The Definitive Ranking of the Films of Quentin Tarantino
We at Talk Film Society are very excited for the 9th* film by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, that we’ve done something truly ill-advised: we’ve come together and ranked his previous films! Agree with us, don’t agree with us? Let us know! But just know we put the effort into making this list, so enjoy!
*Yes, we acknowledge that Tarantino himself has stated that Kill Bill is one film, yet we counted it as two on our list. Why? Well, it gave us an extra slot and also, many of us haven’t seen the mystical “Whole Bloody Affair” cut that’s out there. So there…
9. Death Proof
What do you get when you put Kurt Russell in a movie with badass women like Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Vanessa Ferlito, and Tracie Thoms? You get one hell of an exploitation flick, that’s what. It’s no secret I absolutely hated Death Proof on a first viewing, opening night at a drive-in. It was the perfect setting and I just did not care for it one lick. I thought it was overly talky and, apart from the few moments of gore and that righteous ass-kicking Stuntman Mike gets at the end, rather boring. You might’ve read my piece for the “I Was Wrong”series where I come to my senses and declare my love for Death Proof. My dislike for the movie back in 2007 was due, in part, to my lack of experience with the exploitation genre. After being exposed to a lot, and I mean a lot, of exploitation movies thanks to my husband’s love of them, I came to realize that Tarantino’s Death Proof is an amazing piece of cinema. I know there are a lot of you out there who put this movie at the bottom of the QT rankings and I think you’re just plain wrong. Watch it again.
- Sarah Jane
8. Reservoir Dogs
One of the all-time great debuts, Reservoir Dogs was a clear sign of a major talent. Tarantino’s bold and singular voice was evident from the first frame, whether you respond to that voice is beside the point. The film, in a lot of ways, operates like a filmed play while simultaneously being distinctly cinematic. That may sound contradictory, but it works thanks in no small part to Sally Menke’s dynamic editing. It has all the signatures of Tarantino’s soon to be legendary career: A remarkable cast of character actors, more dialogue in one scene than some films have in an entire act, a carefully curated soundtrack, and a near unending sense of tension. While Pulp Fiction is the film where the world truly took notice of the hailed yet divisive filmmaker (with good reason), for me, Reservoir Dogs is the better of the two films. I understand that may be a controversial stance to take, but considering how controversial his films are—it feels right.
- Sam Van Haren
7. Django Unchained
I love Django Unchained. I love it because it plays with music unlike any other Tarantino film. By creating a film soundtrack that includes genres like western blues, hip hop, and rehashed spaghetti western themes, Tarantino magnifies his main character’s life story and motivations. Music sets the scene, as well as the main character’s inner dialogue. Just by focusing on the lyrics, the audience can understand Django’s story. Lyrics tell us that Django “...must face another day...now your love has gone away.” Another great example of this occurs after Dr. Schultz’s death, where most of the scene is purposely without music, but once Django grabs two guns and finds his stride we are introduced to 2Pac and James Brown overlaid with Django’s own inner dialogue, “Expect me like you expect Jesus coming back.” This confidence-boosting song ends the very second Django hides under the cabinet, ending the scene. While most of the film’s style is a homage to films of the past, Quentin Tarantino created a film with music that fits through meaning, not genre.
- Sara Sorrentino
6. Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction is THE Tarantino movie. This is not a condemnation of your favorites, nor is it a statement of what is best. Reservoir Dogs may have gotten him into the conversation, but Pulp Fiction was him kicking the door down. This one has just about everything (good and bad) that you think of when Tarantino comes to mind. The virtuoso dialogue, the violence, the cool factor, the incessant use of racial slurs, it’s all here. But it is impossible to overstate the impact this film had. Tarantino himself immediately became a household name and it birthed a parade of copycats. Maybe a strange thing to say given how liberally he borrows from other films, but it is nonetheless true. Pulp Fiction may have received a great deal of attention for the career resurrection of John Travolta and Tarantino’s dialogue, but it has even more to offer. The cast, as a whole, is phenomenal (with Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman as standouts) and that tremendous script doesn’t work nearly as well without the fantastic editing of Sally Menke. It is honestly a masterclass on how to make a convoluted plot seem effortless and yet again, cool. Pulp Fiction may seem to be an obvious choice when talking about Tarantino’s filmography, but there is damn good reason for that.
- Dave Giannini
5. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s searing look at race relations, The Hateful Eight came at a pivotal time in this nation’s history. America was on its way to embracing its darker side and Tarantino’s eighth feature took the setting of a roadside general store and made it into a house of horrors where no one was safe. A riff on Agatha Christie with a classic Tarantino edge, Hateful Eight wasn’t for everyone as the discourse proved; it was more dialogue-heavy than usual and the violence, even for one of his, was over-the-top. The cast is terrific, as is to be expected from a Tarantino film, with Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh all giving fantastic turns, able to make this unwieldy beast into something that’s almost palatable. What also helps is just how beautiful all the mayhem can be thanks to the Oscar-nominated, 70mm cinematography by Robert Richardson. You can feel the cold temperatures by looking at the scenery and you notice every blood splatter and bead of sweat in rarefied air. It’s immense and powerful, and also one of Quentin’s best.
- Matt Curione
4. Kill Bill Vol. 1
The first half of Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga is a thrilling explosion that left an immediate mark on American culture. The film is chock full of references and tributes to Tarantino’s influences, from the fight sequences right out of an old kung fu movie, to the touches of exploitation cinema in the story. More importantly, though, it is a film that put a woman not only in the lead of an action film, but in a very stereotypically male storyline. The journey for vengeance for murdered loved ones usually falls to men whose families have been killed, but here, it’s The Bride’s burden to take down her Death List Five: Bill and the rest of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. It’s an instantly iconic, dazzling display of female fury.
3. Kill Bill Vol. 2
When broken up as two films the first plays as a non-stop action movie and the second works as a deep character drama. What the second half of Tarantino’s revenge/martial arts epic lacks in show-stopping action sequences, it more than makes up for in rich character moments. The complicated relationship between Bill and his brother Bud, and Bud’s relationship to his former life, sets up one of the best sequences of the entire series. From Beatrix’s burial through the final fight in the trailer with Elle (which features a wonderfully gnarly moment with an eyeball) we learn so much about the complicated relationships that led to this devastating trail of destruction. Bud’s monologue about how they all deserve to die, and so does she, is a moment that smacks you in the face and it’s a perfect encapsulation of this entire story. Tarantino brings it all together in a truly satisfying ending in which Uma Thurman shines. Rather than close with an insane fight, he goes for the massive gut punch and its success is largely responsible for the lasting effect of the Kill Bill story.
- Zach Kindron
2. Jackie Brown
Quentin Tarantino followed up his epic crime movies Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction with the contemplative, subdued, and explosive Jackie Brown. Through careful editing, sharp music choices, biting dialogue, and a weary mood, Tarantino delivers one of his most emotionally affecting and sophisticated thrillers. Pam Grier, the reigning queen of 1970s Blaxpoitation, offers a dynamite performance, both hard-hitting and thoughtful, fiery and tired. She’s backed by a murderer’s row of supporting performances from Samuel L. Jackson (one of his best roles), Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, LisaGay Hamilton, and Robert De Niro playing against type. Together this ensemble crafts a world populated by criminals and cops who are just trying to stay one step ahead. Jackie Brown herself is a fascinating character; from the art direction in her house to her costume design, she is an alluring figure. Pam Grier’s performance is textured, pulling off the various shades to this enigmatic lead character. In some ways, Jackie Brown is a romance, a hushed, doomed romance between Grier and Forster. Even though it doesn’t have the bang-bang set pieces of his other movies, I certainly think it’s Tarantino’s most romantic and emotionally thrilling film.
- Manish Mathur
1. Inglourious Basterds
I still remember that moment, nearly ten years ago, when the end credits rolled and the lights came up in the theater. Inglourious Basterds had just ended and I was speechless, I was in shock and unable to get up from my seat. It sounds like hyperbole, but, really, rarely does a film leave me with the sense of awe quite like that of Tarantino’s WWII-set, action thriller. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the writer-director’s career; the snappy dialogue, the gruesome violence, the split narratives that come together like puzzle pieces, the homages to countless exploitation films, and, most importantly, the love of film as an art form. While the medium may on its last legs, Inglourious Basterds stands as a reminder of its power. Not only does film play an important part in the film’s righteous Nazi massacre finish, it’s used as a weapon. The power of film is on full display, both as an explosive element figuratively and very literally. It serves as a wallop and makes me believe wholeheartedly in the film’s final words, yes, I think Inglourious Basterds just might be Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece.
- Marcelo Pico