Quentin Tarantino is many things. Above all of them he is one of America's most important living directors. In a day and age when everything is a prequel, sequel or part of some tentpole, popcorn extravaganza, Tarantino is someone who has created his own tentpole extravaganza from scratch. He has his own genre: Quentin Tarantino movies. That he is able to make them personal and a piece of art in the process, is further testament to just how special this director is.
Apparently, we aren't going to have him around making movies for too much longer. This isn't some hard and fast rule he's putting out there (if the right project comes along he's not going to not do it), he just seems to feel that 10 is a nice round number and it would be a good place to stop. While it might not make much sense to even announce you're quitting, especially if you're really not, has Tarantino ever done anything in the prescribed way people say he should? Tarantino movies are what they are precisely because he hasn't done that.
After letting this news gestate, it only seemed fitting to make a list ranking the current oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino with the help of Wikidepia. Just what are the best Quentin Tarantino movies? Make no mistake, just because one of those films is ranked over the other on this list, doesn't mean that it's a bad film. It isn't as if you are going to get to the end of this list and realize that QT has petered out.
Quite the opposite, actually. More than anything, this list attempts to put the work of Quentin Tarantino into perspective, including his acting roles, his work on TV and his select screenplays that ended up being directed by someone else. Arguably few directors have ever been much of a public rock star the way that Tarantino is. Notice, I used the word "is." In no way has Tarantino mellowed or come close to losing relevance.
However, he was at a different place in his life with each one of these films. One could argue that the same is true for all artists in relationship to their art. That is a fair argument, however, I would say that the vast majority of artists have not been as public about how their work relates to themselves. It is for this and a litany of other reasons, that we are ranking All of Quentin Tarantino's Films and other substantial projects. We did leave out My Best Friend's Birthday, which serves as the director's true directorial debut, for the fact that it isn't readily available, and sort of a rough draft of everything that would come in the future. It's more a labor of love than an actual movie released in theaters, it has long been declared an amatuer, not even an independent movie, and we don't feel it should be compared to his true works of cinematic greatness. Instead, we kick things off with Tarantino's third movie as a director, his second theatrical release, the movie that truly defined him as a filmmaker and cemented his legacy.
1. Pulp Fiction
So perfect is this viewing experience that, to this day, it's hard not to watch Pulp Fiction, become captivated, and then feel a sense of sadness because it's a finite Tarantino movie and it has to end. It seems so simple (and it spawned many a lacking copycat) but this tale of a mobsters, boxers, gangsters, and bandits was truly one of a kind. In any other director's hands, this movie probably would've gone straight-to-video. From the mind of Tarantino (and Roger Avary), we got a movie that was the equivalent of cinematic poetry. Tarantino has made many other films since this one. Many of them more technically exquisite and groundbreaking in their own right. However, none of them are as cool or as quotable as this mishmash of a tale that was intricately crafted by the man that's still cinema's wunderkind.
2. Reservoir Dogs
That this film barely got a theatrical release from Miramax was probably a harbinger of how truly independent films would ultimately be crushed by burgeoning superhero movies. Yet, some people feel it is the best Quentin Tarantino movie. Thank goodness for the very video stores that spawned Quentin Tarantino, because those ultimately breathed new life into this film. Again, this Tarantino movie was simple. So simple in fact that a majority of it takes place in one location, and only breaks out for flashbacks of the characters we are following. This movie was vulgar, brutal and intense, all while being an art movie and an ode to all the films that Tarantino loved. Reservoir Dogs is all about a fundamental (read: human) breaking down in communication. Centered around a heist gone wrong (due to a lack of communication), we are taken into the world of thieves as they convene at a safe house. Nobody knows who is the rat in the thieving group, they can't talk about it without arguing (there's that problem with communication again), and the longer they stay in hiding the worse things appear to be getting. All this time, this film remains effortlessly cool, funny and interesting, because that was precisely how Quentin Tarantino wanted it to be.
3. Django Unchained
Some might scoff at this film's high standing on this list. The Tarantino movies below it were more groundbreaking, they might say. The stories of the other films were more in keeping with what a Quentin Tarantino movie is, others might offer. Whatever anyone's reasons for not feeling this film should be ranked this high, this tale of a bounty hunter and a freed slave doing battle with a plantation owner from Mississippi is everything anybody wants in a movie. There is violence (almost on a barbaric scale), great dialogue (would you expect anything less from QT?), and those special moments that only Quentin Tarantino seems able to conjure. This movie looks and feels like a western in the mold of John Ford. It is big, bold and brash in a time when most directors are trying to be minimalists. Ultimately, what really sets this film apart is how Tarantino not only deconstructs the western film, but also reinvents just what we think a hero should be and act like. Django Unchained is a brutal film that makes everyone take a second look at their cinematic expectations and themselves.
4. Jackie Brown
Coming on the heels of Pulp Fiction, Tarantino seemed poise for an inevitable slump. I will admit, it took me a few viewings before I came to understand this as one of the best Quentin Tarantino movies. Eventually, I had to reconcile the fact that when I first saw this film (at 24 years of age), I just wasn't mature enough to appreciate it. With it's slow burn feel, it's voluminous dialogue and muted story (at 128 minutes), I just didn't have the temperament for what Jackie Brown was putting across. Now, 20 years later, I sit back and watch this film and it can't be long enough. How was I to know at the time that this would be a harbinger of future Tarantino movies? This story of a stewardess (Pam Grier) who gets in too deep (that's about it for a story explanation, you'll have to watch the film if you haven't already), is a character study in the best sense of the word. In some ways, it feels like all the characters get equal screen time. And with a supporting cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Robert Forster, Michael Keaton... what was once seen as confusing, is now, quite possibly seen a stroke of genius. The only reason Jackie Brown isn't higher on this list of the best Quentin Tarantino movies, is because the films above it didn't take more than one screening to resonate.
5. Kill Bill Vol. 1
Tarantino's first film after Jackie Brown (it would come out 6 years later), Kill Bill Volume 1 was a different time for Quentin Tarantino. Kill Bill: Volume 1 hit the screen in 2003. Pulp Fiction had come out in 1994. That film was a seismic disruption (an a terrific way) of the film industry. It spawned so many films and filmmakers, that it would forever enshrine Quentin Tarantino in the pantheon of great directors. Sure, there was Jackie Brown in between. That is a great film but it's effect was more measured. We saw that film as the effect of Pulp Fiction on its director. Kill Bill Volume 1 was an entirely different animal. It was in so many ways a departure for Tarantino from the filmmaker we once knew. This tale of The Bride who was betrayed by her former assassin team is like 50 different films packed into one. It is a tale of vengeance, remorse, love, death and there's even an anime sequence for good measure. Some people didn't love this film the way they loved the earlier Quentin Tarantino movies . How could they? The filmmaker's life had completely changed. He was no longer a video clerk stuffing his movies with his favorite movie scenes. Tarantino had truly come of age and Kill Bill Volume 1 only served to confirm that.
6. From Dusk Till Dawn
While not a Quentin Tarantino movie from a directorial standpoint, From Dusk Till Dawn is a great movie regardless, and it's got his name all over it. Making it great is the fact that Tarantino had Robert Rodriguez handling directing duties. These two like-minded folk seemed to share the same brain in the late 1990s. This film was the perfect vehicle for Rodriguez to direct, and it even allowed Quentin Tarantino to show off his acting ability. Paired with George Clooney, they play the Gecko Brothers. They are on the run from the law and, after grabbing some hostages, take refuge in a bar that is run by vampires. Carnage that we have seen in other Quentin Tarantino movies ensues and the result is a grand time. Okay, is From Dusk Till Dawn on the same level as Pulp Fiction or Django Unchained? From a dialogue and pacing standpoint, those films are distantly related. From an artistic standpoint, the films couldn't be further apart. However, this is why From Dusk Till Dawn is one of the best Quentin Tarantino movies. He didn't direct it. However, Tarantino's presence looms so large in this film (George Clooney seems like he's clawing the frame to keep up) that nobody seems to care.
7. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino seems to be harkening back to his Reservoir Dogs days with this film. Some people might see it ranking 7 and not understand how this could be so. I am not saying that Tarantino is repeating himself, but there are certain expectations of a Quentin Tarantino film. The Hateful Eight satisfies them but its ranking has to do with its presentation more than anything. This is a very contained film. It follows a bounty hunter who, while transporting a prisoner to jail, has to hole up in a cabin through a major storm. Tarantino gets everything right about this film. The cold surroundings. The warmth of the cabin. The juxtaposition of this warmth with the steely eyed characters in the cabin. Everything about this movie works (even if I do find the long Samuel L. Jackson story to be a bit much). However, my biggest issue is the fact that this film was shot on 70mm and it is essentially a play. Tarantino can obviously do whatever he wants. He is probably, outside of Martin Scorsese, the best American filmmaker working today. However, just because Tarantino can make whatever Tarantino movies he wishes, that doesn't necessarily mean that he should. Restraint is also a virtue. It is something that Tarantino knows well (remember the "ear scene" from Reservoir Dogs?). Ultimately, The Hateful Eight might have been better served if he had shown this a little more.
8. Kill Bill Vol. 2
The reality about the Kill Bill films is that they were originally one long movie. However, at four hours this was deemed as being too long. So, Tarantino chopped the original film in half and we got 2 films. Now, I am sure that it wasn't as easy or as simple as that. In no way do these films feel disjointed. The issue (and Kill Bill Volume 2 is still a really good film) is one of pacing. It is very hard to be in the story of Kill Bill Volume 1 and then be taken out of it. This happened over some months. The result with Kill Bill Volume 2 is a film that just doesn't resonate the way it probably should. Yes, it is filled with dark humor all the things we expect from the best Quentin Tarantino movies. The issue is that Kill Bill Volume 2 was paced for a certain point in the film. It was edited for a certain point in the film. So, when we reconnect with these characters, the pacing of the movie feels off. This isn't to say that it is bad. It is nice to be jostled out of what we expect from a film (even a Quentin Tarantino film). However, when compared with the canon of this director, this story of vengeance from The Bride vs. Bill, just doesn't have the feel that we expect. It is still rich. It is still violent and surprising. It is still very much Tarantino. That said, on a list such as this, it couldn't have resided anywhere else.
9. Grindhouse: Death Proof
Quentin Tarantino seems to need the longer form film to tell his story. This is isn't to say that his portion of the Grindhouse film Death Proof isn't a Tarantino movie. It is filled with voluminous dialogue, tension, and an ending that sums up what Quentin Tarantino movies are. However, this film is really all build-up. Sure, when we get there it has been well worth the wait, but Death Proof probably can't be included in the canon of the best Quentin Tarantino movies. That said, the performances he elicits from Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell and the entire Death Proof cast are truly awesome. Everybody is on the same page. Nobody is faking anything. That is probably the most impressive thing about this film. It is fairly short compared to Tarantino's more recent work. At the same time, it still manages to bottle up all the tension that a long form Tarantino film would contain.
10. True Romance
If you are not gripped every time Gary Oldman's Drexl Spivey character comes on the screen, then you might want to go to the ER right now and see if you have a heartbeat. That Spivey is just one of the many colorful characters in this film, is a testament to the writing done by Quentin Tarantino. In yet another example of a great director being made even greater by working on a Tarantino property, True Romance is very much a Tony Scott film. This story of a geek who marries a prostitute, then steals cocaine from her pimp, only to get in deep with the mob is beyond well done. Tony Scott has made a very big film here. It is filled with action and intensity. At the same time, he has allowed Tarantino's screenplay to breathe. So, no matter how heavy Tony Scott's hand is with this material, the truth of Tarantino's screenplay can't help but shine through. Quentin Tarantino movies are singularly unique, and I would say True Romance is every bit a Tarantino movie. Imminently watchable at every moment, True Romance is one of those rare instances of a great screenplay being turned into an equally great film. How often does that happen?
11. Natural Born Killers
Take a script from Quentin Tarantino that literally embodies insanity. Then give it to a director that is both brilliant and insane named Oliver Stone. The result? An image laden, content rich, milkshake of cinematic glory that relentlessly asks questions of its viewers, all the while pushing them further and further from their comfort zones. Quentin Tarantino has created a tale of two very afflicted individuals. That they team up and start murdering people, only to have their escapades glorified by the media, is only a portion of the many statements this movie makes. So dense with material, Natural Born Killers can be hard to watch. It is not one of the best Quentin Tarantino movies, but (if this makes any sense) at the same time, it is. However, it could've been if he'd been allowed to make the script. All that said, as great as this script is, it is pretty much agreed that nobody other than the intensely charged Oliver Stone could've made this film.
12. Inglorious Basterds
Clocking in at two hours and thirty three minutes, Inglorious Basterds is a pitch perfect Tarantino movie from the first frame. This tale of Jews giving Nazi leaders what they deserve, is the kind of movie that had been a long time in coming. It is violent, abrasive, controversial and like all things Tarantino, positively brilliant. Often times, movies about World War II are made to show the humanity that emerges during combat. That is not the case here. To paraphras a line from the show MASH, they try and show decency amidst a grand indecency. Inglorious Basterds wants nothing to do with that. There's no showing us that Nazi's are people, too. There's simply justice doled out. You can argue the rightness or wrongness of this all you want, the fact remains that Inglorious Basterds is a brutal war movie that is also uncomfortably funny. Sure, various groups might take umbrage at this, but would it really be a Quentin Tarantino film if it wasn't? The performances he elicits from Brad Pitt (who has shed all of his matinee idol status here), Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, etc., are simply astonishing. The only reason this movie hasn't occupied a higher position here is because of the strength of the other Quentin Tarantino movies. At one point I lent this movie to a neighbor of mine. He is in his 80s and loves war films. When I got it back, he told me that "it should never have been made!" That "review" further bolstered my assessment of how great this film truly is.
13. Sin City
Okay, Tarantino didn't direct Sin City but he did direct a scene that people would be hard pressed to forget. That in itself kind of makes it one of Tarantino's movies. It takes place between Dwight (Clive Owen) and Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro). They are driving together and Jackie Boy is dead. However, he's very much alive inside Dwight's mind. Or, is he actually alive? The ambiguity of this scene speaks to both how Quentin Tarantino can't help but make a Quentin Tarantino film, no matter how big or small the film is. There is such an artfulness to this scene, such a steady hand, it recalls the work of such masters as Luis Bunuel and Lucio Fulci. Even more impressive is that Tarantino has done this on a studio film that was a mainstream success. Sure, it was made by Miramax and whatnot, but the budget was $40 million and the film was distributed by Disney. That this oddball scene, featuring a conversation between two men (one of which had a slit throat), made it into this film is even more of a triumph. Think about this... throughout this whole 2 hour Robert Rodriguez triumph, is there really a scene you remember more? One of the best Quentin Tarantino movies? Hardly. But certainly, one of the best Quentin Tarantino short films!
This sequel to Robert Rodriguez's career making El Mariachi had a lot of anticipation attached to it. What could Rodriguez do if he actually had more than $7000 to make a film? The answer is a shoot-em-up of the highest order. No, this isn't The French Connection but it was never meant to be. What it did showcase was just what a phenomenon Quentin Tarantino had become. Hell, they even put Tarantino in the film's trailer and he's barely in the movie. He certainly isn't the best part of it. Tarantino is basically here playing an alteration of his persona. He isn't bad but it seems like Quentin Tarantino is mainly here to be Quentin Tarantino. Rodriguez and Tarantino are great friends so it stands to reason that the director would have his buddy in his film. The fact that he was hot was just an added bonus. How hot was Tarantino at this time? Well, people came into the theater I saw Desperado in, and they were quoting Tarantino from the Desperado commercials before it started.
15. CSI Episode: Grave Danger
So great is Quentin Tarantino at reading the tea leaves of what audiences want, he created this epic, two part episode before the idea of what could be accomplished in TV became knowable (basically, before The Sopranos and Breaking Bad made the medium cool again). The story is deceptively simple. A kidnapping occurs that rejoins the graveyard-shift team. The kidnapper is ruthless, mysterious, and not afraid to take things to the next level. Ultimately, everyone involved comes to realize that the abduction is not really about obtaining money at all. Leave it to Tarantino to mess with the stalwart idea of what an episode of CSI could be. The fact that he has utilized such Hollywood veterans as Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin, only serves to underline his continued to clout in 2005. The writing credit on this show may go to other people, but the story is by Quentin Tarantino and that is all you really need to know.
16. Sukiyaki Western Django
The best Quentin Tarantino movies actually make us think. Sukiyaki Western Django kind of gets us to do that but not the way we think movies should. Playing the part of Piringo, Tarantino shows how he has evolved as an actor. The reality for this man is that it seems he wanted to be an actor before becoming, arguably, the most important director of the past 20 years. This film sees him playing a legendary gunslinger. As if this was a Quentin Tarantino movie, his breakout scene which opens the film, is filled with dialogue. It is here that he is surrounded by other gunslingers, and somehow managers to get rid of them all. At one point, he even eats an egg that he takes out of a cobra. (Yes, you have read that correctly). Sure, this role seems like Tarantino playing Tarantino in a film by Takaski Miike, however, his acting as improved vastly from his role in Pulp Fiction. We are extremely grateful that he became the director he is, but something tells us Tarantino just might've done okay as an actor. At the very least he could've been a great character actor, and everybody knows those people get the best parts anyway.
17. Four Rooms
The total film from the four filmmakers (Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Alison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell) totals 98 minutes. Of that time, Tarantino's segment, "The Man from Hollywood," is about 20 minutes. This segment stars Bruce Willis, Tim Roth and even Tarantino himself. It is filled with lots of dialogue that ultimately leads to a digit severing denouement that is quite shocking. That said, the end of this movie is really the only reason to wade through this segment. The reality about Four Rooms is that Tarantino was super fresh off of Pulp Fiction. He could've taken his receipts from his comic books, said he had figured out a way to turn those into a movie, and he would've been given a green light. This segment, set around a sadistic bet by a group of Hollywood elitists on New Years Eve, plays more like the beginning of a Tarantino movie than the final segment in an anthology. It may not be one of the best Quentin Tarantino movies, but I give Four Rooms a lot of credit for trying.
18. ER Episode: Motherhood
Aside from a few flawless Quentin Tarantino shots (the close-up of an operating room utensil for instance), there isn't too much about Motherhood that directly links it to the Tarantino canon. Set on Mother's Day, the show follows the usual ins and outs of an ER episodes. Characters lives are either raveling or unraveling as the work of the Emergency Room trumps all. Tarantino's work here is highly inspired. However, something about this ER episode feels restrained. It might be that Tarantino felt hamstrung by the bigness of TV? Or, perhaps this show was edgier and the corporate brass decided to take some of the edge off? Whatever the reasoning, if you didn't know that Tarantino had helmed this episode, you probably wouldn't think the director had been anywhere near it. Going into it, I was hoping Tarantino would do for ER what Robert Altman had done for the movie script of MASH. Make it bigger, bloodier and real. Instead, I just got another episode of ER.
18. Destiny Turns on the Radio
This oddball film is probably one of Quentin Tarantino's oddest turns. A person definitely could not classify it as, "one of those Tarantino movies." He plays Johnny Destiny. I could describe this film but that description wouldn't come close to doing it justice. Basically, it deals with the idea of how much destiny plays into our lives. With a solid cast that featured Dylan McDermott, James Le Gros, Jim Belushi, David Cross and Bobcat Goldthwait among others, Tarantino was definitely in good company. Unfortunately, this is probably his weakest acting performance. On top of that, he apparently agreed to do this movie before Pulp Fiction came out. Well, we all know what happened after that, so the assumption is that he was contractually obligated. I am not sure how much I buy that. Tarantino was beyond successful with Pulp Fiction. He didn't have to do anything he didn't want to do. The reality is that Destiny Turns on the Radio just isn't the greatest film. It's not like being involved with this movie has hurt his career, right?