I'm Trying Real Hard To Be The Shepherd: Ranking The Films Of Quentin Tarantino

I've spent the past few weeks immersing myself in the world of Quentin Tarantino. To prepare for the release of his latest film, The Hateful Eight, I ranked each and every one of his characters. Then I wrote about The Hateful Eight itself, which I saw in its glorious "roadshow" version. Now, it's time to close the book on this subject for a little while... or until Mr. Tarantino decides to get around to making another movie. It's time to rank all of his movies. Because this is the internet and ranking things is what we do.

So how do you rank the work of a filmmaker whose worst movie is still an exceptional piece of cinema? With great difficulty. This kind of thing isn't science. This isn't definitive by any means. Consider this an opportunity to talk about Tarantino's work, to debate and discuss his movies. You will most certainly disagree with this ranking and that's kind of the point.

Now, let's dive in.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

9. Death Proof (2007)

Imagine a career where Death Proof is your worst movie. Quentin Tarantino's weakest effort is still a totally fascinating experiment, a recreation of trashy "grindhouse" cinema that actually manages to feel like the kind of movies it is recreating. But Death Proof is more than a simple pastiche – it's a genuinely skillful slasher movie that riffs on the formula while shattering it into a million pieces. Here is a movie that deliberately riffs on the structure of Psycho by killing its heroine at the halfway mark and then has the nerve to transform into a female-empowerment revenge picture where the vicious killer is brutally emasculated and exposed as a whiny coward. Death Proof can be a little uneven, but every scene brings forth wonderful ideas and just about every moment that matters is executed to perfection.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

8. Django Unchained (2012)

As the spiritual sequel to Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained can't help but feel a little familiar. Once again, Tarantino treats history as a fantasy landscape that he can mold to his liking, bending familiar iconography to give a minority hero a shot at bloody revenge. And as an action movie about a former slave turned bounty hunter setting out to rescue his wife, Django Unchained is exceptional. A character like Django may not have existed, but it's impossible to look at the sins of America and not feel that he needed to exist, that his fictional retribution is a necessary catharsis. The film ranks this low because it takes too long to shift into its strongest gear and lacks the laser focus of Tarantino's best work, but it's still an unforgettable, and uncomfortable, epic filled with heroes worthy of your cheers, villains worthy of your scorn, and sequences that leave a lasting mark.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

7. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs is one of the most astonishing first films from any filmmaker and, 23 years later, it feels like an anomaly in his career. This film sprints through its brisk 99-minute running time, leaving no prisoners and only pausing long enough to let the biggest shocks sink in... because then it's another sprint to that next big moment. With its tight storytelling and compact cast of characters, Reservoir Dogs wears its smallness as a badge of honor, intentionally leaving so much to the imagination. Although the film still plays like a jolt of cinematic lightning, that first-timer rawness is still evident at all times. The biggest issue facing Reservoir Dogs is that it was immediately followed by films that saw his directorial learning curve smashed to tiny pieces.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

6. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2002)

You watch the first film in Tarantino's Kill Bill duology and you get the sense that this film has been marinating in his mind for his entire life. Here is an action epic so packed with incident that it cannot be contained by a single genre. Kill Bill Vol. 1 gleefully leaps between genres from scene to scene, playing like a whirlwind tour of the kind of magnificent (and not so magnificent) trash that informs so much of Tarantino's work. He directs like a kid in candy shop. An anime sequence? Sure thing. A brutal massacre where Uma Thurman's vengeful warrior wears that famous Bruce Lee jumpsuit from Game of Death while she slices her way through a small army? Why not. Along the way, he delivers stunning action and characters who, despite being drawn broadly, are filled in with funny and macabre human detail by an impossibly watchable cast of actors. If there's one issue that lingers on Kill Bill Vol. 1, it's the lack of emotional payoff. Thankfully, the sequel takes care of that.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

5. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2003)

While Kill Bill Vol. 1 plays like an inspired hodgepodge of insane ideas held together by duct tape, spirit, and Uma Thurman's brave performance, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a superior film in every way. It also manages to make its predecessor better in retrospect, providing all of the pay-offs that the studio-mandated split stripped out of the first film. For the bulk of its running time, Vol. 2 is more of the same (not a bad thing), but it's that final 35 minutes or so that transcends everything that came before and gives spiritual shape to what was previously an exhilarating, if slightly weightless, experience. When the Bride finally comes face-to-face with David Carradine's Bill, all of the early silliness is filtered through the all-too-relatable humanity of two virtually super-powered characters. Even the deadliest warriors on the planet feel the pain that we do. Thurman's shattering final scenes are are stark contrast from all of the earlier ass-kicking. If Tarantino ever gets around to releasing a proper cut of both halves of Kill Bill (and it does exist), this may very well leap up a few spots.

the hateful eight trailer

4. The Hateful Eight (2015)

Is it a little too early to rank The Hateful Eight this high on this list, especially since the competition has had years to showcase its staying power? Perhaps. Maybe. But this is a movie that stays with you and lingers in your brain like a bad dream. Like it or not, here is Tarantino deliberately zigging when everyone was expecting another zag. This is not a spirited action tale like Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds. This is an anti-action movie, a grim and deeply unpleasant portrait of a nation's worst elements locked in a tiny building together during a deadly blizzard. There are no heroes here. No one is redeemed. There are just eight (give or take a few) very bad people, rotten to their core, whose prejudices and agendas drive them to commit unspeakable acts in the name of self-preservation or broken, vile causes. One part Sam Peckinpah, one part Agatha Christie, one part The Thing, and one part politically charged spaghetti western, The Hateful Eight is destined to divide audiences. Its audaciousness is disturbing and off-putting and grotesque, but that's kind of the point. Don't let the western setting fool you – here is the first Tarantino movie that actually feels truly modern. Everything that's ugly about 2015 can be found here. Nothing about this film's sense of nihilism and hopelessness is an accident.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

3. Jackie Brown (1997)

Although it bears many of his unmistakable trademarks, Jackie Brown is Tarantino's first and, so far, only adaptation. And working in someone else's sandbox looks good on him. Tarantino respects author Elmore Leonard too much to completely remove his voice from the film and the result is two unique voices merging into something cohesive and nearly perfect. Despite its length, there is nothing indulgent about Jackie Brown. Not a single scene feels wasted and no line of dialogue feels unnecessary. While Tarantino's more extravagant touches can be charming, watching him tone himself down to serve someone else's story proves what a genuinely remarkable talent he truly is. This is his most understated and mature work, a simple story filled with complex characters played by actors directed toward subtle and powerful performances. Tarantino has never made a movie quite like this one again and that's a shame.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

2. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction is one of the greatest movies ever made and the fact that it's not number one on this list feels like a travesty. How could the most important and influential indie film of the '90s not be Tarantino's best? This sprawling crime epic, which blends so many genres and tones into a sharp and intoxicating cocktail, is impossibly re-watchable masterpiece. If there's a problem with Pulp Fiction, and this is a ridiculous problem to have, it's that the countless inferior imitators have gone out of their way to dull the film's impact. However, it's a testament to the power of the film and the strength of its characters that it continues to live on outside of its shadow. This film is so much more than its most famous lines and so much more than the broad strokes that have escaped into popular culture. Shocking and clever and just so much fun, Pulp Fiction is astonishing filmmaking that sneaks up on you in all of the right ways. You're having so much fun that you're not prepared for it to shock you. You're having so much fun that you're not prepared for it to move you.

quentin tarantino movies ranked

1. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

In the films of Quentin Tarantino, words are the ultimate weapon. His films are violent, but the red stuff only starts gushing after enemies have softened one another up with dialogue. Triggers get pulled because the right phrases set off the right (or wrong) people. What someone doesn't say is often as important as what they're saying. Inglourious Basterds, a film that is essentially a series of lengthy conversations in multiple languages interrupted by brief spurts of extreme violence, feels like the culmination of everything he's made. This fantastical bit of brilliant revisionist history is a non-stop series of seemingly bad ideas executed to perfection. When this collection of characters – Nazis and American soldiers and vengeful Jews – start talking, they don't stop. Their conversations become duels. They search for weaknesses in one another's armor. They measure their opponent's strengths. They test and poke and prod and lurk behind faux smiles. Tarantino, whose direction has always worked to serve his writing, made the most intimate World War II epic of all time. Tarantino allows his characters to win the the biggest war in human history with a fist-pumping bang instead of a whimper, but no amount of action is as tense as the verbal showdowns. This is a perfect movie.