Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

The best Quentin Tarantino movies, ranked

Filmmaking’s proudest geek is preparing his final movie. Here’s our take on everything he’s made so far

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No one loves movies like Quentin Tarantino. All directors are passionate about cinema, of course, but there are few who manage to translate that passion so clearly into practically everything they’ve ever put on screen. Over the course of his career, Tarantino has done a little of everything: crime movies, war movies, kung fu movies, retro-grindhouse movies, western movies and movies about the movies. But at this point, Quentin Tarantino is a genre unto himself: whatever mode he’s working in, you know you can expect fast-paced dialogue, cool characters, rad music and shocking violence – and, in his various references and direct homages, an unabashed love for film itself.

It’s hard to believe someone so obsessed with filmmaking is actually going to retire after a measly ten movies, but Tarantino swears he’s hanging up his clapperboard after his next one. When that next one is arriving is anybody’s guess: he recently kiboshed his supposed swan song after filming started and went back to the drawing board. In the meantime, we put our critical skills to use by ranking the full Tarantino filmography. 

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Quentin Tarantino movies, ranked

  • Film
  • Drama
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)

It’s the obvious choice for No. 1, sure, but it’s obvious for a reason. Only a handful of movies in history stand as dividing lines demarcating one generation from another, and Pulp Fiction is one of them. It’s the crime caper that made film geeks into rock stars and dialogue-heavy screenplays into gold, made nonlinear storytelling de rigueur and spawned so many imitators that it’s practically a genre unto itself. It’s the defining film of the ’90s, yet it doesn’t feel stuck there, nor in any other particular place and time. By consuming, blending and projecting outward every crazy-cool influence swirling in his hypercaffeinated head – from the French New Wave to obscure kung-fu movies to Saturday Night Fever – Tarantino managed to make a piece of ageless, immortal cool himself, and it will remain cool from now until the sun explodes. Well, except for his own cameo. That scene was never cool.

  • Film
  • Comedy

It seems odd to say about a movie that ends with someone being burned alive with a flamethrower, but this is Tarantino’s quietest and most meditative film. It’s also his most personal. All Quentin Tarantino movies are ultimately about the many fetishes and fixations of Quentin Tarantino, but this is about the stuff that really matters to him: the Los Angeles of his youth, the glamour of Old Hollywood, the 1960s in general. As the title implies, though, this is a fairy tale: a world where the Manson Family murders never happen is a world in which that whole era goes on forever – or, at least, just a little bit longer. It’s not historical revisionism. For Tarantino, it’s historic preservation. Pity about that typically bloody climax, because until then, it’s the most we’ve been allowed inside his heart, as opposed to just his overloaded movie-nerd brain. Turns out, it’s not a bad place to spend three hours.

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  • Film
  • Thrillers
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The first scene in Tarantino’s debut film is the ’90s cinema equivalent of the opening chords of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’: a group of gangsters sit around a diner, debating the meaning of Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ and arguing about tipping. It doesn’t sound like much now, and plot-wise, the movie that follows is a mishmash of other heist films and ancient noirs he absorbed from behind the counter of the video rental store where he used to work, from The Killing to Kansas City Confidential. But the idea of career criminals talking like pop-culture-obsessed ex-video store clerks is the sonic boom that prefaced the decade’s indie film revolution. On the whole, Reservoir Dogs is the Bleach to Pulp Fiction’s Nevermind – the attention-grabbing preamble to the incoming masterwork – but all the Tarantino hallmarks are already in view, delivered with the jittery energy of a first-timer unsure if he’ll ever get the chance to do it again.

  • Film
  • Thrillers

In many ways, Jackie Brown feels the least like a Tarantino film – and for some, that makes it low-key his best. Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, it’s the only film he didn’t conceive entirely on his own, so the relative lack of Taratinoisms is somewhat by design. The narrative moves in a straight line, most of the dialogue is plot-driven, and the mood is mellow bordering on stoned. Most of all, with the director’s idiosyncrasies taking a backseat, it’s his most actorly film, which is saying something. Pam Grier is vermouth-smooth as its heroine, a flight attendant moonlighting as a smuggler for ruthless arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson at his most Sam Jackson-y), while Robert Forster is gruffly endearing as the bail bondsman who falls in love with her. (Robert De Niro, meanwhile, spends most of the movie taking bong hits on a couch. He’s perfect.) The film is sparked by the genuine warmth between Grier and Forster – a quality Tarantino has never really achieved before and since.

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  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

Ever ahead of the curve, Tarantino got into the two-part business long before Hollywood embraced it. And unlike most of the duologies to come – Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, et al – the first film in the Kill Bill double-header was anything but filler. Once again, the filmmaker has one eye on cult classics of yore – in this case, Toshiya Fujita’s 1973 exploitation flick Lady Snowblood, from which Volume 1 borrows its snowy sword fight. Despite needing to do the heavy lifting of setting up The Bride’s (Una Thurman) quest for revenge against the ex (David Carradine) who tried to kill her, it’s the more memorable of the two films – and the Crazy 88 scene is its pinnacle. Thurman has been open about her difficult on-set experiences, including a car crash that nearly killed her, and some of that angst might just be evident in her ferocious performance.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

For the first part of his career, Tarantino revelled in rescuing forgotten stars from the dustbin of history. With Inglourious Basterds, he began rewriting history itself, starting, grandiosely, with World War II. While ostensibly a Jewish revenge fantasy, what it’s really about, as usual, is the fantasies of Quentin Tarantino – after all, this is a movie where cinema itself literally saves the world from Nazism. ‘I think this might be my masterpiece,’ says Brad Pitt’s American Nat-see hunter Aldo Raine at the film’s end, but we all know who he’s really speaking for. We wouldn’t go that far, but there are some bang-up individual moments, including the famous opening scene with Christoph Waltz menacing a French farmer hiding a Jewish family under his floorboards. 

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  • Film
  • Thrillers

Purists argue that this is the more complete film of the duology, but the truth is that while Kill Bill: Volume 2 boasts superior dialogue and a more developed storyline, it just isn’t as memorable as the action-packed Volume 1. Instead of tea house sword slayings, anime sequences and The Pussy Wagon, here we have eye-gougings, coffin break-outs, and David Carradine – all great, just not quite as manically fun. And the spaghetti western tropes – a core feature of Tarantino films hereafter – were never as vibrant as the wild Japanophilia of the first entry.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Hateful Eight (2015)

Three years after Django Unchained, Tarantino came back with a more ‘traditional’ western, albeit one with enough blood to make Sam Peckinpah queasy. It’s a straightforward premise: eight bad hombres – including Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Walton Goggins and Tim Roth – get stranded at an inn during a blizzard circa the end of the Civil War, all of them with reasons to distrust one another. Tarantino says he was inspired by ’60s television shows like Bonanza, which explains why the movie feels like 45 minutes of story padded out to three hours (plus a merciful intermission). It mostly seems like an excuse for the director to cram his favourite actors into a tight space and hear them bounce his dialogue off each other. You can’t blame him, really, but the end result is, if not his worst film, then certainly his least consequential.

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  • Film
Death Proof (2007)
Death Proof (2007)

Grindhouse packaged two one-hour B-movies by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino as a single production – a brilliant idea, but it didn’t stick the landing at the box office. Zombie romp Planet Terror (Rodriguez) and carsploitation flick Death Proof (Tarantino) were reassembled as individual features, much to each work’s detriment. Still, Death Proof has plenty to love: gnarly car violence; a soundtrack that mixes The Shirelles, Jack Nitzsche and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich; and a cast that includes Rosario Dawson and resurgent ’80s action star Kurt Russell, who’s in wicked form as a murderous, nachos-gorging stunt driver.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Django Unchained (2012)
Django Unchained (2012)

Give Tarantino credit for chutzpah. Imagine any other high-profile white director pitching a mashed-up spaghetti western and blaxploitation flick about a Black man in the Antebellum South exacting ultra-violent revenge against the people who once enslaved him… and actually getting to make it. But the sheer audacity of its existence can’t excuse Django Unchained of its major problems – namely, that it’s too cool for its own good. As with Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino wants to offer a marginalised group an extreme form of catharsis, but all his aesthetic trademarks – the cartoonish violence, the hip soundtrack, the quippy dialogue – only serve to trivialise an atrocity, turning historic suffering into blockbuster entertainment. It's exploitation cinema that borders on being literally exploitative. 

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