Of all the contemporary film auteurs, perhaps no one’s work has permeated pop culture as thoroughly as Quentin Tarantino. This director’s hyper-stylized, retro fantasy worlds have come to define cinematic coolness. His clever mashups of genres, exquisite sense of aesthetic, impeccable editing, uproarious suspensefulness, and impossibly quippy dialogue have been endlessly imitated.
Given the current political landscape, Tarantino’s work has undergone a serious critical re-evaluation from Black and feminist critics and scholars who point toward both his allegedly abusive behaviors and the offensive politics and rhetoric of his films. It’s true that in this new light, for many there may be nothing redeemable about his entire oeuvre.
However, to throw all of Tarantino’s movies into the trash would discount the impossible talent of his frequent collaborators and stars like Sally Menke (who edited of all Tarantino’s movies until her death in 2010), Uma Thurman (who not only played the protagonist of Tarantino’s most iconic movies, but was also credited as a co-writer on Kill Bill), Samuel L. Jackson (a frequent Tarantino star), and many more.
With that in mind, here’s our (subjective!) ranking of the greatest Tarantino-directed films of all time.
9. Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood
By 2019, Tarantino’s works had gone through a critical re-evaluation, with many viewers becoming painfully aware of obvious blind spots in his aesthetic creations. But instead of improving or addressing these critiques, Tarantino doubled down on his shortcomings. Gleefully misogynistic, bizarrely meandering, needlessly disrespectful to history, and in strikingly poor taste overall (without any real sense of irony to carry it over into the realm of satire) — Once Upon A Time may have garnered Oscar nominations, but it’s easily the director’s worst work. Yes — Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting is magnificent, but their talent simply can’t save this pointless story.
8. Django Unchained
The absolutely stunning acting from Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington is the real selling point of Django Unchained. Although the camerawork, performances, costuming, and storytelling of Django are nothing short of fantastic, it’s hard to look past what New York Times critic A.O. Scott described as the “brazenly irresponsible” and historically incoherent politics of the film. Even amidst praise, scholar Dana Phillips called the movie “downright lurid.” The extreme violence of the movie is simply unpalatable for most audiences, anyway. That being said, you can find more like this from our list of the best action movies on Netflix.
7. Hateful Eight
Jackson returns as a protagonist for this cold, Western nightmare — and his acting once again provides salvation for an often uncomfortably violent movie. Presented in select theaters with a full intermission, the movie is one long build-up to an ultra-violent crescendo, demonstrating Tarantino’s unparalleled talent for creating suspense. But it’s understandable that many simply didn’t have the patience for the payoff.
6. Inglourious Basterds
The first of Tarantino’s historically revisionist fantasies, Inglourious Basterds treads politically uncomfortable waters throughout its 2 hour and 33 minute run. Nonetheless, Tarantino advances his thesis about the potency of revenge through a complex and labyrinthine tale of Jewish fury. Although praise was heaped on Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz for their excellent acting, Mélanie Laurent steals the show with ease. The sweeping cinematography of certain scenes is breathtaking — if also terribly disturbing. This film was even good enough to land a place on our list of the best Netflix movies.
5. Reservoir Dogs
A tightly wound suspense story of an assassination gone wrong, Reservoir Dogs’ unfortunately all-white and all-male cast make this movie much less tolerable than the director’s more colorful films — but the plot itself is absurdly compelling, with unexpected twists and turns around every corner. It’s not the most emotionally complex movie ever made, but it’s definitely one of the most entertaining.
4. Death Proof
Although Tarantino is an avowed horror fan, his movies rarely venture into that genre — with the exception of Death Proof. A slasher film at its heart (but replacing a machete with a racecar), Tarantino is on the record saying Death Proof is the worst work he’s ever released. It’s hard to understand why: the cast of cool women and their relatably debauched dialogue is even more lovable than the hyper-macho assassins he summons in other films. Kurt Russell as a psychopathic stuntman is creepily charming, and few emotional moments in Hollywood history compare to the triumph felt during the movie’s lengthy concluding chase sequence and the post-credit skull crushing.
3. Pulp Fiction
The narrative complexity and imminent quotability of Pulp Fiction makes this movie impossible to avoid or ignore. With outstanding acting across the board and the perhaps most iconic soundtrack in cinema history, it’s no surprise Pulp Fiction was nominated for several Oscars. The very conceit of philosophically inclined hitmen on an existential and magically real journey has left an entire neo-noir subgenre of films in its wake. Although the rapport between characters is usually quite endearing, there are unfortunate segments of the script that simply don’t hold up to today’s standards of decency in ways that are patently unforgivable.
2. Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown is as much a crime film as it is a love letter to its star, Pam Grier — without whom this movie amounts to very little. Luckily, Grier’s inimitable presence is enough to skyrocket Jackie Brown to the higher reaches of this list. Dryly funny and emotionally complex, the eponymous criminal heroine’s quest for freedom is both harrowing and entertaining. Samuel L. Jackson is a perfect foil for Grier’s grace, and the movie’s music has left a mark on cinema culture forever.
1. Kill Bill (Volumes 1 + 2)
Although the two films were released a year apart, this post-modern “roaring rampage of revenge” is one continuous narrative arc such that each movie is simply incomplete without the other — that’s why they’re only taking up one space on this list. Although the cartoonish violence of this anachronistic samurai fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea, the gorgeous art design, beautiful fight choreography, and melancholic tale of a mother’s love is quite obviously the pinnacle of Tarantino’s work. Even the most ardent Tarantino haters must admit that the strength and resilience of Uma Thurman, who both starred in and co-authored The Bride’s bloody journey, saves these movies from complete excoriation.
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