Icon of cinema and idol of style, Quentin Tarantino’s reign in the land of cult cinema began in the early 1990s, and though staggered by promises of retiring, shows to be steadily continuing. His style, usually contained within genre, features sharp, snappy dialogue, cinematic vigour and an eccentric characterisation, has brought some of the silver screen’s largest personalities to light.
During a childhood submerged in cinematic influence, Tarantino dropped out of high school at the age of just 15 and opted for work at a cinema, as well as a video store later in life. As a result, the budding director developed a database of film knowledge, an index of inspiration and references that would later inspire his work from script to screen. The influence of 1970s Samurai Cinema, as well as Hong Kong’s particular brand of crime movies, is clear throughout Tarantino’s filmography, from Reservoir Dogs to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
His working-legacy spans 30 years, 13 directed films, and over 20 writing credits – here’s a rundown of his ten feature films to date.
Quentin Tarantino’s films ranked:
10. Death Proof (2007)
Together with director Robert Rodriguez, Death Proof is half of their back-to-back collaboration, ‘Grindhouse’, an ode to the extreme exploitation films of the ’60s and ’70s.
Following Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, Death Proof stars Kurt Russell as a murderous stuntman, stalking separate sets of women in his ‘deaf proof’ cars. As ambitious and enjoyably pulpy as the project was, Death Proof never really seemed to live up to the Grindhouse promise.
For all the badly written dialogue and awkward acting, you get very little in return.
9. Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
The near deranged energy of Kill Bill: Volume 1, carries the film like a sugar-rush, there’s no time for a proper, complicated story, for the purposes of the film — ‘who cares’.
Famously starring Uma Thurman as the Bride, one who is maintaining her campaign of revenge against the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, the project welcomes the likes of David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu and Michael Parks all back into the reckoning.
Though as Volume 2 attempts to expand ‘The Bride’s’ mythology, it slows considerably. Without the sugar-high of the initial film’s relentlessness, there is little for the viewer to cling onto, the result is undeniably disjointed.
Despite somewhat failing to live up to the high expectations set by Volume 1, the second effort still enjoyed significant commercial success at the box office.
8. Django Unchained (2012)
A violent revenge film concerning a freed slave who sets out to rescue his wife from a plantation with the help of a German bounty hunter, Django Unchained addresses the slave trade of the 15th century with a heavy hand.
In part, an aid to blacksploitation cinema, as well as Sergio Leone’s westerns, a terrific Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz elevate the material, only until Tarantino’s token cameo anchors the film into absurdity.
Discussing his project, Tarantino once commented: “To do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like Spaghetti Westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.”
In what is now a typical trend in Tarantino pictures, the cast was jam-packed with high profile names. Joining Foxx and Waltz on the line-up included the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington and many more.
7. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Though on the surface, Inglorious Basterds, about a group of Jewish soldiers on a mission to assassinate Nazi generals, seems indulgent, for the most part, it showcases some of Tarantino’s finest work this side of the millennium.
The introduction scene is one of his very best, meticulously orchestrated, with tight dialogue and striking use of sound. Though ultimately it falters similarly to many of Tarantino’s works, bludgeoning its overt style, edge and ego over your head, tossing its well-constructed story to the pavement.
While it may not be his most celebrated effort, Tarantino did state that opening scene of Inglorious Basterds, one in which the menacing Hans Landa interrogates a French dairy farmer, is the “favourite thing he’s “ever written”.
6. The Hateful Eight (2015)
The eighth project in Tarantino’s canon, The Hateful Eight devoted itself to the genre that has long inspired the director in question.
Fueled by the unmistakable atmosphere of the late Ennio Morricone’s fantastic score, the film becomes a microcosm of the genre itself, set within the restricted confines of a wood cabin in the dead of winter.
Distrust and deceit run riot through the cold desolate pines and the bleak interior of the cabin itself, inhabited by a bounty hunter, his prisoner and six other untrustworthy characters. What the film may lack in story, it makes up for in atmosphere, creating a palpable sense of unease.
5. Kill Bill (2003)
Veering away from stylish, relatively minimal crime stories, Kill Bill is in many ways the hinge of Tarantino’s career, marking a notable move toward revenge stories of violent consequences.
Nonetheless, Kill Bill is a cinematic playground showcasing Tarantino at his most free and expressive, utilising an exaggerated soundtrack and gaudy cinematography in his homage to B-movie martial-arts cinema.
The film offered many different challenges for Tarantino. Despite battling with the exceedingly long run time, the director once commented that the most troubling part Kill Bill’s creation was “trying to take myself to a different place as a filmmaker and throw my hat in the ring with other great action directors”.
With the sheer amount of pressure he was mounting on himself, Tarantino was determined to make “one of the greatest, most exciting sequences in the history of cinema”.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Violent betrayal and nasty personalities flood the decaying urban wasteland of early Los Angeles, in Reservoir Dogs, a stylish debut from the writer/director, who stamped his foot into the curb of the early ’90s film industry.
Never one to shy away from openly discussing his influences, the director once confessed that Reservoir Dogs was directed influenced by Stanley Kubrick film The Killing. “I didn’t go out of my way to do a rip-off of The Killing, but I did think of it as my ‘Killing’, my take on that kind of heist movie,” he once said.
However, despite the visionary aid, this is a Tarantino broth boiled down to its sheer basics, with off-beat suave caricatures, a pulpy soundtrack and a simple plot regarding a jewellery heist gone wrong. Reservoir Dogs is all the better for this, however, without the conceit of contemporary Tarantino, it was allowed to flourish as a riveting, contained story of cut-throat crime.
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Tarantino’s latest outing demonstrates that the restrained approach of his early career remains the most efficient weapon in his armoury.
The director ditches his recent thematic devotion to tales of slaughter and revenge for a more controlled, personal tale of a television star and his stunt double during Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ of the late ’60s.
This is a bizarrely yet totally coherently entwined with the tale of the infamous Manson family murders, culminating in a climatic bombshell, crafting a fairy-tale turmoil of terror under the setting sun of Hollywood’s golden age.
Tarantino famously told cinematographer Robert Richardson about his drive: “I want it to feel retro but I want it to be contemporary,” he said. Despite the open-ended nature of that statement, it sums up the result perfectly.
2. Jackie Brown (1997)
Bookending Tarantino’s flawless debut trilogy of un-connected films, Jackie Brown shows sophistication in his filmmaking ability, often lost in the fog of chaos and violence.
This is his masterpiece of characterisation, where every individual feels separate and tangible, autonomous and larger than the runtime of the film itself. A tenacious performance from Pam Grier as the title character leads the film down a slow narrative spiral, performing mind-games with the supporting cast of devious villains and slimeballs.
This is Tarantino’s left side of his brain, smart, subtle and suave.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
All the knowledge, cinematic vision and unfounded enjoyment of Tarantino’s time working as a video-store clerk, spills onto celluloid with no dams to halt his creativity.
As Pulp Fiction swaggered into cinemas in 1994, its influence spread like cigarette smoke and has since become a touchstone in cultural significance and American filmmaking. “I got the idea of doing something that novelists get a chance to do but filmmakers don’t: telling three separate stories, having characters float in and out with different weights depending on the story,” Tarantino once explained.
Discussing his vision behind the film, the director added: “[It] was basically to take like the oldest chestnuts that you’ve ever seen when it comes to crime stories — the oldest stories in the book … You know, ‘Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife’ — the oldest story about… the guy’s gotta go out with the big man’s wife and don’t touch her. You know, you’ve seen the story a zillion times.”
He added: “I’m using old forms of storytelling and then purposely having them run awry. Part of the trick is to take these movie characters, these genre characters and these genre situations and actually apply them to some of real life’s rules and see how they unravel.”
A delirious ride through a retro-American otherworld, marked with dark humour and a gloriously compiled soundtrack, Pulp-Fiction’s rough edges and fantastical feel launches it into a realm unplaceable.