The Movies That Inspired Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino | Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Quentin Tarantino may be one of the best-known and most influential filmmakers in contemporary American cinema. The director became a household name after his highly-successful 1994 crime filmPulp Fiction. It is considered by many critics to be Tarantino’s masterpiece and the film’s disjointed narrative structure, multiple pop culture references, and over-the-top violence exemplified his filmmaking style.

Tarantino’s films also typically contain countless hat tips to other films that have somehow inspired the director. While documenting every single film reference in Tarantino’s entire body of work would be a daunting task, there are several films that clearly influenced some of this famed director’s most popular films. Not surprisingly, many of these films feature themes of crime and violence. Here are seven killer movies that inspired Quentin Tarantino.

1. City on Fire (1987)

This Hong Kong crime thriller directed by Ringo Lam is perhaps best-known as one of the primary influences on Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Like Tarantino’s 1992 film, City on Fire is the story of an undercover cop who has infiltrated a gang of thieves. Like Tim Roth’s character in Reservoir Dogs, Chow Yun-fat’s character in City on Fire is also torn between his duty as a police officer and the growing sense of friendship that he feels with one of the members of the crime gang he has infiltrated.

Besides borrowing some of City on Fire’s themes and character types, Reservoir Dogs also employs a similar “Mexican standoff” scene that is found in this Hong Kong movie. However, despite some obvious and superficial plot similarities, no one would mistake Reservoir Dogs as a City on Fire clone. Reservoir Dogs’s cut-and-paste narrative timeline and pop culture-laden dialogue make the film an unmistakable Tarantino creation.

2. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

As its title suggests, Pulp Fiction was partially inspired by the pulp crime fiction written by writers such as Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, and Dashiell Hammett, as well as the associated film noir genre. Although there is no single major film noir work that was the primary inspiration for Pulp Fiction, it is widely believed that the mysterious glowing briefcase pursued by the hit men in Pulp Fiction was Tarantino’s homage to a similar briefcase featured in the 1955 film noir classic Kiss Me Deadly. Kiss Me Deadly was adopted from Spillane’s detective novel of the same name.

Like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the briefcase in Kiss Me Deadly functions primarily as a MacGuffin, or plot device, to propel the story. However, unlike Pulp Fiction, the contents of the briefcase in Kiss Me Deadly are eventually revealed to be nuclear material. Kiss Me Deadly currently holds a 97 percent “Fresh” rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as an 85 percent audience approval rating.

3. The Game of Death (1978)

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series of movies that kicked off with Volume 1 in 2003 drew inspiration from a wide variety of film genres, including Japanese samurai films, Italian giallo films, and Hong Kong martial art films. However, perhaps the most obvious motif that Tarantino recycles in this film is the yellow-and-black tracksuit worn by Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride. The same outfit was famously worn by Bruce Lee in The Game of Death – the last film the iconic martial arts movie star was working on when he died unexpectedly in 1973. Although The Game of Death was never completed, a film using lots of footage of a Bruce Lee stand-in was released five years after his death.

4. Thriller: A Cruel Picture aka They Call Her One Eye (1973)

Like he did with The Game of Death, Tarantino also borrowed costume ideas from this little known Swedish exploitation film starring Cristina Lindberg. Like Uma Thurman’s character of The Bride in the Kill Bill series of films, Cristina Lindberg’s Frigga character becomes a trained killer in order to exact revenge on criminals who have wronged her. Although Thriller: A Cruel Picture has little in common with Kill Bill Vol. 1 besides featuring a wronged woman hell bent on revenge, fans of Tarantino’s film will instantly recognize the visual similarities between the Elle Driver character played by Daryl Hannah and the Frigga character played by Cristina Lindberg. Both characters wear an eye patch and share a propensity for color coordinating their eye patches with their outfits.

5. Lady Snowblood (1973)

Like Kill Bill Vol. 1, Lady Snowblood is also about a woman seeking revenge on a gang of criminals. However, besides sharing the same broad theme as Tarantino’s film, Lady Snowblood’s Yuki character also served as the inspiration for one of Kill Bill Vol. 1’s main characters, O-Ren Ishii. Played by Lucy Liu, O-Ren Ishii’s resemblance to Yuki — the lead character in Lady Snowblood — may be most apparent during the duel in the snow between O-Ren Ishii and The Bride. Tarantino has made no secret of his admiration for this bloody Japanese samurai revenge film and he even borrowed some of the film’s music for the soundtrack of Kill Bill Vol. 1.

6. Foxy Brown (1974)

Although Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown doesn’t borrow the storyline of this classic blaxploitation film starring Pam Grier, the film does borrow various stylistic elements. Jackie Brown also pays homage to the strong characters that Grier portrayed in both Foxy Brown and 1973’s Coffy. However, the influence of Foxy Brown may be the most apparent since the title’s font and half of the title name is borrowed for Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. Although the storyline of Jackie Brown is far more complex and subtler than the straightforward revenge storyline of Foxy Brown, Tarantino still manages to work in several direct references to Foxy Brown throughout his own film. For example, Sid Haig, who starred in Foxy Brown and several other similar blaxploitation films, plays a judge in Jackie Brown.

7. Django (1966)

Django Unchained brought renewed attention to Django, the Sergio Corbucci-directed “Spaghetti Western” that was one of the primary inspirations behind Tarantino’s 2012 movie. Although both films feature deadly gunslingers named Django, racist antagonists, and over-the-top violence, there is little else to tie these two films’ plots together. However, Tarantino was obviously inspired by some elements of the 1966 film and he even borrowed its unforgettable title song for Django Unchained. Franco Nero, who played Django in the 1966 original, also makes a cameo appearance in Django Unchained as a minor character watching the brutal Mandingo-inspired slave fights. After Django, played by Jamie Foxx, tells Franco Nero’s character that the “D” in his name is silent, Nero’s character tells him, “I know.”

All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.

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