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Quentin Tarantino Movie Performances, Ranked

Nine movies into his prolific career, the history of cinema has been embedded with the style and daring stories of Quentin Tarantino. The two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained” celebrates his birthday today, and with it, we are celebrating the 10 best performances that have come from his films.

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Including some of his Oscar-nominated actors like Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction”) and Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”), he’s also brought Christoph Waltz to two Academy Awards for supporting actor in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) and “Django Unchained” (2012), and most recently Brad Pitt for “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” (2019). There are also many that didn’t make the cut in their respective awards years, that are worthy of attention, or just stand out in his filmography. No ranking is ever definitive, with some either growing (or diminishing) as time moves forward.

Said to be throwing in the cinematic towel after his tenth feature film, we can only hope he feels compelled to continue his venture through various genres of cinema. While we continue to hear rumors of a possible version of “Star Trek” or a Django-Zorro crossover movie in his future, personally, I’m hopeful for him to bring the conclusion of his “Kill Bill” series to the fray, which could explore the daughter of Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), Nikki (Ambrosia Kelley), seeking revenge following the death of her mother at the hands of Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) a.k.a. The Bride. In an interview last July, Fox shared her recommendation for superstar Zendaya to portray an adult Nikki; however, an online petition was launched to have Tarantino recast Kelley for the role. Either way, there’s still no definitive word if the film will ever happen or not.

Variety has weighed in over the years with rankings of Tarantino’s films and greatest scenes. Make sure to revisit them as well.

Check out the list down below.

Honorable mentions: Robert Forster as Max Cherry (“Jackie Brown”), Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver (“Kill Bill Vol. 2”), Lucy Lui as O-Ren Ishii (“Kill Bill Vol. 1”), Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth (“Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood”), Ving Rhames as Marsellus Wallace (“Pulp Fiction”), Uma Thurman as The Bride (“Kill Bill Vol. 2”), John Travolta as Vincent Vega (“Pulp Fiction”), Christopher Walken as Captain Koons (“Pulp Fiction”), Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge (“Pulp Fiction”)

10. Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight (2015)


Role: Chris Mannix
Film: “The Hateful Eight” (2015)

Producers: Richard N. Gladstein, Stacey Sher, Shannon McIntosh
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

The scene that proves it: “So, you got a letter from Abraham Lincoln?”

Following his television breakout turns in “Justified” and “The Shield,” Walton Goggins was the standout actor from Tarantino’s revenge Western as Chris Mannix, the former Confederate sympathizer turned Red Rock sheriff. While his co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh received Oscar attention for supporting actress (losing out to Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”), Goggins’ lighter infusion in one of Tarantino’s darker outings was sadly forgotten, likely because of vote-splitting between his male co-stars including Kurt Russell, Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson (who campaigned in lead actor).

9. Kerry Washington in Django Unchained (2012)


Role: Broomhilda von Shaft
Film: “Django Unchained” (2012)

Producers: Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

The scene that proves it: “Where is this friend?”

The 2012 revenge film won Tarantino and Christoph Waltz their second Oscars for original screenplay and supporting actor. At the time, there were valid criticisms regarding the underwritten nature of Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda von Shaft, but despite that, many felt she was the film’s brightest spot. Eagerly awaiting a vehicle that Washington will be able to sink her teeth into, alongside her co-stars she’s able to deliver a physical performance that can be felt deeply, even when she’s not speaking.

8. Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs (1992)


Role: Mr. Blonde
Film: “Reservoir Dogs” (1992)

Producers: Lawrence Bender
Distributor: Miramax Films

The scene that proves it: “Stuck in the Middle With You”

Michael Madsen has been one of our most undervalued character actors, showcasing a range covering the gamut of absolutely frightening to devastatingly heartbreaking. While “Reservoir Dogs” assembles one of Tarantino’s best ensembles, particularly Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Chris Penn, Tim Roth and even Tarantino himself, Madsen’s menacing outing stands as his career-best, with still more to deliver over the years if afforded the opportunity.

7. Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction (1994)


Role: Mia Wallace
Film: “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Producers: Lawrence Bender
Distributor: Miramax

The scene that proves it: “Ketchup”

As the longtime muse of Tarantino, for many, Uma Thurman can hold the top three spots of the list easily. Her turn as Mia Wallace, which earned her the only Oscar nomination she’s received yet (losing to Dianne Wiest for “Bullets over Broadway”), she’s equally memorable and a staple in cinema’s history for having a dance with Travolta, talking about a five-dollar milkshake and obviously, the unforgettable joke from her failed pilot series. I’d take an entire movie on the making of that TV series.

6. David Carradine in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)


Role: Bill
Film: “Kill Bill Volume 2” (2004)

Producers: Lawrence Bender
Distributor: Miramax Films

The scene that proves it: “Five Point Palm”

In one of the mid-2000 instances where the Golden Globes’ lineup bested the Academy’s, they were the only televised awards show that nominated the outstanding villain of Tarantino’s two-part vengeance action-drama. The way Carradine would lay upon his words, resting on them and articulating his feelings with a tranquil delivery but with terrifying results, was one of the best of the respective year. Even at the moment in which the villain finally meets his demise, he steals the focus, and with each step taken, the audience nears closer to saying goodbye to someone we really don’t want to.

5. Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (1997)


Role: Jackie Brown
Film: “Jackie Brown” (1997)

Producers: Lawrence Bender
Distributor: Miramax Films

The scene that proves it: “The usual stuff”

In any run-ins with Academy members that were known to be active in the acting branch in 1997-1998, I have no problem cinematically shaming them (internally) for failing to recognize the magnanimous Pam Grier for her turn as the Cabo Air flight attendant in Tarantino’s underrated crime thriller. Besides the fact that Lawrence Bender produced two of the year’s best films of 1997 with this film and the Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting,” every choice by Grier is precise, engaging and utterly eventful, and one that people don’t talk about enough. You also can’t shout her out without recognizing the work of her co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and the Oscar-nominated Robert Forster, one of the coolest nominations the Academy ever made.

4. Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds (2007)


Role: Shosanna Dreyfus / Emmanuelle Mimieux
Film: “Inglourious Basterds” (2007)

Producers: Lawrence Bender
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

The scene that proves it: “Preparing for Night for Nation’s Pride premiere”

This was a case of wrong category campaign selection, as Mélanie Laurent’s dynamic work as the young Jewish cinema owner who brings a deserved fate to the Nazi clan was campaigned in lead instead of supporting in 2007. Though it might have been a case of trying to maximize nomination potential (as seen with the near nom for Diane Kruger), everything Laurent shows the audience is lusciously real, wearing her character’s tormented past on her face, down to her memorable red dress. She’s one of the few actors in Tarantino’s canon that makes a considerable argument for being the best female character in it. Let’s allow the passage of time to decide it.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood (2019)


Role: Rick Dalton
Film: “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” (2019)

Producers: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino
Distributor: Sony Pictures

The scene that proves it: “Rick Fucking Dalton!”

DiCaprio’s best acting moments have been under Tarantino’s leadership, and his Rick Dalton is his very best yet. With the likes of his Oscar-winning co-star Brad Pitt and the gorgeously inventive Margot Robbie, DiCaprio’s partnership with his filmmakers and co-stars is pretty much a given with every role he takes on. Also, he’s never made a flamethrower look so cool. A possible theory that will never be answered, but if he hadn’t won for “The Revenant” (2015), I don’t think Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”) would be an Oscar-winner today. Let the speculation live on.

2. Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds (2009)


Role: Hans Landa
Film: “Inglourious Basterds” (2007)

Producers: Lawrence Bender
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

The scene that proves it: “Eating the strudel”

The entry of Christoph Waltz into our lives is one many of us will never forget. From the opening title card of “Chapter One: Once upon a time…in Nazi-occupied France,” and watching him drink a glass of milk before striking fear (and death) into the hearts of all that encounter him, he’s the paragon between filmmaker and actor that we’ve seen in Tarantino’s various outings. As we navigate through the film, his maniacal laughter, frightening presence, and poised neanderthal-like devouring of a strudel, he shows every reason why he deserved his first Oscar for best supporting actor.

1. Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (1994)


Role: Jules Winnfield
Film: “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Producers: Lawrence Bender
Distributor: Miramax

The scene that proves it: “Ezekiel 25:17”

What can be said that hasn’t already been spouted, shouted, and repeated on every message board and social media post on the internet? Jackson’s work as Jules in Quentin Tarantino’s Palme d’Or winner is everything we love from a master thespian and one that I believe to be one of the greatest performances of all-time (minus the hyperbole). Infusing Jules with redemption when he’s shown nothing but violence and a ruthless demeanor is one of a work of art. You can’t reward Jackson without acknowledging the brilliant script that Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avery laid out for him. The pinnacle of all their careers rests softly in the year 1994. An irreverent wit that has Jackson donating his soul for the moments he inhabits the screen.

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