Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s most hotly anticipated movie yet. As well as focusing on the Manson Family murders, the director has also found time to insert Bruce Lee into the narrative. With an impressive cast (Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino to name a few), we can hardly wait – but wait we must. In the meantime, here’s our ranking of all of Tarantino’s films, from least best to best. Sorry, Death Proof fans…
Words: Thomas Deehan
9. Death Proof (2007)
If you weren’t already convinced of Tarantino’s foot fetish, Death Proof sets the record straight. This grindhouse-inspired flick is 80 percent foot, 15 percent dialogue and five percent car chase – and if that doesn’t sound particularly appealing, it’s because Death Proof just isn’t that good of a film.
There are definitely a few elements of genius here, with strong female characters (more so in the latter half of the movie) and the mysterious Stuntman Mike, but it’s a genre mashup that’s all over the place.
Death Proof’s biggest sin is being unable to decide what type of movie it wants to be. Audience members are subjected to 20 minutes of a quirky comedy before the tone abruptly shifts to a bloody horror, only to shift back to the former when all the killing is over and done with. You only need to look at other, better mashups, like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, to see that success lies in blending genres together to the point where defining such a film becomes a task unto itself.
Seeing the film’s latter trio of women completely turn the tables on Stuntman Mike is a fist-pumping moment. It’s refreshing to see would-be victims take control of a situation in a way that women are rarely afforded in film. It’s just a shame that we don’t get to spend more time with them.
8. Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)
Kill Bill: Vol 1. was Tarantino’s attempt to do something different, cutting away the strings of dialogue that had made him famous and instead throwing everything he could at the project to see what would fit. Vol 1 does have some standout moments – The Bride’s fight against the Crazy 88 is a true feast for the senses, and our introduction to master swordsmith Hattori Hanzō features some of that great Tarantino comedy – it’s just a shame that they’re few and far between. Luckily for us, Tarantino found what he was looking for in the film’s sequel.
The brawl with the Crazy 88 – by far. This segment is a non-stop clusterfuck of gore, blades and filters. Seeing The Bride take on an almost insurmountable task is an unforgettable moment, as it puts her thirst for revenge front and centre, unleashing itself in a terrifying and blood-splattering fury. Rest in peace Gogo, we hardly knew ye.
7. Jackie Brown (1997)
Following on from the success of Pulp Fiction was never going to be easy, and yet it’s here that we’re presented with Tarantino’s most grounded film. Jackie Brown features an older cast, one that fans weren’t used to up until that point (but definitely would be by the time The Hateful Eight rolled around), and it changes the pace significantly. With the exception of Ordell Robbie, played so brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson, the titular heroine and those around her use their wits, not violence, to stay one step ahead of the competition.
It’s such a shame, however, that in the face of a brilliant set-up, the film spends far too little time with Jackie Brown herself, and meanders with subplots that ultimately don’t add up to anything. Seeing Robert De Niro’s Louis Gara getting high and laid feels like wasted time when we should be getting to know how Jackie Brown got involved in a life of crime to begin with, and seeing her charming relationship with Max Cherry play out.
With that being said, a nod should be given to the outstanding performance of Michael Keaton’s squeaky leather jacket, which comes close to scene stealing.
Chris Tucker is always funny, and even though his appearance here is short lived, it’s still much appreciated. Seeing the young Beaumont Livingston argue his way out of being stuffed into the trunk of a car is just downright hilarious. The disbelief of the situation before him is completely understandable, but there are few things that aren’t worth doing when there’s chicken and waffles involved.
6. Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004)
It’s strange to think that at one point, Vol 1 and Vol 2 were part of the same film, only because the concluding segment to The Bride’s quest for revenge follows a far more Tarantino-eqsue pattern – silky smooth dialogue and calculated violence with just enough flair from the original film to make a satisfying sequel.
Unlike Vol 1, we spend far more time with the remainder of Bill and his assassins, which prevents them from being cannon fodder. Seeing how Bud’s life has gone to shit in the wake of his guilt is intriguing, just as how Bill’s twisted sense of justice came from a broken heart. Any antagonist becomes far more interesting when you get to know them, which only heightens the tension whenever the Bride pops round for a visit. One has to wonder how Vol 1 would have panned out if it followed a similar style.
Plus, contrasting with the first instalment, having a resolution to the story plays out greatly in Vol 2’s favour. Seeing The Bride break down with emotion upon finding out that her previously thought dead daughter is actually still alive is as satisfying as a character arc can be. It’s a well-deserved pay-off that socks you right in the gut.
If this were a list of the top 10 things I never want to be subjected to, being buried alive would be pretty damn high on that list. Having The Bride’s burial scene be an extended take is an ingenious idea. It’s a terrifyingly dour moment, one that takes a step back from the film’s usual antics to portray raw fear.
5. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Only a handful of directors can make a 160+ minute film in the modern age and get away with it. The Hateful Eight is as physically trying as it is mentally exhausting, but it’s one hell of a ride that is well worth the investment. The tale of eight misfits brought together by a cruel twist of fate and crammed together inside a seemingly inescapable cabin is already a great set-up, but it’s the twists and turns of the narrative that keep you hooked until the end.
Due to its extensive cast, The Hateful Eight also feels like an homage to all of Tarantino’s films up until that point. You’ve got Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Zoë Bell, Walton Goggins and Bruce Dern, just to name a few. It’s a collective who’s who from the world of Tarantino, all brought together to infuriate the living hell out of one another.
It’s a shame to think that Tarantino’s original draft for The Hateful Eight was derailed after the script leaked, but at least the film shows (in conjunction with Django Unchained) that Tarantino can more than hold his own in the Wild West genre. Here’s hoping that returns to it someday.
It’s not often that a captivating fireside story revolves around sucking a big ol’ penis, but leave it to Tarantino to do just that and have it be one of the best scenes in a movie. What really sells this scene, other than Bruce Dern contorting his face with each new detail of the story, is Samuel L. Jackson’s maniacal laugh that blends so well with Ennio Morricone’s haunting score.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
We have Reservoir Dogs to thank for giving us the easiest Halloween costumes known to man. And 26 years since its release, the movie still holds up.
Reservoir Dogs makes great use of its premise, bringing together several crooks – some likeable and some not so likeable – and having them play off each other in hilarious and violent ways, all to a banging 1970s soundtrack.
‘Stuck in the Middle With You’, and Michael Madsen dancing around before slicing off the ear of that poor young police officer. The sheer enjoyment that Mr Blonde receives from torturing his victim is sobering. To quote Mr White: “He’s a fucking psycho”.
3. Django Unchained
As the first Tarantino film I ever saw in the cinema, Django Unchained holds a special place in my heart for introducing me to a type of cinema experience that is totally unparalleled. Set in the late 1850s, Django Unchained dips its toe into the horrors of history, unearthing the very real brutality that took place under the American slave trade. With another toe however, the film indulges in melodramatic performances, quirky characters and about as much violence as one would willingly accept from a Tarantino production.
Much like The Hateful Eight, a single showing of Django Unchained will set you back nearly three hours, but you’d never know it. The movie never outstays its welcome by jumping between varied locations, making it feel like a true exploration of early America.
And whenever you’re feeling down, always remember that no mistake will ever compare to Will Smith turning down the role of Django, believing that he “wasn’t the lead”. Yikes.
This one’s a tie between between Dr Schultz’s confrontation with the Sheriff, and Calvin J Candie’s outburst at the dinner table. Both scenes are fantastic in their own way, but it’s definitely worth mentioning that the blood on Candie’s hand as he brings it down on the table is real. DiCaprio pressed on with the scene despite his injury, delivering a tour de force that leaves his co-stars and the audience stunned.
2. Inglorious Basterds
Before Tarantino found his own take on the slave trade with Django Unchained, he sought to tackle another dark point in human history: Nazism and the Holocaust. Now, those are two topics that a lot of directors would probably shy away from, due to the fact that if handled incorrectly, could piss of a lot of people. Without losing any of his signature style, Tarantino manages to have his cake and eat it by doing two things: having Jewish protagonists and killing a boatload of Nazis.
You have to give credit to Christoph Waltz though who was given the uneasy task of portraying antagonist Hans Landa, also known as ‘The Jew Hunter’. Hans always remains a despicable presence onscreen but there’s something about Waltz’s portrayal that prevents you from ever taking your eyes off of him. Plus, the movie gets props in my book for having Eli Roth do something good for a change.
If any other director shot it, the basement scene – which is supposed to be a simple exchange of information – would have lasted just a few minutes. But that’s not Tarantino’s style, turning a seemingly insignificant event into one of the film’s major set pieces. The longer we spend in the basement tavern, the greater our sense of claustrophobia as we’re left to wonder just how our heroes are supposed to make it out of there alive. The scene is so well designed that it feels like its own contained story and a precursor – in style, at least – to The Hateful Eight.
1. Pulp Fiction
How could it be anything else? Tarantino has made a lot of great movies but his 1994 classic has transcended them all to become a crucial piece of pop culture. With the partial exception of the Kill Bill series, Pulp Fiction is the only production in Tarantino’s filmography that follows a non-linear structure, opting for a collection of interwoven stories that take things at their own pace.
The passage of time is irrelevant here, which gives Tarantino the unique ability to focus almost solely on characterisation as opposed to an overarching narrative. It is for this reason that Vince, Jules, Mia and Butch are remembered so fondly, decades after Pulp Fiction was released.
It’s a style that would later be replicated with such films as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but Pulp did it first and arguably perfected it. If cinema ever sees another Pulp Fiction then I can die a happy man, until then I’ll be the one sat in the Chrysler, sipping those $5 milkshakes.
Trying to pinpoint Pulp Fiction’s best moment is nearly impossible, so I’ll settle for my personal favourite – Vince and Jules chatting about fast food. It’s a devilishly simple scene but it’s the perfect example of the type of dialogue that Tarantino’s famous for, where two friends can just waffle on about life’s interesting little tidbits and everything flows naturally. The conversation’s as tasty a Royale with Cheese.