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Recapping the Quentin Tarantino movies that turned him into a cinema icon


Last week, we reported on the blog that the title and cast of Quentin Tarantino's new film had been officially announced.

It's called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and features the heavyweight duo of Leonard DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Set in the dying days of flower power in 1969, it's the story of a washed-up Western actor (DiCaprio) and his stuntman (Pitt), which plays out against the backdrop of the infamous Charles Manson murders, including that of actress Sharon Tate.

As that description makes clear, it's bound to be another provocative and shocking movie from a filmmaker who specialises in them. The film isn't out until August 2019 (coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Tate's murder), but it's never too early to celebrate Tarantino's remarkable career. Here are the movies that put him on the map.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

When experiencing Tarantino's excoriating debut, late horror movie director Wes Craven infamously walked out of the screening at Spain's Sitges Film Festival. It's perhaps not hard to see why. Tough-minded and drenched in blood, it locks us inside a warehouse for a claustrophobic 90 minutes, forcing us to acquaint ourselves with some decidedly unsavoury criminals who are trying to determine who ratted them out to the cops.

Rich in genre inspiration (notably John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13), it established all the eventual Tarantino hallmarks: fast-talking, pop culture-laden dialogue, a non-linear story structure and an excellent cast, spearheaded by Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. (The latter is unforgettable as ear-slicing maniac Mr. Blonde.)

True Romance (1993)

This was a script-only gig for Tarantino, but there's no mistaking his style. Indeed, this star-studded tapestry of lowlifes, heathens and scumbags demonstrates his facility with characters from the wrong side of the tracks. Fuse that with flashy direction from late filmmaker Tony Scott and you have a suitably intense, blackly comic experience on the cards.

The ostensible plot involves cocaine theft and star-crossed lovers Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. But the movie really belongs to the scene-stealing A-listers who pop up in cameos throughout the film, gleefully chewing up and spitting out Tarantino's profane dialogue. Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper and Brad Pitt are highlights, but the really memorable one is Darkest Hour Oscar-winner Gary Oldman as racially confused pimp Drexl.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Truth be told, there was a time before Pulp Fiction and a time after it. Along with the likes of Kevin Smith's Clerks, it's often credited with kick-starting the self-referential, indie film boom of the nineties. But the really great news is Pulp Fiction continues to stand up as a movie on its own terms. Liberally stealing from the exploitation cinema of which Tarantino is so fond, it steals all manner of film references both verbal and visual, before reconstituting them, non-linear style, in its own unique fashion. This is a movie where a central character can die shockingly and re-emerge later on, keeping the audience on edge throughout.

Tarantino's sophomore film fuses so many bold creative choices together with consummate ease, it's little wonder the film's 150 minute running time continues to fly by, even 24 years after release. The pop bubblegum soundtrack and game-changing cast, including a career comeback John Travolta and star-making Samuel L. Jackson, is just the icing on the cake.

Jackie Brown (1997)

For many, this remains Tarantino's best and most mature movie. Being grounded in author Elmore Leonard's rich source material surely helps – this prevents Tarantino drifting off the reservation, compelling him to stay loyal to both character and storyline.

Leonard's familiarity with lowlifes and seedy crims meshes well with Tarantino's salty dialogue and love of extreme violence. Jackie Brown also allows the director to salute the all-important blaxploitation cinema of his youth, offering a career best role to genre icon Pam Grier as the air stewardess in over her head with hoodlums and corrupt officials.

It's more deliberately paced, thoughtful and atmospheric than many of Tarantino's splashier movies. It also has the best romance out of all his films, in the form of the slow-burn between Grier's eponymous Jackie and the Oscar-nominated Robert Forster's melancholic bail bondsman, Max Cherry. And of course, we have Samuel L. Jackson chewing the scenery for all he's worth as the antagonist.

Kill Bill 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)

A six year gap elapsed between Jackie Brown and Tarantino's comeback project, a "rip-roaring rampage of revenge" that allowed him to salute another formative genre: the blood-soaked Kung Fu epic.

Controversially split into two parts, it's the story of the vengeful Bride (Uma Thurman), who is out to track down the cohorts who left her for dead on her wedding day. With all manner of artery-gushing action sequences, all of which are drenched in blood that erupts like a fire hose, it's intentionally knowing and best appreciated by those who understand Tarantino's frame of reference.

Still, there's no denying the steely determination of Thurman's central performance. Near-silent in the more action-driven first part, it reveals emotional layers in the second as that characteristic Tarantino dialogue comes to the fore. Plus, the starry line-up features a host of B-movie legends and Tarantino regulars, including Bill Carradine, Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen.

Death Proof (2007)

Tarantino retreated ever further inside his self-referential bubble in this divisive grindhouse offering. He's always championed the underground sleaze cinema of the 1970s and 80s, and in his best work, there's a charm to it. However, many felt he lost the knack with this story of a murderous stuntman (Kurt Russell) who meets his match when terrorising a group of young women.

Like Kill Bill, the movie generated uproar when it was split in half: originally, it was meant to accompany Robert Rodriguez' similarly sleazy (though superior) Planet Terror, forming an epic grindhouse double-bill sandwiched with fake trailers. Many felt that Tarantino's decision to unhitch and go it alone following a mixed Cannes Film Festival debut didn't exactly save the project.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

What happens when you fuse Spaghetti Western operatics with the backdrop of World War II? The answer is this eccentric and sprawling epic that allowed Tarantino to carve out new territory, fusing real-world figures and events with that lurid sense of style of which he's so enamoured.

The movie is perhaps a disparate series of bits that fail to come together, but one cannot underestimate the power of those bits. The standout performance comes from the Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz, catapulted into the limelight following decades in obscure Austrian cinema, as devious SS Colonel Hans Landa. By turns hilarious, repulsive and compulsively watchable, he's a classic Tarantino creation and embodies the movie's capacity to both amuse and shock.

So good is Waltz, in fact, that he overshadows nominal star Brad Pitt, gurning and mangling his vowels as Nazi-hunting soldier Aldo Raine. A special shout-out must also go to Michael Fassbender who shot to fame with his portrayal of suave Lt. Archie Hicox.

Django Unchained (2012)

The mash-up of historical fact and sensationalist fiction worked so well in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino repeated the tactic in his next movie. Only this time, the story moves to pre-Civil War America, where we're introduced to slave Django (Jamie Foxx). Liberated from bondage by dentist-cum-bounty-hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), he's on a mission to recover his wife from revolting plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The sensitive subject matter allows for one of Tarantino's most pointed movies, and one can sense his glee at the revisionist opportunites it affords him. By transforming the otherwise passive slave Django into a pistol-toting force of nature, Tarantino sets him loose on the racist institutions of Deep South America – blaxpolitation wish fulfillment by way of 12 Years a Slave.

A lot of its success rides on the performances. Anchored by the charismatic Foxx, there's excellent support from a typically sly Waltz (who won his second Oscar for a Tarantino movie) and a truly startling turn from DiCaprio, venomous and frothing as the despicable Candie.

The Hateful Eight (2016)

As a writer-director, Tarantino has luxuriated as much in the power of language as in visuals. This somewhat stagey mystery thriller returns to the territory of Reservoir Dogs, a post-Civil War story of several strangers incarcerated in a remote shack during a snowstorm. But one of them isn't who they say they are...

As implied by its historical context, the film is a companion piece to predecessor Django Unchained. In fact, Samuel L. Jackson's Major Marquis Warren is the sort of commanding character Django himself might have grown into several years down the line. Nevertheless, there's a nagging feeling Tarantino is retreading old ground here, from the script to his cast (alongside Jackson, regulars Kurt Russell and Tim Roth also turn up).

Nevertheless, it's handsomely filmed by cinematographer Robert Richardson who uses ultra widescreen photography to turn the interior of Minnie's Habadashery into its own kind of epic landscape. And when all hell lets loose later on, it reminds us that no-one is better at staging gory carnage than Tarantino.

What's your favourite Quentin Tarantino movie? Send us your choices @Cineworld.