Let's ignore the fact that Samuel L. Jackson probably couldn't bench what most action stars can curl with one arm, after being shot in it. Let's ignore the fact that he's balding, that he isn't especially handsome, that he's done more crack in his life than steroids. The truth of the matter is, Jackson shouldn't be able to make audiences root for him when he picks up a gun (or lightsaber), but the motherfucker does. That's right, I said "motherfucker." That's because no other motherfucking actor in the world can spit out obscenities like Jackson can, or do it with such authority, or make us, his paying customers, believe he's the baddest motherfucker in the motherfucking world.
This week, he's going to do it again in Snakes on a Plane, a film that wasn't screened for critics 'cause we're all douchebags and aren't really going to affect the phenomenon this film has become pre-release. After all, who can argue with Sam Jackson shouting, "I want these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane!" Fuck yeah.
But before playing Nelville Flynn, aeronautical snake charmer, Jackson played some of the baddest men in Hollywood's history. Here's a checklist of his most ass-kickingest roles.
Pulp Fiction, Jules Winnfield
Who didn't see this one coming? It's Sam Jackson at his best as a hitman in the midst of a spiritual crisis, as he quotes from Ezekiel, kills with righteous indignation, cleans up brain matter, and talks Tim Roth down from a big mistake. How did Jackson choose to play it? Like he does all of his ass-kicking roles: By screaming so much that you could build a game around the film (or any of his films, really): When Jackson screams, drink.
Unbreakable, Elijah Price
Okay, Elijah Price doesn't scream. In fact, that would be the antithesis of this fragile character's persona. Instead, he kicks ass by killing large numbers of people in creative ways - like blowing up their planes, burning down their apartment buildings, and, oh yeah, derailing their trains. Why? To make Bruce Willis realize he should be kicking Price's ass. Of course, Price would just outthink the musclehead. He's the Lex Luthor to Willis's Superman.
The Long Kiss Goodnight, Mitch Henessey
This film is completely underrated and overlooked by most action-film fans because, well, Renny Harlin directed it, and he's only marginally more respectable as a filmmaker than Brett Ratner and Paul Haggis. Nevertheless, Jackson's fashion-disaster Henessey transforms from sniveling opportunist into ass-kicking hero as he plays back-up to Geena Davis (more of a man than John Travolta) and gains the appreciation of a country and its president when he helps rescue them from nuclear destruction. Oh, and survives despite losing more blood than a human body actually has coursing through it. Now that kicks ass.
Shaft, John Shaft
As John Shaft, Jackson ignores the law while enforcing it - which takes balls. He also has to work with Busta Rhymes without actually shooting the guy - which takes mercy. And finally, he has to manage the affection of countless women who inexplicably turn to him for, um, emotional support - which takes compassion. That's right, kids. John Shaft is the most emotionally complex ass-kicker Jackson has ever played. Plus, he gets to drop such lines as, "It's my duty to service that booty," with iambic suaveness.
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Mace Windu
"I want these motherfucking Sith out of this motherfucking Jedi temple!" Yeah, George kind of screwed over a bazillion fans when he made Clones. But Mace Windu still kicks ass, using the Force to take on an entire army in order to rescue Obi-Wan, a very unrescuable Padme, and super-whiny Anakin (now we know where Luke got it from). Besides, who else could take out the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter, Boba - er, Jango Fett? Sure, he got to go all buck-wild in Revenge of the Sith, but everyone knows the Emperor was just holding back to bait Anakin. Kind of makes Windu look like he got played. On second thought, maybe Windu doesn't kick that much ass.
Snakes on a Plane, Nelville Flynn
"I want these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane." Enough said.