In this day and age, who can name a more well-known and iconic film director than Quentin Tarantino. His films have enjoyed such popularity and critical acclaim that Tarantino himself has become a household name.
He’s also helped propel the careers of many actors that he’s worked with, most recently that of Margaret Qualley, who had a major role in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood and then scored a leading role in the Netflix series Maid shortly after. Indeed, Quentin Tarantino has become as much of a star in the cinematic world as any A-list actor because of his original and instantly recognizable style.
Tarantino’s career began when he composed a screenplay titled Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit (based on the film Smokey and the Bandit) at the age of 14. Fast forward to 1986 and Tarantino would get his first Hollywood job working as a production assistant on the set of Dolph Lundgren’s exercise video Maximum Potential.
The next year, he would get an acting job playing an Elvis impersonator on an episode of The Golden Girls. That gig would end up going toward the financing for Tarantino’s directorial debut Reservoir Dogs and the rest was history. Reservoir Dogs was an immediate hit at Sundance Film Festival and Tarantino became one of the most sought-after directors and screenwriters in Hollywood.
Today, Tarantino has directed a total of 10 films, all of which have received fairly good reviews. It truly seems that any project Tarantino puts his name on becomes an instant success, if not a timeless classic. So, among all of the amazing movies that Tarantino has directed, let’s try to narrow them down to the best and rank them.
Now, Tarantino fans tend to be very passionate about his films (just as Tarantino is about virtually all films), so I’m fully expecting to get roasted for my choices here. But, regardless, let’s start out with the Tarantino movie that I think is the very best of his career.
1. Inglourious Basterds
It’s a tall task to narrow down all of the incredible Tarantino movies to the very best but, in my opinion, that honor belongs to his 2009 film Inglourious Basterds. This movie is based loosely on a real event (the Holocaust and World War II) but has an entirely fictional storyline that features a group of vigilante Jews who go hunting for notorious Nazis. The movie is a slow burn with tons of excellent dialogue, a wealth of subtleties, and, of course, lots of over-the-top violence. This is a Tarantino movie after all.
In addition to Tarantino’s excellent directing and screenwriting (in fact, Tarantino said in an interview that he spent just over a decade writing the script), Inglourious Basterds included some of my favorite acting performances of all time.
Christoph Waltz’s performance as Hans Landa was nothing short of terrifying. Brad Pitt’s character Aldo Raine was so badass that it was actually comical. And, of course, who could forget about Eli Roth’s character Donny “The Bear Jew” smashing Nazi brains with a baseball bat? This film is clever, profound, hilarious, and intense all at the same time.
2. Reservoir Dogs
The fact that Tarantino’s first feature-length film Reservoir Dogs was one of his best films of his career is a testament to his God-given ability to make powerful movies. Tarantino solidified himself as the director of the next generation within the first few seconds of this movie.
The opening scene of this film is one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema. The group of crooks dressed in identical black suits sitting around a table in a diner and discussing the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” shows Tarantino’s ability to make even a mundane situation captivating with his expert scriptwriting.
Apart from the memorability of the opening scene, it’s impossible not to remember the scene where Mr. Blonde cuts the police officer’s ear off while dancing around to “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. Overall, this movie is a masterpiece of well-written dialogue and enormously creative story structure.
3. Pulp Fiction
While Pulp Fiction is not my personal favorite of Tarantino’s films, it is considered by a massive sect of film addicts to be his best work (and one of the best movies ever made by any director), and for good reason.
This film is a stylistic masterpiece that breaks all of the traditional rules of cinema and is paradoxical in so many ways, yet works perfectly as a coherent piece. From his strange camera angles to the kitschy set designs and overall retro aesthetic, every part of this film is weird and enjoyable.
Of course, there’s the lingering question of what was inside that briefcase. Some have speculated that it contained Marcellus Wallace’s soul (especially considering that the combination to it was apparently “666”), but who can say for sure? This film was made to elicit discussion, inspire fan theories, and generally confuse and delight its audience.
4. Kill Bill
For all intents and purposes, we can consider both of the Kill Bill movies to be one single work. In fact, I would say that if you’re going to watch Kill Bill: Volume I, then you’re obligated to stay on the couch and watch Kill Bill: Volume II as well.
A samurai movie set in Texas and starring American actress Uma Thurman? It makes no sense why this film is so good, but that seems to be Tarantino’s calling card: defying genres and creating something entirely original and new.
This movie is pure genius even from the opening credits in which you hear Uma Thurman moaning, implying that she’s performing some sort of sexual act, only to find out that those are the moans of a woman being tortured. Any movie buff will instantly recognize the source of the quote, “Wiggle your big toe.”
The amount of iconic fight scenes in these films is astounding. The knife fight with Vernita Green (also known as “Copperhead”) is so well-directed and intense that you probably won’t take a breath throughout the entire scene. The fight scene with O-Ren Ishii is Tarantino’s blood-splattered magnus opus. And, of course, who hasn’t tried the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique on one of their friends?
5. Django Unchained
Django Unchained was Tarantino’s most financially successful film due to the fact that he had already cemented himself as one of the best directors of all time before its release. Similar to Inglourious Basterds, the 2012 movie Django Unchained reinvented history in a way that places the oppressed in the role of a vengeful protagonist.
Jamie Foxx plays Django, a freed slave on a desperate search to find his wife Broomhilda. He travels through the American South slaughtering the slave owners who wronged him with the aid of Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter who’s seeking to capture some of the same men that Django wants revenge on.
This film also featured some spectacular acting performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio. By now, you’ve probably heard the story of how DiCaprio actually cut his hands during the dinner table scene and never broke character, acting right through his injury. If that’s not dedication to the craft, I’m not sure what is.
Those great acting performances along with the riveting plot of this Spaghetti Western-inspired film (in fact, the name comes from the 1966 Spaghetti Western Django) make Django Unchained undoubtedly one of Tarantino’s best.