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Nowadays, Quentin Tarantino might be one of the most popular filmmakers around. But it didn’t take him long to get there. After all, 1994’s Pulp Fiction was only his second directorial effort. That film not only won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar but became a pop culture phenomenon. Given Tarantino’s underdog status at the time of its production, it’s wild to think he denied Daniel Day-Lewis a role in Pulp Fiction.

Quentin Tarantino wears a black suit and holds his hand up in a peace sign on the red carpet
Quentin Tarantino | Samir Hussein/WireImage

Quentin Tarantino only directed 1 movie before ‘Pulp Fiction’ 

While Pulp Fiction was only Tarantino’s second film as a director, he wasn’t without his industry experience prior to the movie’s release. In fact, his directorial debut, 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, earned widely positive reviews. And the film ultimately became a triumph of independent film and a classic in its own right.

Even the year before Pulp Fiction released, Tarantino earned a screenwriting credit on another critically acclaimed movie: True Romance. So perhaps Hollywood and audiences were primed and ready for the director to send his passion project into the world. Decades later, Pulp Fiction remains one of his most beloved films.

Yet, the filmmaker knew exactly who he wanted for the lead roles

Even though Tarantino was a relatively fresh filmmaker, he had very clear ideas about who he wanted to cast in Pulp Fiction. The director who would later be known for his specific vision and stalwart opinions on everything movies was already present way back in the early 1990s. According to Vanity Fair, Tarantino presented a list of his final choice of actors to the movie’s producers. But one name stands out among the pack: Day-Lewis.

“One of the actors I had on the list was John Travolta. And it came back: ‘The entire list is approved . . . except for John Travolta.’ So I got together with [producer Harvey Weinstein], and he’s like, ‘I can get Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn, William Hurt.'”

But Tarantino wanted Travolta, whose career was down and out at the time. However, Day-Lewis was only a few years removed from his first Academy Award win for My Left Foot. The actor — often praised as the best of his generation — would go on to earn two more Best Actor Oscars. However, everything worked out for Pulp Fiction.


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‘Pulp Fiction’ gave John Travolta the comeback he needed

At this point, every performance in Pulp Fiction is so iconic that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the film. Would Tarantino’s movie have been as successful if not for Travolta’s casting? After all, the filmmaker prides himself on being able to put the spotlight on actors worthy of another hot streak. And Travolta might very well be the best example of a career revival owed to a Tarantino movie.

Before Pulp Fiction, Travolta’s most recent film was Look Who’s Talking Now. And after he played Vincent Vega, Travolta enjoyed several years of hits. Films such as Get Shorty, Michael, Phenomenon, Face/Off, and The General’s Daughter all became box office successes. Of course, the disastrous Battlefield Earth ended that streak. But Tarantino undoubtedly elevated Travolta’s star as his performance elevated Pulp Fiction.