20 Best Quentin Tarantino Characters, Ranked
20 Best Quentin Tarantino Characters, Ranked: Since his debut feature “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992, writer-director Quentin Tarantino has made a name for himself in the film industry, as one of the most unique voices in all of cinema. Through magnetic dialogue, awe-inspiring visuals, irresistible music, and a deep admiration for movies of the past, Tarantino has created some of the most infectious, genre-blending films of the past thirty years. But, there is something the auteur believes will outlive him, long after he has passed, and that is his phenomenal character work.
From philosophical hitmen, to vengeful brides, and cunning Nazis, the Oscar-winning director simply has a knack for quirky, unforgettable characters, and it’s pretty undeniable. Here, I will be counting down my picks for the absolute best. There is no way to objectively rank them, nor do I claim to be right. This is simply a celebration of one of Hollywood’s most sensational talents. For this list, we will omit written works like “True Romance” and “From Dusk Till Dawn”, and with that in mind: come on, let’s get into character.
20. Louis Gara, Jackie Brown (1997)
Over the course of his long-running, prolific career as one of the greatest actors in the industry, the world has seen Robert De Niro as many different characters, but none quite like Louis Gara from “Jackie Brown”. He’s a quiet, soft-spoken criminal, with an underlying hazardous temper, tailor-made to be the right-hand man of Samuel L. Jackson’s more outspoken, weapon-dealing antagonist, Ordell Robbie. De Niro gives a notably more restrained, laid-back performance than his contrastingly intense leading-man roles; playing both the awkward comedy and the concealed danger of the character, as seamlessly as one would expect from the seasoned acting legend – offering a subtle, subdued presence that plays extremely well into Tarantino’s most delicately refined film. Gara doesn’t have a whole lot to say, but his impact on the story is certainly felt. It isn’t De Niro’s most iconic or flashy performance, but it surely remains one of his most unique, leaving an impressionable mark on QT’s filmography, in their first and only collaboration.
19. Cliff Booth, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)
One thing Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt’s collaborations always excel at is tapping into Pitt’s golden comedic-timing and, elsewhere underutilized, sharp wit. While every Tarantino-penned Pitt character always has a distinctly funny charm, none explore the actor’s range and depth quite like Cliff Booth. He’s a mellow, middle-aged, semi-retired stuntman, and best friend of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton. Following a day in his life, not much is revealed about Cliff, but that’s what makes him such a captivating character. The chemistry and contrast between Pitt and DiCaprio is clearly what makes the film what it is, but there is something to be said about Pitt’s subtle allusions towards something deeper beneath the surface of his character. Throughout the film, there are rumors and nods to the idea that Cliff may have killed his wife, and while that is never confirmed nor denied, Pitt’s slight dips in and out of Booth’s cool guy persona certainly add to the ongoing mystery; earning him his first acting Oscar, and adding yet another layer of intrigue into the electric Hollywood love-letter.
18. O-Ren Ishii, Kill Bill (2003-2004)
“Kill Bill” is a film absolutely overflowing with unforgettable characters; most of which are morally conflicting and absurdly deadly, contriving a slew of worthy adversaries for Uma Therman’s vengeful Bride. Though, it’s arguably O-Ren Ishii who puts up the best fight against the word-class assassin. A lethal killer, herself, and the queen of the Tokyo underworld, O-Ren’s ruthlessly violent origins are one of the most unforgettable elements of Tarantino’s two-part epic. Armed to the teeth with astonishing weaponry, and sporting some of the film’s most iconic attire, Lucy Liu’s presence as the formidable crime boss is imposing, while remaining largely composed, with a few effectively startling exceptions. She’s obviously someone you don’t want to mess with, but her fleshed out origins and Liu’s layered performance offer so much more to the character than simply being another stepping stone in the Bride’s journey – successfully piecing together one of the most compelling aspects of an already loaded, high-octane, Quentin Tarantino story. Boasting her Crazy 88 army, and defined by a beautifully wintry fight-sequence, O-Ren Ishii is a tragic villain, possessing a commanding grace.
17. John “The Hangman” Ruth, The Hateful Eight (2015)
As made evident higher on this list as well, Tarantino loves to cast Kurt Russell in some pretty hapless roles that, in the hands of another actor, would likely be completely detestable. However, the auteur knows what all of his key-players bring to the table, and Russell, in the latter half of Tarantino’s filmography, has fit the bill for sleazy type characters, whom he can somehow find some charm and appeal in. It’s a disturbing thing watching such an effortlessly loveable actor play a part that is both repulsive and magnetic, but that is exactly what Russell, through Tarantino’s fantastic writing, brings to the table in “The Hateful Eight”. He’s a feared bounty hunter, known as the Hangman for his merciless method of keeping criminals alive so he can see them hang – an interestingly morbid principle that is respected by some and denounced by others in the isolated winter-western. Complemented by a stagely rugged line-delivery that meshes with the invigorated theatrics of the film, John Ruth proves that even in his old age, Kurt Russell can still pack a punch, without being the hero.
16. Lt. Aldo Raine, Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Helming the Jewish-American, Nazi-scalping commando unit known simply as the Basterds, with a clenched jaw and a thick southern accent, Brad Pitt absolutely relishes in the role of Lt. Aldo Raine, for Quentin Tarantino’s wartime masterpiece “Inglourious Basterds”. Flexing his comedic chops as the unintentionally funny lieutenant, Pitt’s lighthearted, caricature-esque portrayal of an otherwise serious character, makes for some of his best work, without even being the main star of the show. It’s been well documented how well Tarantino is able to flip audience expectations when it comes to casting massive Hollywood movie stars, and choosing Brad Pitt as the leader of a feared guerrilla ops unit, and presenting the character as more of a righteous hillbilly than a gallant hero, was a pure stroke of genius from the acclaimed writer-director. Iconic line after iconic line, big laugh after big laugh, Pitt’s scar-necked avenger is the perfect fit for both the violent action, and the outrageous hilarity of the beloved WWII ensemble piece.
15. Dr. King Schultz, Django Unchained (2012)
Some actor/director pairings are simply meant to be, and that is certainly the case when it comes to Christoph Waltz and Quentin Tarantino. In two films with the director, Waltz has two Oscars to show for it, and it’s not hard to see why. He performs Tarantino’s dialogue like it’s poetry, and fully embraces whatever role he’s given – in this case, former dentist, turned well-mannered gunslinger, Dr. King Schultz. Freeing Django and guiding him on his blood-soaked fairytale to rescue the woman he loves, the deadshot dentist aims to rid the rotting South of its racist cavities, with his trusty sleeve-gun, and a silver-tongue that can talk its way out of anything. It’s a drastically different character from that of Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds”, but Waltz never skips a beat, flourishing in the role with a fluent delivery and polite elegance that acts as a bold offset from Schultz’s brutal trade: a provision that few other actors could pull off with such mitigation. Simply another case of Tarantino’s supporting characters being just as captivating as the lead.
14. Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction (1994)
Reviving his stardom with a single performance, thanks to QT’s brilliant script, Vincent Vega, to this day, may be John Travolta’s greatest character. With his career all but in the drain, Tarantino would gift Travolta with the lead role in his sophomore hit “Pulp Fiction”, as the suave, yet spacey, heroin-hooked hitman. He nails the black comedy of the neo-noir classic perhaps better than anyone else in the film, with an unorthodox delivery that works so well, somehow, that it all but entirely rejects definition. It’s extremely evident Travolta is having the time of his life as Vega, nailing every single scene he’s in, bringing a magnetic draw to a character plagued with a negligence that should presumably come off as ungracious or dull. He’s an arrogant, detrimental character, who shouldn’t come across as likeable in any way, but Travolta finds the humour and intrigue between the lines, and delivers the definitive performance of his life as Vega; dancing, nitpicking, and shooting his way through the hitman’s messy world – who, unfortunately, can never quite find a way to wash his hands of their filth.
13. Bill, Kill Bill (2003-2004)
Leader of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and former love interest of the Bride, responsible for putting her in a coma and setting the stage for her cold path of vengeance, Bill is one of Tarantino’s most multi-dimensional villains. The trend of Tarantino’s knack for writing antagonists that were every bit as mesmerizing as the film’s heroes may have started with characters such as Ving Rhames’ Marsellus Wallace and Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell Robbie, but it was never truly perfected until the late David Carradine’s intimidating turn as the well-spoken, insanely dangerous, Bill. Though the film’s namesake is primarily kept absent throughout the majority of the story, his presence is certainly felt, and once he’s revealed, it’s an absolute treat. Wise intellect and powerful dialogue veil the aging frame and frailty of the devious old man, who’s imposing through the use of language, as a master manipulator and gifted speaker; as evidenced by his iconic ‘Superman’ monologue. Made complex by his deep admiration for his greatest foe, but made immortal by David Carradine’s masterful portrayal, the eloquent Bill is one of cinema’s most magnificent villains.
12. Mr. Pink, Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Tarantino’s debut film breakthrough would also serve, in many ways, to be the big breakthrough for highly revered character-actor, Steve Buscemi; in a role that would help launch “Reservoir Dogs” into the stratosphere, and continue to entertain, all these years later. Following a group of criminals (all named after a color) taking refuge following the aftermath of a botched heist, the film explores the dynamics of the ragtag ensemble of culprits, as they try to piece together how things may have gone sideways – deciding one of the lot is likely a mole. It’s an immensely tense concept, made all the greater by the differentiating characters; with Mr. Pink being one of the more unique. He’s a cynical, neurotic mess of a criminal, conveyed exquisitely by Steve Buscemi’s high-energy performance that effectively neutralizes any lulls in the tightly confined story. From his peculiar distaste for tipping waitresses, to his constant declaration of being a so-called ‘professional’, Pink is a bemusing example of a repugnant character that you can’t help but be infatuated by: a huge testament to both QT’s writing, and Buscemi’s keen talent.
11. Rick Dalton, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)
A distressed actor stuck in a midlife crisis, feeling as though his time as an actor has passed him by, Rick Dalton is both one of Tarantino’s most hilariously pitiful, and strikingly inspirational, characters. As the years in Hollywood seem to fade, so does Dalton’s career as a bankable leading-man, as he finds himself in an inescapable hole of sorrow and self-loathing, brought on by the idea that the film industry has left him on the outskirts, to be forever forgotten. It’s a depressing concept for a character, but one that, bestowed upon Leonardo DiCaprio, comes off as unbelievably entertaining and exuberant. While his frequent breakdowns and missteps are undeniably funny, Leo’s performance, mixed with QT’s pathos for the character, ultimately make Rick Dalton someone to easily root for. The film does an incredible job of displaying the untapped acting chops at the core of the woeful thespian; which makes it all the more cathartic when Rick welcomes his newfound career for what it is, and thrives in roles that he, at one time, considered lesser or inferior. An encouraging, albeit comical, lesson in acceptance.
10. Calvin Candie, Django Unchained (2012)
Seven years before his Academy Award-nominated performance as the lovably flawed Rick Dalton in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”, Leonardo DiCaprio played the much more universally despised, Calvin Candie, in a role arguably more deserving of an Oscar nod. Candie is an unbelievably unforgiving character, and for an actor of DiCaprio’s caliber to willingly portray such a filthy and unfiltered villain speaks volumes of his dedication to the craft.
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He’s a greasy, racist plantation owner, devoid of a single redeeming quality. Yet, Leo plays it with such a distinctly wicked poise and vile charisma that you can’t help, but every single scene that he inhabits beguiles you. It’s a tricky character to balance. He needs to be feared and hated, while also being the most prominent figure on-screen at times, but typical leading-man DiCaprio takes the challenge, and more than delivers; leaving behind one of the greatest antagonists in Tarantino’s filmography, as well as one of the absolute finest performances of his own established career.
9. Jackie Brown, Jackie Brown (1997)
Tarantino has many skills as a director, but two of his more profound, lesser-stated gifts, are writing badass female leads, and revitalizing the careers of his favorite underappreciated actors, by casting them in knockout roles that audiences can’t resist. These strengths would combine when QT tapped blaxploitation icon Pam Grier, for the titular part of Jackie Brown: a down on her luck, small-time criminal stewardess, who finds herself caught up in the middle of an intense double-sided heist.
“Jackie Brown” has a reputation for being Tarantino’s most mature film, and much of that belief stems from Grier’s strong, grounded performance. She’s calm and collected on the surface, and plays the character beautifully, as not only a tough, resilient hero, but also a vulnerable mess; making for an intricately crafted, and innately relatable three-dimensional character to root for in a world of violence, greed, and betrayal. A bafflingly overlooked entry into Tarantino’s extensive catalogue of endearing protagonists, Jackie Brown is one of the crime genre’s boldest heroines.
8. Major Marquis Warren, The Hateful Eight (2015)
Though far from a noble, picturesque hero, Major Marquis Warren is the main protagonist of Quentin Tarantino’s snowy, secluded murder-mystery. The infamous bounty hunter may not be typically cited as one of Samuel L. Jackson’s best, but as a character, it’s hard to think of a better lead for this wildly intense western. Despite his old age and being the constant subject of racial hatred/bigotry, the former Civil War veteran overcomes; unravelling the film’s elaborate conspiracy, and dishing out a bloody retribution, with two Colts and a sinful grin.
Offering spurts of merciless violence, comedic relief, and a chilling cackle that fills the frosty air with anarchy and terror, the Major never fails to break the occasional monotony and play-like structure of “The Hateful Eight”, with hellish charm. Even in the film’s more quiet moments, Jackson takes center stage, commanding the screen with his signature assertive line-delivery that lends itself to some unforgettable monologues. Blurring the lines between hero and villain effortlessly, this quick-witted executioner is one of Tarantino’s most equivocally compelling creations, to date.
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7. Mia Wallace, Pulp Fiction (1994)
Eccentric wife to notorious mob boss Marsellus Wallace, Mia is one of the most fascinatingly enigmatic characters in all of film. A free speaking, fun loving, untethered spirit with a serious cocaine addiction, Uma Thurman masterfully converts what could be a very unrefined role, into a fully fleshed out mess, employing a steady balance of elegance and chaos that pops off of the screen. Sporting chique clothing and an iconic hairdo, Wallace dances her way through the violent, crime-ridden world of “Pulp Fiction”, with a reckless abandon that radiates through the gritty atmosphere of Tarantino’s intertwining gangster classic.
Much like the rest of the characters in the film, QT’s Oscar-winning screenplay explores the ups and downs and real life struggles of Mia Wallace: a character who would be displayed as one-dimensional and ‘cool’ in most other movies. She’s a self-destructive wreck, and the film, through Uma’s enthralling performance, never shies away from showing that side of the otherwise enchanting figure – constructing an everlasting piece of film history.
6. Mr. Blonde, Reservoir Dogs (1992)
We discover a little about Mr. Blonde throughout the runtime of Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature, but we feel his presence, nearly thirty years later. Michael Madsen’s controlled depiction of the remorseless maniac remains one of the greatest accomplishments of his career, and an absolute treasure of Tarantino’s beloved filmography. Few villains are as effortlessly intimidating as Madsen’s cold-hearted criminal, and it all commences with his chillingly laid-back delivery.
He’s the pure embodiment of a screwy crook, but you’d never be able to tell through his nonchalant exterior, and alarmingly calm demeanor. Scummy characters fill “Reservoir Dogs” to the brim, but Mr. Blonde is undoubtedly the most cruel, with his slick suit and pitch-black shades cloaking the horrors that lie behind his serene facade. Inherently gripping, dreadfully imposing, and utterly out of his mind, Blonde lays claim to not only the most deranged dance scene in all of cinema, but also one of the most effective villains in QT’s extensive body of character work.
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5. Stuntman Mike, Death Proof (2007)
From “The Thing” to “Tombstone”, Kurt Russell has long been deemed one of Hollywood’s most prolific and reliable leading-men, even finding tremendous success in his old age. However, the legendary silver-screen veteran doesn’t quite get enough credit for how much of a chameleon he can be in certain, more obscure roles. Case in point, Quentin Tarantino’s cult-classic horror flick, “Death Proof”. Chewing the scenery as a homicidal stuntman with an appetite for carnage and destruction, Russell plays the psychotic driver through a tenaciously berserk charisma, with unsettling tones of his trademark movie star appeal, shining through.
It’s a layered performance that ranges from horrifying, to darkly comedic, to pitifully cowardice, and it works on every level, never feeling forced or cheesy – genuinely instilling a sense of unpredictable danger at every turn. The film he occupies may be generally considered to be (even by Tarantino) the worst entry in the director’s filmography, but there is no denying Russell’s eerie screen presence as Stuntman Mike; earning the antagonist a place in movie history, as a horror icon in his own right, and the most successful component of the experimental slasher.
4. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Many things need to come together in order for a character to translate well from the page, onto the screen. It takes the right look, the right director, and of course, the right actor. Tarantino famously made the decision to scrap “Inglourious Basterds” if he couldn’t find the perfect actor to play SS Colonel, Hans Landa – whom he considers, to this day, his one of the greatest characters writing. It’s an undeniably attractive concept for a villain, made all the better by a career-defining performance by Christoph Waltz, for which he would win his first Oscar.
Landa is essentially Sherlock Holmes in the form of a ruthless Nazi, and the bilingual bad guy is definitely a key reason as to why QT’s revisionist WWII epic works as well as it does. As much as you hate Landa, it’s impossible to deny how naturally charming Waltz is in the role, using a sharp wit and deceiving manners to mask the darkness beyond the surface. He commands every scene, not by being physically imposing, but mentally imposing: a very difficult thing to convey through the lens, and it makes for one of cinema’s most distinctively unique villains.
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3. Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction (1994)
The quintessential Sam Jackson performance remains one of the most indelible pieces of Quentin Tarantino’s entire filmography. “Pulp Fiction” may be a movie packed full of colorful characters from start to finish, but none have a more substantial arc throughout the film’s considerable runtime, than Jules Winnfield: tyrannical hitman, turned benevolent shepherd. Realizing the error of his murderous ways, the Jheri-curled gunman chooses a different path, as a guiding force for the weak and hopeless; growing from his past mistakes, and focusing on reshaping his future.
It’s rare for a single supporting character to be given so much vindication and development in a big ensemble piece like this, but QT and Jackson pull it off, seamlessly. However, if there is a more defining trait to the role, it has to be the astonishingly powerful line-delivery. Tarantino has been on record stating no actor performs his dialogue quite like Sam, and never has that been more evident than with his famous recitation of Ezekiel 25:17, a mighty speech for the ages, that marvelously encapsulates everything this character is all about.
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2. The Bride, Kill Bill (2003-2004)
Few images in the film are as engraved into pop culture, and as synonymous with Quentin Tarantino, as Beatrix Kiddo (aka the Bride, or Black Mamba) dawning her iconic yellow jumpsuit and wielding her deadly Hanzo katana amidst a horde of lethal assassins in the two-part genre-fusing classic “Kill Bill”. She’s likely the greatest one-woman-army to ever grace the screen, as well as the eternal symbol for feminist revenge in cinema.
Leaving a trail of bodies in her wake of those who have wronged her, Uma Thurman’s unrelenting bride may claim some of the most extraordinary fight scenes in movie history. Uma renders a touching and sympathetic layer to the character, thanks to Uma and Quentin’s warm-hearted love for the bride. It’s a complex figure who wears many different faces throughout the course of the films’ combined four-hour-plus long runtime, but that’s what makes her such an endearing hero. A cold-blooded killer with a compassionate soul, struggling to be released from her gruesome past, on one last hunt to clean the slate for good – how could you not root for that?
1. Django, Django Unchained (2012)
Combining the idea of rewriting history from “Inglourious Basterds” with the concept of a renegade on a one-track, bloodthirsty journey, from “Kill Bill”, Tarantino gave birth to the ingenious character of Django. From former slave, to quippy bounty hunter given the chance to rescue his wife from her racist plantation captors in Mississippi, Jamie Foxx’s Django owns this spaghetti western revenge-fantasy; fictitiously bringing justice to the antebellum South, with a restless gun, style, and flair.
Elevated by Tarantino’s smooth dialogue and a thunderous theme song, Jamie Foxx delivers an impressively nuanced performance as the ‘fastest gun in the South’, playing both the meek, mild-mannered slave, and the full-blown action hero side of the character, extremely well – offering a depth and swagger to a role that could have easily been fairly one-note, or overdone. Foxx’s chemistry on screen with Christoph Waltz makes for an exciting pairing, but it’s his solo scenes towards the end of the film that truly cement his status as a silver-screen icon. While unfortunately, a figure like Django never really existed, it is certainly fun to imagine. Only from the mind of Quentin Tarantino.