Despite a hugely successful career, if there’s one film that Quentin Tarantino cannot escape, it’s Pulp Fiction. His 1994 opus magnum frequents more “Best Film” lists than the rest of his filmography put together. Over 20 years later, it is still one of the most popular films ever and never ceases to be discussed or admired.
Originally imagined as a sequel to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction was inspired by the serial nature of old horror films where several plots converged and often ended in a bloodbath. In this case mob enforcers Jules Winfield and Vince Vega find themselves held up in a diner by two opportunists, while their boss attempts to fix a boxing match using a ringer with a change of heart.
The incredibly violent script struggled to find a financier until it fell into Harvey Weinstein’s lap, who loved it so much it became the first film Miramax funded independently. Boasting several of cinema’s most treasured monologues and a briefcase aglow with mystery, the story itself was simple but Weinstein enjoyed the quirkiness in the nonlinear story and black humour. His faith paid off and it enjoyed great acclaim, oddly so for a film containing so much sexual violence, heavy drug use and racism.
Credited with revitalising the career of John Travolta, Pulp Fiction garnered him an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the greasy haired Vincent. Conversely Bruce Willis’ signing on required a significantly smaller pay check than he was used to. Which worked out just fine when he netted a percentage of the $214m gross and it took the Palm D’or at Cannes in 1994.
Littered with famous faces including Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken and Uma Thurman in her most iconic performance, it’s little surprise the film was so successful. Of course no Tarantino film is complete without a role for the man himself too, in this case Jules’ famously anxious friend Jimmie.
A landmark film that affirmed Tarantino’s status as an artistic force to be reckoned with, Pulp Fiction showcased what would become his signature tropes. Black humour, pop culture references by the dozen, anachronistic music, ensemble casts and extended dialogue. It’s a film so influential it’s genuinely hard to find someone who hasn’t seen it.