Worst to First: Quentin Tarantino Movies

The eight feature films of Quentin Tarantino, from Reservoir Dogs through The Hateful Eight, present an alternate America defined by three animating energies: crime, racism, and violence. At present, media acts as every child’s third, most beloved parent, but Tarantino was one of the first major directors to articulate this warped consciousness, a worldview borne more from screens than lived life. For all the legitimate praise heaped upon his dialogue, his most iconic moments often comprise silent bodies in motion, set to music at once anachronistic yet seemingly commissioned for Tarantino’s deployment. “You Never Can Tell.” “Twisted Nerve.” “Stuck in the Middle with You.” Though clearly in a fallow period now, Tarantino remains one of moviemaking’s most gifted aesthetes, an autodidact fluent in multiple dialects of cinema’s seductive language. His characters–criminals, slave traders, murderers–couldn’t exist farther from the everyday (or from their creator’s biography), but they never chime as false or artificial. They emerge fully formed from a mind recognizably deranged by the American experience, an imagination only a few shades darker than reality. In his way, Tarantino is a naturalist of the subtlest sort. The distance between his world and ours is never more than the space between our eyes and the screen. Here are all his feature-length movies, ranked.

Worst to First: Quentin Tarantino Movies



The Hateful Eight (2015)

Masochistically indulgent, The Hateful Eight subverts its few artistic strengths with empty homage, forgettable characters, and a general imprecision uncharacteristic of Tarantino. Worsening matters, the gorgeous Ennio Morricone score, road house presentation, and 70mm print are squandered on a dingily static setting; all his formal flourishes read as compensatory. Even the film’s clever thesis–that hate of a shared enemy is the great American unifier–is substantiated haphazardly and concluded too quickly. It’s a hard truth around which too many questions linger.


Death Proof (2007)

A trifle without any designs beyond genre evocation, Death Proof‘s dearth of ambition enriches as it detracts. The dialogue is witty and solid, but serves little narrative purpose beyond unearned suspense, and a stunning final action sequence occurs long after there’s any reason left to care. The frivolousness does, however, allow for performances to sneak up and shine–Kurt Russell’s in particular–but never does it make for a worthwhile film as a piece of Grindhouse or as a whole.


Django Unchained (2012)

Though billed as Tarantino’s first western, Django Unchained, the revenge saga of a freed slave, instead presents the director’s headlong lapse into self-commodification, an unintentional pastiche that borrows too liberally to expand the palette. Perilously backloaded, Django recycles the historical revisionism (and Chritoph Waltz character) from Inglorious Basterds while lancing off most of that film’s charm, suspense, humor and resonance. Though there is value and novelty in making American moviegoers confront the horrors of slavery through Tarantino’s cracked lens, Django undercuts these successes by embracing the director’s worst habits (bad exposition, bunk psychology, endless scenes that exist to no end).


Inglorious Basterds (2009)

The opening interrogation scene of Inglorious Basterds is as excellent as its final scenes are transcendently stupid, with high tension being traded for cheap plot resolution. Highs abut lows throughout, but the former outpaces the latter by a considerable margin, and Hans Landa remains one of Tarantino’s best written characters, a claim substantiated by his deficient repurposing of the character for later films. Basterds may also be Tarantino’s funniest movie, a feat with respect to the subject matter. Nevertheless, the last line in the film is, “This is my masterpiece.” Loving a movie after a line like that is barbaric.


Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Rarely, if ever, do directors arrive with a voice this assured or mature. Reservoir Dogs hasn’t aged to perfection, particularly in terms of framing and cinematography, but its confidence and ingenious conceit are still marvels even 25 years after its release. All the hallmarks of Tarantino’s style were introduced here. The pop culture ephemera. Red Apple cigarettes. The collision of protracted conversation and sudden violence. In retrospect, the first line of the film, spoken by Tarantino as Mr. Brown, begins like a conversation that could and will last decades: “Let me tell you what ‘Like a Virgin’ is about.”


Kill Bill (2003)

Split into two qualitatively unequal volumes (Vol. 1 > Vol.2), Kill Bill commenced Tarantino’s revenge trilogy by pairing a simple story with visuals inexhaustible in both their invention and allusion. Transitioning from western to horror to anime, from comedy to drama to kung fu, Kill Bill is Tarantino at his most formally experimental, resulting in two movies that could easily be enjoyed as ten. A whole more than the sum of its part. Wiggle your big toe.


Pulp Fiction (1994)

The challenge of creating any piece of art, much less a masterpiece, that exists without subtext or argument probably seemed impossible before Pulp Fiction. But the film is precisely what its title portends: pure aesthetic pleasure, presented without commentary. As conceived, its aboutness is nothing and thus everything; every second of it becomes classic cinema as a result. Time has filed not one of its teeth down. Its subtext is the absence of subtext, its argument the absence of argument. Pulp Fiction‘s sole agenda is the expression of its maker’s genius.


Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown boasts what every other Quentin Tarantino movie lacks: a heart that beats hard enough to pump blood to the rest of his cold filmography. It’s the least sociopathic film from a borderline sociopathic filmmaker, an anomaly whose quiet brilliance has long been misread as minor art. Of his eight feature films, Jackie Brown is the Quentin Tarantino movie that feels the least like a Quentin Tarantino movie, and therein lies its sly power. Tarantino built his career on writing grandiose love letters to cinema. Jackie Brown is content on simply being a love letter.