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Hitmen, Samurai, and Basterds: Quentin Tarantino Movies Ranked

Quentin Tarantino is one of the few event filmmakers working today. When a new Tarantino movie is coming out, a buzz immediately grows around it. This is thanks to a history of him creating genre-bending, original, uniquely-written movies for the last thirty years.

Tarantino’s career has been full of accolades. His films have accounted for 34 Oscar nominations, including four of his films, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious BasterdsDjango Unchained, and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, being nominated for Best Picture. Tarantino has won two Oscars himself, both for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained. He’s also a favorite amongst critics and audiences, having seven of his films make over $100 million at the global box office.

But his career has not been without controversy. From controversies around his films, like his use of racial slurs and violence towards women in his movies, to real-life controversies, like some questionable speeches at awards shows and his working relationship with Harvey Weinstein, the usually loud-mouthed and open Tarantino stays true to his guns and

Despite his controversies, Tarantino is one of the most influential modern filmmakers with just ten films. Here is a ranking of the films of Quentin Tarantino.

10. Death Proof (2007)

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) tries to convince Pam (Rose McGowan) to take a ride with him in DEATH PROOF
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike and Rose McGowan as Pam

Death Proof first debuted alongside Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror as part of Grindhouse, a three-hour-long homage to the cheap, grimy, bizarre movies that would play at low-rent movie theaters in the 1960s and 1970s. Tarantino then extended Death Proof and premiered the film in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. 

Death Proof lands at the bottom of the list because it is a movie that lacks identity. Tarantino tried to pay homage to the grindhouse films that he loved while also making a Tarantino movie. The problem is that Death Proof, either the version from Grindhouse or Tarantino’s extended version, is neither a good grindhouse movie nor a good Tarantino movie. It never fully commits to being a full-fledged grindhouse movie, especially compared to Planet Terror, which centers on a woman who has a functioning machine gun as a leg. But the film also never fully feels like a Tarantino movie. Despite an excellent performance from Kurt Russell and a cool final chase, the script and visuals feel flat and this is the only Tarantino movie that I find relatively uninteresting.

9. The Hateful Eight (2015)

John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) get into an argument during a snowstorm in THE HATEFUL EIGHT.
Kurt Russell as John Ruth and Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren

There is a lot to like about The Hateful Eight. It has some of the most lavish costumes we’ve ever seen in a Tarantino movie, the production design of Minnie’s Haberdashery is beautifully detailed, and it features an Oscar-winning score from the legendary Ennio Morricone, shockingly the only one of his career. The uniformly excellent ensemble is loaded with Tarantino regulars like Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth and it boasts a delightfully scummy Jennifer Jason Leigh in an Oscar-nominated performance. And if you love Tarantino’s writing and dialogue, The Hateful Eight features his most dense screenplay, filled with several exhausting monologues.

And that’s the problem with The Hateful Eight: it’s exhausting. At a runtime of nearly three hours long, the movie takes its time to get going and takes even longer to wrap up. The film’s overall feel is like that of a stage play, with only a couple of sets, not a lot of action, and tons of dialogue. Despite this interesting approach and the film turning into a Tarantino whodunit of sorts, the overabundance of dialogue and monologues become tiresome as the movie goes, which makes any excitement and intrigue fade away. 

8. Django Unchained (2012)

Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) stares as Calvin Candie's mansion burns to the ground.
Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman

Django Unchained finds Tarantino diving into the Western genre to give us yet another tale of revenge unlike any we had seen before.  It is a bold, bloody, crafty film following a freed slave who, with the help of a German bounty hunter, tries to free his wife from a sadistic slave owner. Jamie Foxx stars as our titular Django and it is one of the best performances of his career, flexing his movie star muscle while also portraying a man desperate to get back the woman he loves. We also get a terrifying and committed performance from Leonardo DiCaprio as slave owner Calvin Candie. He is a brutal and malicious slave owner and gives an unbelievable turn, unlike anything we’ve ever seen from DiCaprio.

There are some aspects of the film that fail to hold up on rewatch. Christoph Waltz’s performance as German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, for which he won his second Oscar, is overrated and feels like the same character he played in Inglorious Basterds, but instead of hunting Jews, he hunts for money. The plot also gets a bit messy towards the third act and despite the finale being a barrage of bullets and blood, it feels anti-climactic for such an epic story. Even still, Django Unchained is a strong effort from Tarantino that won him his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

7. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

The Bride (Uma Thurman) blocks Bill's (David Carradine) sword during their final confrontation in KILL BILL VOL. 2.
David Carradine as Bill and Uma Thurman as The Bride

Despite Kill Bill Vol. 2 being the continuation of a story, this is a film that stands on its own just fine. Where Kill Bill Vol. 1 saw The Bride (Uma Thurman) on a revenge trip that ended with gallons of bloodshed and sawed-off limbs via a samurai sword, Vol. 2 offers up a slower, more methodical tone that works as a perfect counter to Vol. 1 but also to the story.  Tarantino gives us more insight into who The Bride is, showing her before the events that left her for dead. This set the stage for the final showdown between The Bride and Bill, which isn’t a battle of swords, but a battle of wits.

Tarantino expertly meshes the Kung Fu and Western genres, resulting in a rich and textured look that takes from a trailer in the desert to a hut in a China forest. The fight sequences are beautifully crafted, particularly The Bride vs Ellie (Darryl Hannah). Thurman’s performance is the best of her career and she is joined by several excellent supporting performances, most notable David Carradine as Bill, in an Oscar-worthy performance that was snubbed by the Academy.

6. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

The Bride (Uma Thurman) squares off against O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) a top a snowy roof in KILL BILL VOL. 1.
Uma Thurman as The Bride and Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is an epic revenge film with influences of grindhouse cinema, samurai films, and spaghetti westerns. It has moments of black and white, anime, flashbacks, and a cliffhanger ending. It features dozens of deaths and gallons of blood that sprout out of our characters like a fountain. It is Tarantino’s most action-packed film, and one of his best looking, with stunning sets, choreography, cinematography, and costumes. It is sensory overload and a lot to take in, but Tarantino is confident enough and brilliant enough to bring it all together. 

Kill Bill Vol. 1 was Tarantino’s first film after a six-year hiatus and if anyone was worried about his skill following the long break, all their worries went out the window immediately. The audacity, skill, and confidence of Kill Bill Vol. 1 showed Tarantino was not only as great as he was in the 90s but possibly better. 

5. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Mr. Blonde (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) point guns at each other following a dispute in RESERVOIR DOGS.
Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink and Harvey Keitel as Mr. Blonde

Making its debut at the now-legendary 1992 Sundance Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was a blast of originality the cinematic worlds desperately needed. From the opening scene, where a man in a black suit (Tarantino himself) is talking to an entire table to men in black suits about the real meaning of Madonna’s hit song “Like a Virgin”, you know you’ve never seen anything like this before.

Reservoir Dogs took several genres and flipped them upside down. He made a heist film where we never see the heist. He made a film noir that is set in the middle of a sunny day in California. He made a gangster movie where our gangsters are obsessed with pop culture and go by names like Mr. Blonde and Mr. Pink. 

It also acts as a perfect calling card movie for Tarantino, as he would take elements and motives from this movie and use them for the rest of his career. Tarantino staples like extended dialog sequences, graphic violence, strong ensemble casts, pop culture references, and perfect soundtracks all started here. This is also the movie that started collaborations between Tarantino and actors Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, and Michael Madsen, as well as editor Sally Menke and production designer David Wasco. 

Reservoir Dogs is one of the best debut films ever made.

4. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) comforts his best friend Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he worries about his career in ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD
Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth

Tarantino has dabbled in many genres over his career. Crime, gangster, kung-fu, war, and the western just to name a few. But did we ever think Tarantino would make a fairy tale? Well, that’s exactly what he did in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, a Hollywood fairy tale where our princess in distress is fading actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and our Prince Charming is troublesome stunt man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) with a pit bull terrier as his noble steed.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a nearly plotless movie that thrives on its vibe and its performances. DiCaprio gives one of the best performances of his career and Pitt rightfully won an Oscar for performance. The supporting cast is loaded with top talent and they all show up to play. Tarantino’s direction is impeccable and with the help of authentic costumes and Oscar-winning production design, he immerses us into 1969 Hollywood, as we aimlessly hang out with Rick and Cliff.

This is Tarantino’s funniest movie by a mile and also the one with the most heart. At its core, this is a movie about the friendship between Rick and Cliff and figuring out the next chapter in your life. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino in a way we have never seen him before. It is a more mature, relaxed movie that looks at one’s legacy, something I imagine Tarantino is thinking a lot about. But despite this new tone, Tarantino continues to be as brilliant as he’s always been.

3. Jackie Brown (1997)

Flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) slowly rides on the moving walkway in an airport in JACKIE BROWN.
Pam Grier as Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown was only Tarantino’s third film, but it could be argued that it might be his most important. Following the global and award-winning success of Pulp Fiction, a film that changed the cinematic landscape as we know it, Tarantino immediately became one of the hottest filmmakers working in Hollywood and all eyes were on how he would follow up his game-changing masterpiece.

Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s most unique film to date. Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, still the only non-original screenplay of Tarantino’s career, Jackie Brown is very different from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and arguably anything else in his filmography. The plot is relatively straight forward with some twists and turns along the way to keep us on our toes. But the film is really a character study of Jackie (a remarkable Pam Grier), a flight attendant trying to get her life straight in a world of criminals while also finding love in a bail bondsman (Robert Forster, in an Oscar-nominated turn). This is Tarantino’s most romantic film and one of his most heartfelt. We connect with Jackie more than any other Tarantino character and Grier’s performance is one of the very best in any Tarantino movie.

Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s most under-appreciated film that got lost in the Pulp Fiction hype. It showed a different side to Tarantino while also solidifying him as a premier director and writer. It also makes you wonder what kind of films Tarantino would have made throughout his career had he adapted more novels.

2. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) waits patiently to execute her plan against the Nazi party in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS
Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna

Though it lands at number two on this list, Inglorious Basterds is as close to a perfect movie as there is. Tarantino went all out on this one and the result is his best directorial effort and best-looking film to date.  Tarantino remixes history to show a story about a group of Jewish-American soldiers, known as the Basterds, who infiltrate Germany to do one thing and one thing only: kill Nazis.  He also layers in a couple of other stories as well, including the pursuit of hidden Jews by the terrifying and charming Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, in one of the best performances of the millennium) and a theater manager’s (Mélanie Laurent) plan to kill Hitler and the entire Nazi party during a film screening.

Inglorious Basterds feels like all of Tarantino’s past movies coming together. We had seen the inter-connecting storylines, the complex characters, and the visceral violence before in Tarantino movies, but everything was elevated and perfected here. This is Tarantino’s most creative screenplay, as he spins history on its head in a finale of fire and bullets while also adding some of the best and most inventive dialog.

In the final shot of the film, after carving a swastika into the head of Hans Landa, the leader of the Basterds, Lt. Aldo Raine (a marvelous Brad Pitt) stares into the camera and says, “I think this just might be my masterpiece” as almost a wink to the camera from Tarantino that he thinks this is his best work, and it almost was.

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) get ready to open fire in the apartment of someone who owes them money in PULP FICTION.
John Travolta as Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winfield

What more is there to say about Pulp Fiction that hasn’t already been said? This is a movie that changed cinema forever. Fresh off the success of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino made a movie unlike anything had ever seen before. His mixing of genres, the mix of humor, drama, violence, and pop culture,   His writing has never been as good as it is in Pulp Fiction, with so many quotable lines, rich characters, and strong themes.  His characters are iconic. Jules and Vincent are one of cinema’s greatest pairings and even the supporting characters, like Mia, Butch, Marcellus, and The Wolf deserve their own movies.  

This movie jumpstarted the careers of Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman and gave the careers of John Travolta and Bruce Willis new life. But it’s the legacy of Pulp Fiction that separates it from other Tarantino movies. This is a film that has been spawning copycats for nearly thirty years. It feels like everyone has been trying to make “the next Pulp Fiction”, yet nobody has even come close. This was a formative movie for many filmmakers and film writers, myself included, and a movie that is constantly being studied and analyzed. Pulp Fiction is a cinematic masterpiece and the very best Quentin Tarantino movie.

 

It could be argued that Quentin Tarantino is the most influential filmmaker of the last thirty years. From the way he writes his movies to his mixing of genres, everyone has tried to copy him, yet he stands as a true auteur. He is one of the greats to ever do it on paper and behind the camera.

That’s my ranking but I would love to know yours. What is your favorite Quentin Tarantino movie? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Kevin Wozniak

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