There’s no doubt at all that Quentin Tarantino is the most popular movie director working today. He’s one of the very few filmmakers who attracts an audience purely by being in the director’s chair. Usually the film itself has to have commercial appeal or big stars have to be in it, but not with Tarantino. If he’s directing it, millions of people are watching it. For some reason, his eclectic mix of pop culture references, nonlinear storylines, sadistic characters, graphic violence, excessive profanity, and homages to obscure cinema history is the most popular thing in film right now. All actors are dying to work with him, all critics shower him with praise and love, all aspiring filmmakers worship the ground he walks on, and all audiences eagerly await his upcoming projects. It’s hard to believe that in a career that spans over 25 years, Quentin Tarantino has only ever directed eight films. But that’s because the guy is a perfectionist. He demands perfection. He won’t stop working on a movie until it is one hundred percent in line with his vision, and that can sometimes mean that they take three or four or even more years to make. But that’s okay, because they’re always worth the wait. So, here are Quentin Tarantino’s eight movies, ranked from worst to best.
8. Death Proof
There’s no debate about it. Death Proof is universally considered to be Quentin Tarantino’s worst film. Everyone agrees. Hell, even Tarantino himself agrees. He has pledged that this movie is the benchmark for how bad his films can be, and strives to make each subsequent one now better than it. He explained, “Death Proof has got to be the worst movie I ever make. And for a left-handed movie, that wasn’t so bad, all right? So, if that’s the worst I ever get, I’m good.” Death Proof is a slasher movie about a stuntman who has a death-proofed car and goes around crashing into women and killing them for kicks. There’s just not much there. There’s hardly any substance. In other Tarantino movies, lengthy dialogue scenes featuring characters sitting in a car, talking about nothing, can be really fun and enjoyable to watch (see: Pulp Fiction). But in Death Proof, these scenes veer dangerously close to boring territory. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called the car crash scene “a lethal roar of entertainment,” but he also complained about the long scenes of dialogue, calling them “long, long, long stretches of bizarrely inconsequential conversation.” These kinds of scenes pad out the film, which is a shame, because Tarantino’s movies never need padding. They’re usually rammed with beautiful ideas and scenes and concepts and homages and imagery that feel like their overflowing out of his head and into this spectacular vision of a movie. Death Proof is nothing like that.
7. Jackie Brown
If every one of Tarantino’s films pays homage to a certain style or genre of cinema, then this is his most obvious homage to the Blaxploitation genre (although he would later blend this style with the spaghetti western genre to greater effect with Django Unchained). Jackie Brown is the only movie that Tarantino has ever directed that was adapted from someone else’s story. He usually writes his own stuff, but his own stuff is heavily influenced by the pulpy work of Elmore Leonard, so it only makes sense that if Tarantino was ever going to do an adaptation, it would be an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard work. Jackie Brown is based on Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, although the director did play a little fast and loose with the source material. The film has some really great characters and dynamics, and the cinematography is truly beautiful in some scenes, but overall, it is the tamest and subtlest and quietest of all of Tarantino’s movies, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but the plot starts to peter out towards the end when it should be getting kicked into fifth gear for the big finale (in other words, the very worst time to run thin and peter out). It’s a shame, because there’s a lot in Jackie Brown to love, but it doesn’t punch you in the face like Tarantino’s best work does, and that makes it one of his weakest films.
6. The Hateful Eight
The Hateful Eight is a long, long movie. It is three whole hours long. You can’t just stick it on one Sunday afternoon for a bit of movie fun. It’s an event. You have to sit down and make a day of it. The Hateful Eight was Tarantino’s career coming full circle. He began with the small indie crime thriller Reservoir Dogs, which was a claustrophobic boiling pot confined to a small location. The Hateful Eight is just that, set in a snowbound haberdashery at the height of the American Civil War. But what separates them is an entire career in filmmaking. The Tarantino who made Reservoir Dogs was a budding, young, inexperienced director. The Tarantino who made The Hateful Eight had made war movies, westerns, kung fu movies, slasher movies. He’d done the rounds in Hollywood, worked with all the greatest actors and won Academy Awards. In other words, this was a more mature filmmaker. But he was a somewhat less mature writer, as this was perhaps his most comedic work. The comedy wasn’t all that sophisticated, either. One scene has Samuel L. Jackson forcing his enemy to perform fellatio on him for warmth. It’s pretty juvenile humor. But it’s fun. It’s enjoyable. There are a lot of great things in The Hateful Eight. The 70mm cinematography is breathtaking, especially in capturing the vast, snowy vistas of Wyoming. Ennio Morricone’s musical score is as enrapturing and rich as you might expect from the guy who scored The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The performances by the primary eight actors – Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern – are all equally mesmerizing. But compared to a lot of Tarantino’s other work, The Hateful Eight seems overlong and drawn-out and, sadly, in a lot of places, boring.
5. Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino’s first movie is not his greatest, but it is one heck of a calling card for a budding filmmaker who would go on to become everybody’s favorite, with a truly unique voice and creative style. The key to what makes Reservoir Dogs a brilliant and one of a kind film is all in its storytelling. Its nonlinear narrative structure would become a staple of Tarantino’s later work and go on to be copied with diminishing returns by just about everybody with a pen or a camera, but back then, in the early ‘90s, it was a pretty new way of doing things. Postmodernism – this new idea of taking the old conventions and the traditional ways of doing things and shaking them up and turning them on their heads – was on the rise. Tarantino caught the postmodernism bug early, and from that, Reservoir Dogs was born. The whole idea of a bunch of crooks who aren’t sure who among them they can trust was a mind-boggling concept. It was the perfect setup – it keeps you hooked from start to finish. The characters are all so well-developed, particularly Mr. Blonde, and the actors play all of their parts so spectacularly (this is helped in part by the fantastic cast: Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Lawrence Tierney, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn). Reservoir Dogs is full of iconic moments – the Mexican standoff, the torture scene, the trunk shot etc. It’s one of the greatest crime films of all time and one of the most original and utterly different screenplays ever written – and that was just the start of it.
4. Inglourious Basterds
During its writing and production stages, Quentin Tarantino expected Inglourious Basterds to be his masterpiece, and he wasn’t far off. The movie certainly contains his greatest ever character creation in the form of Colonel Hans Landa, whose chilling callousness and menacing presence is conveyed perfectly in the performance by Christoph Waltz (who ended up winning an Academy Award for the role). Pretty much every director throughout Hollywood history has attempted to put their mark on the World War II film genre: Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Robert Zemeckis, Tom Hooper – hell, even Michael Bay. They honor the heroes who fought and died during the war and they pay homage to the terrific work of the directors before them and they hope to craft a brilliant film that captures the atmosphere of the war within the confines of their idiosyncratic cinematic style. Well, that’s exactly what Quentin Tarantino did with Inglourious Basterds. If you watched his other movies and pictured what a Tarantino war film might look like, this is exactly what you would picture. Non-linear structure, ensemble cast, references to cinema history, graphic and bloody violence, lots of swearing – it has all the Tarantino hallmarks under the banner of a WWII flick.
3. Kill Bill
Kill Bill may have been released in two parts to save Quentin Tarantino the agony of cutting his awesome movie down and to save the audience the agony of having to sit through a movie that was more than four hours long, but it’s one movie. It tells one complete story from start to finish, the second part picks up exactly where the first one left off, and you can watch the second one right after the other and you wouldn’t even realize you were technically watching two movies. Kill Bill is a single piece, and it’s Tarantino’s love letter to the martial arts film genre (with some spaghetti western and Blaxploitation thrown in there for good measure). The film may have been marred recently by dodgy stories from the set that involved the director choking Uma Thurman and spitting on her and forcing her to do a stunt she didn’t want to do that ended with her crashing a car, but Tarantino has apologized for all of that now and it’s been used to help open up a new chapter in the #MeToo movement, so we can go back to appreciating Kill Bill as an important and empowering piece of cinema. The story is split into chapters, with Tarantino taking a literary approach to the storytelling. Each chapter feels like its own short film arranged into an anthology, but each one represents a pivotal step in The Bride’s journey towards revenge. Kill Bill might have the most beautifully satisfying ending of any Tarantino movie. Volume 2 may slow down a little bit and start to lag, but hell, that’s a minor gripe in an otherwise rich and gorgeous and deeply engaging film.
2. Django Unchained
It was a controversial idea to blend America’s history of black slavery with the fun, bloody, slick style of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, and in the hands of any other director, it probably would have failed miserably. What’s even more controversial – especially with Spike Lee – and even more likely to fail is the decision to make the movie a black comedy. But this is where we start to see why Quentin Tarantino is head and shoulders above every other director in the business. He’s a visionary. If his mind comes up with a concept like that, he’ll pull it off masterfully. And so goes Django Unchained. It’s an epic film, managing to tell the entire vast and sprawling period of American history it’s set in by doing so through the lens of a simple story. A freed slave is merely trying to find his wife and save her from the grasp of an evil plantation owner. That’s really all there is to the story of Django Unchained, and that’s the beauty of its screenplay. It juxtaposes a simple story with a colossal backdrop. Visually, you can tell that Django Unchained is the cinematic equivalent of losing your virginity in your twenties – Tarantino had been waiting to make a western for twenty years and he was teeming with ideas and imagery and story strands and characters, and now, he finally got to let it all come pouring out. It’s a delight to watch – and it’s hilarious.
1. Pulp Fiction
Ask anyone what Quentin Tarantino’s greatest achievement is and they’re guarantee to say that it’s Pulp Fiction. Hell, if you ask most people what cinema’s greatest achievement is, they’ll probably have the same answer. Pulp Fiction is, simply put, one of the best movies ever made. It stands alongside The Godfather and Schindler’s List and Raging Bull and Citizen Kane. There’s just nothing like it. It tells the three seemingly unrelated stories of a boxer who refuses to throw a fight for a mob boss, a hitman who takes the mob boss’ wife out on the town, and a pair of thieves who intend to rob a diner. As the stories unfold, we begin to see how they all link together in unexpected ways. It’s no wonder that Tarantino’s writing for Pulp Fiction won him an Oscar, because the script should be a bible for every budding screenwriter. It’s phenomenal. It’s unparalleled. Everything in Pulp Fiction – the dialogue, the costumes, the lighting, the cinematography, the music, the editing – it all serves its distinctive and visionary aesthetic. You get sucked into its world and enraptured by its colorful settings and characters. You get the same effect from Star Wars, except Pulp Fiction is set on Earth and it has swearing and violence and gore.