Although the term auteur is seldom tossed around in today’s filmmaking landscape, due in large part to the amount of collaboration that now exists in Hollywood, there’s no denying that if any one director could fall into that category it would be Quentin Tarantino. From the music to dialogue to very specific camera moves, a film is almost instantly recognizable as a Tarantino “flick,” even if his name wasn’t plastered all over the opening credits.
And so, as we consider how many more films Tarantino has up his sleeve before retiring – a sentiment he only recently began discussing in public – and anxiously await the release of his latest flick, Django Unchained, we’re also looking back on his career thus far and listing our “10 Most Memorable Quentin Tarantino Scenes.”
Note: This list is in no particular order. Picking just 10 was hard enough.
At this point in his career, Samuel L. Jackson and foul language are inextricably linked, to the point that he is willing to parody his own persona (Snakes on a Plane anyone?). While some might debate when that connection first was established, we think this scene from Pulp Fiction might be an ideal candidate.
In the scene, Jackson’s gangster enforcer, Jules, is interrogating poor young Brett (Frank Whaley), asking him a question that doesn’t make sense at first, but eventually becomes clear.
Unfortunately, the imposing presence of Jules, combined with the barrel of a loaded gun, were too much for Brett, who says the word “What” a few too many times. Luckily for us, his nervousness provides Jackson’s character the fuel necessary to deliver his iconic biblical monologue – a quote that (spoiler alert) comes up in another scene that made this list.
We featured this scene on our list of top martial arts scenes so it makes sense that it also be included here. Unlike many of the scenes that made this particular list, however, this is perhaps the most bloody. In fact, this scene from Volume 1 of Kill Bill features more blood and gore than Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction combined.
As The Bride takes on Oren Ishii’s entourage, appropriately named “The Crazy 88,” she uses her Hattori Hanzo sword to make swift work of every single one of them, slicing through limbs and torsos like they’re butter. And while many of the Crazy 88 are simply katana fodder, it is Gogo Yubari – a young school girl that brandishes a bladed ball and chain – that is the pièce de résistance. No stylized Tarantino dialogue needed here, just some good old fashioned martial arts violence.
At the start of Inglourious Basterds, few people knew who Chrisoph Waltz was. But by the end of the movie (if not this scene), they would never be able to forget him.
Not only does this scene allow Waltz to show off his mastery of several languages, it outed him as a venerable tour de force and future Oscar-winner, playing a villain so effortlessly it’s scary. Nearly every scene featuring Waltz’s character is worth mentioning – he’s just that good – but the opening gets the nod for its ability to set the tone for the entire film without featuring a familiar face. Hence why it was our favorite movie moment of 2009
Once the dust had settled, and Hans Landa had said goodbye to Shoshanna, we were hooked. But more importantly Tarantino was hooked on Waltz, and has since added him to his rotating troupe of actors.
Though True Romance was only written by Quentin Tarantino (it was directed by the late Tony Scott) this scene deserves some recognition because A) it features film legends Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper and B) it epitomizes one of Tarantino’s many calling cards: the useless fact monologue. Many of the scenes that made this list, for example, feature monologues of a similar nature, with a character spewing out knowledge that, in the context of the film makes great sense.
We don’t know if a guy has 17 tells and a woman has 20, but that’s not the point. A good Tarantino conversation is usually equal parts observational and comedic – exaggerating a potentially true statement to the point the audience will, at the very least, chuckle. As was mentioned, this type of scene pervades each and every Tarantino film, but it’s always fun to look at earlier examples for comparison.
Before Steve Buscemi was ruling the Boardwalk Empire he was Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, the comical member of the film’s colorful heist team who, in this scene, explains why he doesn’t believe in tipping. It’s an entertaining scene on a very basic level (who hasn’t used the world’s smallest violin on occasion?) but it’s also a thought-provoking commentary on minimum wage employment.
It might be weird to look at the scene now and see Nucky Thompson cracking wise, but back then Buscemi was a bit player. Speaking of bit players, this scene also marks the start of a trend for Tarantino: putting himself in his movies. Distracting? Maybe, but it’s another calling-card for a director with a rolodex full of them.
There’s no escaping the impact of this scene, which arguably features one of Tarantino’s most memorable lines of dialogue/phrases in a film brimming with iconic monologues. We dare you to find anyone who doesn’t know what a Quarter Pounder with cheese is called in France, and if you do find such a person they’ve likely never seen or heard of Pulp Fiction.
This scene ticks many of requisite boxes for a Tarantino flick – from the pop culture references to witty banter – and all it’s missing is some violence and foul language. In terms of the larger narrative, the scene is a complete throwaway – a chance for Tarantino to showcase his knack for (once again) spewing out useless facts – yet somehow we’ll never forget that Royale with cheese…
For a film that’s called Kill Bill some might argue that the inevitable confrontation between heroine Beatrix Kiddo and Bill is a little anti-climactic. That is, if they don’t know Tarantino. In the film, Tarantino created a villain that is almost an extension of himself – a character that is prone to protracted musings on life, but has a deep dark center just waiting to come out.
Bill’s Superman monologue, for example, is both his way of explaining Beatrix’s inability to escape who she is and an expose on the character of Superman at the same time. And all the while he’s playing mind games with Beatrix – providing the audience with a tantalizing appetizer before the actual sword fighting goes down. That final showdown is great as well, but a certain fondness for the Man of Steel wins the spot on our list.
Linking action and music is one of Tarantino’s strong suits, as evidenced by this scene from Reservoir Dogs. His ability to find music that works on many levels is part of what makes him so talented – even if sometimes his musical choices call a bit too much attention to themselves.
So, of those great musical cues, this one ended up making the list because of the imagery, the comedic undertones, and the sheer horror of watching Michael Madsen’s character torture a poor police officer. It’s now nearly impossible to hear the song “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealer’s Wheel and not think of Mr. Blonde cutting off Officer Nash’s ear.
The game is simple: each player must put a card with the name of a famous character from pop-culture on their forehead and then ask questions in order to figure out “who they are.” However, when used in this scene from Inglourious Basterds, the game takes on a whole new meaning. Tension building is a subtle art, and Tarantino does it almost effortlessly in several scenes from this film, including the film’s opening (which also made this list).
We, the audience, know that the Nazi soldier is bound to find out he’s in the company of frauds, but that doesn’t make the scene any less of a nail-biter. And whereas in a traditional, non-Tarantino film, this scene would play out with minimal casualties for the good guys, that is unfortunately (or fortunately) not the case here. Thankfully, this brief role was only the beginning for actor Michael Fassbender.
By the end of Pulp Fiction two things were clear: Tarantino is not a fan of traditional narrative structures and his characters, while most of the time masochists, are quite entertaining to watch.
Book-ending the entire disjointed story, the finale in the diner features a wonderfully poignant monologue from Samuel L. Jackson, who up until that point had been a laser-focused, foul-mouthed killer, teasing us with that mysterious briefcase. It also reacquaints the audience with the characters of Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, the two would-be robbers who opened the film.
Tarantino always goes out with a bang, so to speak, but it’s tough to beat Pulp Fiction‘s style. And who wouldn’t want a wallet that says “Bad MotherF#$%er” on it?
Even with a list that encapsulates a large portion of Quentin Tarantino’s career there were still plenty of memorable scenes – and whole films – that inevitably didn’t make the list.
With Django Unchained arriving in theaters, who knows whether or not one or two scenes from that film will make their way onto our list. Either way, here are some scenes that deserve HONORABLE MENTION:
- Vince and Mia’s Dance – Pulp Fiction
- Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda “Quickie” – Jackie Brown
- The Car Chase – Death Proof
- The Theater Massacre – Inglourious Basterds
- Marsellus Wallace’s Pride Speech – Pulp Fiction
- Vampire Tarantino – From Dusk Till Dawn
Django Unchained hits theaters on December 25, 2012.
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