Old Hollywood greats like James Dean, Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson, Katharine Hepburn, and Eartha Kitt perfected the “art of cool,” setting a high standard for coolness to come.
While Quentin Tarantino’s style is heavily influenced by films from the early days, his definition of “cool” is a little less conventional than that of previous generations. Tarantino’s characters are interesting, neurotic, and nobody crafts a rant quite like him, which has garnered his characters some well-earned praise. But sometimes, Tarantino gets too much of the credit, and other big screen badasses are pushed aside, overshadowed in the process. Good thing we’re here to reacquaint you with of some of them.
In order for a character to qualify for this list, the film in which they appear must have been released within the span of Tarantino’s career. He can’t overshadow them if his films don’t exist yet, right? Right.
So, without further delay, here are Screen Rant’s 10 Movie Characters Cooler Than Tarantino’s.
Patrick Bateman – American Psycho (2000)
Tarantino loves a good psychopath, especially one well-versed in pop culture. Notorious for making cameos in his own films, sometimes he gets to deliver the kooky diatribe himself, as was the case when he played Mr. Brown in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. He spent the scene attempting (wonderfully) to parse meaning from Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.”
Mr. Brown isn’t the only wackjob who knows his way around 80’s music history though. Enter American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). This sly devil understands the subtle intricacies of Genesis, and sprouts trivia about Huey Lewis & the News before going postal with an axe on an unsuspecting victim. He’s not the type of guy you’d want to bring home to meet the folks, but he’d definitely be an asset to any beer-league trivia team specializing in Phil Collins-centric minutiae.
Detective Harris – Training Day (2001)
Part of what makes Tarantinos work so interesting is the juxtaposition of light and dark elements. Savage acts carried out to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s Weekend, Beatrix Kiddo ripping around town in a cartoonishly yellow truck exacting vengeance. These elements help lift the mood a little, and keep even the most brutal scenes watchable. One of the best examples of can be found in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, with the unlikely duo of a raging potty-mouth, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and strong, silent-type Vincent Vega (John Travolta).
A different unlikely pairing came courtesy of Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day. Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is a rookie under the tutelage of malevolent Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), who gives Winnfield’s filthy mouth a run for its money. The two both have quick tempers and take a no-nonsense approach to people dumb enough to get in their way, and occasionally take down people who actually deserve it. Washington even took home an Oscar for his performance.
Daniel Plainview – There Will Be Blood (2007)
Sometimes, audiences can’t help but love the villain. Filmmakers have a choice to make about just how dark these scoundrels should be. Often the most interesting ones are evil but graceful, and almost friendly. Reservoir Dogs’ Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) explains in cold detail the best ways to torture information out of people, and then smoothly shifts the conversation toward tacos without skipping a beat. In a way, despite being a ruthless criminal, he’s noble and his taco love makes him relatable. When Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) giggles like a child about the arrival of dessert in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds, we giggle too, because dessert is awesome. Glimpses of humanity make these roles so striking, and when they snap back into wickedness, it’s extra jarring.
A non-Tarantino example of such a character can be found in the 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson ode to oil, There Will Be Blood. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a greedy misanthrope who only has respect for his own bloodline. Despite his selfish intentions, he has a soft spot for kids, working hard to make sure they have access to education as he descends into ethical ruination. Aww.
Rita – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Every great team has a captain, and every captain needs a striker. Inglorious Basterds’ lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) has two: Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) and Sgt. Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz (Eli Roth). Both men know how to get things done, and aren’t afraid of scrapping with Nazis. Fortunately for them, their fight came to an end, but some soldiers aren’t so lucky.
Rita (Emily Blunt) from Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a Live. Die. Repeat.) is a soldier fighting a battle of her own, but she has to do it over and over and over again. Her quarrel is with the Mimics, a nasty alien race. Wielding a sharpened helicopter blade, she hacks them to bits, snarling all the way. She’s not afraid to die. In fact, she does it on a daily basis.
Tony Stark – Iron Man (2008 – present)
Tarantino likes his wise-crackin’ dudes to look good, and one way to ensure that happens is to put them in a crisp suit. He does it a lot, but it’s worth mentioning that he does it well, especially in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
However, another well-dressed, fast-talking, badass comes to mind too: Iron Man’s Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). He’s so fast-talking, in fact, that barely anyone can keep up with him in conversation. Okay, so he doesn’t cut anyone’s ear off or anything, but Stark is cool in his own way. He holds two masters degrees and, after experiencing a life-threatening event, uses his big, fat, genius mind to develop technology sophisticated enough to counter-act his previously developed technology… naturally, he is the only man smart enough for the job.
Tyler Durden – Fight Club (1999)
Based on Chuck Palahniuk’s book of the same name, 1999’s Fight Club brought audiences one of the coolest, most carefree badasses in the form of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). An activist of sorts, Durden enjoys smoking, fighting, and stickin’ it to the man! Dripping with attitude, he rocks black eyes and bunny slippers like no one else. Sure, his methods are unorthodox. And yeah, he is kind of a prick. But watching him mess with the world’s fuddy-duddies is too amusing to be overlooked.
The audience is introduced to Tyler when he is seated next to The Narrator (Edward Norton) on a flight, and gives an first-rate lesson on in-flight safety. His character raises a lot of legitimate questions about modern society, but as his dark side is slowly revealed, the audience becomes privy to just how abhorrent his brand of activism is. Good thing this isn’t a morality contest.
The Dude – The Big Lebowski (1998)
Ahhhh, the lovable burnout. They’re everywhere in film, and when executed well, can be great fun to watch. 1993’s True Romance has Floyd (Brad Pitt) and The Big Lebowski has The Dude (Jeff Bridges). Two cannabis enthusiasts who just wanna be left alone, man… unless you have snacks.
There are actually more parallels between these two characters than there are differences. Both gentleman like to drink, smoke pot, and are caught up in things that shouldn’t actually involve them in the first place. The two men are both friendly and beloved to audiences, so choosing one to be “cooler” than the other would be like picking a favorite child or ice cream flavor. It’s an impossible task. To be fair, it should be known that The Dude has a whole movie to make an impact on viewers, whereas Floyd only has a measly two and a half minutes.
Imperator Furiosa – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Tarantino isn’t afraid to let female characters wield the power, as evidenced by characters like The Bride or Shosanna. However, debates still continue as to whether or not Tarantino meets the definition of “feminist,” a complex topic that falls outside the scope of this list. He’s not the only one content to let women kick ass, though.
In the earlier months of 2015, audiences flocked to see George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie overflowing with she-rebels. One stands out above the rest though, the fearless Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), captain of the War Rig. On a mission to liberate the fascist dictator’s five wives from lives spent “breeding.” Furiosa tucks the women away in her rig, and heads for the hills. She speaks infrequently and remains shrouded in mystery for much of the film, but makes it clear that she is a force to be reckoned with. She’ll use knives, guns, or chains if running her enemies off the road isn’t an option.
Anton Chigurh – No Country For Old Men (2007)
In the Great Beauty Pageant of Life, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) finishes in last place. Odd really, as the consensus seems to be that actor Javier Bardem is a handsome individual in real life. This moviemaking miracle was achieved with a technique known as “The Bowl Cut.” Don’t let the bad haircut fool you, Chigurh means business. He’s a calm, calculating killer, who often uses a captive bolt pistol (a.k.a the stun gun used on cattle before they’re slaughtered) as his weapon, showing no mercy.
Tarantino’s villains have a ruthless streak, with an unexpected arsenal of weaponry as well. Gogo’s meteor hammer in 2003’s Kill Bill, The Bear Jew’s baseball bat from Inglorious Basterds, and Stuntman Mike’s car from 2007’s Death Proof are among Tarantino’s diverse stockpile of weapons.
Kirk Lazarus – Tropic Thunder (2008)
Occasionally Tarantino gets a little meta, and creates a Hollywood-esque universe within his own. Take the lovely Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) of Inglorious Basterds. Never has a leg cast looked so glam! She’s charming, intelligent, beautiful, and she’s respected by all. Von Hammersmark is a multi-lingual German actress/double agent who leases with the Basterds in their fight against Hitler.
In 2008 though, audiences were enthralled by a different faux-Hollywood icon in a very different form: Tropic Thunder‘s Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr). He’s a celebrated method actor who will stop at nothing to really become his character, and sometimes takes it a little too far. While not technically “multilingual” per-se, Lazarus can flip in and out of accents and characters at the drop of a hat, and is a master of disguise… in his own way.
There is no doubt that we have Quentin Tarantino to thank for many cool, interesting characters. Some of the best, in fact. But it’s important to remember that he’s not the only one writing and directing badasses worthy of praise. Acknowledging the other players on the field is always a good thing, so tell us about some of your favorites in the comments below!