A successful film is more than the sum of its parts, but often within a powerful film, there are certain memorable scenes that speak to the strengths of the film itself. With countless movies released every year, crafting a memorable scene within a great film is no easy feat. Quentin Tarantino has become one of Hollywood’s most well-known and successful directors, and he has created many memorable scenes during his 25 years in the industry.
While many of Tarantino’s scenes are memorable for their extreme violence, he has also written and directed many great non-violent scenes featuring brilliant performances. These great scenes are often the result of Tarantino’s witty dialogue, the actors’ tour de force performances, and the absurdity of the situation itself.
20. Heist Planning Scene (Reservoir Dogs, 1992)
Tarantino films usually involve criminal activity and black comedy, and this scene combines the two elements brilliantly. After being assigned aliases based on colours, this ragtag group of criminals argue over their colour allocations.
Combining Tarantino’s flair for humour with the actors’ spot-on comedic timing, the characters voice crude complaints, such as “Mr. Brown” being too close to “Mr. Shit,” and “Mr. Pink” being like “Mr. Pussy.” Gruff old mobster Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) explains that when planning the previous heist, arguing over changing names only caused further problems, so he won’t let people change their names anymore.
By showing the comedic nonsense that goes on in the criminal underworld, Tarantino highlights the absurdity of what should be a serious situation. Even though they are about to commit a violent crime, these tough guys are concerned that their aliases will diminish their manliness.
19. Mr. Orange’s Backstory (Reservoir Dogs, 1992)
Mr. Orange’s (Tim Roth) backstory shows him practicing to convince Cabot that he is a low-level criminal needing work, and fellow police officer, Holdaway (Randy Brooks), tells him to memorise a made-up incident that happened to him during a drug deal.
It is a long and detailed story, full of swearing and references to drugs and The Lost Boys, of how he went to meet someone at a train station for the deal, and when he goes into the toilets, he encounters some police officers and a police dog who knows Mr. Orange is up to no good, and how Mr. Orange handled this situation.
The camera work in this scene is fantastic with the 360-degree camera shot when Mr. Orange is in the train station toilet, and the frantic pace of Orange’s lines highlights his anxiety. These factors create a sense of tension that matches with the rest of the film, despite being a made-up situation, and shows how sneaky and clever Mr. Orange is.
18. The Bear Jew (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)
The Basterds demand that the Nazi soldier they have captured point out on a map where other Nazis soldiers are stationed. The Nazi refuses, much to the delight of the Basterds, whose only source of entertainment is their comrade, Sergeant Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz (Eli Roth).
There is great tension built up in this scene due to the Nazi anticipating his own brutal death, displayed with the orchestral music usually heard in Spaghetti Westerns, and the sounds of the bat hitting the walls as the Bear Jew exits a tunnel and comes toward the Nazi.
This is a classic case of Tarantino’s use of sound and music to let the audience know something violent is about to go down. This scene is also a great introduction to the Basterds, a very violent version of the soldiers in classic war films like Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen, films Tarantino holds in high regard.
17. The Bride in the Coffin (Kill Bill: Volume II, 2004)
The Bride (Uma Thurman) is buried alive when she is ambushed by Budd (Michael Madsen). The fear in The Bride’s eyes and her whimpering says it all.
One of the quietest scenes in any Tarantino film, the lack of music in this scene emphasises the hopelessness of her situation. This scene conveys the true sense of dread that The Bride has faced at the hands of her former squad members, and how she must face this adversity again in order to seek her revenge.
16. Vincent and Jules Take the Briefcase (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
Two older streetwise hitmen, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), are sent by their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), to retrieve a mysterious briefcase that is in the hands of traitor Brett (Frank Whaley). Vincent retrieves the glowing briefcase, adding an element of mystery to the film that movie buffs still debate to this day.
Jules subtly threatens their targets by helping himself to Brett’s burger, often with close-ups of Jules’s and Brett’s faces, showing that Jules knows he has all the power in this situation and that Brett is screwed.
This leads to Jules’ infamous (and plagiarized) Biblical speech about enacting vengeance on those who have done wrong, before killing these men. Not only does it show that the previously chilled-out Jules can wreak fury on people, but is also a great early scene in what has become one of the most popular films ever made.
15. Ending Scene in Diner (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
In the final scene of the film, Vincent and Jules are having breakfast after the ordeal of cleaning a corpse out of their car. Jules talks about how he wants to wander the earth after his after not being shot in the apartment, despite Vincent’s worries about his plan.
Tarantino’s non-linear approach to storytelling allows this scene to tie in with the opening scene of the film where Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) plan on robbing the restaurant. Their robbery is successful at first, until they try to rob Jules. He explains to Ringo that he usually would have killed him on the spot, but because of his new way of thinking about life, he is willing to give the couple a chance to turn their lives around.
This life-changing mysticism that Jules is preaching not only provides a great conclusion to all the crazy events throughout Pulp Fiction, but the high tension of all the actors, especially Jackson, is hard to match.
14. Max Meets Jackie (Jackie Brown, 1997)
Tarantino films are not known for their sweet, romantic moments, but this is one of them. Bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) has been around the block more times than he cares to remember, and he knows the game. He goes to pick up a prisoner released on bail, thinking it is just another routine day on the job.
However, once he lays eyes on the beautiful Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), he is immediately smitten with her. All these unexpected feelings are conveyed through the camera first showing a lone female figure walking and slowly revealing a beautiful woman, as well as Forster’s obvious but not blatant facial expressions, and tune of the old love song “Natural High” by Bloodstone really captures this sudden affection.
13. Shootout in Tavern (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)
Deception is an ongoing theme in Tarantino films, and this scene highlights how this can go very wrong. The British Lieutenant Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) dresses as a Nazi soldier in order to rendezvous with the actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who has critical information about an upcoming movie premiere that high ranking Nazis will be attending.
The following conversation between the Allies and the Nazis is suspenseful and the audience has no idea how the Allies are going to get out of this. After Hicox inadvertently gives away his true identity through a simple hand gesture, a shootout occurs, and the Basterds have to intervene. The tension in this scene is high throughout, and a scene that started out with a group of friends celebrating a newborn baby ended in death, life’s inevitable conclusion.
12. Mia Overdoses (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
After a night out at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) grabs a little bag of heroin out of Vincent’s coat pocket, thinking it is cocaine. She helps herself to his stash, but immediately starts frothing at the mouth and bleeding from her nose. Vincent realises what has happened when he sees her unconscious, so he races to his drug dealer Lance’s (Eric Stoltz) house to revive her.
Both Vincent and Lance are talking at a frantic pace throughout the rest of this scene, scared of having Mia die because of them. Vincent crashes his car into Lance’s house before everyone yells at one another about what to do. It is a fast-paced and memorable scene that ends with Mia getting an adrenaline shot in her heart.
11. Showdown at House of Blue Leaves (Kill Bill: Volume I, 2003)
Concluding the first Kill Bill movie is the gloriously bloody showdown at the Japanese nightclub, the House of Blue Leaves. The Bride is there to kill O-Ren (Lucy Liu), one of the Deadly Vipers who tried to kill her at her wedding.
The nightclub is dressed up in very vivid colours and has a truly Japanese look to it, something that makes this film stand out from other Hollywood action movies. The violence and the Japanese imagery makes this scene like an over-the-top anime. The Bride then goes upstairs to fight O-Ren in a snowy garden, which is very picturesque scenery for their showdown.
10. Jackie Says Goodbye to Max (Jackie Brown, 1997)
After scamming both the police and a dangerous arms dealer, Jackie Brown visits the ever-faithful Max Cherry to say goodbye. Having witnessed the sexual tension between them throughout the film, the camera slowly zooms in on them as their faces get closer and closer before finally kissing, capturing the intimacy of the situation, almost as if the audience is receiving a kiss. Jackie asks Max to come with her, but he declines.
As soon as she drives away, Max immediately regrets his decision, but he knows he does not belong in her world and he knows his place is at the bail bonds office. This scene, like the rest of the film, is about the hardships of getting old and being set in your ways.
9. Shosanna and Landa Have Lunch (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)
Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) has become the apple of a Nazi hero’s eye, and he convinces high-ranking Nazis to have the premiere of the film based on his exploits be held at her cinema. To Shosanna’s terror, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) joins the group.
The pounding drums that start playing when Landa appears convey the complete sense of dread Shosanna feels after recognising the man who murdered her family. This technique has become common in Tarantino films: starting a scene with a quiet, civilised conversation taking on a whole new meaning when an element of danger suddenly appears.
8. Stephen Informs Candie of Django’s Scheme (Django Unchained, 2012)
House slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) politely asks Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) to go into the library with him to speak privately. It is then revealed that Stephen is not the simple and frail old man he pretends to be; he is a calculating man, which is a testament to Samuel L. Jackson’s acting ability that has been shown in most of Tarantino’s other films.
Stephen says to Candie about Django (Jamie Foxx) and Schultz’s (Christoph Waltz) scheme, “Them motherfuckers ain’t here to buy no mandingos!” and “They’re playing yo ass” – things a slave would never say to their master. Usually Stephen is standing up when Candie is sitting down at the dinner table, but now they are both sitting down, showing their equality.
This scene shows the true nature of Candie and Stephen’s relationship; they are master and servant in public, but equal partners in private. This scene also adds to the tension of the following scenes as the audience now knows the film’s villains are aware of what is going on.
7. Opening Breakfast Scene (Reservoir Dogs, 1992)
Tarantino’s first film opens with the group of thieves eating breakfast together. The camera pans around the group to introduce the audience to all the members of the gang. In typical Tarantino fashion, the very first conversation being heard in the film is about pop culture, specifically 1970s music and how it resonates with them, and about whether the Madonna song “Like A Virgin” is about big dicks or not.
This leads to Mr. Pink’s tipping debate and shows how stingy he is. This scene highlights the film’s humour and Tarantino’s flair for dialogue and how it is delivered by these great actors, especially Steve Buscemi.
6. Jack Rabbit Slim’s (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
Perhaps the most iconic scene in Pulp Fiction, Vincent is taking his boss’s wife, Mia, out for dinner to keep her company. The 1950s themed diner Jack Rabbit Slim’s allows the funny Steve Buscemi to play a surly waiter dressed as Buddy Holly.
Vincent and Mia have dinner and subtly flirt with one another, and engage in conversation about whether it was true if her husband threw a man off a balcony for rubbing her feet. They then dance in the restaurant’s competition with some very smooth dance moves. With the camera panning back and forth to each of them as they look at each other, it is almost as if they are flirting through dance.
5. Opening Scene at French Farm (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)
The tune in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds is the Ennio Morricone score from the film The Big Gundown, setting the tone that the action in this film will be in the style of the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, despite being set in Nazi Germany.
After the music ends though, the following scene will remind the audience that being a Jew living in this environment was truly a horrible existence. Colonel Hans Landa arrives at the LaPadite farm in rural France, and tells Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) of his reputation as “The Jew Hunter.”
Christoph Waltz’s acting in this scene is subtle, but definitely gets its point across; this scene is a great introduction to Landa in that he is a well-spoken and charming man who often smiles, but is indeed a vicious killer. The tension is high throughout this scene; LaPadite is trying to appear unemotional to Landa until he cries when he betrays the Jewish family he is hiding, knowing their lives are at stake.
4. Cop Torture Scene (Reservoir Dogs, 1992)
Mr. Blonde is left alone in the warehouse with Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz), whom Mr. Blonde captured during his escape. Mr. Blonde tunes the radio to K-Billy, which plays “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. Mr. Blonde sings and dances to the song, mocking Nash’s fear, before he slices the cop’s ear off and almost burns him alive.
The camera follows Mr. Blonde outside when he grabs some petrol out of his car, and then follows him back inside. This scene shows how nasty and uncaring Mr. Blonde is, and shows moviegoers around the world an early taste of the violence Tarantino films would present in the future.
3. Butch vs Wallace (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
Boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) and mobster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) fight each other until they end up in a pawn shop run by a pervert who holds them hostage. Their fear is obvious, as they have a good idea of what is about to happen to them with the ball gags in their mouths.
The store owner and his equally twisted friends rape Marsellus, but Butch manages to almost escape before his conscience tells him to save Marsellus from further humiliation and certain death. Butch has a variety of weapons to choose from, but he chooses a katana, a weapon that was perhaps an early indicator that Tarantino had the Kill Bill movies in his mind.
This scene is both graphic and dark, showing the twisted side of humanity and what a series of unfortunate events can do, such as in the type of pulp fiction stories this film is named after.
2. The Final Showdown (The Hateful Eight, 2015)
After nearly three hours of the audience trying to figure out who is responsible for the series of events in the film, the finale of this high drama mystery Western is intense and violent. Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sherriff Mannix (Walton Goggins) face off against the vile criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Lee).
Mannix faints from blood loss from a gunshot wound, and Daisy saws off the arm of John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) to free herself from his handcuffs so she can kill her enemies.
Tarantino uses the background score in this scene to really emphasise the urgency and tension everyone is experiencing, especially when Mannix and Warren decide to brutally hang Daisy. These men then have to wait to die from their wounds, providing one of the grimmest endings in a Tarantino film.
1. The Final Showdown (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)
The finale of Inglourious Basterds is an action-packed one with all the different characters plotting to either annihilate the Nazis or to take advantage of the situation to benefit themselves. The Tarantino-esque violence in this climax is bloody and brash, and the screams of the theatre patrons are haunting, adding to the sheer grimness of their imminent deaths.
When the Nazis are watching their propaganda film Nation’s Pride, the hero of the film declares, “Do you have a message from Germany?”, which cuts to footage of Shosanna’s face saying she has a message for Germany, which is that they will die at the hands of a Jew.
When the fire starts, everyone inside is screaming and Shosanna is laughing cruelly, which becomes an even more disturbing image once the screen has been destroyed. This is a great visual effect for the Nazis to witness the face of their deaths before the cinema explodes in spectacular fashion.
Originally published here at tasteofcinema.com on Tuesday 22 March 2016