Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter

From Jedi to Superhero: Samuel L. Jackson’s 10 Biggest Hits

Samuel L. Jackson is probably best known for two things in Hollywood: his authoritative charisma on-screen and his ability to take on any role at all. His prolific approach has helped make Jackson an iconic cultural figure… but never mind all that, this guy’s the highest-grossing film star of all time! Here are the actor’s ten most successful projects:

1. The Avengers series, $3 billion
Marvel’s hulking super-franchise loops the Iron ManThor, and Captain America series into the same shared plot lines. Sometimes those three dudes and some colleagues get together to save the world under the auspices of shadowy governmental agency S.H.I.E.L.D., whose headquarters and intelligence serve as the Avengers’ center. And who’s at the center of the center? Samuel L. Jackson’s eyepatch-wearing commando, Nick Fury. Marvel Studios and company have earned more than a combined $3B from Jackson-starring installments alone.

2. Star Wars prequels, $2.5 billion
Jackson joined the controversial trilogy as Mace Windu, the wise but stern master of the Jedi council. Jackson reportedly had a few provisos before signing on for the part, requesting a unique purple-hued lightsaber and a suitably epic death for the character. Jackson definitely got his wish, with Windu’s last-possible-second betrayal by Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to Palpatine’s (Ian McDarmid) force lightning remaining one of the prequels’ most memorable scenes. The highly anticipated flicks made about $2.5 billion altogether.

3. Jurassic Park, $1 Billion
The highest-grossing movie ever when it came out, just nosing past one billion USD in 1993 global box office receipts, this classic special-effects showcase featured a little-known Jackson as Ray Arnold, the live-dino infested park’s sardonic and chain-smoking chief engineer. Though the next year’s Pulp Fiction would establish Jackson as a household name, the one-liner Arnold delivers as he shuts down the park’s power and releases a pack of velociraptors, “Hold onto your butts”, is near the top of the heap in the movie quote hall of fame.

4. The Incredibles, $631 million
Back in the world of super-heroics Jackson turns in a memorable supporting role, voicing Lucius Best in the Pixar-animated comedy, which earned $631 million at the box office. Best is a successful professional adult in a committed relationship by day, but he occasionally sneaks out with best bud Bob (Craig T. Nelson) to relive their glory days as costumed vigilantes. Lucius’s power, an Iceman-from-the-X-Men-like elemental ability to freeze objects and form ice from thin air, come in handy during the movie’s final showdown and earn him the nickname Frozone.

5. Django Unchained, $425 million Jackson re-teamed with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown director Quentin Tarantino to portray Stephen, the trusted right-hand-slave of spoiled and sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Stephen exploits his paternal relationship with Candie to rule the roost, brutally keeping lesser slaves in line, and the character ultimately outdoes even Candie to emerge as the movie’s true antagonist — the selfish, self-loathing gatekeeper to Django’s (Jamie Foxx) proud revolutionary. Tarantino’s highest grosser yet brought in nearly half a billion worldwide.

6. xXx $277 million
This unfortunately titled but nonetheless wildly successful actioner (with a $277M box office haul to prove it) stars Vin Diesel as all-around badass extreme-sports-enthusiast-turned-reluctant-spy Xander Cage. Cage is the sort of character beside whom only a select few actors pack the macho gravitas to stand tall. Jackson is one of them, so he takes on the role of Cage’s spymaster, Augustus Gibbons, which he reprised in the film’s less-popular, Diesel-less sequel.

7. Unbreakable, $248 million
An oddity for both M. Night Shyamalan and the superhero film genre in general, Unbreakable is essentially a meditative, feature-length origin story about average joe David Dunn (Bruce Willis) coming to terms with his superhuman abilities. Jackson’s character, Elijah Price, is where things get really interesting. Cursed with a genetic condition that leaves his bones extremely fragile, Price has spent his life obsessed with superheroes and villains and searching for his invulnerable opposite. Audiences lapped up the strangeness to the tune of $248 million.

8. Pulp Fiction, $200 million
The film that truly put Jackson on the map finds the actor turning in one of the most iconic performances in film history as philosophizing hit man Jules Winnfield. Jules’ styling (a jheri curl, fu manchu mustache and sideburns atop a natty black suit-and-tie) is certainly memorable, but it’s the many fascinating shades of emotion Jackson brings to Winnfield’s unforgettable dialogue that truly make the character one for the ages. The little indie crime comedy would change the pop cultural landscape and generate over $200 million in theaters.

9. The Other Guys, $170 million
The Other Guys is a straightforward and successful spoof of the buddy cop genre following Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s mismatched police station rejects after they’re forced to step up and fill bigger shoes. The shoes in question belong to detectives P.K. Highsmith (Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson), a pair of leather-jacketed super-cops who plummet to their deaths after trying to jump between rooftops during a hot pursuit in one of the movie’s funniest early scenes. The action comedy took home over $170 million in receipts.

10. A Time to Kill, $152 million
This 1996 John Grisham adaptation from Joel Schumacher stars Jackson as a father of a 10-year-old girl (Rae’Ven Larrymore Kelly) brutalized by white supremacists (Nicky Katt and Doug Hutchison), who takes justice into his own hands when he learns the monsters might go free. The rural Mississippi revenge killing sets off a firestorm of racial tension as the legal battle to defend the father’s actions continues to escalate. The hit took home over $100M in box office receipts.