Top Performances is a recurring feature in which we definitively handpick the very best performances from an iconic actor or actress.
Samuel L. Jackson is far, far more than a series of memes. It’s a fact worth remembering as time goes on, and the actor’s most iconic performances have become inexorably linked to “say what again” image macros and a great many jokes about motherfuckin’ snakes on motherfuckin’ planes. But there’s so much more to the venerable performer than younger audiences may realize and perhaps even more than Pulp Fiction enthusiasts do either. Over a staggering 162 onscreen appearances since 1972 (and with nine more on the way, at various stages of production), Jackson has carved out a distinct niche as an untouchable tough guy with a disarming humor about himself.
Even then, though, this description hardly includes some of his most distinguished work, full of quiet and thunderous fury, moments of gentleness colliding with abject menace from film to film. There’s a humanity to even some of Jackson’s most paycheck-friendly work that gets left behind in more simplistic readings of his oevure, and it’s that must-see quality in every role that’s kept the prolific actor at the forefront of the industry for decades.
As he returns to theaters as the war-scarred Col. Packard in Kong: Skull Island, we’ve dug through the actor’s many credits to highlight some of the standout turns, the ones that elevated good films to great and great films to iconic status. It’s an eclectic mix of heroes and villains, with all manner of morally complicated or wayward figures along the way. And those are just the Tarantino performances. Without further ado, please enjoy our list of Samuel L. Jackson’s 10 best performances, none of which took place in the film Snakes on a Plane.