teaming up for another King adaption, this time with the screenplay written by the legendary horror scribe himself.

Of course, if you've seen any of the big screen adaptations that King has written or directed himself, then you know that's not always a good thing. More often than not, it's a recipe for disaster. Enter the boorish ham-fest that is 2016's Cell. For the uninitiated, Cell follows a small group of survivors in New England as they try to stay alive during a zombie-like apocalypse brought on by a rogue cell phone signal.

Yes, the film is every bit as preposterous as that setup makes it sound — only much, much worse. King's own script is a big part of the problem, as the story plods clumsily along behind stilted dialogue, uninspired plotting, and a shocking lack of tension or scares. To make matters worse, Jackson and Cusack bring little to the mix, stumbling unsteadily through most of their scenes and proving that, for them, a little time on screen together goes a long way.    

Best - Pulp Fiction

Building successful working relationships in Hollywood is no easy feat. As such, it's not uncommon for certain actors and directors to re-team on multiple projects when a good relationship shakes out — Bill Murray has Wes Anderson, Johnny Depp has Tim Burton, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio both have Martin Scorsese, and Samuel L. Jackson, of course, has Quentin Tarantino. Of all the legendary directors Jackson has worked with, none have mined the actor's intimidating intellect, easy-going charm, and particular flair for coarse language as well as Tarantino.

To date, Jackson has appeared in nearly all of Tarantino's feature films, one rare absence being the director's debut film Reservoir Dogs — though Jackson actually auditioned to play Mr. Orange. Tarantino decided he wasn't right for that role, but made damn sure Jackson appeared in his followup, even writing a role specifically with Jackson in mind.

That film was Tarantino's game-changing crime drama Pulp Fiction, and Samuel L. Jackson — in his only Oscar-nominated performance — absolutely steals the show as scripture-quoting low-level hitman Jules Winfield. But odds are you know that already, just like you know Pulp Fiction's Oscar-winning screenplay is one of the best ever written. You know the film resurrected the career of John Travolta and made a star of Uma Thurman. You already know Pulp Fiction is just as electrifying a cinematic experience today as it was nearly 25 years ago. Because you've seen Pulp Fiction, right?

Worst - Sphere

If we'd told you back in the '90s that Samuel L. Jackson, Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Peter Coyote, and Liev Schreiber had all climbed aboard a sci-fi/horror film to be adapted from a Michael Crichton novel, and that film was to be directed by Barry Levinson, well, you probably would've been more than a little bit psyched to see that movie. And make no mistake, prior to its release in early 1998, people really were psyched to see Sphere.

What audiences got when Sphere hit theaters was a decidedly B-movie affair sporting an A-list cast and a blockbuster budget. While that combination can occasionally make for a deliciously cultish moviegoing experience, that wasn't even remotely the case with the dull, dimwitted disaster that Sphere turned out to be. While the film's problems are too many to list, one of the key issues was that, in spite of all of its obvious absurdities, Levinson and company persisted in taking the increasingly preposterous story quite seriously, an approach that made for a murky mix of tones that the film never overcomes.

Critics ripped the movie to shreds, noting Sphere's lack of originality in a '90s market suffused with alien invasion flicks, its absurdly bloated runtime (a whopping 152 minutes), and its nonsensical narrative that eschewed potentially intriguing psychological drama in favor of action movie bombast. Audiences avoided the movie with just as much fervor, making Sphere one of the bigger busts of 1998. We wholly recommend skipping it as well.   

Best - Black Snake Moan

Throughout his career, Jackson has taken a sort of "one for them, one for me" attitude when selecting film projects, alternating between huge Hollywood blockbusters and small, daring indies. In 2006, Jackson's "one for me" was undoubtedly Craig Brewer's salacious southern-fried drama Black Snake Moan.  

Set in the sticky summer heat of rural Tennessee and borrowing its title from Blind Lemon Jefferson's blues classic, the film follows a former blues musician named Lazarus (Jackson) who one day finds a young white woman (a never better Christina Ricci) half naked and nearly beaten to death on his property. Recognizing the woman as a white-trash diva with a reputation for sleeping around — and possessed with a biblical need to cleanse the woman's tortured soul — Lazarus chains her to his radiator and begins the daunting process of trying to guide her towards a slightly more righteous sort of life.

Yes, that plot sounds completely insane, and in the wrong hands Black Snake Moan might've become the incendiary, potentially race-baiting bit of cinema it initially presents as. In the hands of Brewer, Jackson, and Ricci, it becomes a thoughtful, surprisingly prescient character study of two haunted human beings finding solace (and perhaps even a glimpse of redemption) in lives all but destroyed by some seriously hard living. Jackson at the absolute top of his game here, even contributing to the film's bluesy soundtrack by singing a handful of songs himself.

Worst - Twisted

Sometimes you look at the cast and crew of a film and scratch your head in wonder at how it turned out so, so bad. Jackson's utterly forgettable 2004 crime drama Twisted — directed by the great Philip Kaufman and featuring the onscreen talents of Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia, and David Strathairn — is one of those films. With that level of talent involved, one might've assumed that Twisted would not only be a box office hit, but that it might work its way into awards season consideration.

If Hollywood has taught us anything over the years, it's that all the talent in the world doesn't mean much if they're working with a substandard screenplay. In case you're not familiar with Twisted (and, judging from the box office returns, most of you are not), the film follows a homicide detective who finds herself working a string of murder cases in which the victims all happen to be her former lovers. We'll stop there, not in hopes of saving you from spoilers, but because there's no point in saying any more. Twisted is boring and predictable. It's also ugly to look at, sloppily put together, and poorly acted. All in all, Twisted is almost certainly the most rotten movie in the filmography of everyone involved, Jackson included.

Best - Eve's Bayou

While Samuel L. Jackson's working life was undeniably changed when Spike Lee cast him in 1988's School Daze, the actor made another connection on that film that would have an equally dramatic impact on his career. It was on School Daze that Jackson met a young actor by the name of Kasi Lemmons, and it was Lemmons who guided Jackson through one of his most memorable roles, that of a philandering father in her stunning, egregiously overlooked directorial debut Eve's Bayou.    

Named the Best Film of 1997 by Roger Ebert, Eve's Bayou follows the ominous tale of a young woman who, after discovering her father's infidelity, struggles to understand the moral intricacies and hard-earned truths of her own impending adulthood. Beautifully scripted, immaculately executed, and morally complex in ways most coming-of-age films rarely attempt, Eve's Bayou is a staggering achievement in style and substance that should've set Lemmons on a track to awards glory and a rewarding career behind the camera.

Sadly, Eve's Bayou has never quite gotten the due it so clearly deserved, and is all but forgotten now 20 years after its release. In turn, Jackson's contribution to the film — a towering performance comprised of equal parts sleazy swagger and heartrending compassion — has gone largely unrecognized as one of his finer moments on the big screen. It's high time we rectified that wrong, and high time Eve's Bayou is acknowledged for the dramatic masterpiece it is.  

Worst - xXx: State of the Union

With its silly title, ridiculous plot, and unflinching embrace of bravado over plot, xXx could've been a career-killer for star Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen. In spite of the film's glaring absurdities — or more likely because the director and star so wholeheartedly embraced them — xXx ended up being one of the most mindlessly entertaining movies of 2002, becoming a bona fide hit at the summer movie box office.

It was hardly a surprise, then, that a sequel was quickly put into production. What was surprising was that neither the original star nor director would be involved. In fact, the lone holdover was Samuel L. Jackson, whose character heads up the covert NSA program in the film. So it was that when xXx: State of the Union hit theaters in 2005, it did so with a plot that surpassed the original in absurdity and bombast, but it did so with Ice Cube in the lead role.

If you've suffered through xXx: State of the Union, then you know any sense of fun or goodwill gleaned from the original film is used up in State of the Union's first 10 minutes. Everything after that — the poorly executed set pieces, sloppy plotting, cheesy one-liners, and Ice Cube's incessant mugging — just feels like an extended slap in the face. If you don't, then please take our word for it and save yourself from sitting through this soulless farce, just like moviegoers wisely did upon its release.