Like most visionary directors, Quentin Tarantino has a small company of actors that he’s most comfortable working with. Whether it’s the influence they had on him as a young filmgoer or that they share his idiosyncratic voice for poetic violence, there are some actors that Tarantino has brought back into his movies time and time again.
The most obvious one is Samuel L. Jackson, but there are a bunch of actors who Tarantino has collaborated with on multiple movies. Some of them are returning in his new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. So, here are Quentin Tarantino’s Most Frequent Collaborators, Ranked.
10 James Parks
James Parks is not the most famous actor in Tarantino’s company. He has played the recurring character Edgar McGraw in the Tarantino universe – namely, in Kill Bill and Death Proof – but most of his roles since then have been confined to bit parts.
He played an unnamed tracker in Django Unchained without making much of a splash and he played the stagecoach driver O.B. in The Hateful Eight. Of course, in the latter movie, we were much more interested in what was going on inside the stagecoach than who was driving it. In that respect, Parks is the weakest of Tarantino’s collaborators.
9 Zoë Bell
In six of Tarantino’s movies, Zoë Bell has either played a role or worked on the stunts (or both), but she is primarily a stunt performer as opposed to an actor. Since her background is in stunts and not in acting, Bell’s work in Tarantino’s movies can be a little hit and miss. For example, her performance in Death Proof is awesome, because it heavily revolves around stunt work, while her performance in The Hateful Eight leaves a lot to be desired.
On the positive side, her charm and flexible line delivery style did manage to save the Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!-inspired long dialogue sequences in Death Proof from becoming mind-numbingly dull.
8 Michael Madsen
Quentin Tarantino has cast Michael Madsen in a few of his movies, because he gets the tone that Tarantino is going for and he can play into it wonderfully. For example, he plays the sadism of Mr. Blonde so well and contrasts it with a charming smile. We’re simultaneously unnerved by his actions and soothed by his “Aw, shucks!” attitude.
His deep, grizzled voice, paired with his Golden Age of Hollywood-style pausing during lines, makes him the perfect actor to deliver Tarantino’s dialogue. Could anyone else deliver the line “Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?” as effectively?
7 Bruce Dern
Bruce Dern was preparing to fade into obscurity when Tarantino cast him in a minor role in Django Unchained. He’d stopped starring in movies years prior, but thanks to Tarantino, there was renewed interest in the aging Silent Running star. Most notably, he starred in Alexander Payne’s bittersweet black-and-white road trip tragicomedy Nebraska and carried the whole film.
Among the movie’s six Oscar nominations was a Best Actor nod for Dern, which solidified his place as a player in modern cinema. Tarantino was so impressed that he brought Dern back to play a member of the titular ensemble in The Hateful Eight.
6 Kurt Russell
Quentin Tarantino made Kurt Russell cool again. He’d been one of the big screen’s finest badasses in the ‘70s with roles like Snake Plissken and then became an action movie icon in the ‘80s with movies like Tango and Cash and Big Trouble in Little China. After that, he started appearing in soppy Disney movies like Miracle and Dreamer.
Tarantino saved him from those uplifting tearjerkers by casting him as Stuntman Mike, the sadistic killer in his so-so slasher Death Proof. Russell also appeared as John “the Hangman” Ruth in The Hateful Eight, and thanks to Tarantino, his star is back on the rise with roles in the Fast & Furious franchise and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
5 Tim Roth
Tim Roth has been there since the beginning, playing Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs and then Pumpkin in Pulp Fiction. Being in the opening scene of Pulp Fiction, it was all on Roth to sell the movie’s obscure style – a kind of urban spaghetti western ripped from the pages of 50-year-old pulp magazines – to audiences.
There’s a reason Tarantino entrusted that scene to him (and the great Amanda Plummer, of course). Roth doesn’t have too many high-profile movies outside the Tarantino-verse, except for the MCU’s black sheep The Incredible Hulk and Tim Burton’s misguided Planet of the Apes remake, but one thing is clear from his filmography: he’s committed to his craft.
4 Harvey Keitel
If it weren’t for Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino might not have a career. He got a hold of the script for Reservoir Dogs and attached himself to it, which managed to gain the movie the interest it needed to raise a $1 million budget and get released in the first place.
Keitel has starred in some of the darkest, grittiest movies ever made – Bad Lieutenant, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets – and given knockout performances in all of them. He’s let himself down in recent years by playing his Pulp Fiction character in a series of Direct Line TV ads, but he still stands as one of the finest actors in film history.
3 Christoph Waltz
Christoph Waltz has played a major role in two Tarantino movies, and he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for each one. That’s not a coincidence. Waltz and Tarantino seem to get each other in a way that very few actor-director partnerships do.
They clicked so much during the making of Inglourious Basterds, in which Waltz carried Tarantino’s sadistic creation Col. Hans Landa to the screen with gusto, that Tarantino wrote the sidekick role of Dr. King Schultz into Django Unchained specifically to play to Waltz’s strengths. In fact, it is for this reason that the actor almost turned him down – thank God he got him to change his mind.
2 Uma Thurman
Quentin Tarantino once described Uma Thurman as his “muse,” and while they’re unlikely to ever work together again following all that ugliness with the car crash on the set of Kill Bill, she has given some staggeringly great performances in his movies.
The Bride became an influence on female characters in action cinema for years to come (everyone from Imperator Furiosa to the new non-sexualized Lara Croft owes the Bride a debt of gratitude for breaking down those doors), while her portrayal of Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction took all the clichés of the mob wife and flipped them on their head.
1 Samuel L. Jackson
Who else? No matter what capacity it is in, an appearance by Samuel L. Jackson never fails to make a huge impact in a Quentin Tarantino movie. He managed to make a splash with just a short voiceover narration in Inglourious Basterds and a cameo as a pianist in Kill Bill. But of course, his best-known Tarantino role is Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, which gained him an Oscar nomination and 25 years of people trying to impersonate his delivery of the Ezekiel 25:17 speech.
Jackson considers his role in Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s underrated blaxploitation-homaging masterpiece, to be one of the best characters he’s ever had the chance to play, which is pretty high praise. Jackson is a screen icon for a number of memorable roles – Mace Windu, Nick Fury – but Jules was the one that started it all.