‘Pulp Fiction’: Bruce Willis Was Way More Emotionally Involved Than Fans Knew

Pulp Fiction was released in 1994, a movie that is widely considered to be Quentin Tarantino’s greatest work. Not only did the movie revive a love for the neo-noir crime genre, but it revitalized the careers of several actors who are still going strong in the entertainment industry to this day.

Pulp Fiction is feisty, fun, edgy, and full of clever cinema references that continue to thrill movie buffs of all ages. While Pulp Fiction features a star-studded cast, including Uma Thurman and Harvey Keitel, two actors, in particular, really stood out — Bruce Willis and John Travolta. 

The role of Butch was originally designed for Matt Dillon

Bruce Willis poses in a light collared shirt and dark jacket in 2019
Bruce Willis poses in a light collared shirt and dark jacket in 2019 | VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Pulp Fiction introduced fans to many unforgettable characters, including Butch Coolidge, an aging boxer who is in hiding from Marsellus Wallace after a double-cross scheme. Butch doesn’t appear in the movie for more than 20 or 30 minutes, but he makes a big impact with viewers, and Willis’s performance ended up earning him acclaim. Still, Willis wasn’t Tarantino’s first choice for the role of the boxer. Matt Dillon was the first actor Tarantino had in mind for the part.

Dillon, however, wasn’t especially enthusiastic when he received the script for Pulp Fiction, and reportedly wanted to “sleep on it” before accepting the role. This irritated Tarantino, who changed up the character a bit, and then offered the part to Bruce Willis.

According to IMDb, Willis was irritated at not landing the part of Vincent Vega, and had to be convinced to take the part by co-star Harvey Keitel, who plays Winston Wolfe. As it turns out, it was a very good thing for Willis and his career that he did accept the part of Butch. 

‘Pulp Fiction’ was a comeback film for both Bruce Willis and John Travolta

Ultimately, Pulp Fiction was a major comeback for Willis, who at that time was best known for his work in the Die Hard movie franchise. While Willis was a big movie star, he had recently appeared in a string of “flop” movies that didn’t make a lot of money at the box office. Pulp Fiction not only enhanced Willis’s credibility as a truly talented actor, but it helped to push him back to the box office big time, proving that he had the ability to craft a winning character.

Willis wasn’t the only star who was able to redefine his image after the success of Pulp Fiction. Travolta, who rose to fame in the ’70s as the young heartthrob of films like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, had suffered a recent spate of bad luck at the box office and hadn’t had a hit in years. Tarantino was intent on Travolta playing the part of Vincent Vega, and in the end, the film made Travolta a huge star once again, earning him an Academy Award nomination and revitalizing his career

How much did ‘Pulp Fiction’ cost to make?

Pulp Fiction has a lot of star power in it, but it wasn’t a very expensive film to make. At the time, Tarantino was still an up-and-coming director, in spite of the success of his debut project, Reservoir Dogs. According to IMDb, Pulp Fiction cost only about $8 million to make, with $5 million of that going to pay the salaries of the actors involved. Reportedly, the film was budgeted for even less to start with, but the budget was bumped up a bit when Willis was added to the cast.

Pulp Fiction made all of that back and then some, grossing over $200 million at the box office when it was released. These days, it is considered to be one of Tarantino’s masterworks, a movie that remains enduringly popular. 

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