Ranking Quentin Tarantino’s Films From Worst To Best

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The trailer and poster for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood make it clear that this is the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino, so how did we manage to put together a Top 10 list? To date, there hasn’t been a proper release of Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, so we’re forced to rank its two very different halves—released in theatres six months apart—as separate entities. With that out of the way, here’s the thing about ranking Quentin Tarantino films: they’re all somewhere between really good and great. You may object to the low placement of some iconic films on this list, but this is meant with a minimum of derision, as I hold all these films in relatively high esteem. So without further ado, here is one fan’s ranking of Quentin Tarantino’s films from worst to best.

10. Inglourious Basterds

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Tarantino himself still regards Inglourious Basterds as one of his two or three best films, and it’s totally understandable that a war movie aficionado would feel the same way. But as extreme and thrilling as this film often is, it denies viewers much of what Tarantino does best. Do you really want to experience much of his distinctive dialogue in subtitle form? Do you really want his take on a world before television? Do you really want to see this expert on all things American offer a half-baked vision of Europe and its culture?

When you also factor in his choice to make both sides of this film’s central conflict—the Basterds and the Nazis—into buffoonish imbeciles (with the exception of legendary Tarantino creation Hans Landa), it’s hard to take the drama seriously. But on a more frivolous, escapist level, this is indisputably excellent entertainment.

9. Kill Bill, Vol. 1

For years, Tarantino fans have debated the relative merit of Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, with those who prefer the flashier former making up the majority. If you were taken with the director’s newfound emphasis on action circa 2003, Kill Bill, Vol. 1 may even rank as your all-time favourite Tarantino film, but it still plays as an incomplete effort.

In essence, this is an unsatisfying fragment of a larger whole that gives viewers way too many details they don’t need (ie. O-Ren Ishii’s totally unnecessary backstory), while withholding essential basics about The Bride. Sure, the celebrated House of Blue Leaves sequence is a feast of action choreography, but Tarantino fails to invest this action with dramatic weight, resulting in a spectacle that’s both thrilling and somewhat hollow.

8. The Hateful Eight

Upon its theatrical release four years ago, we described The Hateful Eight as “Tarantino at his best”—and that description still holds. With a newly claustrophobic emphasis (the similarly confined Reservoir Dogs has countless flashbacks to open things up), Tarantino exhibited a new precision of staging and tone. However, blood bath finale notwithstanding, a case could be made that the film is almost too disciplined and restricted.

As a filmmaker, Tarantino has always embraced an ‘anything goes’ philosophy, but this film’s restrictive locale takes most possibilities off the table. More importantly, it leaves less to discover on repeat viewings, making this that rare Tarantino film that works best the first time around.

7. Django Unchained

In contrast to the more minimalist The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained throws so much at the viewer that you could list dozens of dislikes and still have a longer list of likes. Sure, Jamie Foxx is subdued to the point of anonymity, the racial irreverence frequently spills into extreme bad taste, a key action sequence is drained of impact by a 2Pac track, and there’s at least one totally momentum-killing digression (starring Tarantino himself) at a crucial moment in the third act, but other than that, this is the playful western Tarantino was born to make.

The film’s virtues are best encapsulated in another thrilling, Oscar-winning performance by Christoph Waltz. If Dr. King Schultz isn’t Tarantino’s most appealing character, he’s near the top of the list, giving this film a welcome humanity that’s conspicuously absent from The Hateful Eight.

6. Death Proof

Like Kill Bill, Death Proof has caused some confusion due to its existence in multiple cuts. Having once viewed the longer standalone cut, I can confirm the superiority of the abridged original version that made up one half of Grindhouse. In this shorter version, Death Proof is the most streamlined, no nonsense film of Tarantino’s career—and it could still afford to be cut in half. At the very least, nobody needs a Tarantino-scripted long take of characters arguing about John Hughes movies (particularly in an avowed ’70s throwback), arguably the dopiest passage of screenwriting in the filmmaker’s career.

Fortunately, this regrettable digression is sandwiched between a car chase for the ages and the film’s glorious first half, an expertly jukeboxed night of beer, shots, and nachos that turns ominous then inventively grotesque. The perpetrator of this violence is another incredible character only Tarantino could create: the unforgettably sleazy and despicable Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell).

5. Jackie Brown

For those who still think of Jackie Brown as some kind of overlooked classic, it’s worth noting that this film has been celebrated as Tarantino’s best film for roughly 20 years—by people who don’t like Tarantino films. As the director’s only film adapted from another source (Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch), Jackie Brown is full of details that originated from somewhere other than Tarantino’s one-of-a-kind imagination, making it arguably the only film in his career that could have been made by someone else.

Yes, it’s more grounded and real than any other film he’s made, but it’s also more conventional. That’s an argument against placing it higher on this list, but its modest, laid back, middle-aged charm is a refreshing detour in a filmography otherwise preoccupied with excess.

4. Reservoir Dogs

What’s left to be said about Reservoir Dogs after all these years? It’s the film that announced Tarantino’s preoccupations to the world, including comic dialogue worthy of a Richard Pryor standup routine—the opening sequence alone includes signature bits on “Like a Virgin” and tipping—and unforgiving violence worthy of Sam Peckinpah. While much has been made of the film’s superficial resemblance to Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, what continues to resonate about the film today is Tarantino’s gift with actors and the characters he writes for them.

No debut since has come close to matching this film for its abundance of unforgettable characters. Tarantino eventually embraced a more flamboyant, stylized approach to filmmaking, but his work with this cast suggested the arrival of a major dramatic filmmaker.

3. Kill Bill, Vol. 2

For those of us who continue to put Tarantino’s early films on a pedestal, Kill Bill, Vol. 2 exists as a kind of happy medium between the real world grounding of his first three films and the stylized artificiality of almost everything that has followed. For fans of Vol. 1, Vol. 2 registered as painfully slow and light on action, but its mythical heft—which is aided heavily by Ennio Morricone’s scores from The Mercenary, Navajo Joe, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—is exactly what the first film lacked.

If Vol. 1 is an exercise in pure action, Vol. 2 is something far less common: a hyper-stylized genre movie study of broken relationships, one that could be said to feature more potent human drama than any other Tarantino movie to date. With each passing year, its clarity of vision only gets more impressive.

2. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Unlike every other film on this list, I have only seen Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood once. As a result, it’s entirely conceivable that it could eventually drop a spot or two, but it seems more likely that it will only grow in stature with subsequent viewings, as this is something Tarantino has never quite attempted before: a film that puts time and place (1969, Los Angeles) above all else.

While you won’t be bored for a second, this isn’t really designed to be an engrossing narrative. Instead, Tarantino uses the skills and resources earned making the other films on this list creating the most masterfully directed film of his career, a vividly detailed pop culture bonanza that offers a jaw-dropping immersion in all things 1969. Your interest in this film is likely to be directly proportionate to your interest in that year, but just about everyone should be able to get behind career-best performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, not to mention Margot Robbie’s vivacious turn as Sharon Tate. It took 25 years, but Tarantino has finally matched his defining triumph, a film that still has dibs on the number one spot—for now.

1. Pulp Fiction

For those who weren’t around in the fall of 1994, it’s hard to convey exactly what it felt like when Pulp Fiction arrived in theatres. As a modestly budgeted oddball crime movie with only one real present-tense movie star (Bruce Willis) in the cast, it seemed likely to earn acclaim and a modest following, but not much else—and then everyone saw it. What time and familiarity has caused many people to forget is just how loaded this film is with remarkable dialogue and dazzling cinematic conceits.

Those who prefer Jackie Brown celebrate the realist modesty of that film’s characters, mirroring real world types we all encounter in our everyday lives, but Pulp Fiction offers something far more exciting, something you only get in movies: human behaviour and perspective as sculpted by a high-powered imagination. You don’t find people like Vincent Vega, Mia Wallace, and Jules Winnfield in the real world, but we all wish we could.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is in theatres now.