To mark Quentin Tarantino’s birthday, we ranked his immense filmography from worst to best.
At risk of sounding like a resentful luddite, cinema isn’t the same as it used to be. This isn’t necessarily a complaint; today, we have the Marvel Cinematic Universe, better technology than ever and an ever-changing smorgasbord of ‘content’ at our fingertips. It’s a Videodrome world, indeed.
Auteurship is a crumbling notion, especially to the masses – but not Tarantino. He’s one of the few filmmaking giants that’ll still plant butts in seats with his name alone, whether it’s diamond thieves, Nazi-killers or two Hollywood pals tangling with the Manson family.
Equipped with movie-buff youth, infectious style, natural zingers and a little arrogance, everything he’s made is unmistakably his own. To celebrate his 58th birthday, we looked at the films he solely directed – which means From Dusk Till Dawn, True Romance and Four Rooms are excluded – for a special ranking.
9. Death Proof
As Nice Guy Eddie once said, first thing’s f*cking last. Conceived as a Grindhouse double-bill with Planet Terror before being released on its own four wheels, it’s an ode to exploitation slashers of old, with Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike; a misogynistic, crazed ‘wolf’ who kills his ‘girlfriends’ with his car.
One thing that should be immediately noted: Tarantino hasn’t made a bad film. Regretfully though, Death Proof stands out as an ugly duckling; occasionally ferocious, without the deranged momentum or panache in the writing to match the strength of its concept. Even he thinks it’s the worst of the lot.
8. The Hateful Eight
From here, it’s four stars and upwards. Stepping back into the claustrophobia of his career’s inception, The Hateful Eight is the ultimate nasty western.
It’s a feast of blood, squabbles and inhumanity, but one that doesn’t lend itself to rewatch value. However, the cinematography? Second to none. And the score – god, the marvellous Ennio Morricone, finally producing original music for the director after years of sampling his compositions.
7. Django Unchained
D-j-a-n-g-o (the D is silent) Unchained is Tarantino’s most financially successful film, racking up more than $425 million at the box office. While dealing with tough subject matter and its fair share of shocking imagery, it’s really not difficult to see why.
From Christopher Waltz’s gut-spilling introduction, following Jamie Foxx’s titular cowboy is mostly a thrill ride. ‘You had my curiosity, now you have my attention,’ as Leonardo DiCaprio says. It’s a sugary blast, it just doesn’t linger on the palette quite as richly as his other films. Fiercely entertaining, though.
6. Reservoir Dogs
‘Cool’ is the defining compliment of Tarantino’s work. The man pens and shoots instant iconography made for prints and, today, social media headers. For example, watching criminals with colours for monikers stroll along the street to George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag. It’s enough to make you go out and buy a suit.
But his real skill isn’t that grasp of what makes audiences smirk; it’s how he weaves terror and trickery without taking a breath. Emotionally and physically, Reservoir Dogs is a swaggering stand-off that guaranteed the director would become a legend. Seriously, has any other torture scene had as much glee?
5. Jackie Brown
Is this Tarantino’s most forgotten film? I suppose, it’s all circumstantial. If you’re a big fan of him, then you’ll know it well. If you’re a movie critic, one hopes you’re aware of it. But ask an average Joe ‘Have you seen Jackie Brown?’ they’re likely to tell you, ‘No’.
Why is that? Well, it’s by far the most restrained of his works. Brimming with style and an irresistible jukebox soundtrack, yes, but with mature, realistic characters and a story of greed and sleight-of-hand that unravels with leisurely grace. The ingredients are all there, but its lacklustre box office performance has seen it – unjustly – buried. Pam Grier and Robert Forster are a duo to die for.
4. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2
The Whole Bloody Affair is Tarantino’s revenge epic. To judge one separately to the other is a disservice not just to this list, but the story it tells and the craft with which it does it. Even he sees it as one movie, after bowing to the request it be chopped into two to be more digestible to big audiences. If you think this reasoning is pretentious, it’s because it is a bit.
Tarantino is a genre connoisseur, but his works aren’t a parody of the classics. As he once said, ‘Great artists steal. They don’t do homages.’ The often-cited ‘lack of substance’ here lies within the references themselves. If you don’t buy into its comic book arc and the inherent silliness, it’ll probably seem a bit obnoxious. For my money, it’s insanely fun.
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
It’s fair to say, many were a little apprehensive about Tarantino taking on the Manson family and Sharon Tate. No one could have foreseen how sweet the end result would actually be, more in the spirit of Jackie Brown than his livelier pictures – but when blood’s spilled, it pours.
The director’s penultimate film is pure movie magic; a beautifully-crafted, deliriously cathartic sonnet to Hollywood’s Golden Age, made with the love, care and might of a bygone era. The Out of Time scene’s teary-eyed impact says it all.
2. Pulp Fiction
It’s arguably the quintessential Tarantino movie. His first Oscar, yes, but that golden statuette is a gross understatement of the mastery on display. Beyond the witticisms alone, he strives to immerse you in beat-to-beat, no matter how small or meandering. How else do so many people know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France?
Here’s to all the ‘film bros’ with Uma Thurman posters on their walls. Its cultural ubiquity draws out the ‘cool to hate it crowd’, but Pulp Fiction is every bit as good as its reputation insists. As pop culture goes, this was a true moment.
1. Inglorious Basterds
That’s a bingo! It’s an electric set-up, with Brad Pitt leading a platoon of soldiers with a blockbusting prerogative: ‘We ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin.’
Inglorious Basterds isn’t just his best for its slain enemies, set pieces (the Bear Jew), deeply funny quotes – Bonjourno! – or cast. The simplest illustration is its excruciating, blood-chilling, immaculate opening scene with Col. Hans Landa’s Jew-hunter. Foreshadowing the filmmaking to come, it never takes one step out of place.
It’s a staunch revision of history, laced with Tarantinoisms to make you whoop amid the bloodshed. I think this might just be his masterpiece.
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