Quentin Tarantino ranks among the most influential directors of all time. Having recently finished watching almost all of his filmography (to date), I have some thoughts.
Tarantino is a polarizing figure. His movies are gratuitous in their use of language and graphic violence. He sets his films in historical time periods that showcase the evil brutality of humanity, such as the United States Civil War or WWII.
From telling stories through “chapters” that play around with time, to witty and highly memorable dialogue, to unique cinematography, Tarantino has a formula that works well. Not one of the films on this list is bad.
But some are definitely better than others. So I’m gonna rank them:
Note: this ranking contains spoilers, and excludes Tarantino's half of "Death Proof" (which isn't entirely his film), and "Jackie Brown" (which I didn't even know existed until after writing this post). A future update will likely add those.
8) Reservoir Dogs
“I don't wanna kill anybody. But if I gotta get out that door, and you're standing in my way, one way or the other, you're gettin' outta my way.” – Mr. Pink
For his debut, Reservoir Dogs already portrays most of the features that Tarantino’s filmography would come to be known by. The dialogue is profane, witty, and engaging. There are crazy music choices that just work for some reason. And basically everyone dies in the end.
While it’s not “The Departed,” the plot of an undercover cop infiltrating a gang of robbers is compelling to watch unfold. As most of the movie takes place in one room, it’s more about the interactions between characters than the setting.
Dogs ranks this low because the characters are less interesting to me than in future Tarantino movies. As usual, they’re all unlikable, but not as anti-heroes or in a particularly entertaining fashion.
The highlight of this movie for me is definitely the dialogue - there’s a conversation about why a gang member refuses to tip that just sticks in your mind.
Dogs isn’t a bad film. But it lacks the zing for me that other Tarantino films bring in spades.
7) Once upon a time in Hollywood
“That was the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life." – Trudi Fraser
Many of Tarantino’s movies lack what would resemble a traditionally structured “plot.” Once Upon A Time In Hollywood stretches this to the extreme. The movie is essentially a stream of consciousness. It revels in individually fantastic yet disconnected scenes, ultimately ending with a violent and revisionist retelling of the “Manson murders” of August 1969.
It’s also a masterclass in acting. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are fantastic as an actor and his stunt double in the golden age of Hollywood. One scene in particular where Leo plays the role of a cowboy villain is extremely well performed.
Margot Robbie is great as Sharon Tate, who as a character is essentially a microcosm of the time period. She’s having fun at parties, starring as a youthful, up-and-coming actress of the golden age of Hollywood. In the finale, Tarantino makes the choice not to follow history and does not kill off Tate; in this version of events, his idealized Hollywood remains unblemished.
Like the recent “Top Gun: Maverick,” this film is one of the few remaining still made by its “movie stars" (which is fitting). Without its excellent cast, Once wouldn’t be anywhere close to the same film.
There’s a great scene where Tate attends the premier of her own film just to enjoy it, beaming as people laugh and applaud. While slow and directionless at times, Once is a love letter not just to making movies, but also the people who make them.
Chekhov's flamethrower indeed.
6) The Hateful Eight
“The man who pulls the lever that breaks your neck will be a dispassionate man. And that dispassion is the very essence of justice. For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.” – Oswaldo Mobray
The Hateful Eight more than lives up to its title. There are no decent characters here - each is a spiteful, malicious person with few redeeming qualities. Tarantino does not hold back on their grotesque qualities, and even the nicest people commit sexual assault, violence, or murder without hesitation. Characters don’t trust each other, even when there is potential for mutual gain.
In many ways this film feels like a play. The setting is everything. While the majority of the story takes place in a single room, the timeframe shortly after the Civil War adds additional layers of conflict between the main characters.
There is an interesting blending of genres found in this film, but the whodunnit portion is probably my favorite. When Samuel L. Jackson has a gun pointed at everyone with their bodies against the wall and he's trying to figure out who poisoned the coffee, the tension is intense.
The Hateful Eight is arguably Tarantino’s most vulgar and violent flick. But while the drama is compelling, it's just a tad too long. There’s some odd choices with narration and imagery, and despite Tarantino's entertaining dialogue, it's not quite as gripping here.
5) Kill Bill: Vol 2
“Btch, you don't have a future.”* – The Bride
The second half of Kill Bill is a different movie from the first. The tone is noticeably more serious; it’s more personal and emotional. It’s also a dialogue-heavy movie, which is probably where it contrasts the most with part one.
The characters in Kill Bill 2 are further fleshed out, and the film (like any great sequel) takes advantage of how you’re already invested from the previous one. There’s no repetition, only the bride’s relentless pursuit of revenge.
It can be slow at times, and there are sequences that can initially feel out-of-place (like the segway towards the middle that is certainly paid off in spades shortly after).
But (perhaps surprisingly), Kill Bill 2 has arguably the best performances from any movie on this list. Which is certainly not what I expected. The last 20 minutes are spectacular, edge-of-your seat suspense in the best possible way.
4) Django Unchained
"Mister Candie, normally I would say "Auf wiedersehen," but since what "auf wiedersehen" actually means is "'till I see you again", and since I never wish to see you again, to you, sir, I say goodbye!" – Dr. King Schultz
Django, Django, Django.
Django Unchained allows Tarantino to play with revisionist history yet again. Focusing on an African American slave turned bounty hunter, we’re able to see his quest to save the person he loves. This leads to many memorable encounters. For example, a scene where our motley bounty hunter partners take on and humiliate the KKK.
Taking place in the Old West and Antebellum South, Django is a tribute to westerns. The cinematography is beautiful. Sweeping shots of riding across mountains, forests, and plains contrast close-quarters combat.
When Leo shows up, he’s Calvin Candie, a detestable plantation owner that commands screen presence. Watching Django defeat him is incredibly satisfying.
Django is somewhat unique among Tarantino’s catalog because there are multiple characters to root for who can be considered relatively “good” people. And they get a relatively happy ending! Unheard of.
The action is great, the acting is great - I really have nothing bad to say about Django.
Christoph Waltz absolutely kills it as Dr. King Schultz.
3) Pulp Fiction
"That's when you know you found somebody special. When you can just shut the fck up for a minute, and comfortably share silence.”* – Mia Wallace
What can be said about Pulp Fiction that hasn’t already been said? Pulp Fiction is not my favorite Tarantino film. But it’s certainly his most iconic and culturally significant movie.
The dialogue in Pulp Fiction is among the most memorable of any Tarantino film. The diner. The burger. The milkshake. The gimp. The watch. Each of those phrases conjures entire masterful scenes.
Even the music is iconic. But more than simply being a piece of pulp culture, Pulp Fiction is... a good movie.
It’s funny and entertaining, and yet it’s melancholic. Tarantino plays with storytelling out of chronological order, as usual.
If this film has flaws, it’s that the plot is basically Seinfeld: there isn’t one. Fiction is a collection of scenes and stories loosely woven together.
But it’s the kind of film that makes you excited about watching and talking about movies. That's what this post is all about.
2) Kill Bill: Vol 1
“Revenge is never a straight line. It's a forest, And like a forest it's easy to lose your way... To get lost... To forget where you came in.” – Hattori Hanzo
"Revenge is a dish best served cold.” – Old Klingon proverb
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to watch Kill Bill. All I knew was that it was about Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit, and that it was absurdly violent.
It was both of those things.
But it was also quite a lot more. Kill Bill has by far the best action of any movie on this list. And most movies that I’ve seen.
While Tarantino still plays with time, this movie is significantly more straightforward in its plot and chronology than others on this list. That’s a good thing.
Because at the end of the day, this is a revenge saga. And it’s arguably one of the best ones I’ve ever seen.
This film is probably Tarantino’s most creative. He plays with black-and-white, silhouettes, and even animation.
I’ve seen all three “John Wick” movies multiple times. Kill Bill is arguably better. Not only because katanas are way cooler than guns. But also because the bride has a legitimate vendetta. Some rando didn't just kill her dog. She's going after the people that murdered her husband, his entire family, and her unborn child.
And boy does she.
1) Inglorious Basterds
"This might just be my masterpiece…" – Aldo Raine
Nazi-killing Jew gang takes on Hitler and his henchmen. What more do you need to hear?
Tarantino takes two of his best actors, Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz, and pits them against each other as the leader of a Nazi-killing gang and a Nazi hell-bent on exterminating all the Jews.
In most Tarantino movies there’s at least one “chapter” that isn’t as entertaining. Inglorious Basterds is the only one on this list (for me) where every chapter is riveting.
The film dials up the suspense (which is always hovering above an 8 in any Tarantino film) to an 11. In particular - the cold open in the dairy farmer’s house, and the conversations taking place in the basement bar - had me on the edge of my seat.
Basterds is a glorious piece of revisionist history. Sure, the ending is obviously not how things actually went down. But there’s something cathartic about seeing a bunch of allies mowing down Hitler with machine guns.
It’s hard to argue with Brad Pitt’s final line of dialogue. It just might be Tarantino’s masterpiece.
This was a tough collection of movies to put in the arbitrary order of “how great they are” based on my subjective opinions. Several of these films could have easily switched positions.
If you haven’t seen one of these movies, I’d recommend it. They’re all entertaining.
As long as you’re willing to put up with some blood. And bare feet.
Thanks for reading :)