It is safe to say that actor Samuel L. Jackson does not forgive or forget. In a recent interview with The Times, he revealed that he still holds a grudge for losing out on an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in what many consider to be his single finest role. Considering the man currently has 199 acting credits (and counting) on his IMDb, that is a pretty high bar to clear. But according to the interview, despite his many roles and accolades, the one he still feels he should have won for is the philosophical hitman Jules Winnfield, his breakout role in director Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 hit Pulp Fiction. The Best Supporting Actor Oscar ended up going to veteran actor Martin Landau in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Landau won for his performance as the morphine-addled horror legend Bela Lugosi in the final days of his career, and many considered it to essentially be little more than a career Oscar (rather than for specifically that role). While the merits of Landau’s work in Ed Wood can be debated, here’s what Samuel L. Jackson had to say:
I guess Black folk usually win for doing despicable s**t on screen. Like Denzel [Washington] for being a horrible cop in ‘Training Day’. All the great stuff he did in uplifting roles like ‘Malcolm X’? No – we’ll give it to this motherf**ker … So maybe I should have won one. But Oscars don’t move the comma on your cheque — it’s about getting a**es in seats and I’ve done a good job of doing that … All movies are valid. Some go to the cinema to be moved dearly. Some like superheroes. If somebody has more butts on seats it just means your audience is not as broad. There are people who have had successful careers but nobody can recite one line of their parts. I’m the guy who says s**t that’s on a T-shirt … They should have an Oscar for the most popular movie, because that’s what the business is about.Samuel L. Jackson
It is hard to argue with Samuel L. Jackson on a lot of those points. While Martin Landau did do legitimately great work in what is often considered a high point in the careers of both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Jackson’s performance as Jules Winnfield is the anchor of Pulp Fiction. Although the movie has a large ensemble cast that included well-known stars like Bruce Willis and John Travolta, Jackson is the emotional heart of the movie, as a vicious killer who has an unexpected moment of existential revelation. And not to put too fine a point on it, when it comes to putting butts in seats, there is no one better than Samuel L. Jackson. That is not an exaggeration, he is literally the all-time biggest box office draw of all time. Part of that has to do with the sheer volume of his work and the many MCU films he has appeared in, but a lot of it has to do with simply how great an actor he is.
Samuel L. Jackson will be receiving an Honorary Academy Award this year for his body of work, which probably won’t erase the memory of losing out to Landau (to whom he was always respectful of, to be fair). He is also set to star in the upcoming HBO drama The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray with Walton Goggins and Dominique Fishback, in which he plays an elderly man who regains literally every moment of memory he has experienced via scientific explanation. And of course, because the MCU never lets anyone go, he is reprising his role as Nick Fury in the upcoming Disney+ show Secret Invasion, in which it appears he is going to be playing several different ages of the character. We may have missed out on Jackson winning an Oscar in 1995, but we will all know in our hearts that he could have. And should have.