Quentin Tarantino exploded onto the cinema landscape in 1992 with the outlandish, blood-soaked Reservoir Dogs, and moviegoing has never been the same. As a writer-director, Tarantino – who will turn 58 in March 2021, now lives in Israel, and swears he’s nearing the end of his days behind a camera — injected spontaneity back into the experience of sitting in a darkened theater to watch a film. His works look and sound different, and alternate between subtle and, well, a Tarantino-brand of an extreme opposite of subtle. Even the worst of his 10 films – we’re not including his atrocious contribution to the Four Rooms anthology — is probably worth seeing, studying, and arguing about.
In that spirit, here is a totally biased list of all ten of Tarantino’s movies to date. There is zero objectivity in this list, which is the point. If you disagree with the ranking, at least we’ve given you something new to think about. And, bonus, we’ve provided you a handy list of where you can stream the films, too!
Let’s get into it!
10. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Some hardcore Tarantino fans believe the former wunderkind has never made an out-and-out bad movie, but we disagree. The Hateful Eight (2015) fails on nearly every level. The story unfolds shortly after the Civil War and gathers together eight strangers – Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern — at a stagecoach lodge during a blizzard. Most of them, not surprisingly, don’t survive the experience. Along the way, they talk (and talk) and shout (and shout), but say little of interest. The would-be illuminating chatter about racism is too on-the-nose, while Leigh’s character suffers one misogynistic indignity after another, leading to a brutal and disturbing hanging sequence. Dern delivers a stellar performance, Lee Horsley pops up for a welcome few seconds (welcome to the proud few who loved Matt Houston), Ennio Morricone’s score earned the legendary composer his first Oscar, and Tarantino provides a couple of moments of brilliantly-staged, genuine suspense, but otherwise The Hateful Eight rates as a massive disappointment, three hours of self-indulgent, meandering, irredeemable tedium.
The Hateful Eight is streaming on Netflix.
9. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
The general consensus is that Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino’s best film in years. The film looks gorgeous (capturing 1969 Tinseltown in all its tacky glory), Tarantino elicits several winsome performances, and as always, the music is unassailably terrific. There’s also a commendable lightness, almost joy, to the movie’s early sections. But the interlocking stories – which involve a fading movie star, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his stuntman/best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as well as Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who relishes her pregnancy and burgeoning fame as a fateful encounter with the Manson Family looms ominously on the horizon – never quite gel. The buddy scenes are a hoot, and DiCaprio and Pitt share fantastic chemistry. Robbie shines, and Tarantino films her adoringly, borderline fetishistically, but we barely get to know Tate. Who is she? What drives this woman? Add to that Tarantino’s well-meaning, but misguided revisionist history for the character and the whole souffle collapses.
Still, there’s much to enjoy. The finale is an insane and frenzied hodgepodge of action, violence, friendship, and comeuppance quite literally propelled by a flamethrower. And in addition to the lead trio’s fine work, Julia Butters steals the show as a young actress who wows Cliff on and off camera, and Margaret Qualley kills it as the dangerous Pussycat. Tarantino also calls upon major stars and old favorites for cameos, so keep an eye out for Al Pacino (who overdoes it), Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern (who assumed his utterly thankless role after Burt Reynolds died), horror icon Danielle Harris, Maya Hawke, Lena Dunham, underrated character actors James Remar and Clu Gulager, and, in his final performance, Luke Perry.
[Editor’s note: I do not agree with Ian’s ranking of this film. It should be ranked much higher. Here’s why.]
8. Death Proof (2007)
Longtime friends and collaborators Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up in 2007 for Grindhouse, their double-feature tribute to the grindhouse exploitation films of the 1970s. Tarantino directed Death Proof, while Rodriguez helmed Planet Terror, and other directors contributed fake trailers for non-existent films (that, in a couple of cases, later became reality, including Machete) and in-house spots (“Our Feature Presentation”). Grindhouse bombed, and the Weinstein Company went on to release the films separately overseas, with Death Proof performing reasonably well. Truth be told, Grindhouse was awesome as a whole, and both films operate well on their own. Planet Terror is an entertaining, shambling sci-fi horror flick, with an all-star cast (including Tarantino in a cameo). Death Proof, meanwhile, is a lean (under two hours!), straightforward action thriller that shows pure love for movie stunts, stunt cars and stuntwomen, personified here by Zoe Bell, who plays herself.
You can rent Death Proof on Amazon Prime.
7. Django Unchained (2012)
Tarantino’s biggest box office hit, Django Unchained grossed $425 million dollars worldwide. Though a bit self-indulgent, with long sequences and an occasionally draggy 2-hour, 45-minute running time, this is prime Tarantino, a steeped-in-history Western with an all-star cast (Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins), excellent supporting troupe (James Remar, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Dennis Christopher), and cool cameos (Don Stroud, Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, Russ, and Amber Tamblyn). The music, costumes, cinematography and editing are all aces. As for the story, it’s ambitious, if controversial (at least coming from Tarantino, a white man), as a former slave, Django (Foxx,) and a German bounty hunter (Waltz) join forces to save Django’s still-enslaved wife (Washington) from plantation owner Calvin J. Candie (DiCaprio), his henchman and loyal head slave (Jackson). Like several Tarantino films, Django Unchained builds to a vicious, explosive (literally), profanity-laced, bullets-a-flying final act that’s utter perfection or silly beyond belief, depending on how you feel about everything that’s come before it.
6. Kill Bill, Volume 2 (2004)
The first Kill Bill is complete nirvana for Tarantino-philes, but Volume 2 (2004) is nearly as good, with a distinctly unique vibe. The Bride/Beatrix (Uma Thurman) continues her quest to rid the world of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, and Michael Madsen) and its boss, Bill (David Carradine), her ex-lover and father of their young daughter. The action is taut and kickass, with deservedly demented punishments meted out (the eye-gouging scene!), plus Tarantino reveals Beatrix’s backstory and motivations. But the whole movie rests on the last act, as Beatrix and Bill come face to face. Thurman and Carradine invest their scenes with warmth, humor, regret, acceptance and love, and Tarantino lets his actors weave their magic, ratcheting up the tension until Beatrix – who can only speak the truth thanks to a serum dart – deploys the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique against a surprised, impressed, even proud Bill. It’s bravura stuff, but an even better payoff for Beatrix and the audience.
5. Jackie Brown (1997)
Tarantino, for his first and only adaptation, tackles Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch. Flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) offers far more than meets the eye. Sharp as a tack, sly as hell, and desperate, this femme fatale plots to scam a ruthless gun dealer (Sam Jackson) and outwit an ATF agent (Michael Keaton), along the way accepting an assist from a smitten bail bondsman (Robert Forster, who earned an Oscar nomination that rejuvenated his career). Tarantino’s script is tight and playful, though he (deservedly) took heat for his relentless use of the N-word, and a stellar supporting cast (Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Chris Tucker, Michael Bowen, and Tiny Lister) elevates every scene they occupy. If you had to cite the Tarantino film most unlike his others, it’s Jackie Brown.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
I’m shifting to the first-person because there’s a story to share. Miramax wanted me to cover Reservoir Dogs (1992) for a now long-gone college outlet. They Fed Ex-ed a video (remember those?) that I watched on my VCR (and those?). Due to a commitment (a wedding), I had to skip the roundtable interviews at a Manhattan hotel with Tarantino and the cast. So, a publicist arranged an early-morning breakfast for me with Tarantino in his suite, after which I dashed off for the wedding and he dived into the rest of his junket responsibilities. Anyway, I knew from watching the video on my crappy 13-inch TV with a built-in VCR, that Reservoir Dogs heralded the arrival of a singular, masterful and assured filmmaker. The film, clocking in at just 99 minutes, is crazy, riveting, funny as hell, with crisp action, spectacular dialogue (the “Like a Virgin” debate still elicits chuckles), and faultless song choices, and it featured actors whom Tarantino would turn to repeatedly: Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, and David Steen. It also displayed his knack for tapping acting veterans to play their best roles in ages, in this case Lawrence Tierney. Almost 30 years later, the cop torture/ear-slicing scene remains as effective (and sickly funny and nauseating… and entertaining?) as ever.
3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Released in 2009, Inglourious Basterds feels, all at once, like a fiercely original Tarantino picture and an impossibly perfect greatest hits mélange. Impeccable cast (Pitt, Waltz, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent), check. Flamethrower, check. Nail-biting suspense (pretty much any scene with the mesmerizing, scary Waltz), check. Spasms of violence (take your pick, but start with the squirm-inducing swastika-carving scene), check. Cathartic revisionist history (killing Hitler, which somehow works better than letting Sharon Tate survive in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), check. Vengeance seeking, check. A love letter to the power of movies, the “glouries” of a cinema theater, and our deep connection with actors, check. Superb music, dialogue, editing, sets, wardrobe… check. Requisite foot fetish shot, check. Kill Bill, Volume 1 and Pulp Fiction, we’d argue, might be better overall, but Inglourious Basterds is by far Tarantino’s most entertaining film.
2. Kill Bill, Volume 1 (2003)
This is the spot on our list that some of you might disagree with most. In our view, the first Kill Bill (2003) is nearly as entertaining as Inglourious Basterds and almost as flawlessly made as Pulp Fiction. There’s not a ton of story: left for dead, the Bride/Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), determines to kill those who did her wrong. And it’s true much of the payoff for the Bride doesn’t arrive until Volume 2. Nevertheless, Thurman gives the performance of her career, compelling the audience to care about Beatrix and even root for her even as she mercilessly, even gleefully, dispatches her enemies. Thurman also delivers an epic physical performance, a vision in a yellow jumpsuit, as she runs, jumps, pounces, kicks, and brandishes her sword. Meanwhile, Tarantino puts her through one gauntlet after another, from her fights with Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) to the movie’s extended showstopper, in which she battles the Crazy 88 Fighters at the House of Blue Leaves, which Tarantino complements via slo-mo, black and white, flights of fantasy, songs by the 5, 6, 7, 8’s, and more, to the moody, respectful, almost-sedate (by comparison) showdown against O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). Other highlights include O-Ren’s tense, deadly meeting with a room of men who foolishly underestimate her, an animated sequence that provides some important backstory, and the Bride’s important interaction with legendary sword maker Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba).
1. Pulp Fiction
Chances are that when Tarantino dies, obits will declare, “Pulp Fiction Director Quentin Tarantino Dead at __.” Pulp Fiction is his calling card, his finest hour, and a pop-culture classic that’s inspired countless filmmakers, not to mention endless memes. This movie, an arthouse affair that achieved blockbuster status, changed the industry upon its release in 1994. Multiple storylines, each memorable, coalesce by the end, astoundingly so. The songs themselves are characters. The time jump blows the mind. And there’s one standout performance after another, from Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames and Amanda Plummer to Christopher Walken (that monologue!), Maria de Medeiros, Harvey Keitel, Rosanna Arquette, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, and Eric Stoltz. The iconic dance sequence with Travolta and Thurman still amazes, while the pulse-pounding Thurman needle-plunging sequence never fails to raise goosebumps. Tarantino rivets viewers with his imagery, dialogue, humor, willingness to go there (the Gimp!), scattered flickers of heartfelt emotion, fantastic use of a MacGuffin (the mysterious glowing Briefcase), and much more. Pulp Fiction — just Tarantino’s second film, which set an impossibly high bar for everything and everyone that followed — is sublime, and even after repeated viewings, it gets better every time.