A Samuel L Jackson Box Office Disaster Is Now A Super Hit On Netflix

By Nathan Kamal | 4 weeks ago

Samuel L  Jackson

As we never tire of mentioning, Samuel L Jackson is the single highest-grossing live-action actor in history. His movies have made literally billions of dollars and he is a key member of more franchises than most actors could ever dream of being cast as a supporting character in. He’s played good guys and bad guys and bad guys who turn good and good guys who turn bad and everything in between. As of right now, Jackson’s IMDb page has him listed at 198 film roles and it is constantly growing. All of this is to say, Samuel L Jackson has been in a lot of movies. And when you’ve made nearly 200 movies, some of them are not going to do great at the box office. One of those movies is called Cleaner, and it is burning up the streaming charts on Netflix right now. 

That was most definitely not the case when Cleaner was released in 2007, when it pulled in a sad $5.8 million off a $25 million budget. In comparison, a couple of Samuel L Jackson’s other movies around then were ​​Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Iron Man, and of course, Snakes on a Plane. On paper, there is really no reason why Cleaner should have been such a flop. It had a medium-sized budget and an established cast of stars; along with Jackson, it co-stars Ed Harris, Eva Mendes, and Robert Forster. It was directed by Renny Harlin, who helmed hits like Die Hard 2 and Deep Blue Sea. It was a simple and taut crime procedural with a quiet, melancholy air. 

And perhaps that is what sank it. In the mid-1990s, a wave of noir-inflected, grim crime mysteries with a touch of the sordid clicked with audiences. Best exemplified by the Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman serial killer thriller Seven, the genre seized on director David Fincher’s penchant for oversaturated visuals and slow, deliberate pacing. It worked for a while, with movies like 8MM, Kiss the Girls, and Double Jeopardy following the formula to box office success (and usually starring Morgan Freeman). It is likely that Cleaner just came too late to the game for audiences to really glom onto the moody tone and understated acting. But in truth, Cleaner is the kind of movie that would have (pardon us, please) cleaned up just a decade before, and received critical praise along with the dollars. 

In Cleaner, Samuel L Jackson plays Tom Cutler, a former New Jersey police officer who retired after the home invasion murder of his wife. He now raises their daughter as a single father and runs a very specialized cleaning service: his company cleans homes after violent crimes have taken place. As Jackson’s opening voiceover narration explains, when someone dies in your home, the city or state takes the body away, but then there’s plenty of blood, ichor, and various traces of mortality left behind. His successful business comes in, tides up all the leftovers, and helps people forget there was just a corpse in the room. 

Samuel L Jackson

It seems a stable, if drab life until Samuel L Jackson is called in to clean the scene at a wealthy home. He gets a key left behind, cleans and catalogs using a specific blend of chemicals he has concocted, and leaves. After realizing he took the key along, Jackson comes back to return it, only to find the lady of the house (Eva Mendes) has no idea who he is or that a dead body was cleaned from her home. Then the game is afoot. 

Cleaner is a finely constructed machine of a movie. Each step of Samuel L Jackson’s investigation into whether he is being set up to take the fall of a stranger’s murder follows the next, and as his former partner (Ed Harris) and the investigating detective (Luis Guzman) get drawn into it, even the relationship between cops (and former cops) begins to grow suspicious. Cleaner is actually the kind of lean, mean, stripped-down thriller that excels on Netflix, but would not necessarily draw crowds to a theater. As such, there is no surprise that it would be doing so well on the streaming platform. And it might just be that if Samuel L Jackson is in it, people will someday come to watch, no matter what.