Quentin Tarantino is the most influential American filmmaker of the past quarter century. A passionate lover of so many classic genres, Tarantino has spent 30 years re-inventing and combining those genres into modern films for modern audiences all while infusing a dialogue style never heard before and oft-imitated since. His movies are violent, loud, feature colorful language, and above all else, they’re just plain cool. Technically, his directorial debut was My Best Friend’s Birthday from 1987, but only 36 minutes of that project exists. His first official film was 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, and he wrote gangster True Romance and a draft of Natural Born Killers before hitting the stratosphere with Pulp Fiction in 1994.
With the recent release of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Tarantino officially has 9 feature films he’s both written and directed on his resume (when we count Kill Bill as one movie, which they do on the poster for the Once). And since rankings and lists are always fun, I’m going to countdown Tarantino’s filmography in order from worst to best, along with a mention of each entry’s Best Moment.
Now it must be said that I am a passionate supporter and follower of Tarantino’s work and hold a personal attachment to it. I saw Pulp Fiction at 12-years old and it changed my life. While I’m not writing or directing features, film is a major part of who I am. I write about it for Geeks of Doom, I attend film festivals and movie marathons. As a teen and into my early 20s, my friends and I were diner rats and we’d spend hours drinking coffee talking about movies like we were super cool characters in Tarantino movies.
Over the course of the last weekend I rewatched all of Quentin Tarantino’s works in order of release and just saw his new feature in theaters with my wife. That’s 10 films (Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2) averaging about 2 hours and 30 minutes each. These are fresh in my mind. Like I said, some of these films are very personal to me. Pulp Fiction is my all-time favorite film and I nearly memorized the entire 160-minute screenplay. Kill Bill Vol 1 I saw in theaters 7 times, including 3 times on opening day. (The 7 times was a personal record up until I recently tied it with Avengers: Endgame.) So without further ado, here are all 9 Quentin Tarantino films ranked. (Obviously, SPOILERS for all the movies mentioned.)
9. The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Hateful Eight is an excellent modern western that takes its time, but allows you to journey with the characters and get to know them. Set in the years after the Civil War, the story is about a series of events that lead our ensemble to a stopover during a blizzard en route to Red Rock, Wyoming. A stagecoach carrying bounty hunter Hangman John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his escort, the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), ends up picking up northern war hero turned bounty hunter Marques Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) as well as stranded future Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). A blizzard forces them to pull off the road at Minnie’s Haberdashery and there the rest of the film plays out as they meet new characters inside, one or more of whom may be there to spring Daisy. Why is it ranked 9th? Because unlike every other Tarantino film, there isn’t one scene that stands out as “Classic Tarantino.” There is great dialogue, a particularly memorable Sam Jackson monologue, and some surprise twists and turns. At 3+ hours the film is paced while never picking up or slowing down.
Best Moment: I think the film is best in its final act, especially thanks to Walton Goggins who is fantastic, but even I have to admit Jackson’s monologue to a former Confederate General (Bruce Dern) is the closest we get to a classic moment.
8. Jackie Brown (1997)
I remember how excited I was to see Jackie Brown in theaters when I was 15. I foolishly missed a chance to see Pulp Fiction in theaters (at 12!), but thanks to video stores, I was fluid in Tarantino in the mid 90s. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were two of my first VHS purchases, and I saw From Dusk Till Dawn in theaters with my dad telling me “Don’t tell Mom.” Jackie Brown was my first Tarantino-directed film seen in theaters. Here’s the biggest problem, maybe the only problem with Jackie Brown… it’s not Pulp Fiction. Tasked with following one of the greatest films ever made, Jackie Brown just couldn’t hold up, although on its own merits it’s truly an under-appreciated classic. Combining blaxploitation with a 1950’s crime noir, Jackie Brown is a heist movie with a great cast, namely Pam Grier and Robert Forster, the latter of whom earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. There’s hilarious moments from De Niro, Jackson, Bridget Fonda, and more as well as a great soundtrack highlighted by The Delfonics.
Best Moment: Jackie and Max Cherry’s almost romance with Forster’s ability to have puppy dog eyes well into his 60s.
7. Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood (2019)
Now I am writing this after only one viewing and I already have plans for at least one more, so keep that in mind. There is definitely room to move up the list, and I think it will the more I watch it. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an actor at the crossroads and Brad Pitt is Cliff Booth, his stunt double on the outs in Hollywood in 1969, during the Summer of the Manson family murders. A love letter to old Hollywood, Tarantino’s latest is less about narrative structure and more about watching and listening to these characters interact and trying to stay relevant in a world that could be ready to pass them by.
Best Moment: Rick killing it in a guest starring role on a weekly western… because, as Brad Pitt would say, “You’re Rick F**king Dalton, don’t you forget it!” Also while the ending seems to be dividing some critics and audience members, I absolutely loved every minute of it.
6. Death Proof (2007)
Tarantino’s half of the Grindhouse double bill with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, Death Proof is often the title featured at the bottom of a Tarantino ranking list. In fact, Tarantino has stated in interviews that while it’s not a bad movie, he considers it his worst. What Death Proof is, however, is more of what the director is maybe best at and that’s genre splicing. The first half of this movie is a horror film and a damn good one. We meet a group of young women getting ready for a big night out before a long weekend, lead by local celebrity DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier). What they don’t know is they’re being stalked and hunted by psychopathic stunt driver, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Russell, usually a quipster hero, plays against type and creates a cool, methodical and underratedly scary antagonist. The second half of the film switches gears completely as we meet a new crew of women, this time an actress and stunt performers from a movie set in Tennessee. Gleefully swapping out horror for 60s/70s grindhouse car chase B-movies, the latter half features epic car chases, brilliant dialogue, and a scene-stealing turn from stuntwoman Zoe Bell.
Best Moment: In the first half of the movie, Stuntman Mike’s recitation of a poem to Arlene aka “Butterfly” (Vanessa Ferlito) is soooo creepy it makes your skin crawl, but the final act car chase with Zoe Bell hanging on for dear life is simply jaw-dropping.
5. Django Unchained (2012)
The film that earned QT his second Oscar for Best Screenplay as well as Christoph Waltz his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Django Unchained would be higher on my list if not for what I consider a final act letdown. A blend of historical epic and western, Django is set just before the Civil War, this time where Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz is a bounty hunter needing a slave’s help to identify three wanted brothers. That slave is Django (Jamie Foxx) and their unlikely friendship and partnership carries the first two-thirds of the movie. Their plan is to make enough money to trick wealthy Mississippi slave owner Calvin Candie into parting with Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Calvin is played with sinister delight by Leonardo DiCaprio in his best performance ever (sorry to fans of The Revenant). When their plans are discovered, it leads everyone into a mad dash for survival and freedom. In the strangest criticism one can make about a Quentin Tarantino film, my biggest problem with Django Unchained was Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson plays Calvin’s loyal servant Stephen and he’s a combination of annoyingly repetitive and just overly grating as the movie reaches its conclusion. But along the way, the film is uber violent, tons of fun, with some truly riveting scenes of action and dialogue.
Best Moment: DiCaprio’s insane Calvin Candie discovers the plan and goes nuts at the dinner table, cutting his hand for real and smearing blood on Broomhilda’s face.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
As we reach the top 4, just know these are all near-perfect films. Tarantino’s breakout debut tells you everything you need to know about him in the first ten minutes. Cool realistic dialogue as the gangsters talk Madonna lyrics and tipping in the diner, great music and soundtracks as George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag” plays over the opening credits, and then gory ultraviolence as Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange bleeds profusely from a gut shot in the getaway car. Back when 90 minutes was all Tarantino needed, Reservoir Dogs is a showcase of cinematic efficiency and minimalism. Essentially shot in one set, the warehouse rendezvous, he lets his actors carry the dialogue and story of a diamond heist gone wrong and the possibility that there’s a rat amongst them. Highlighted by amazing performances by Harvey Keitel as Mr. White, Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink, and Michael Madsen’s sadistic turn as Mr. Blonde, Reservoir Dogs is a near perfect crime thriller that launched the career of a guy who’d revolutionize the movie industry.
Best Moment: No wrong answer here, but for my money, how can you not choose the torture sequence set to “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel? I will also accept “The Commode Story” in which Roth’s undercover cop is trying to memorize a theme to attract Big Joe and the other gangsters.
3. Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 (2003-04)
I saw Kill Bill Vol 1 three times on opening day alone! Combining a simple revenge story with kung fu martial arts, anime, westerns, and more, Tarantino’s 2-part audacious epic is over four hours of beautiful violence, phenomenal dialogue, and master filmmaking. A pregnant bride is shot in the head and left for dead, but awakens four years later to seek revenge on her would-be murderers. Uma Thurman, who helped create the character, stars as The Bride, a former assassin who is going back into the killing business and working her way through her former coworkers in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad en route to head honcho Bill (David Carradine). Vol 1 features an amazing anime sequence, a great fight in a suburban home, and one of the craziest action scenes ever put to film. Vol 2 is more cerebral giving us some fleshing out of the Bride and Bill’s backstory, as well as amazing sequences featuring a live burial, a trailer fight, and of course the final confrontation.
Best Moment: Bill’s Superman monologue is an all-time classic piece of Tarantino dialogue while the battle with the Crazy 88s is a frenetic action masterpiece.
2. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The movie ends with Brad Pitt’s Aldo Rayne talking to one of his men. “You know what, Utivich, this just may be my masterpiece.” Well, this just may be Tarantino’s masterpiece. Inglourious Basterds opens with one of the greatest introductory scenes in film history. That’s not hyperbole either. Google “Best Opening Scenes” and it’s on nearly every list. The opening 20 minutes could have been its own short film and it was worth the $15 for a movie ticket. Christoph Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa is chilling in 4 (!) languages in the film. Set in the late stages of World War II, the Nazis are planning a huge movie premiere to spark a wave of national pride. The premiere is also the target of the Basterds and Operation Keno where they plan to sneak into the premiere disguised as a film crew and destroy the theater and kill the Nazi elite. What no one knows is that’s also the plan of the theater’s owner, who is secretly Jewish after barely escaping death at the hands of Landa’s men. Waltz won an Oscar with one of the greatest “Supporting Actor” turns ever and Pitt and his Basterds are all great. There is not a single dull moment in the 150+ minute runtime and even when nothing is happening, the tension is turned up to the max. Simply put, in a world where number 1 on this list did not exist, Inglourious Basterds is a clear best film ever for any director.
Best Moment: The opening scene as previously mentioned, but equally as effective is the rendezvous in the Nazi basement bar featuring a young Michael Fassbender.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Launching Tarantino from an up and comer to THE “it” director of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Screenplay. Simply put, Pulp Fiction is one of the most important films ever made, inspiring a new generation of filmmakers and a totally new style of filmmaking. There’s a plot to Pulp Fiction, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not about a plot. It’s about the characters, who they are, and how they interact. Much of the script is now part of the pop culture lexicon. Characters in other movies dress up like Pulp Fiction characters. The MCU made an Ezekiel 25:17 reference in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Samuel L. Jackson has essentially played a version of Jules Winfield ever since 1994. The film’s screenplay is iconic and historic, one of the best written in cinema history, and its non-linear structure became the norm for any mid to late 90’s movie trying to be cool. It’s my personal favorite film and truly an all-time classic.
Best Moment: The Adrenaline Shot sequence for its tension and all-around lunacy, but Sam Jackson raging against Vincent while they clean a bloody car is my personal favorite.