Samuel L. Jackson: Pulp Fiction And 4 Other Movie Performances That Deserved An Oscar

Film News

Samuel L. Jackson has been a household staple through his film and TV work for decades. His box office prowess solidified his ubiquity and earned him the title of Hollywood’s highest-grossing actor ever. Whether it is film, television, or stage, Jackson has been feeding the viewers with stellar performances and iconic lines, from prestige films like Django Unchained to the blockbuster Marvel and Star Wars franchises to smaller fare like School Daze.

Given his filmography and acclaim, you would think Samuel L. Jackson has at least one or two Academy Awards on his mantle. However, the Nick Fury actor only has one competitive Oscar nomination for 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Of course, the MCU star has his thoughts about the Academy Awards. Jackson was honored in 2023 with an Honorary Oscar for his massive body of work. Not winning a competitive Oscar doesn’t mean Jackson hasn’t turned in Oscar-worthy performances. So, here are just some of Samuel L. Jackson’s movies worthy of an Academy Award.

Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction

(Image credit: Miramax)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

After years of giving scene-stealing performances, Samuel L. Jackson burst onto the Hollywood A-list with his acclaimed performance as foul-mouthed hitman Jules Winnfield in the cult classic Pulp Fiction. This star-making supporting role tapped into the best sides of Jackson’s acting skills.

His years on stage and screen showed as the Hollywood A-lister came off as complicated and nuanced for an otherwise one-note character. He mixes Jules’ over-the-top behavior with a sense of righteousness and sensitivity as the audience follows him through different and violent scenarios. All this adds a sense of brevity and awareness to an outlandish performance.

While the movie was Samuel L. Jackson’s breakthrough, it was a comeback for co-star John Travolta. This pairing was unusual but worked as the two actors had great chemistry. They read as authentic long-time friends Jules and Vince. Of course, the best moments came when Uma Thurman’s character, Mia, only heightened the film’s surreal humor.

Samuel L. Jackson truly channeled Jules in the comedy’s finale. The scene allowed the character to be humorous even in a dire and violent situation courtesy of Jackson’s acting. His noteworthy performance scored him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, which he lost to Martin Landau for Ed Wood. It’s still considered one of the best performances to never receive an Oscar.

Gator Purify in Jungle Fever

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Jungle Fever (1991)

Before Pulp Fiction made him Hollywood royalty, Jungle Fever displayed Samuel L. Jackson’s star power in another standout supporting role. The Marvels star disappeared as he became Gator Purify, the crack-addicted brother of Wesley Snipes’ Flipper Purify.

All his years of acting came through in playing Gator. Jackson infused a somewhat stereotypical role with nuance. He managed to show the toll drug addiction can take on one’s life. This dynamic comes into play when Gator stumbles upon Flipper and his best friend Cyrus at night. However, the realism within the performance came from the movie star’s past drug addiction.

As the drug addict in the family, Samuel L. Jackson played well against his onscreen family composed of Snipes and real-life husband and wife Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. The tension and love came through the screen. The chemistry between him and his onscreen girlfriend, Halle Berry, read as an authentic drug-addicted couple.

Samuel L. Jackson walked a tightrope between humorous and dramatic, imitating realistic drug-influenced behavior. This characterization came together in Gator’s death scene towards the drama’s end. Unfortunately, his acclaimed performance didn’t translate into a coveted Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

Louis Batiste in Eve's Bayou

(Image credit: Trimark)

Eve’s Bayou (1997)

While audiences have seen Samuel L. Jackson play questionable characters, 1997’s Southern gothic drama Eve’s Bayou saw him take on his most antagonistic role at the time. Jackson became Louis Batiste, a respected Louisiana doctor and womanizer. He was the father of protagonist Eve (played by Jurnee Smollett).

Compared to prior roles, Jackson explored a tricky duality as a respected doctor and family man and an unadulterated lothario. Louis was unremorseful, manipulative, stubborn, and narcissistic, which Jackson did skillfully. Despite this unsympathetic portrayal, the Star Wars alum kept his performance grounded while the character slowly unraveled by the drama’s finale.

Dr. Batiste’s unsavory nature played well against his community and family. Playing against the women in his family (Smollett, Lynn Whitfield, and Meagan Goode) gave viewers the film’s best scenes as those relationships transformed. The confrontation between Eve, Louis, and her mother epitomized Jackson’s scene-stealing capabilities.

His untimely yet deserved demise in the film’s finale showed his impact on the women in his dysfunctional family. His tour-de-force did score him love from critics and other awards bodies. However, the reception didn’t translate into Samuel L Jackson scoring a much-deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy Awards.

Elijah Price (Mr. Glass) in Unbreakable

(Image credit: Disney)

Unbreakable (2000)

Most modern-day moviegoers might not know that the MCU wasn’t Samuel L. Jackson’s first foray into the superhero genre. The MCU star gave a truly sinister performance as manipulative art gallerist Elijah Price (aka Mr. Glass) in the 2000 understated superhero movie Unbreakable opposite Bruce Willis’s David Dunn.

Jackson artfully balanced the razor-thin edge of duality in the genre film. Upon reaching out to David, the actor was nurturing and friendly early on. However, as the storyline progressed, he revealed his underlying motives as a sinister and manipulative supervillain. Despite the unexpected twist, Jackson kept Elijah understated and tame. His shift from friend to foe followed the comic book trope, setting the tone for a future franchise.

The chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis was palpable throughout the film. Of course, this connection existed beforehand as the superhero movie marked the duo’s third collaboration after Die Hard with a Vengeance and Pulp Fiction. They were great scene partners in every moment.

The finale spotlighted the potential for more between Jackson and Willis. Unfortunately, the film received a mixed reception due to the writing and misleading marketing. These circumstances undermined Samuel L. Jackson’s performance. His performance and the film earned critical praise and cult status later. Jackson never got a deserved Oscar nomination despite the film and role being considered one of his best.

Joe Morris in The Banker

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

The Banker (2020)

Samuel L. Jackson has played a few true-life characters throughout his film career. So, the 2020 biopic The Banker was no exception as he portrayed club owner-turned-banker Joe Morris opposite Anthony Mackie’s Bernard Garrett.

Jackson channeled his real-life counterpart through research and observation. Of course, since Morris passed before the film started production, he took some liberties. The Hollywood A-lister was no-nonsense with castmates, helping the film’s overall story. The performance tapped into Jackson’s brevity as an actor.

Starring in the biopic allowed the acting titan to put his co-stars on equal footing with him. Working with Mackie and Nicholas Hoult brought a Marvel connection to the film. Doing so allowed the co-star to work well within the trio’s dishonest dynamic. While the film was marred in controversy, Samuel L. Jackson and co. received positive notices. However, this didn’t translate into him scoring an Oscar nomination. 

The above performances proved that Samuel L. Jackson has delivered Oscar-worthy roles for decades. Never touching the Academy Award stage hasn’t kept the Hollywood A-lister from working onscreen in Hollywood. The MCU star has multiple upcoming projects arriving in 2024 and beyond, including Argylle and The Garfield Movie. Maybe one of Jackson’s upcoming films, like Damaged or The Piano Lesson, will finally see him stand on the Oscar stage.

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