Like a lot of the iconic directors, Quentin Tarantino looks to emulate the greats such as Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, or his good friend Robert Rodriguez. However, the similarities that he’s looking for doesn’t come from any specific or significant type of direction or editorial choice. No, Tarantino’s here for the cameo!
What we get to argue about next is what makes a cameo and what makes a small role. Especially in the earlier days, Tarantino saw himself as much as an aspiring actor as he was a filmmaker and he always made sure to keep a juicy role for himself. This was most prominent, of course, in his first two features, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In the former, Tarantino plays Mr. Brown, the fast-talking wiseass who gets gunned down during the unseen heist; in the latter, he’s Jimmie, a friend of Jules’ who wants a blood-soaked car out of his garage.
Now, these are roles with names and motivations who would have been played by expert actors had Tarantino not taken the roles for himself. But never once has anyone watched either of these films over the past 25 years and seen the character the way they see other characters. These roles might as well be ‘Quentin Tarantino as himself’, with his delight in talking about pop culture and his proclivity to use the N-word liberally intact.
For the sake of argument, we’re going to call these roles cameos. It’s not at the magnitude of a role like the one he had in From Dusk till Dawn where he’s third billed about Harvey Keitel and George Clooney, so in this list, they go. Tarantino has some other, much less arguably-cameo-like cameos in his filmography, so we’ve assembled ten of them here.
Here are some of Tarantino’s best, worst, and oddest on-screen cameos.
Quentin Tarantino’s ten best cameos:
10. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
Yeah, sure, let’s start the debate early.
Tarantino’s first feature film finds him, appropriately enough, as the first and loudest voice we hear when the film kicks off proper. That’s courtesy of his Mr. Brown character, whose opinions on Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ act as the perfect introduction into the signature stylised world that Tarantino has built for himself over the past three decades. Don’t forget to tip.
9. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
And yeah, we might as well get this one out of the way too.
Jimmie is a character that doesn’t do anything within Pulp Fiction rather than create an additional boundary between Jules and Vincent getting breakfast. Sure, it’s fun to see Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta spar with words while cleaning blood out of the inside of their car, but Tarantino’s (or Jimmie’s) looseness with the N-word still leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, just like bad coffee. Good thing Jimmie gets the good shit.
8. Desperado (Robert Rodriguez, 1996)
Sometimes it might appear as if Tarantino was working in a league all his own during the 1990s, but it’s important to remember that he forged an alliance with a talented young filmmaker by the name of Robert Rodriguez.
Years later Tarantino and Rodriguez would go on to make Grindhouse, but a year before casting his buddy as the co-lead in From Dusk till Dawn, Rodriguez gave Tarantino a cameo in Desperado. Tarantino doesn’t get the gun in the scene, even though you want to blow his head off with his longwinded joke that unfurls.
7. Girl 6 (Spike Lee, 1996)
Ah, the days when Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino still respected each other. Perhaps Lee saw a keen ally in original storytelling and independent production when he saw Tarantino’s films, or maybe he just really enjoyed his brief turns in front of the camera. Either way, Lee gave Tarantino a cameo in Girl 6 playing a role well suited to his acting talents: a director.
Lee would later disagree with Tarantino’s liberal use of the N-word in his movies, famously boycotting Django Unchained. At least they made one strange scene together for posterity.
6. Little Nicky (Adam Sandler, 2000)
Adam Sandler is a man with a pull like no other. No matter the quality of the movie he’s making, Sandler has historically been really good at getting famous figures to appear in some capacity in his work.
I don’t know who gave them each other’s phone numbers, but Sandler was somehow able to get Tarantino to play a blind Deacon during Little Nicky. Tarantino actually makes a few appearances throughout the film, but he does little to liven up what is essentially an extended bastard joke in hell.
5. Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
If you’ve ever wondered what Tarantino looks like when he’s in cruise control, check out his segment of the Grindhouse double feature, Death Proof.
Most of Tarantino’s films are thinly veiled homages to other stories and styles, which is strange why his most direct homage winds up being his least compelling feature. Tarantino finds his way into a scene as a bartender. Just like the cameo, the film remains a strange and somewhat ill-conceived project that nevertheless is compelling in its oddness.
4. Sukiyaki Western Django (Takashi Miike, 2007)
If anyone was wondering where Tarantino got his idea for Django Unchained, look no further than his participation in Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django, the most genre-heavy genre film of all time.
If you like spaghetti westerns but have never seen how the Japanese take on the genre, then prepare to behold the wildly uneven but weirdly watchable film that finds Quentin Tarantino making a minor appearance as a cowboy named Piringo. Tarantino isn’t required to take on a Japanese dialect, which is probably for the best.
3. She’s Funny That Way (Peter Bogdanovich, 2014)
And finally, Tarantino inevitably found his way around to officially playing himself. Here it’s in the relatively forgettable 2014 rom-com She’s Funny That Way, where Imogen Poot’s character Izzy has dumped Will Forte’s Joshua in favour of the Hateful Eight director himself.
Due to the high strung energy of the movie, Tarantino is right at home with his zippy personality and general smarminess. But dare I say it, I quite enjoyed his appearance here, which is more than I can say for most of his appearances on film.
2. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
What just might be the dark horse favourite to be Tarantino’s finest film, Inglourious Basterds actually has two cameos from Tarantino: one as a soldier during the film Nation’s Pride, where Tarantino’s character can be heard saying “Colonel, I implore you!”, and the other as an SS officer getting scalped by the titular crew right before the introduction of Donny ‘The Bear Jew’ Donowitz.
Pick your own favourite, but there is something truly satisfying about Tarantino getting the violent end of a weapon for once. This also leads us to…
1. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
If Tarantino is going to die during a cameo, I want it to happen as it happened here: Wile E. Coyote style. As an Australian slave transporter (Tarantino really believes he can do accents), the director has a minor role towards the end of the film where he easily gets coerced by Django to let him go.
The way Tarantino’s dimwitted character literally goes up in smoke is priceless, and more of his cameos should end in the same hilariously violent way.