Quentin Tarantino’s Films Ranked Worst to Best
Happy birthday Quentin Tarantino (not that he’s reading this but shhh)! He turns 52 years young today, and in honor of this occasion and as an unapologetically huge fan of his work I’ve decided to take it upon myself to rank his films from worst to best, while also celebrating his nearly 23-year career as a maverick filmmaker.
7. Pulp Fiction
I understand that this probably a very unpopular opinion and some of you may think initially that I don’t like Pulp Fiction. But the opposite is true. I think it’s a sensational film and its impact on cinema is one that deserves respect even from those who actually don’t like the film, however I just don’t think it’s one of the birthday boy’s strongest pieces and frankly is overrated. Well, where do we start with this one? The awesome soundtrack? Its inventive dialogue? The fact that every time Vincent goes to the bathroom something bad happens? Well all of those are fine and well, but I think perhaps my favorite thing about Pulp Fiction is the way QT uses language and dialogue as a way to both explain who characters are and also set up further plot points. The foot massage conversation for example sets up Vincent’s date with the boss’ wife, Mia Wallace, and when she OD’s, we’re reminded that if so much as giving her a foot massage allegedly got someone thrown at a window just imagine what Vincent will get himself into now that this has happened (a similar pressure is put on Vincent earlier with Mia to dance well–not only does he have to attend to her wishes of getting that prize but he also must resist his desire for her). Dialogue is also used well in the scene where we’re introduced to Fabienne in the motel after Butch finds out he accidentally killed the man he had the fight with (the fight he was supposed to lose and now is on the run from Marcellus as a result). Instead of simply talking about what happened and what they’re gonna do, which a lesser film would do, instead she simply talks to him and her cheery care-free personality not only is realized to the audience, but it also relieves tension while also building it because she has no idea what her boyfriend has gotten himself into. It’s really interesting how Tarantino does things like that. However, the imitators and the annoying fuckboy fans I think have ruined this movie’s reputation for me, which is why it’s at the end of the list. But like I said it’s a great movie.
6. Reservoir Dogs
Tarantino’s directorial debut is definitely one of the strongest in film history. Similar to Pulp Fiction, it’s a well-crafted but ultimately overrated film. From the very opening scene (one of the best opening scenes ever to be honest), we’re introduced to Tarantino’s love of pop culture and zany dialogue that doesn’t add much to the plot, but it’s a lot of fun to listen to. Even though the film is really just a bunch of guys talking in a warehouse (what else are you gonna do on a low budget?) it makes great use of flashbacks, particularly in the characters’ separate interpretations of what went wrong at the bank heist, but the best example by far is the commode story. What’s great about this is the editing in particular, and how we see Mr. Orange rehearsing the bullshit story, and him telling it, and then seeing it “acted out”, and there’s these multiple layers of bullshit in just this one scene (hell we get nervous in the bathroom bit even though it’s all a LIE) and it really shows Quentin’s early talent and potential in just this one scene. Also if you haven’t noticed yet, this movie is so unbelievably gay. If you needed another reason to watch the film again, please read that article and watch Reservoir Dogs again, and it’ll be a whole new and exciting movie for you I promise. Now whenever I watch that scene where Mr. White combs Mr. Orange’s hair in the warehouse, I’ll never be able to un-see how Mr. White is actually in love with Mr. Orange (that link also shows some homoerotic clues to Nice Guy Eddie’s character as well).
5. Django Unchained
This was a great movie and it deserved it’s Best Original Screenplay oscar a couple years ago, but here’s a couple reasons it’s this low down the list: the ending goes on a little too long, even though (SPOILER ALERT!) it’s a lot of fun to watch Quentin get blown up (speaking of which, aside from Pulp Fiction and Death Proof, do you ever notice in how Quentin keeps killing himself in his own movies??). I personally think the last two shoot-out scenes could’ve been one long action sequence similar to the Gogo/Crazy 88/O-Ren Ishii fight at the end of the first Kill Bill film, but that’s just a minor criticism. The thing that really irks me about this otherwise fantastic movie is the fact that even though it’s supposed to be a movie that’s empowering for it’s black characters, the two most interesting characters in it are white guys (Dr. King Schultz and Calvin Candie in case you’re wondering). They’re very well-written characters, even though Schultz is kinda Quentin working through his white savior complex (but that’s a story for another day), and the actors playing them are loads of fun to watch, but I felt the two main black characters (Django and Broomhilda) should’ve had a little more to do than be a gunslinger and a damsel in distress. Funny enough, the most interesting black character is Steven, who’s clearly a victim of his surroundings. But what’s really great about the film is it’s a great compliment to the Western genre, and it’s story is almost fable or fairy tale-like in a way, and by the end it really pays off.
4. Jackie Brown
It really is sad to see how often this one gets overlooked and even forgotten about, especially by other Tarantino fans (we get it you love Pulp Fiction and now give him some Jackie Brown love he needs it). Quentin’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction is not only appropriately an adaptation of a novel (his only adaptation mind you), but it’s also to this day his most mature work as a filmmaker. As we all know, this nerdy little writer/director has a penchant for bringing back old talents and making them fresh again (most famously John Travolta in Pulp Fiction), and this time he brought back the great Pam Grier, queen of Blaxploitation cinema, which the film also pays homage to. I’ll admit it takes more than one viewing to really grasp how amazing this movie is, but at his first viewing we can clearly see Tarantino’s decision to emphasize personal relationships over violence (there’s barely a body count in this one). Just watch the way Pam Grier and Robert Forster, who plays her bail bonds man interact in this scene. Unfortunately the clip cuts off before it gets really good, but afterward they start talking about getting older and it’s one of the sweetest and most human conversations ever put in a Tarantino film. While his other films are fun to watch, Jackie Brown is one of the most rewarding viewing experiences, especially when watched more than once.
3. Kill Bill
I’m counting this as one film because one, that’s the way it was originally intended to be, and two, if I had to rank them separately, that would put me in a real Sophie’s Choice position of which film I like more (because they are equals in their merits). Only Quentin can somehow blend the spaghetti western genre with Kung Fu films, samurai films, anime, and even a little Brian de Palma sequence for good measure, and make it all work so wonderfully and entertainingly. It also has one of the few times in film history where most of the main characters are powerful women (half of which are women of color which is an added bonus considering the under-representation of this demographic). But where Vol. 1 is fun and colorful full of action-packed glory, Vol. 2 takes an almost 90 degree direction and heads to slower-paced human drama and with a much more quiet Western vibe. The action scenes are still well done (especially the Elle Driver fight), but even though both films are almost completely tonally different, they somehow achieve the same level of epic storytelling, while doing it in different ways, and in both films the journey the Bride takes we continue to root for her and grow more and more interested iun who she is, where she came from, and how she’ll arrive at her destination. At the end of the four-ish hours it takes to finally get there, it truly pays off, and nothing about her journey feels forced or cheated. We feel like she really earned her place at the end, and that’s something most Hollywood films don’t accomplish, they can’t survive without a deus ex machina, but the Bride can. And Tarantino doesn’t need one. And that’s one of the reason we love them.
2. Death Proof
Man oh man is this film a really close second. Even though it’s one of his lowest rated films as a director, I like to think it’s because when it came out it was released as Grindhouse, a double feature featuring this and Planet Terror first, and that was the problem. Planet Terror was this fun, fast-paced, action-packed zombie flick and Death Proof, which came next, is admittedly a little less action and a lot more conversation, so it seemed slow and dry in comparison. But on it’s own. It’s actually a really terrific movie. For one, it’s got some of the best car chase scenes ever, and just in general some of the most thrilling stunts with cars ever. But aside from these great action set pieces, what really sets the film apart not only from Tarantino’s filmography, but most of American mainstream cinema as well is it’s female characters. Let’s face it, a lot of movies don’t depict female friendships very accurately and more often than not, fail the Bechdel test. While this film does too, it also shows women being confident and keeping it real, I mean check out this amazing scene. While we’re still talking about this scene, let’s just point out real quick how awesome it is that women of color get to be some of the main characters and they’re given strong, well-written roles, similar to Kill Bill. How often does that happen? And while the film is about some dirtbag that gets off on killing women with his car and clearly sexualizes these victims, the film itself never objectifies its female characters and sees them as strong human beings. It’s one of the very few action films (and films created by a man) that roots for women and knows that they’re better than being objectified and seen as just damsels in distress. That alone should make anyone give Quentin loads of respect.
1. Inglourious Basterds
Ahh, Quentin’s masterpiece. Aside from the film’s obvious highlights such as Christoph Waltz’s incredible and career-defining performance, Tarantino’s writing talents, and the director once again proving his capability of creating incredible tension, there’s a lot of great things going for this film. But the one thing I love most about it is I really think it captures the true spirit of Quentin Tarantino. Sure his trademark long stretches of wickedly funny dialogue, and humorous use of violence and outsized characters strutting across the screen are more or less missing (although we still get close ups of women’s feet and a chapter style structure in the screenplay), but when you think about it, this is the film that really embodies him, because it’s really the one movie in his filmography that truly is about film. Even though it’s a war movie technically, and themes like revenge and barbarism are at play, at the core of the film’s heart is truly film. It permeates many scenes and its use of film history and film knowledge help put the plot together, some of the most obvious examples being the use of ending WWII in a movie theatre during a German film premiere (and the change in the premiere’s venue is a central part of the plot), the Bridget von Hammersmark character being a German film actress/British spy (a reference to real life Nazi actress/WWII spy Zarah Leander), and in the bar scene where they’re playing that “Who Am I?” game with Major Hellstrom, Tarantino uses the film King Kong as Hellstrom’s card but he confuses it for the story of the African American slave, in which the director shows his clever abilities as a writer to not only give us a whole new interpretation of King Kong, but he also reminds the audience that our country has our own past demons too (Germany had Nazis, we had slaves for many years). Tarantino has even slightly made reference to this in this quote, “In this story, cinema changes the world, and I fucking love that idea!” Of course a film aficionado such as himself would love this idea, and it’s clearly why film is so important to the story, because it’s important to him as well, and that’s why Inglourious Basterds is the film that’s closest to his nerdy little heart.