Exploring: Movies that influenced Quentin Tarantino

No matter how you feel about Quentin Tarantino’s films — obviously, I’m a fan — you have to admit that he’s been able to get more eyes on films that many folks would never watch otherwise. Thanks to The Quentin Tarantino ArchivesThe Grindhouse Archives and some other interviews spread all over the internet, I’ve been able to put together this list of some of the films that have inspired Tarantino’s oeuvre.

Rolling Thunder (1977): Tarantino told Cinescape, “I saw it in just about every grindhouse in Los Angeles at one time or another. It’s a great revenge movie and has one of my favorite shoot-outs at the end. It’s a great combination of both action movie and character study.” William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones return home from seven years as POWs in Hanoi, only to discover that the real war has been waiting for them back in Texas. Directed by Joe Flynn (Brainscan), Tarantino is such a fan of this movie that his production company, Rolling Thunder Pictures, was named for it. It also features James Best, who owned the acting school that Tarantino attended and any time one of his films refers to the Acuna Boys, it’s really about the gang in this film.

Five Fingers of Death (1973):  Tarantino said of this film, “That’s one of the greatest kung fu movies ever. That’s up there with Coffy in terms of [being an] audience participation movie and one of the first of the kung fu movies to be released in America.” This Shaw Brothers movie predates Enter the Dragon and was on the very cusp of the kung fu craze that would grab America in the early 1970’s.

Coffy (1973): Tarantino’s love of Pam Grier was related in our review of Jackie Brown. He’d later say, “It stars Pam Grier and is one of my favorite Blaxploitation movies. It has a violent power over an audience that’s very unique. People get swept up in it where they’re screaming for blood by the end of the movie.”

They Call Her One-Eye AKA Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973): Elle Driver’s eyepatch-centric fashions in Kill Bill are a tribute to this Swedish exploitation film, a movie that Tarantino has declated “the roughest revenge picture of all time.” I agree — Christina Lindberg’s overwhleming desire for justice and her transformation into a literal angel of death makes for one of the greatest of all grindhouse films.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975): Tarantino went on record with his love of this film by saying, “Jimmy Wang Yu was the first martial arts superstar that came out of Hong Kong. More than any of the other kung fu movies, it captured the flavor of this Marvel Comics, Jack Kirby universe. I’ve seen it like 20 times.” Gogo Yubari’s unique weapon can also be traced back to this movie.

The Psychic (1977): Tarantino has named this film to several lists of his favorite grindhouse movies. It’s probably Fulci at his most restrained, working within the constraints of the giallo while also pushing at it from every direction. The theme from this film — also known as Seven Notes In Black — shows up in Kill Bill, while Fulci’s The Beyond was re-released by Rolling Thunder Productions.

Rio Bravo (1959): This Howard Hawks film has done more than just inspire Tarantino. So much of this film, as well as the character archetypes that Hawks established, influence John Carpenter, whose films Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13 also end up on Tarantino’s lists of favorite movies. When asked of this film, Tarantino replied, “When I’m getting serious about a girl, I show her Rio Bravo and she better fucking like it.”

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966): Sergio Leone directed what Tarantino has called “the best directed film of all time” or “the greatest achievement in the history of cinema.” Tarantino has created homages to this film numerous times in his work, but perhaps the most obvious are the opening of Inglorious Basterds when Landa and the farmer are talking, which echoes the meal between Angel Eyes and Stevens, and the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs which is pretty much the same as Angel Eyes’ men menacing Tuco. Throw in a Mexican standoff in nearly every Tarantino film and you can see just how important Leone is to his work.

Carrie (1976): Tarantino frequently claims Brian De Palma as one of his key influences, with Blow Out and Carrie making several of his lists of favorite films. The latter shows up on his 2002 and 2012 Sight & Sound polls. Like DePalma, Tarantino has endured critiques of his use of homage and ultraviolence. Any time you see a split screen or time moving at a non-linear pace in his films, you’re seeing the influence of DePalma.

His Girl Friday (1939): This movie also appears on both of Tarantino’s 2002 and 2012 Sight & Sound polls. He told Flavorwire.com, “One of the things I’ll do, if it’s appropriate in a movie, is I’ll just get the actors together and I show them His Girl Friday — just to show them not that we have to talk that fast in a movie, but you can talk that fast.” That’s true — he showed the cast of Four RoomsDeath Proof and Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth the film before their scenes in Pulp Fiction.

Battle Royale (2000) Tarantino has often said that this is his favorite movie to come out in the last 20 years. “If there is any movie that has been made since I’ve been making movies that I wish I had made, it’s that one,” he exclaimed. That makes sense — Gogo Yubari is pretty much Takako Chigusa from Kinji Fukasaku’s film, wearing the exact same clothes and played by the same actress, Chiaki Kuriyama.

Dazed and Confused (1993): Tarantino has referred to this as “the greatest hangout movie ever made,” which is high praise. He told Entertainment Weekly that “It’s my favorite movie of the 90s. Maybe the only movie that three different generations of college students have seen multiple times.”  When writing Pulp Fiction in Amsterdam and feeling lost and lonely, he rented the film. “All of the sudden I wasn’t lonely anymore. It’s a real hang out movie and you really get to know this whole community of people in the film. Those people have become my friends.” He echoed that same statement when he picked this film on both his 2002 and 2012 Sight & Sound Poll of the Greatest Films of All Time list, further saying, “There are certain movies that you hang out with the characters so much that they actually become your friends. And that’s a really rare quality to have in a film…and those movies are usually quite long, because it actually takes that long of a time to get past a movie character where you actually feel that you know the person and you like them…when it’s over, they’re your friends.”

The Great Escape (1963): Steve McQueen oozes the effortless cool that Tarantino has been able to bestow on so many of his actors in this film. In fact, Rick Dalton, the hero of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood almost was digitally added to the film, but Tarantino finally saw that as some level of sacrilege. When asked to pick his top five World War II movies by the Associated Press, he said of The Great Escape: “Probably my favorite war movie. That’s one of the most entertaining movies ever made and was kind of the touchstone goal for Inglorious Basterds to one degree or another. Make a World War II movie that’s just entertaining, that you just enjoy watching the movie.” Want more? You can watch Tarantino and Craig Ferguson discuss the film for over 12 minutes in this clip.

Originally, I had this listed as the movie Butch watches when he comes home from his match. I was 100% wrong — it’s Nam’s Angels (a.k.a. The Losers). Thanks to Joe Hoferka, one of our readers, for pointing out that this was wrong.

Taxi Driver (1976): Another film that appears on both of Tarantino’s 2002 and 2012 Sight & Sound polls, the director has gone on record numerous times to share just how much he loves this film. “One of the things about Taxi Driver is that it is just so magnificent. I actually do feel that it may be the greatest first-person character study ever committed to film. I mean, I really actually can’t even think of a second, or a third or a fourth that can even come into contention with it. Scorsese, at this time of his career, had a connection to cinema and no matter how dark the material was, there was such an exuberance to filmmaking that I don’t know if anyone will ever quite have the run of films that he had in the 70s leading into the 80s.” In fact, he considers it better than any film he’s ever created and can’t even imagine making a movie this good, pondering that in this statement: “Truthfully, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to make Taxi Driver.”

They All Laughed (1981): This Peter Bogdonovich directed film may have bombed with critics and audiences, but it reached Tarantino, who has placed it on numerous best of lists and even cited it as an inspiration for Jackie Brown. Along with the failure of films like Heaven’s Gate, Cruising and One from the Heart, this movie spelled the end of the director-driven studio films of the New Hollywood as the world changed post-Jaws and Star Wars.

Jaws (1975): Speaking of Jaws, Tarantino included the film on his 2008 Empire list of the greatest movies of all time. Movies — and the career of Steven Spielberg — would be forever changed by this film, as it is the dawn of the blockbuster, a tidal wave that would be fully embraced by Star Wars two years later.

Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948): Tarantino’s films are all marked by a strange juxtaposition between humor and violence, something that he may attribute to seeing this movie in his formative years. He said, “I remember the first movie I saw on television when I was, like, “Oh wow, you can do this in a movie?” was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. That was my favorite movie when I was five years old. The Abbott and Costello stuff was funny, but when they were out of the room and the monsters would come on, they’d kill people! And the big brain operation when they take out Costello’s brain and put in Frankenstein’s Monster’s brain was scary. Then this nurse gets thrown through a window! She’s dead! When’s the last time you saw anybody in a comedy-horror film actually kill somebody? You don’t see that. I took it in, seeing that movie.”

I also adore this handwritten list that Tarantino submitted to Empire. Simple, to the point and right in line with so many of the lists of films that he’s selected in the past.

Did I miss something on this list? Are you Quentin Tarantino and wish to discuss Fulci movies with me? Did I get something wrong? Let me know!

9 thoughts on “Exploring: Movies that influenced Quentin Tarantino

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