Ever since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival close to 30 years ago, where it was an instant smash and took home the festival’s highest honor, the prestigious Palme d’Or, heaping praise upon Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) has practically been second nature. There really can’t be enough said about how much of a landmark the film was for the independent film scene. Although Tarantino was already a known entity amongst the film community, it was with this film that he helped usher in a newfound reverence for independent filmmaking, proving to the world that lesser-known talents had just as much to offer filmgoers as anything coming out of Hollywood.
Centering around three different storylines featuring a pair of hitmen, their boss’s wife, and a washed-up boxer, among a slew of other memorable characters, the film combines elements of crime, black comedy, neo-noir, and even some slight romance into its revolutionary screenplay. Tarantino took all of these genres and turned them on their heads by presenting the already convoluted story out of order. Although this tactic was not new and found its origins as early as the 1940s in Orson Welles’ fragmented portrait of a newspaper magnate in Citizen Kane (1941), Tarantino’s ability to create intrigue surrounding his characters’ motivations and fates because of the lapses in their respective narratives certainly helped popularize it.
Because of such a unique narrative feature distinguishing it from other films of its time and type, Pulp Fiction not only earns its place as one of the most influential films of the 1990s but, given Tarantino’s very clear references to the films and filmmakers that inspire him, one that carries a unique history of its own with it. It manages to combine the best elements of Tarantino’s influences while also standing tall as something singular that has been influencing filmmakers ever since its release. So, if we are to consider what came before it and everything that came after it, here are ten movies you should watch if you like Pulp Fiction.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Quentin Tarantino has frequently cited Howard Hawks as an influence from early on in his career. While the stylized action and groundbreaking sound design of a film like Scarface (1932) does well to demonstrate what auteurs like Tarantino tend to champion in their films, it’s the overlapping, rapid-fire dialogue of His Girl Friday that has made perhaps the biggest impact on the stories he chooses to tell. It’s impossible not to find shades of the screwball banter between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in that between Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer’s romantically-attached robbers in the opening of Pulp Fiction. Equally reminiscent of Hawks’ romantic comedy is the eventful evening shared between Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Thurman) at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, even though the two’s connection is purely platonic. Tarantino will even tell you that he pulled directly from His Girl Friday when Mia asks of Vincent’s stash of marijuana, “Mind rolling me one of those?”
More so than just its connection to Tarantino, the film is worth watching simply because of how enjoyable its unique blend of comedy and drama within the world of journalism is. Grant’s newspaper editor Walter is out to sabotage the upcoming wedding of his former ace reporter/ex-wife Hildy (Russell), and his plan to do so is to call upon her to investigate a local man who’s been charged with murder. Hawks creates a world in which dialogue flows more naturally than it ever had on film before as the two leads work to do the right thing while balancing their professionalism against their reignited attraction to one another. While their tactics are more than sketchy, they, along with the film itself, wear its love for journalism right on its sleeve. Their impeccable chemistry with one another ensures that the film is consistently well-intended and one of the fastest-paced of the classical Hollywood era.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Another of Tarantino’s reported favorites, the differences between Pulp Fiction and this Cold War-inspired film noir is quite significant save for its sensational storytelling tactics and one other particular thing: the mysterious box of glowing light. Said to hold unspeakable power worth a fortune, private detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) learns of this box while investigating the death of a hitchhiker he picked up before the two were attacked by an enigmatic group of thugs. The role that the box comes to play as the film’s MacGuffin garners some rather blatant comparisons to the glowing briefcase that Jules and Vincent are sent after by Marcellus Wallace. While we never get to see what’s in either of the two containers, both films are surely worth rewatching and dissecting for the sole purpose of trying to figure it out.
It has also been suggested that Ralph Meeker’s portrayal of Mike Hammer was an influence for the way Tarantino collaborated with actor Bruce Willis to create the character of Butch Coolidge and the brutal manner in which he takes revenge against pawn shop owner Maynard during the film’s second act. This makes sense considering Hammer’s willingness to take the violent route as his investigation leads him to a top-secret organization intent on using the box to create an apocalyptic future. It’s at this point that “Kiss Me Deadly” trades in its hard-boiled detective story for a slice of science fiction as it creates allusions to both the then-ongoing Cold War and the Manhattan Project. For this reason, the film manages to appear very much of its time while also being very much ahead of its time due to the way its choice of genres melds into one another. Pulp Fiction is certainly a similar beast in this regard, as its many on-the-nose homages provide the film with an extra layer of material to sift through on top of the multiple genres it blends together seamlessly.
Black Sabbath (1963)
Of course, if there’s one thing that’s most apparent about Pulp Fiction right off the bat, it’s how readily Quentin Tarantino embraces the idea of multiple narratives being told within a nonlinear structure. Aside from providing inspiration for the rock band of the same name, the Italian horror anthology Black Sabbath also influenced Tarantino and co-screenwriter Roger Avary to conceive of something similar in terms of its multitude of stories. Rather than a series of three unrelated stories combined into one film, however, their finished work would eventually evolve into an interconnected series of puzzles, where determining how each of the characters come to affect each other’s lives becomes just as much of a mystery as what’s in Marcellus’s briefcase.
Directed by Mario Bava and starring horror legend Boris Karloff in one of his better non-Frankenstein roles, the three stories concern a newly-turned vampire resisting the urge to hunt his mortal family, a call girl being stalked by a former lover who has recently escaped from prison, and a nurse who is haunted by dark forces after stealing a prized ring. Given its structure, it’s not hard to see some degree of influence from Black Sabbath in similarly designed works of horror like Creepshow (1982) and Tales From the Crypt (1989-1996). Bava’s handling of each story makes them unique from one another; while Pulp Fiction is designed to be viewed as a more cohesive work, it can be said that each of the different narratives within the film is differentiated to at least some extent by pace and tone despite conforming to the same overall genre sensibilities.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Simply put, there is no Pulp Fiction without Reservoir Dogs. Even today, it’s still crazy to think that someone as talented as Quentin Tarantino could make his way into the hearts and minds of film lovers everywhere on a budget of just over a million dollars, but that’s exactly what he did with his debut feature, Reservoir Dogs. It’s a testament to his power as a screenwriter that he’s able to craft such a complex plot around something the viewer never gets to see. In the aftermath of a poorly conceived diamond heist gone spectacularly wrong, a group of colorfully named criminals descends upon an abandoned warehouse, where they bicker over what to do next. This warehouse becomes the setting for most of the film as they contend with the fact that they were set up and struggle to find the rat in their operation.
Related to Pulp Fiction: Every Quentin Tarantino Movie Ranked
It’s quite the feat to pull off a heist movie without the heist, but Tarantino conceives a genius concept for a well-worn genre, daring the audience to fill in the blanks as he only shows us the build-up and the fallout. For this reason, it manages to be his most contained film while still providing flashes of the over-the-topness we’ve come to expect from him, which includes his penchant for nonlinear storytelling. He gets the job done with some inspired casting choices, including a bankable lead in Harvey Keitel, whose personal and financial support of Tarantino helped Reservoir Dogs see the light of day and some rising talents in Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi. Everyone is able to share the screen to the point that all of the characters feel like real and tangible people. And if one thing is clear, after only one viewing, we’ll never quite listen to “Like a Virgin” or “Stuck in the Middle With You” in the same way.
True Romance (1993)
It’s an equally strong indication of how much of a screenwriting force Tarantino is that even for a film he didn’t direct, and one that’s chronologically sandwiched in between what are arguably his two most iconic directorial efforts, True Romance still holds its own. Despite some pretty unforgivable racism involving liberal usage of racial slurs by white characters, it’s still a very entertaining ride simply due to how alive it is. It beams with energy from start to finish thanks to the direction from the late Tony Scott, whose handling of high-stakes sequences in many an 80s and 90s action film, including Top Gun (1986) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), allowed him to deftly handle the high octane thrills present within an already layered script from Tarantino. He clearly shared the same bit of filmmaking DNA as his brother, Ridley Scott.
Related to Pulp Fiction: 20 Best Characters Created By Quentin Tarantino
It’s easy to read the film as a fantasy about Tarantino himself, as comic book store employee Clarence (Christian Slater) makes his affinity for movies and early rock ‘n roll known to us and his love interest, prostitute Alabama (Patricia Arquette), long before a negotiation with her pimp falls through and leaves them on the run to Los Angeles. Their romance is altogether simple, and given the nature of the romance someone like Clarence is probably familiar with, he wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, it’s the very circumstances of his character that allows Tarantino to truly shine as a writer without any of the directorial vices that he tends to go overboard with if left unchecked. How can any film lover resist the notion of someone with as much appreciation for cinema and culture as them getting to live out a journey akin to those of his big-screen heroes? And a journey to the place where movies are born, no less. Not to mention, when that journey involves plenty of high-profile supporting players like Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, and Brad Pitt, what’s not to love?
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Another film in which Quentin Tarantino contributed mightily to the overall result by serving as a screenwriter, From Dusk Till Dawn also sees him starring alongside George Clooney, whose star was swiftly on the rise thanks to ER. The film was something of a passion project for Tarantino and his good friend, director Robert Rodriguez, who is equally known for wearing his filmmaking influences on his sleeves while also combining grisly visuals with unconventional humor. Perhaps it’s the pairing of these two distinctive minds that allows the very abrupt shift in tone that occurs halfway through From Dusk Till Dawn to work as well as it does. One minute, the film is a neo-western involving a pair of bank-robbing brothers who kidnap a family in order to make it across the Mexican border, the next it morphs into a survival action piece that sees the group fending off a bar full of bloodthirsty vampires.
Related to Pulp Fiction: A Field Guide to Quentin Tarantino’s Death Scenes
Surely, it sounds strange on paper, and nearly impossible to pull off on screen, but Tarantino and Rodriguez manage to make it work, even if they indulge a little too much in aestheticized gore, because of the time they spend investing the central fivesome. It’d be more than fair to say the ne’er do well Gecko brothers and the Fuller family (led by Harvey Keitel’s God-fearing patriarch) were not expecting to run into any blood-suckers anymore than we were. What was expected to be a safe haven is actually the most dangerous place conceivable. Dangerous, but still one hell of a ride as the makeup department brings to life some truly unsettling creatures of the night that, contrary to their traditional Eastern European origins, is uprooted from the folklore of Rodriguez’s Mexican heritage. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a film where nothing is really as it seems.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
If the acclaim for films like Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects proved anything, it was that even criminals could have engaging, thought-provoking conversations that often had nothing to do with what they were actually doing. This feature adorned many of the black comedy crime films that emerged in Tarantino’s wake, all complete with their well-dressed characters, pop culture references, eclectic soundtracks, and the occasional shoot ‘em up. Grosse Pointe Blank has these in spades, but what differentiates it is that these features are used more superficially, a kind of guise to draw audiences into what is actually a humorous and romantic film about stifled hitman Martin Blank (John Cusack), who returns to his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan and rekindles a spark with an old flame (Minnie Driver) during their high school reunion.
From Blank’s straight-up attempts to explain his line of work to old classmates to his business rival’s (Dan Aykroyd) efforts to form a hitmen’s union, the snappy, fast-paced dialogue of Grosse Pointe Blank allows it to play around heavily with the notion that criminals can lead ordinary lives. It conveys a surprising amount of emotional integrity for a film of its type, as, like Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winfield, Blank is desperate to go straight and improve his mental state in the process. Though he’s done some terrible things, his existential dread is more than compelling enough, albeit for the sake of humor, that it’s easy to latch onto him. Plus, the chemistry between John Cusack and Minnie Driver is palpable, making their romance good-natured enough to counter the trail of bloodshed that Blank inevitably leaves behind.
Just like any filmmaker worth following, Tarantino’s success with his first two features garnered him his own brand of filmmaking disciples eager to dissect his particular traits as a storyteller. Some clearly had more success than others when it came to honoring his style without necessarily copying it, with Guy Ritchie being one of the few to do it well. Before dusting the cobwebs off of Sherlock Holmes with rip-roaring vigor, Ritchie managed to develop a distinct style that was all his own with his first two features. While his debut cult hit Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) is equally worth checking out, it’s fitting that his sophomore effort Snatch would signal just how indebted he was to Tarantino. It was this film that confirmed how adept he was at transporting the same brand of witty dialogue, larger-than-life characters, and flashy editing techniques to the seedy underbelly of London.
Related to Pulp Fiction: 10 Best Performances by Brad Pitt
Starring the likes of Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro, and a then-unknown Jason Statham, Snatch also captures Ritchie’s own affinity for nonlinear narrative structures, as the film centers around two intertwining plot lines involving a lost diamond and a boxing bookie facing threats of violence from the local crime boss. It’s incredibly swift and doesn’t halt to explain everything; although the unconventional plot may turn casual viewers off, the film’s style is relentless to the point that there wouldn’t be much left without it. Snatch is the kind of film that, much like the shady yet hilarious individuals at its center, plays by its own rules, making it more than obvious how distanced it is from the influence of Hollywood. Nothing and no one is safe in the world Ritchie creates, which is what makes it so easy to get lost in.
In Bruges (2009)
Unlike Ritchie, Martin McDonagh is a playwright and filmmaker whose penchant for dark humor, excessive profanity, and abrupt shifts into violence has unintentionally earned him comparisons to Tarantino. While these comparisons aren’t totally out of the question, they do much to limit anyone’s understanding of McDonagh’s originality as a storyteller. With only three features to his name, McDonagh has used his experience on the stage to keep his banter precise, finding the humor within some truly morbid circumstances while asking very philosophical questions regarding the meaning of life. As his feature film debut, In Bruges is some of his best work in this regard.
The film follows two mismatched hitmen with the gift of gab — sound familiar? — hiding out in the titular Belgian city after their latest job goes badly wrong. McDonagh wastes no time introducing Ken (Brendan Gleeson) as a tasteful career criminal content to take in the luscious views and Medieval history of Bruges, and Ray (Colin Farrell) as the prickly, impatient rookie pining to be anywhere else. What starts off as a quiet slice of life that sees the two take very different approaches to keeping themselves occupied evolves into an unpredictable comedy of miscommunication and misunderstanding that gets about as dark as comedies can get once their royally pissed boss (Ralph Fiennes) enters the picture. In Bruges is a film that demands second viewing simply because you may be laughing too hard to catch everything the first time; at certain points, you may not feel entirely great for laughing. On paper, none of the main characters are entirely redeemable, but our investment in them is held together by their humanity and absurd humor.
Quiz Show (1994)
Finally, here’s a film that was not chosen because of its similarities to Tarantino’s masterpiece, but rather because it couldn’t be more different. 1994 is often viewed as one of the greatest years in film history, and you don’t have to look far to see why: Jim Carrey was becoming a comedic juggernaut with three solid classics (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb & Dumber); The Lion King all but confirmed Disney’s dominance at the box office; True Lies and Speed were action extravaganzas worth remembering, and Clerks brought some much-needed attention to the independent film movement. However, if there’s any indication as to why this year was so great, look no further than the Oscars lineup. Forrest Gump may have been the big winner of the bunch, but Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Shawshank Redemption, and, of course, Pulp Fiction have all aged like fine wine. Yet, the one outlier that no one seems to talk about anymore is Quiz Show, which is genuinely a shame considering the unprecedented moment in American history it takes to task.
Related to Pulp Fiction: 10 Underrated Hollywood Movies from the 1990s
Directed by Robert Redford, the film follows the Twenty-One game show scandal of the late 1950s, during which it was discovered that the charming and well-liked champion Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) was being supplied answers by the show’s producers in order to keep him on the air and boost NBC’s ratings. This scandal marked the first sign of disillusionment with the American media, a loss of innocence that would be inflamed during the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal. For having such national ramifications, however, Redford’s direction and Paul Attanasio’s script ensure that the film is a quiet, personal, and thought-provoking experience. It’s quite a different experience from something as loud and brash as Pulp Fiction, but that’s precisely what makes it a great alternative. Plus, it’s worth considering that the effects of the game show scandals, where moral ambiguity and cynicism won the day, eventually allowed for the jaded and assertive viewpoints of the New Hollywood movement and independent film movement to become more accepted. And as we all know, independent filmmaking was never quite the same after the arrival of Quentin Tarantino.