To celebrate the release of 'Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood' and its director, Quentin Tarantino, I've comprised THE definitive ranking of all nine of his films. The director counts Kill Bill as one film, and so do I. That's the way it was meant to be seen, the studio broke it up into two separate films. Embrace Debate!
9 - DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Let's start this list off with a hot take. Quentin Tarantino's highest grossing film is also his worst. The slave revenge tale of Django Unchained is a slog at two hours and 45 minutes. The movie is barely interesting until Leonardo DiCaprio shows up. And the film is probably a little too cavalier about its use of the N-word. Christoph Waltz won his second Oscar for this film, odd on the surface, but looking at the competition, yeah sure. I can see him winning. Django does have a few scenes that work in building tension with the trademark Tarantino dialogue, but the movie as whole as very little going for it. IMDb users rank this as the 62nd best movie of all-time. I can't wrap my head around the love this movie receives.
8 - JACKIE BROWN (1997)
The follow up to Pulp Fiction was always bound to fail. QT had to do something, he followed up with a star vehicle for Pam Grier, an actress best known for her roles in blaxplotation films of the 70s. Jackie Brown tries to be many things, and fails at a lot of them. It isn't a bad movie, by any means. But after Pulp Fiction, we were waiting for the movie to pop like his two prior films and it never did. The dialogue wasn't as sharp, the plot never twisted, the movie just kind of is what it is. Part love story and part crime saga (QT probably hitting the well one too many times on that genre), Jackie Brown is an impressive cast of actors. But fails to live up to the sum of its parts.
7 - THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
Tarantino's eighth movie is probably his least enjoyed by the masses. And let me start by saying, I get it. At three hours, it's too much for a lot of people. FYI - There's a four hour long version on Netflix right now. While there isn't enough action and excitement, The Hateful Eight is full of great characters and some great scenes. The movie is many things, a western standoff movie, a movie that could be a stage play, QT's homage to The Thing, and more. For me, this movie is better than people give it credit for; but still nowhere near the top tier of the director's impressive resume. Criticized for being misogynistic and racist (again too many N-words), it's another QT film stuck in the past. Sometimes a good thing, but this film sent a message to Tarantino that he needed to change.
This ends the "Third Tier" of Quentin Tarantino movies. Also known as "The Bottom Tier". We now enter what I refer to as "The Mid-Tier"...
6 - DEATH PROOF (2007)
I did a Tarantino binge working up to 'Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood'. This marked the first time in about ten years I had seen Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino's contribution to the Grindhouse double feature he & Robert Rodriguez worked on. The story of a stuntman who was also a psychotic killer of women was a lot better than I remembered it being. Kurt Russell plays the Stuntman Mike character perfectly (I presume his father, Stuntman Randy is in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood). Full of throwaway scenes of Tarantino dialogue, Death Proof ends up empowering women by the end in an homage to 'overcoming violence' grindhouse films of the 70s like 'I Spit on Your Grave' and such. While not perfect, Death Proof is a nice movie to live in for a couple hours. It's light, breezy, simple, and sends the crowd home happy.
5 - INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)
Time for another hot take. There is only half a good movie here. The first half is a masterpiece, but the second half grinds to a halt, and by the time it picks its momentum back up, it's too late and the movie had lost me. The opening scene is one of the best scenes in movie history. Anyone in the history of cinema ever won an Oscar quicker than Christoph Waltz did in Inglourious Basterds? He had that trophy locked up in the first five minutes. The introduction to Brad Pitt and the basterds is classic. The movie squanders all this goodwill with an unnecessarily long and boring stretch of scenes (particularly the games in the bar scene). Yes, the way the film subverts history is clever and unexpected. That didn't bother me. The middle hour of this movie is a real drag. I've felt this every time I've watched this movie. I want to like it more, but I simply can't ignore the pacing problems.
4 - ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
A love letter to Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino shows restraint for the first time in his career delivering his best movie since Kill Bill (the ending of that one...had restraint). The title and the movie itself are homages to westerns of yesteryear and the changing of the guard in late 60s Hollywood. Tarantino gives us his first straight up comedy with terrific performances throughout. I think this might end up being the most polarizing movie of QT's career. Not a lot happens in this movie, but I was never bored, it's a slice of life about the a weekend in the life of an aging television star and his stunt double. The violent end intersects with Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders in shocking and clever ways. There's a lot to talk about with this one, but we can't do that just yet.
This ends "The Middle Tier" section of Quentin Tarantino's filmography. Now we enter "The Top Tier". Movies that are not-up-for-debate classics. You know how this poll ends, and probably the order too. But I'm a completionist. So let's continue...
3 - KILL BILL (2003/2004)
The director counts them as one and so will I. They'd be in this spot back-to-back anyway, so it's kind of a cop out. I guess if you held a Hatori Hanzo sword to my head and made me choose, I'd shock the world and pick Volume 2 over Volume 1. The homage to Kung Fu/Samurai films like Bruce Lee and Lady Snowblood marked the first departure from the crime/hitman genre for Quentin Tarantino. QT's earlier films were chock full of pop culture references, but this marked the beginning of the niche genre era of Tarantino films. Kill Bill was a samurai movie, Basterds was a movie in the style of The Great Escape. Grindhouse and Death Proof taught about trashy cinema and horror. Tarantino famously claims he didn't go to film school, he went to films. This is the education you can get from a movie if you listen to what a director is saying. The genre films of Tarantino taught me more about film than anyone else's work. Kill Bill is a brutal, but heartfelt masterpiece that plays with your expectations along the way, never quite doing what you think it's going to do.
2 - RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
The debut film from Tarantino shocked audiences by changing what a film could be. Could he say that? Can he do that? Doesn't matter, he did. In the process, launching a hundred imitators of that witty/sharp enough to cut an ear off dialogue. Reservoir Dogs was way more confident than a movie like that should have been. It knew what it was doing. You had confidence watching it that it was going to pay off, even though you had no promise of that going in. Playing with linear story telling seemed like a revelation back in 92, and now it's kind of common place. That started here. Reservoir Dogs changed the game, it was a defiant shot across the bow of old Hollywood. It served as more of a warning shot for what was to come...
1 - PULP FICTION (1994)
A damn near perfect movie. Pulp Fiction was an instant masterpiece that leaned further into the space carved out by Reservoir Dogs. Bloodier, Smarter, and more profane. It doubled down on the QT style of writing and film making. Pulp Fiction is an Hall of Fame "I can't change the channel cause this scene is on" type movie. Scene after scene are classics. This movie marks a changing of the guard in Hollywood. Movies at the time were sentimental and sappy, Pulp hit like a ton of bricks. It zigged when everyone else zagged. We were warned of Tarantino's potential with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction will forever be his Magnum Opus.
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is in theaters now.