Samuel L. Jackson is the highest grossing actor of all time, and by god, he's worth every penny


Image Credit: John Lamparski/

The Guinness Book of World Records has just declared that Samuel L. Jackson is the highest grossing movie actor of all time. [UPDATE: And now, thanks to Avengers, he's even more highest-grossingest.]

There are literally infinite ways you could argue against that statistic. The bulk of Jackson’s estimated $7.2 billion gross comes from big franchise films where he had, at best, a supporting role. He serenely swanned through the background of the Star Wars prequels. He typed frantically on a computer in Jurassic Park. He’s been in all four Marvel-verse blockbusters –Captain America, Thor, two Iron Men — but his Nick Fury is less a character than a walking commercial for The Avengers. You could point out that Jackson’s carpet-bomb career is filled with more misses than hits. You could say, with some justification, that Jackson is never the primary draw for any of his movies: He’s not a “movie star” in the classic sense, but just a dude who stars in a lot of movies. You could even note that Guinness didn’t adjust for inflation, and the real highest grossing actor of all time is probably Mary Pickford or something.

And you’d be right on all counts. But I think all those arguments miss the point. Jackson has been simply omnipresent for almost two decades now. Yes, there are plenty of horrible films on his IMDB page — The Man, Formula 51, freaking Basic. On one hand, I want to point you to the great Jackson performances: His cerebral villain in Jackie Brown, his fascinating geek-malcontent in Unbreakable, his freaked-out cop in the underrated The Negotiator.

But really, the greatness of Jackson lies within the smorgasbord. His mere presence makes bad movies feel more self-aware than they should — recall his speech in Deep Blue Sea, or the way he single-handedly turned Snakes on a Plane into the first great Hollywood meme. He refined “the cameo” into a kind of beautiful art: His speech in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 practically steals the movie, while his sudden arrival at the end of Out of Sight gives that film one of the great out-of-nowhere happy endings in cinema history.

Jackson has a tireless work ethic. He has a great side-career as a voice actor, lending his voice to The Boondocks. (His box office gross would look even more impressive if Guinness added in his role as Frank Tenpenny, the baddie in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which happens to be the highest-selling game on the PlayStation 2.) So all of today’s multi-hyphenate young stars — the James Francos, the Aziz Ansaris, the Justin Timberlakes — have Jackson hovering their shoulder as a spirit animal. (Jackson is one of the few actors working today who would have probably flourished in the old Hollywood studio system, when actors were paid a weekly wage and made four films a year.)

Really, the role of Nick Fury is perfect for Jackson. Like the mythological Odin One-Eye — or, more to the point, like Caine in Kung Fu — he seems to walk the earth for all Eternity, popping up here and there and everywhere. When all the beautiful young stars of today are competing for roles in the network procedurals of the future, when all the established actor-producers are attempting to kickstart the fourquels and fivequels of their most beloved franchises, I bet Jackson will still be around, making movies safe for the rest of us. Kudos.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
Quentin Tarantino signs Samuel L. Jackson for ‘Djago Unchained’
Samuel L. Jackson to play MLK in ‘Mountaintop’
Samuel L. Jackson reads ‘Go the F to Sleep’

Comments (324 total) Add your comment
Page: 1 2 3 12
  • JDub

    And let the subtly racist, Samuel Jackson hating comments begin…

    • Andrew Messenger

      Like this one perhaps. Hatred is hatred regardless of who throws the first stone, and you threw the first stone. So don’t forget to put yourself in the same category of haters.

      • JDub

        No, you moron Andrew, I am black myself. I wasn’t throwing the first stone, genius, I was anticipating the inevitable — and got it right away. I understand that you think you’re smarter than you are (most idiots do), but you have to be feeling really stupid right about now.

      • Miffy

        JDub, I love how you think saying, “I am black myself” somehow makes you immune to racism and hatred. Big news for you: it doesn’t. You made the first hateful, stereotypical comment before anyone else did. Andrew is right. You need to be less hateful and racist.

      • Steverino

        And then there are all the racists against white people, but then that doesn’t count as racism, does it.
        By the way, on occasion Sam Jackson has been known to make racist remarks against white people, but that doesn’t mean I like his acting any less.

      • lisa g.

        I agree w/ miffy! I don’t see how jdub saying he’s black changes things or more importantly makes Andrews comment invalid!

      • Daegosmoove

        J-Dub, as a fellow brutha, I understand the pun intended in your statement and it seems that the others didn’t understand the manner in which the comments delivery was intended. I understand you stating the inevitable way b4 it started,(which some idiot always has a racist comment to say about any black that is prosperous), so I understand you J-Dub, & your non-racist comment makes perfectly good sense to me!!

      • Liz

        I am proud of you EW you managed to not mention Ryan Gosling in an article about an actor!

      • Dave

        It always seems to be the black person to bring up the race card.

      • Monique

        JDub, your comment was not necessary. I am also black and what you’ve done is derail the entire essence of the article which was about Mr. Jackson’s work, not his race as it regards to his work. I have to agree with some of the other posters, WE do seem to toss out the race card more than necessary. And YES, I know alot of Racist Black people. If you don’t believe me, surf the Internet or attend a family function. Maybe one day, race won’t matter. I just hope its not because God has struck us all blind.

      • ded

        facepalm… Every racist flamewar starts with someone saying ‘I’m black’ or ‘I’m white’, as if it means anything.

      • john goodwin

        I guess I wont say anything about Jacksons acting ability, because JDub, took the interest away, with his stupid racism comment.

      • Agent Blade

        So, let see if i have this correct. Its racist to predict someone will make racist remarks? Ill list that in my ‘Tard Logic’ interpretation manual.

    • Tim

      Quantity doesn’t always mean quality.
      I never liked the guy myself.
      His wrong colored skin has nothing to do with it.

      • AintMe

        Wrong colored skin? What the F does that mean?

      • michael

        tim you are an idiot plane and simple. go back home and fly your confederate flag

      • Nightlight

        Tim is saying that black is the wrong skin color. Presumably the right color is white. But don’t worry, racism has been obliterated in America, as our friends on the right say, we don’t need affirmative action. Just keep on believing that. Meanwhile, there’s Tim.

      • alok

        Wrong colored for you perhaps means “not like mine”, right?

      • Ray

        As a black man, I resent that. You probably have a small johnson, white boy. That would explain your pitiful comment. Go jack off to asian adult movies, play video games, eat your junk food and cry while watching TV.

        In the mean time, I’ll be busy getting laid by all the white (and non-white) girls who are grossed out by your pathetic effeminate ways.

      • the ghost of humor

        All three of you are idiots. Let’s break it down.
        Tim was responding to a post, the point of which was that racism will be the overriding theme of the discussion. Tim goes on to list two perfectly valid reasons for not liking SLJ (too many bad movies, personal opinion). He then throws in an obviously racist comment as an afterthought. If you can’t see Tim’s post as a joke, with the last line as the punch-line, I really do feel bad for you.

      • victor J

        I may be wrong, but i think you all missed the point of what Tim was really trying to say.

      • David in Corpus

        Ray, I agree that Tim is probably a ‘white boy’ and probably does have a small johnson; however, can you please leave the duragatory term ‘white boy’ out of it when goading him? I am an anglo, and I find being called white boy, white bread, brady bunch, honky, cracker, peckerwood and all the other duragatory racist names irritating and offensive. Not all of us anglos are worthy of your contempt and bigotry. Remember who your bros are brother and we can both go out and have a beer and then bang away at all the women (color is unimportant when it come to women, only their height and weight, lol). Stay cool homie.

      • Tevii

        Tim sounds like an idiot that is either truly a racist or is trolling to get everyone annoyed. But its interesting to see some responses such as Rays, that are equally racist. Way to be the exact same

      • BigMike619

        (Im Black) lmao!!!! Good one

      • Meech montana

        You racist idiots can die and choke on a d***…..He earned every penny weather u like him or not…weather u like black people or not….lol….u maddddd

      • Meech montana

        Tims just mad cause hes not the wrong color and hes prolli lives on a farm with his gay son blowing each other off…

      • anotherguy

        First, I think there is a very good chance the guy was being sarcastic. I certainly hope so.

        But, even assuming he’s not, NIGHTLIGHT is saying we must have government-sponsored discrimination until all non-government discrimination is eliminated. Wow. Just wow. And that is the danger of government assistance of any kind, right: it becomes institutionalized and permanent.

      • guest

        my neighbor makes $61 an hour on the internet. She has been without a job for 10 months but last month her paycheck was $7055 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read here at m

      • rufustfirefly

        I have just one question: Would all of this have happened if he was white?

      • Sean

        You people have all been trolled majorly. Tim threw that out there in the hopes that the PC crowd would erupt in self-righteous rage..and boy did they!! *applaud* to the Mighty Troll.

      • lisa g.

        I think Tim is just trying to get under ppls skin n it worked! On topic—-It’s been said that Sam is widely consideredva sell out! Unlike say Denial, Sam was agreeable ro doing any and every movie just for the money. I think this was surprising to ppl who thought early on he’d be a lil more selective given his skills!

      • typos

        Considered a…..Denzel……to…

      • madblakman

        white boy! white boyyyyyyy! white boysssss! gonna have sex with your daughters whitey!!!!

      • Grumpster

        And what is yours, green? Pink? Polka-dots? Whatever it is, I want to never lay my eyes on it.

      • sarah d

        I think he’s being ironic. Calling out the first poster.

      • Monique

        Tim, I feel sorry for you, truly. BUT you are entitled to your opinion. I just hope you keep it to yourself and if you have children, do not pass your ‘wrong thinking’ on to them. Even if you do, perhaps their minds will be stronger than yours.

      • White vs Black NOT our War

        “Go jack off to asian adult movies,”

        N—r, why don’t u settle between you two haters and leave other people alone. . .

    • Tevii

      spoken like the true racist JDub. To just assume a group will make a racist comment in fact means you hold others in a certain light, meaning you are in fact the racist. Good job.

      • JDub

        Tevi-the-Idiot: I AM BLACK and was merely anticipating the inevitable — and got it.

      • Chris

        JDub – you are making the hateful comments, telling people they are stupid. And it completely cracks me up that you somehow seem to think that the color of your skin makes it impossible to be racist. That’s incredibly stupid. You need to try to be smarter.

      • lisa g.

        Jdub…ur stupid! Sorry but it had to be said! And I’m black!

      • Color Me Impressed

        @JDub: You’re not getting it! We are saying you’re prejudiced against white people! Thats still considered racism ya know?

      • lisa g.

        Geez this dude is a ra ra retard!

      • @J-Dub

        Yeah, we call that a “self-fulfulling prophecy.” So go pat yourself on the back—you’ve earned a cookie. Perhaps an Oreo? (ooh, was that a subtle racial comment?)

    • Rick

      Im white, and part indian.. Ive always liked the Man and his Movies. anyone have a problem with that? Blow me

      • Bigjohnson

        Im white and also big. Too big for white women,. Had to go black cuz they were wore out enuf for me.

      • lisa g.


    • jte

      the ni&&er is a horrible actor and hates good whit folk. F###k him and the rest of you liberal pu^^^^^ies.

      • Lisa Marie

        Okay troll. Nicely said.. For a MORON from 1962! I like SLJ. I think he’s a stellar actor no matter what roll he is in or what color his skin. I don’t think his skin color or mine should enter into someone’s opinion on his acting. It’s ridiculous how fast this comment went down the toilet. SLJ deserves better. And so do I come to think of it.

    • Ciara

      Great actor and very well deserved. It’s rather sad that we couldn’t comment on THAT instead of listening to TWO idiots argue about RACE.

      • lisa g.

        Yeah the idiot jdub started this!

      • Poppy

        @Ciara – I completely agree. SJ is a great actor, and I enjoy him in everything he does – my favorite movie is Long Kiss Goodnight.

      • lisa g.

        He was good in Jackie Brown as well!

    • Machete

      Love Sam Jackson–but let the racist JDub hating comments begin.

    • Henry Miller

      We do that only for waning white stars, like Tom Cruise, who is in a star category as a white dwarf.

    • Jay

      “Subtly racist” the only subtle racist here is you. You sought racism, and got ‘racist responses'; it’s called a self fulfilling prophecy. Keep thinking the world’s against you, maybe one day you’ll meet a real racist and feel terrible for having instigated racial tension, but until that day you are every bit as ignorant as you perceive your race to be portrayed.

    • vdubplate

      I was thinking the same thin. it’s a shame that you can expect that.

    • JaySin420

      If you don’t like Samuel Jackson….you might be a redneck.

    • comlax22

      You sir are an idiot. You cast the first “racist stone” and then try to accuse others of YOUR mistake. Look in the mirror and educate yourself. Just a pathetic first post.

    • peaches

      EW actually covers an actor who has nothing to do with Glee, Twilight or Lady Gaga?!?

      • @peaches

        Wow, thanks for adding to the conversation. Your brilliant commentary on the subject at hand elevates you in everyone’s esteem. Bravo!

    • john goodwin

      JDub do you see how your ignorance, and blindness, started some nasty comments, and took the spotlight off of samuel jacksons compliment? you are ignorant, and RACIST.

  • J

    You forgot to mention how great he was in The Other Guys. I would pay to see a movie based on his and the Rock’s character in a second.

    • Chipperkeet

      Oh, HELL yeah!!!

    • Sarah O

      Absolutely! Everything he’s in is better because he’s in it.

    • JaySin420

      That would be an amazing prequel!

  • DFSF

    It’s pretty hard to ignore that in “the old studio system” there wasn’t a single black actor playing more than a servant or a cook. Jackson’s talents would never have been recognized, let alone rewarded.

    • anony

      Right. These EW writers tend to think they’re smarter than they actually are. And they want to use words like “meme.”

    • Paul in TX

      I don’t think the author was saying “back in the days of the old studio system,” just “the old studio system.” Your comment, while true, misses the point the author made. IF we still did things the way they used to do them, he’d flourish.

    • Empress Josephine

      Sidney Poiter? have you never heard of him. he is the reason for many successful black actors today. He never ever played a servant or cook.

      • lisa g.


  • ZaZa

    I think I just vomited. I can’t stand him. The only movie I liked him in was “A Time to Kill.” America loves crap.

    • mandy

      You *think* you just vomited? How can you pass judgement about someone when you don’t even know if you just performed a bodily function?

      • albert

        That’s a GOOD ONE mandy.

      • harry

        mandy…my hero.

      • ZaZa

        Oh Mandy put a cork on it! I can’t stand him based on how he presents himself in interviews, as well as all of the films he’s been in. It’s the same criteria we all have to go by to determine if we like someone or not- How one presents his or herself to us. And it’s called sarcasm Mandy. “Pass judgement” on someone. We’re not at your local megachurch, it’s EW and I am saying I can’t stand Sam jackson.

      • Rob

        I think you also pooped your pants.

      • jte

        fu hore

      • Lisa Marie

        fu hore?? That is classic. What short bus did you escape from? Do you still have your helmet? Go find the nearest grown-up and ask them for help. You need it.

    • senorplaid

      I take it you hated Pulp Fiction then …

    • lisa g.

      @zaza…f’ing drama queen…..ugh

    • Mel #2

      The Fact that of all the great films SLJackson has done the one you liked was the Cheesy potboiler “A Time To Kill” speaks volumes to your lack of taste. ZaZa!

  • Brian Sweeney

    How could you mention SLJ and not mention Pulp Fiction, arguably his greatest role ever?

    • roro

      Agreed. When I think of him, I think of Pulp Fiction!!!

      • Monty

        Say WHAT again!

    • sasha

      exactly, this is unreal!!

    • Christy

      Amen! He was GREAT in that!

    • Ryan

      Pulp Fiction is the whole reason he’s THAT famous. It’s basically always just him doing a Cameo of that character in other films. His Jedi name should have just been Jules.

    • Obielaski

      I second, third and fourth that. THE PATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS MAN . . .

    • Cavan

      +1. No mention of Pulp Fiction but a speech in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is referenced? This article was poorly written.

      • TGF

        I am with you on that. The author had to have meant the speech in Pulp Fiction. 100 x better than the Rufus speech in Kill Bill 2.

    • Peter

      “or, more to the point, like Caine in Kung Fu”

      You didn’t get the reference. Indignation fail!

      • senorplaid

        Subtlety is a dying art.

      • Peter

        I think it’s more the appreciation of subtlety that’s dying.

    • ihatescreennames

      While I agree Jules in Pulp Fiction is one of the “awesomest” characters ever to hit the silver screen, I would have to plead the case that the role he played in The Sunset Limited was OUTSTANDING. But, that is a film for folks who like to exercise what’s between their ears; it’s also a great movie for discussion and debate. Just him and Tommy Lee Jones….simply outstanding.

      He was also in a torture flick “Unthinkable” with the chic who played Trinity in The Matrix. Horrible movie, but SLJ rocked his role (as always!). I love him and think he’s a terrific actor!!!

      • joe

        I have to agree the movie The Sunset Limited was OUTSTANDING!

      • lisa g.

        What’s it about?

      • ihatescreennames

        To Lisa G: The Sunset Limited is based on a Cormac McCarthy play and SLJ plays a “saviour” of sorts to Tommy Lee Jones’ suicidal character. It’s just two men (two OUTSTANDING actors) in an SLJ’s rundown apartment, discussing life, religion, spirituality, intellect, etc. One plays “Mr. White” and one plays “Mr. Black”. Thought-provoking, excellent, excellent film. Happy Halloween!

    • john


    • Henry

      Amen to Pulp Fiction! It introduced me to him and I’ve loved him ever since!

    • SteveK77536

      Jules: [Jules shoots the man on the couch] I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?

    • Anna

      I agree. He was nominated for an Oscar for Pulp fiction. His only nomination! I don’t understand how someone can profile his career and leave that out.

    • shdrew


  • Bill

    I would love to know where Guinness is getting their facts or how they define an actor, as Frank Welker, voice of many an iconic character on TV and Movie, has a Worldwide Gross of $9,282,114,860

    • Gary H

      he is not a actor but a vocal talent..This is for highest grossing actor

      • Peter

        Ah, but then, is this must not include his voice acting, right?

  • Ian

    So would SLJ be one of the %1 being protested or deas he get a free pass?

    • Maggie

      Shut up.

      • Silly Billy

        He’s got a point

    • senorplaid

      Take it elsewhere.

    • Mae

      Highest grossing =/= highest earning. Many media and entertainment personalities aren’t even in the top 1%

  • Monty

    This isn’t really news though. Granted, his role as Nick Fury has bolstered his already impressive box-office-by-association haul, but I remember that he was the highest grossing actor back when there were only 2 Star Wars prequels. Did somebody de-throne him, and because of his marvel roles he got the record back?

  • Annia

    He was corny & yet loveable in A LONG KISS GOOD NIGHT. Well, as long as he is not homeless, who cares if he’s not the lead actor, but an employing actor. That’s all that matters.

    • Derrick

      That movie was sooo underrated. Just like Die Hard 3 was.

  • Lou

    Nothing against him, but I think it has been a matter of being in the right place at the right time – not many substance roles to show his real talent.

  • T

    Remember “Snakes on a Plane” ?

  • jim w

    I’m heading over to his place to “occupy”.

  • The Chew!

    The article says he was in Thor. I don’t remember seeing him in that movie at all. I did see him in Captain America but not Thor. Maybe I slept through that part?

    • Esox

      He was in the Easter Egg after the credits.

    • Diane

      I think he showed up for one scene in the after the credits teaser

  • Kewpie

    I LOVE IT!! You go boy!!

  • Marc Benarrous

    He was so good as the robber in Coming to America!

    • Big Walt

      ” So all of today’s multi-hyphenate young stars — the James Francos, the Aziz Ansaris, the Justin Timberlakes” After using the phrase “multi-hyphenate” you couldn’t come up with on hyphenated name for your list?

      • California

        “Multi hyphenate” refers to stars who do multiple things. Justin Timberlake, actor, singer. Aziz Ansari, actor, comedian. James Franco, actor, writer, over achiever.

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