Quentin Tarantino is one of the most popular filmmakers working in Hollywood today. He is well-loved for his instantly recognizable style and praised and enjoyed for his intricate connections between his films, resulting in a separate fictional universe for the characters and events he has created.
The designation of the “best” Quentin Tarantino film is subjective and can vary widely depending on individual preference. Each of his films has unique elements that contribute to its appeal, from the characters and dialogue to the cinematography, genre elements, and use of music.
That said, a strong contender often cited by fans and critics alike (and perhaps the most obvious answer) is Pulp Fiction (1994). This film helped cement Tarantino’s reputation as a filmmaking force and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994.
Pulp Fiction is notable for its innovative narrative structure, unforgettable characters, and razor-sharp dialogue. The film is structured as a series of interrelated stories, eschewing a traditional linear narrative in favor of a fragmented, non-chronological format. This distinctive narrative approach was groundbreaking at the time and has since been emulated by numerous filmmakers. It is often thought of as a gateway film, pushing young film-lovers into cinephile status.
Characters like hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), and gangster’s wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) have become iconic in popular culture. Their narratives intersect in unpredictable and often violent ways, creating a mosaic of stories that reveal a gritty and darkly humorous portrait of life on the fringes of society and provide a perfect example of Tarantino’s distinct style.
The dialogue in Pulp Fiction is another standout feature. Tarantino’s screenplay, co-written with Roger Avary, is packed with fast-paced banter, pop culture references, and philosophical musings. Lines from the film, like Jules’ “Ezekiel 25:17” speech and Mia and Vincent’s discussion about the European “Royale with Cheese,” have become part of the cultural lexicon.
The film also shines in its attention to visual and auditory details. Tarantino’s love for genre cinema is evident in his use of stylistic elements from noir, crime, and action films. The film’s music, a mix of surf rock, soul, and pop songs from various eras, plays a crucial role in setting the mood and character of individual scenes.
Despite the acclaim for Pulp Fiction, it’s essential to note that other Tarantino films have their own distinctive strengths and have been lauded for various reasons. For example, Inglourious Basterds (2009) is praised for its revisionist take on World War II history and memorable performances (especially Christoph Waltz’s Oscar-winning role as Hans Landa). Meanwhile, Kill Bill (2003) stands out for its homage to martial arts films and revenge narratives, revealing Tarantino’s love for East Asian films, especially of the Wuxia era. Django Unchained (2012) is furthermore acclaimed for its exploration of American slavery within the framework of a spaghetti western and no holds barred performances from Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.
A significant aspect to consider when evaluating Tarantino’s films is the perspective of historical revisionism, a device he often employs to confront some of the darkest moments in history. From this angle, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained stand out as particularly compelling.
Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained both tackle historical atrocities — World War II and the Holocaust in the former, and slavery in the latter. Tarantino appropriates the form of popular genre cinema to create a kind of cinematic revenge fantasy, giving the oppressed a chance to fight back in ways that history denied them.
Inglourious Basterds is a thrilling, if uneasy, blend of war movie, spaghetti Western, and suspense thriller. While the idea of rewriting history so dramatically (the film ends with the successful assassination of Adolf Hitler) might seem audacious or even disrespectful, Tarantino’s intent seems to be to use the power of cinema as a kind of catharsis, a way to symbolically right historical wrongs.
Similarly, Django Unchained uses the conventions of the spaghetti Western and the blaxploitation film to confront the horrors of slavery. The film’s protagonist, Django (Jamie Foxx), is a former slave who becomes a bounty hunter and ultimately takes violent revenge on the white slaveholders who have tormented him and his wife (Kerry Washington). As with Inglourious Basterds, the violence in Django Unchained is excessive and stylized, highlighting the cathartic aspect of the revenge fantasy.
From an acting perspective, both films feature standout performances. Christoph Waltz won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of SS officer Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, while Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz (who won his second Oscar for this film), and Leonardo DiCaprio deliver memorable performances in Django Unchained.
From a stylistic standpoint, both films are masterclasses in tension-building. Tarantino’s lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes are a lesson in suspense, demonstrating his skill at controlling the pacing and rhythm of a scene to maximum effect.
All in all, from the perspective of historical revisionism and catharsis, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained might be seen as some of Tarantino’s most impactful work, challenging audiences to confront historical atrocities through the lens of genre cinema.
While Pulp Fiction is often recognized as the pinnacle of Tarantino’s filmography, the “best” Tarantino film will depend on what specific aspects an individual viewer values in a movie. Whether it’s the distinctive narrative structure, the memorable characters, the genre-blending, the music, or the cultural impact, there’s no denying that Quentin Tarantino’s films have made an indelible mark on cinema history.