Ranking all of Quentin Tarantino’s films by their soundtracks
Quentin Tarantino’s incredible contribution to modern cinema cannot be underestimated. Through his ten feature films, Tarantino has not only assimilated and asserted his own cinematic style, but his visionary influence has been a cultural touchpoint ever since Reservoir Dogs, his first film, hit the cinemas.
One of the ways that Tarantino’s style has infiltrated the public consciousness is by his expert use of music. An avid movie-lover throughout his life, Tarantino has often lauded the effect a perfect score can have on a film’s impact in the cinema and at home. The director’s ear for the perfect song is something which has seen all of the soundtracks of his films become an integral part of their cinematic iconography.
Tarantino is known for using a lot of classic filmmaking tropes when creating his work, it’s a kind of self-referential postmodernism that makes his work so appealing. But one thing he rarely does is create music specifically for his films, especially not expansive long score. Instead, leaning on the pop classics and obscure gems that littered his character’s jukeboxes, the director enacted a feeling of familiarity.
The soundtracks of each of the films are unusually rich with songs from our past. But another keen trick Quentin Tarantino has up his sleeve is finding the right song for the right scene or moment, whether it is the opening of Pulp Fiction or the title sequence of Django, the director has an uncanny ability to find the powerful breaks of obscure singles and deliver them with devastating effect.
Tarantino once said of soundtracking his movies, “More or less the way my method works is, you have got to find the opening credit sequence first. That starts it off from me. I find the personality of the piece through the music that is going to be in it.”
We thought we would take a look back at all of his films and rank them by the quality of their soundtracks.
Quentin Tarantino films ranked by their soundtracks:
10. Kill Bill Vol. 2
With the soundtrack composed by Wu-Tang Gang founder, Tarantino was always going to be in good hands. The hip-hop impresario chose songs from his record collection—something we imagine was rich with classics—as well as creating some for specific scenes.
Though there are some great moments on the record, including a piece from Ennio Morricone, a Johnny Cash track and a moment from Malcolm McLaren, the soundtrack is easily the weakest in our list.
9. Death Proof
It’s a film that many people would push towards the bottom of Tarantino’s brilliance scale but the soundtrack is imbued with a certain energy that is completely intoxicating. Easily put: once you’re in, you’re in. Buckle up.
Including of course a nod to Tarantino’s idol Morricone as well as songs from T. Rex and Eddie Floyd which add a certain glitter, the soundtrack has a certain looseness. With songs from artists like April March, you know there is always a chance of a dance—and it doesn’t disappoint.
8. Inglorious Basterds
With the ever-alluring presence of Ennio Morricone smiling behind him, when Tarantino set out to make the brilliant Inglorious Basterdshe did so with the intention of creating a World War II epic via a delightful spaghetti western. The film is a cult classic and regularly tops fans favourite polls of his films but perhaps could have used a little more of Morricone’s magic on the entire score.
Tarantino did end up using a lot of his older pieces, scores that were written for other scenes in other films. That ends up only adding to the slightly disjointed feel of the film but it’s hard to argue that this soundtrack has a galvanizing effect that only a victorious tone will do.
7. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Set in one of the most influential periods of American music, Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon A Time In Hollywoodis naturally imbued with the creativity and vast output of the sixties. It sees nods to standards like Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’ as well as the heavier moments of the decade from Deep Purple.
It’s one of Tarantino’s biggest soundtracks, which would make sense for the length of the film, and sees the director pick 31 songs for the new film. All in all, the LP lands as a distillation of 1960s Hollywood and features 20 tracks from that whole scene which makes the film feel tangibly authentic.
6. Django Unchained
The title sequence of Django Unchained was ringing around my house for literally years after visiting the cinema. ‘Django’ written by Luis Bacalov, Rocky Roberts, is one of the most impactful moments of the entire film and powers through some of the film’s best scenes.
Naturally, with Django, the title character, depicted as a gunslinger, there is, of course, some room on the tracklist for Ennio Morricone as well as a track contributed by star Jamie Foxx and Samuel L Jackson. But the best moment on the album is ‘Unchained’ which sees James Brown’s ‘The Payback’ and 2Pac’s ‘Untouchable’.
5. Hateful Eight
Finally, in 2015, Quentin Tarantino achieved his dream and captured the signature of Ennio Morricone, as he signed on to compose the score for his film and Morricone’s first western in over 30 years. There was a lot of expectation on the project.
As a marker of the composer’s unique talent, he managed to craft one of the more perfectly aligned scores for Tarantino’s pictures. Whereas usually, the director chooses the music which can be loved by or relevant to his characters and their story, here Morricone created a score to be seamlessly integrated within it.
Like the film, his music is cold and claustrophobic, meaning and altogether chilled to the bone. It was a lonely moment in a crowded place and typified the storyline of the film. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, after all.
4. Kill Bill Vol. 1
Whether you prefer the first instalment of The Bride’s saga or enjoyed the climactic moments of the story as individual films, there is no argument that RZA’s first soundtrack was by far the best. Matching the fast-paced action sequences the first film has a lot of, the soundtrack is equally energetic and powerful.
Once again using songs from his back catalogue as well as creating a few hear and there, this soundtrack relies more heavily on the pounding beats in the hip-hop producer’s heart.
Arguably the two most iconic moments of the film’s soundtrack come from the Nancy Sinatra song ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ and the brilliant yet creepy whistle from Elle Driver as she attempts to assassinate The Bride. But, in fact, the best moment of the score comes from the Japanese band 5,6,7,8’s who performed ‘Woo Hoo’ during a particularly blood-thirsty scene.
It’s our favourite moment because it’s so definitively Tarantino, employing a Japanese band who specialise in classic American rock ‘n’ roll to star in his classic American viewpoint of a typically Japanese film genre.
3. Jackie Brown
Tarantino’s 1997 masterpiece Jackie Brown is most certainly one of the director’s most overlooked films. Starring Pam Grier and Samuel L Jackson, the film is a joy from start to finish. What makes it all the more special is the unique and perfectly appointed soundtrack. Beginning with Bobby Womack’s ‘Across 110th Street’ it somehow only gets better from there.
The classics don’t stop either as there are key scenes featuring Johnny Cash’s song ‘Tennesee Stud’ as well as perfect songs from Bill Withers and Minnie Riperton which adds a soulful touch to proceedings.
Perhaps the best song on the album is ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ from Brothers Johnson is used to devastating effect throughout the film.
2. Reservoir Dogs
Perhaps the clearest indication of the value a good film soundtrack poses to Tarantino, on his first feature film he made the music a distinct part of the film’s narrative. The entire plot, which is set across one weekend, revolves around the fictional radio show “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend” which sets the pace for the soundtrack.
As you might imagine, it means that Tarantino only had the grooves of a certain decade to pick from. Assisted by the deadpan genius Steven Wright playing the DJ, the soundtrack is littered with classic tunes from the ’70s and adds a golden hue to the film, a welcomed moment for your first feature film, we’re sure.
The perfect musical moments within the film come from the slow-motion walking sequence, something perfectly soundtracked by George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bag’, and of course Mr Blonde’s very bloody moment with ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ from Stealer’s Wheel.
1. Pulp Fiction
Many have suggested that Pulp Fiction is Tarantino’s most perfect film and it’s easy to see how the soundtrack mirrors this position. Originally conceived by Tarantino as a rock ‘n’ roll version of a spaghetti western, something Tarantino was a big fan of, so he needed the rock ‘n’ roll version of Ennio Morricone. For Tarantino, that meant surf-rock.
It would go on to be a vital part of the film’s iconography, perfectly distilled and delivered as Honey Bunny’s shots ring out and Dick Dale’s version of ‘Misirlou’ kicks into gear. The opening title run through and is then replaced by ‘Jungle Fever’ from Kool and the Gang, as the songs once again infiltrate the storyline.
Moving throughout the film, the soundtrack becomes a starting member of the ensemble. Whether it is Chuck berry’s influence on Vince Vega and Mia Wallace’s dance contest with his song ‘You Never Can Tell’ or Wallace’s own “I fucking love this song” moment as she plays Urge Overkill’s ‘Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon’, the soundtrack is a star.
Perhaps the director’s definitive film deserved a worthy soundtrack and this one certainly stands up, there are no missteps or average moments and would be a fine compilation in his own right. The fact that we can put these iconic images to the songs makes them all the more weighty and wonderful.