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Samuel L. Jackson's Best Movies, Ranked by Metacritic

From 'Iron Man' to 'Pulp Fiction,' discover Samuel L. Jackson's highest-rated movies, ranked by Metascore.
by Jon Bitner — 
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Samuel L. Jackson

Gregg DeGuire / Getty Images

Samuel L. Jackson is, without a doubt, one of the most popular and prolific actors in Hollywood. Starring in everything from gritty crime dramas to animated family films, Jackson has developed a surprising portfolio over the years. His work covers more than just movies, with a variety of TV shows under his belt including Marvel's What If…?, The Boondocks, and Apple TV+'s upcoming The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.

Throughout his career, Jackson has received 90 award nominations, including at the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards. This includes 40 wins, most notably a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance in Pulp Fiction. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This year, he is also set to receive an Honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards.

Jackson's list of accomplishments is indicative of a highly successful career — and one that only seems to get better with age. First credited for work on Together for Days in 1972, Jackson has continued to portray memorable characters for more than five decades.

With such a storied career and numerous accolades, it should come as no surprise that Jackson has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. He's long been involved in the Star Wars franchise, yet somehow not a single film in the series managed to crack into his list of best films when ranking by Metascore. Instead, the list is filled with thrillers, animated comedies, and a few Quentin Tarantino flicks. Several entries on the list include movies that only contain a Jackson cameo — although fans of his filmography will likely find them to be right up their alley.

Here, Metacritic highlights Jackson's top 10 movies, ranked by Metascore.


Pulp Fiction

Metascore: 94
Best for: Fans of Tarantino
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 154 minutes

With a star-studded cast and an impeccable script from Tarantino, Pulp Fiction remains a classic regardless of how you look at it. Jackson steps into the role of hitman Jules Winnfield — who's tasked with retrieving a mysterious (and valuable) briefcase for his boss. Things quickly spiral out of control, and what follows is more than two-hours of absurd, edgy action. Jackson is joined by John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis, all of whom give incredible performances and bring their nuanced characters to life. With a nearly perfect Metascore, the film manages to spin a complex narrative without falling prey to one-note characters or choppy pacing. From beginning to end, Pulp Fiction is cinematic gold.

"Pulp Fiction is at least three movies rolled into one, and they're all scintillating." — Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail


Do the Right Thing

Metascore: 93
Best for: Fans of culturally significant films
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 120 minutes

Set on the streets of Brooklyn, Do the Right Thing is a dramedy that examines the racial tension of New York during the '90s. Danny Aiello plays the role of Sal, an Italian-American who owns a pizza shop in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Tension eventually rises between his family and his customers, and it slowly escalates to violence. Directed by Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing offers a brilliant look at racial diversity and frustrations born out of inequality. Jackson isn't quite as prominent in this film as others, but his performance as Mister Senor Love Daddy is memorable enough, and critics loved the film.

"Lee creates a remarkably even-handed and nuanced portrait of the way that violence can flare, and how bigotry can build to something much worse." — Helen O'Hara, TimeOut


Goodfellas

Metascore: 90
Best for: Fans of mob movies
Where to watch:

, HBO Max, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 146 minutes

Mob movies don't get much better (or brutal) than this. Led by standout performances from Robert De Niro as James Conway and Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, the 146-minute epic takes a closer look at what it takes to rise through the ranks of the mafia. Jackson's role in the film is minor (he shows up as Stacks Edwards, a member of the crew who meets a violent end), but fans of his usual action flicks will find many of the same tropes in Goodfellas. Like all Martin Scorsese films, this one is both dark and violent without remorse. The story unravels across several decades, as we watch Hill climb the corrupt ladder and take on more powerful roles within the mob. The final scenes manage to succinctly wrap up the complicated story, and Goodfellas remains an iconic movie more than three decades after its release.  

"Ferocious brutality is presented without commentary or judgment, yet with unmistakable moral understanding and vision." — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle


The Incredibles

Metascore: 90
Best for: Anyone seeking a family-friendly adventure
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 115 minutes

Jackson might be known for his mature, gritty acting style — but The Incredibles proved that his talent extends well beyond shouting profanities and looking angry. The animated film sees him stepping into the heroic shoes of Frozone, a character who plays second-fiddle to the Incredible family but still manages to soak up plenty of screen time. The Incredibles follows the eponymous family on a quest to save the world from Syndrome (voiced by Jason Lee), a supervillain inventor with no shortage of deadly robots at their disposal. With the help of Frozone, the family sets out to uncover Syndrome's plan for world domination and do what they can to stop it.

"Pixar again hitches top-notch storytelling to the very best in CG animation." — Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter


Out of Sight

Metascore: 85
Best for: Fans of thriller comedies and adaptations
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunesVudu
Runtime: 123 minutes

George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez star in Out of Sight, based on Elmore Leonard's novel of the same title, with Clooney portraying serial bank robber Jack Foley and Lopez chasing him down as federal Marshall Karen Sisco. Things quickly turn awkward, however, as Karen falls in love with Jack while tracking him. When she finally catches him, Karen isn't sure if she should turn him in — or run away to start a new life together. Jackson goes uncredited in the movie for his small cameo appearance as Hejira Henry, a prisoner Jack encounters, although fans of the actor will find a lot to love about the comedy-thriller. Out of Sight doesn't take itself too seriously, although it still manages to create plenty of tension between its stars.

"Lucky for us there are no ordinary circumstances in this smart, tasty adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel and it gets quirkier, funnier and sexier as it goes." — David Ansen, Newseek


Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Metascore: 83
Best for: Fans of crime thrillers with an artistic flair
Where to watch:

, Google PlayHBO MaxiTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 136 minutes

Kill Bill: Vol 2 managed to pull in a much higher Metascore than the first installment, while keeping its quirky charm intact. The violent film, a simply titled sequel to Tarantino's Kill Bill, follows Beatrix Kiddo (Thurman) on her quest to —unsurprisingly — kill Bill (David Carradine). There's no shortage of homages and Easter eggs scattered throughout the film, and movie buffs will have a field day picking apart each scene trying to figure out what's hidden beneath the surface. Jackson's role in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is a simple cameo, appearing only for a split-second as Rufus the pianist. Things don't exactly end well for Rufus — although there's no shortage of speculation that he's tied to Jules from Pulp Fiction.

"Few filmmakers love movies as intensely; fewer still have the ability to remind us why we fell for movies in the first place." — Manohla Dargis, Los Angeles Times


Django Unchained

Metascore: 81
Best for: Fans of offbeat Westerns
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, Vudu
Runtime: 165 minutes

Django Unchained takes a violent, unhinged look at the horrors of slavery in the United States. Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave that's being tracked by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who needs Django's help in apprehending a few men. Many Western tropes are present in the film, but its mature tone and over-the-top violence are unabashedly Tarantino trademarks. Jackson portrays Stephen Warren, a secondary character that puts up roadblocks for Django whenever possible. It's one of the most bizarre roles Jackson has ever played — and that's saying a lot, considering he voiced a superhero that shot ice out of his fingertips.

"What Tarantino has is an appreciation for gut-level exploitation film appeal, combined with an artist's desire to transform that gut element with something higher, better, more daring." — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


Fresh

Metascore: 81
Best for: Anyone seeking a nuanced coming-of-age film
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 114 minutes

Fresh was the directorial debut of Boaz Yakin, who'd eventually work on Remember the Titans and The Harder They Fall. Fresh carries the highest Metascore of all three films, and it's clear Yakin struck gold with his incredible cast. Jackson plays a big part in the film's success as Sam, an alcoholic chess master and father to the story's main character, Fresh (Sean Nelson). The dramatic movie examines the young adulthood of Fresh as he tries to escape life as a drug dealer. But with everyone he knows deeply engrained in the drug trade (and few positive role models to look up to), he struggles to find a way to climb out of his abusive household and into something better.

"Fresh features delicate and sympathetic work from both Mr. Esposito and Mr. Jackson, whose fine characterizations say a lot about the originality of this film's vision." — Janet Maslin, The New York Times


Incredibles 2

Metascore: 80
Best for: Fans seeking more Incredible action
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 118 minutes

Although it couldn't achieve the same high Metascore set by its predecessor, The Incredibles 2 is another bombastic outing for the heroic family — and Jackson's Frozone. Released 14 years after the original, the film picks up right where The Incredibles left off. The crew has successfully thwarted Syndrome, but now they're up against a new foe — the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). The film boasts the usual assortment of high-quality Pixar animation, family-friendly action, adorable wit and charm, and is an excellent follow-up to one of the best films of 2004. It doesn't stray too far from the established formula, but fans of the original will find plenty of reasons to enjoy the long-awaited sequel.

"Boosted by central characters that remain vastly engaging and a deep supply of wit, Incredibles 2 certainly proves worth the wait, even if it hits the target but not the bull's eye in quite the way the first one did." — Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter


Iron Man

Metascore: 79
Best for: Fans of bombastic superhero flicks
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Runtime: 126 minutes

Robert Downey Jr. steals the spotlight as Tony Stark, but Jackson's appearance as Nick Fury in Iron Man was arguably the scene that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. His screen time lasts for no longer than a minute, although he retains the role of Nick Fury in countless Marvel films over the past few decades. Iron Man was the first movie in the MCU, setting both the tone and high-quality expected of its universe. From impressive storytelling to top-notch special effects, Jon Favreau translated the beloved comic about a billionaire superhero into a big-screen success.

"Is it possible to have yet another expensive excursion into this genre that seems in any way fresh, original and alive? The answer, surprisingly, is yes." — William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer