Warning: SPOILERS for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood after-credits scene features a shoutout to longtime fans of Quentin Tarantino: a fake advertisement for Red Apple cigarettes. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the director's loving ode to that particular era of the movie business but he also deftly establishes his ninth film as part of the overall Quentin Tarantino shared movie universe.
In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a former TV star who worries about his fading career after failing to break through in films. Dalton's best friend is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his stuntman and driver, who has Rick's back through thick-and-thin. Both Rick and Cliff represent the waning of Old Hollywood, which is quickly being replaced by newer directors like Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his wife, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie); as it happens, Polanski and Tate recently moved next door to Dalton on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood also occurs in the backdrop of the free love and hippies era of the late 1960s as well as the infamous Charles Manson Murders, although Tarantino's film shockingly tackles that crime in a unique way.
Tarantino enjoys weaving in subtle (and not-so-subtle) Easter eggs into his films referencing his other works, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is definitely part of that tradition. While there are a number of little clues throughout the film, the biggest is the name drop of Red Apple cigarettes in the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood after-credits scene, which was actually shot after the film premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Post-Credits Scene Explained
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's after-credits scene is one of Tarantino's best: it's a fun flashback to Rick Dalton acting in a commercial for Red Apple cigarettes, one of the sponsors of his hit NBC series Bounty Law. Shot in black-and-white, the Red Apple cigarettes advertisement features Dalton in costume as his signature character Jake Cahill. Standing next to a cardboard cutout of Jake Cahill proudly displaying a pack of Red Apple cigarettes, Rick coolly extols the virtues of why Red Apple cigarettes are better than all of the rest: "Better drag, more flavor, less throat burn." Hilariously, after the director calls cut, Rick immediately breaks character and goes on a temper tantrum, complaining that Red Apple cigarettes "tastes like sh*t!" before unleashing his ire on the photo chosen for his cardboard standee, which seems to highlight his double chin. The enraged star finally storms off the set.
Aside from being a very funny tag that sends the audience home happy, Rick's Red Apple cigarettes commercial overtly connects Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to the greater Quentin Tarantino movie universe. Red Apple cigarettes are one of the director's signature Easter eggs (like the Big Kahuna Burger chain) that he inserts into many of his films to connect them into a loose macro narrative. The fact that Rick Dalton hawks Red Apples means that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place in the same timeline as films like The Hateful Eight and Pulp Fiction. In his commercial, Rick noted that the Red Apple cigarette company has been around since 1862, which explains how they appear in The Hateful Eight, which is set in 1877.
Red Apple Cigarettes In Quentin Tarantino's Shared Universe Explained
Movie fans are used to shared universes like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Quentin Tarantino has been linking his films together into a loosely shared universe since his career began in the early 1990s. As the director himself confirmed in 2016, Tarantino's nine films are split up into two shared universes. First, there's the main universe - what Tarantino calls "the realer than real universe" - wherein most of his movies exist; these include Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Also part of this universe are films Tarantino wrote but didn't direct like True Romance.
Next is Tarantino's special "movie-in-a-movie" universe which includes 1995's From Dusk Till Dawn (which was directed by Robert Rodriguez but written by Tarantino), Kill Bill, and Death Proof. As the director describes it, "So basically when the characters of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction when they go to the movies, Kill Bill is what they go to see. From Dusk Till Dawn is what they see" (via News.com.au).
Red Apple cigarettes pop up in many of Tarantino's movies; in his main universe, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) referenced them in Pulp Fiction's 1994 and they're smoked by the characters in The Hateful Eight's Haberdashery. In the special movie-in-a-movie universe, Kill Bill's Beatrix Kiddo/The Bride (Uma Thurman) walks by a Red Apple cigarettes billboard while the characters in From Dusk Till Dawn mention the Red Apple brand. Indeed, the Red Apple brand also pops up in films not directed by Tarantino but involving him in some way. The cult film Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion features a mural of Red Apple cigarettes, a reference to Tarantino, who was dating Romy and Michelle star Mira Sorvino at the time.
Other Possible Connections To Tarantino's Universe
Besides Red Apple cigarettes, there are other connections between Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Quentin Tarantino's other films. There are a couple of ingenious references to Inglourious Basterds: in Rick Dalton's film 14 Fists of McClusky, his character Sgt. Mike Lewis roasts a roomful of Nazis, which evokes the ending of Inglourious Basterds where Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) burns down her Paris movie theater containing over 300 Nazis while Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz (Eli Roth) machine guns Hitler dead. Speaking of Eli Roth's Nazi-killing soldier, he uses the name of Italian filmmaker Antonio Margheriti as a cover. Antonio Margheriti is also the name of the director of Spaghetti Westerns Rick Dalton stars in, so apparently, Margheriti was an Italian filmmaker during World War II who continues his career into the late 1960s, eventually hiring Dalton to play the lead role in Nebraska Jim.
There is also the connection between Stuntman Mike, the villain portrayed by Kurt Russell in Death Proof, and Randy, the stunt coordinator also played by Russell in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, to consider. In 1967, Randy and his wife Janet (Zoe Bell) both oversee the stunts on The Green Hornet and Bell also appears in Death Proof as one of the women targeted by Stuntman Mike. Some fans speculate that Stuntman Mike is the son of Randy from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; however, since Death Proof is considered part of Quentin Tarantino's movie-within-a-movie universe, a direct family relation for the two characters likely isn't the case. But that also doesn't mean Death Proof's homicidal driver isn't inspired by Randy, or, more likely, that the actor/stuntman who plays Stuntman Mike in Death Proof could be related to Randy, the stuntman from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.