Top 20 Tarantino Characters
Quentin Tarantino’s films are known for many things. They’re instantly quotable, they’re brutally violent and absurdly funny at the same time and they become integral parts of our popular culture. If there’s one thing they give us above all else it’s great characters. When it came to narrowing down the ten best we failed horribly, copped out and made it a list of 20. Enjoy!
Played by Michael Fassbender in ‘Inglourious Basterds’
Who He Is: A lieutenant in the British army, Hicox is also an expert in German cinema, which gets him recruited in Operation Kino. He is the only British member of the operation alongside the American and German Basterds and he is there to connect with double agent Bridget von Hammersmark. After getting his briefing from Winston Churchill and Austin Powers he drops into Germany and meets with von Hammersmark while disguised as a Nazi officer. The meeting in a cellar pub turns into a massacre when his cover slips and he is killed in the assault.
Why He’s a Great Character: Initially the role of Hicox was intended to be played by Simon Pegg. It’s easy see him in the role, and he would’ve had fun with it, but Michael Fassbender is impeccable. Even though Hicox only feature for three scenes in the entirety of the movie he’s one of the coolest and memorable parts. His entrance is pretty plain, just having a chat and getting sent on his mission, followed by some loquacious banter with Brad Pitt. After that is his big scene undercover as a smooth talking Nazi officer. There’s not much to say about the character other than how cool he is. He’s very cool, and so he makes the list.
Best Line: “There’s a special rung in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch. Seeing as how I may be rapping on the door momentarily…”
Who He Is: His relationship with his crew goes beyond that of a boss and his employees, having been involved with at least two of them. When one of them, Beatrix Kiddo, goes AWOL he sends the rest of the group to kill her even after finding her pregnant with his child. After putting her in a coma and stealing the child he continues his work until Kiddo wakes up and comes for revenge.
Why He’s a Great Character: Gotta be honest here, Bill was a much more interesting character before he walked onto the screen. For the first part of the revenge epic only his hands and voice make an appearance and he is shrouded in mystery. Being a deadly and manipulative figure whose shadow extends over the film in a menacing manner makes for an interesting antagonist. When he does show up he doesn’t quite live up to expectations buts he’s still a cool character who provides a satisfying climatic fight.
Best Line: “Do you find me sadistic?”
Played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in ‘Natural Born Killers’
Who They Are: Mickey and Mallory both came from abusive households, trapped by their emotionally and physically abusive fathers. When they met each other they felt a kinship. Energized they murdered Mallory’s parents and went on a cross-country rampage as newly weds, leaving 52 dead. Having become a media sensation through a TV show glorifying serial killers their eventual capture and trail become a pop-culture phenomenon. Whilst being interviewed on live television Mickey initiates a prison riot during which he and Mallory shoot their way out with the interviewer as a hostage before going on the run.
Why They’re a Great Character: In a move that partly reflects the events of the movie Mickey and Mallory Knox became something of a pop-culture icon themselves. They’re striking looking characters who tap into the same archetype as Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde. It is a case of the perfect marriage of cast and character, with Harrelson and Lewis brewing up a storm, managing both the passionate romance and vicious bloodlust. Still…one can’t help but see how much better they could’ve been handled with Tarantino’s unique brand of humor at work.
Best Line: “Shit Wayne…I’m just a natural born killer.”
Played by Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Jackie Brown’
Who He Is: Ordell is a drug dealer who moved into selling weapons when he learned how much more money was in the business. He’s setting himself up to retire after closing a deal that brings him in a half million, but things get complicated when his carrier gets picked up by the ATF. Instead he goes along with Jackie Brown’s scheme to pull the money in under the noses of the ATF while she poses as a snitch, unaware that Jackie is playing him.
Why He’s a Great Character: Unlike the usual characters written by Tarantino and/or played by Samuel L. Jackson, Ordell is a complete fucking moron. At the outside he’s a very cool guy, dressed in expensive and trendy gear and talking to everyone like he’s got their number. In reality this is all in his own mind, as he doesn’t so much have people’s number as he’s just a smart-mouth who wants people to respect and fear him. He brags about his business to his colleagues and drops hints about it to everyone else. He keeps women in apartments across town and working for him, and assumes that they’ll do what he wants them to. When that doesn’t work he just threatens to kill them. In spite of how he acts he’s a foolish and insecure character, and quite a change for the director and the actor.
Best Line: “You need to pay attention because this part concerns you.”
Played by Gary Oldman in ‘True Romance’
Who He Is: Drexl is a pimp and aspiring drug dealer who, as Alabama puts it, wants to be black. Adorned with filthy dreads and a heavily scarred face he goes about his business with a manic energy. Forcefully the center of attention he is constantly shooting his mouth off and taunting those around him, and is quick to fire upon those in his way as an easy way to deal with them. Eventually Clarence, upon learning that he beat the girls in his employ, confronts and kills him.
Why He’s a Great Character: Sometimes you just need a character to hate. Tarantino throws every wretched trait he could conceive of into this sole character and Gary Oldman somehow manages to bring him to life. Drexl drips repugnance from his mismatched teeth to his confrontation attitude. Fantastically wretched.
Best Line: “I didn’t know it was white boy day.”
Played by Kurt Russel in ‘Death Proof’
Who He Is: Whilst a group of young women are enjoying a night in the local bar they get approached by an intimidating and scarred character calling himself ‘Stuntman’ Mike. Although they’re scared of him they talk to him and he offers to give girl a ride home in his ‘death proof’ stunt car. It turns out that the girl’s initial instincts were on the money as Mike is a dangerous serial killer he stalks women and uses his high powered car to run them down. The night ends in carnage as Mike brutally slays them all on the road. After avoiding conviction due to be the only sober driver involved he heads out to do it all again – but his new marks involve some professional stunt drivers who aren’t taking his attack lying down.
Why He’s a Great Character: Stuntman Mike is something of a unique character in slasher villains. Whilst the modern version of the character involves stalking over phones and hiding behind a mask Stuntman Mike gets in his victims face. He’s equal parts charm and intimidation, instilling those he hunts with a false confidence before launching his high speed attack. He’s a thrill-seeking psychopath who is perfectly played by Kurt Russel, who fills the screen with a presence he hasn’t had in decades.
Best Line: “I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!”
Played by Harvey Keitel in ‘Pulp Fiction’
Who He Is: Winston ‘The Wolf’ Wolfe is the man who gets called when there’s a problem that needs to be fixed. In Pulp Fiction he gets called up to fix the problem caused by Vince and Jules, namely accidentally blowing a guys head off in their car and holing up at a friends house. The Wolf drops what he’s doing and turns up in minutes, still wearing a tux, and goes to work setting everyone to task.
Why He’s a Great Character: Both of Keitel’s characters – the other being Mr. White – were contenders for entry into this article, but since they were in the running for the same reasons only one could make the cut. Both are cool as ice and a slick operator with The Wolf coming equipped with a rather dry sense of humor. The notion of a character such as this who leaps into criminal action when summoned to solve problems is always intriguing.
Best Line: “Pretty please, with sugar on top, clean the fucking car.”
Played by Christian Slater in ‘True Romance’
Who He Is: Clarence is a pretty lonely guy. He works minimum wage in a comic shop and on his birthday he goes to a Sonny Chiba marathon by himself. There he meets Alabama and although she reveals that she’s a call girl who was hired to be there they fall in love and get married the next day. After hearing about her abusive pimp Clarence can’t help but go after him. After killing him Clarence inadvertently walks away with a suitcase of cocaine. Intending to sell it in Hollywood and start a new life with Alabama he gets tangled up with cops, the Mafia and movie producers.
Why He’s a Great Character: It’s difficult to relate to characters in Tarantino films. Realism isn’t his selling point, he creates over-the-top characters who are usually based on characters from other movies. Clarence initially starts out as a very real, very relatable character, in part because he’s essentially autobiographical. As the story progresses his relationship with Alabama gives him more confidence and he becomes the character that Tarantino possibly wants to be – a pop-culture spouting badass who always has the right thing to say. Somehow this comic book nerd gets the coolest moments in this gangster movie. He’s a very likeable guy.
Best Line: “I’d rather have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it.”
Played by Lucy Liu in ‘Kill Bill’
Who She Is: The half-Japanese, half-Chinese/American head of the Japanese Yukuza. She was raised on an army base and witnessed the murder of her parents as a child. This set her on the road to becoming an assassin in order to exact revenge on the gangster, which she did at age 11. By twenty she was one of the best assassins in the world and at some point began working for Bill as a Deadly Viper and took part in the betrayal of Beatrix Kiddo. Following this she climbed to the peak of the Yakuza where she ruled with a firm, deadly hand before Kiddo came looking for revenge.
Why She’s a Great Character: Of the members of the Deadly Vipers O-Ren is the only one who we get a backstory for. With Bud and Elle we have tidbits about being trained by Pei Mei and whatnot, but O-Ren has an in-depth tale to be told and with good reason. Being the first big fight that The Bride goes into, her opponent needs plenty of build-up so we can expect a good fight. It certainly delivers on that count. O-Ren is downright insane and unpredictable. Whilst the role doesn’t call for much range, Lucy Liu sells it perfectly and is buckets of fun.
Best Line: “The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is… I collect your fucking head. Just like this fucker here. Now, if any of you sons of bitches got anything else to say, NOW’S THE FUCKING TIME!”
Played by Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Django Unchained’
Who He Is: Calvin Candie is the owner of Candieland, one of the biggest plantations in the South. He’s build his empire on the backs of slaves working in his fields, running his house and fighting to the death for his entertainment. Among his slaves is the wife of freed man turned bounty hunter Django. Unbeknownst to Candie is that when Django and Schultz approach him with a strong offer for a fighting slave their real intention is to acquire Django’s wife. When Calvin learns that the proposed turn is sour he turns hostile.
Why He’s a Great Character: In short, because we love to hate him. There’s more than one slave owner in Django Unchained but the rest of them are borderline ridiculous. Candie actually seems to view the slaves more as a people than the others whilst they see them as property (a common sentiment at the time). He converses with them, offers them options and forms some real relationships with them. Conversely he’s also completely brutal and borderline psychotic, locking disobedient slaves in metal containers in the sun for days at a time and forcing them to put out each others eyes. His more humane reaction to slaves only serves to heighten what a monster he is. Like we said, it’s easy to hate him.
Best Line: “Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.”
Played by Michael Madsen in ‘Reservoir Dogs’
Who He Is: Vic Vega is part of a group of anonymous criminals hired by Joe Cabot to pull of a diamond heist. He’s proven his loyalty to Joe in the past by sitting through a prison sentence that he could have avoided by giving up his boss. As a result he’s given a job in the heist even though he’s not needed and turns things on their head when his psychotic nature comes to the surface.
Why He’s a Great Character: If Mr. White is the professional and Mr. Pink is the screwball then Mr. Blonde is the wildcard, and everyone likes seeing what the wild card will do next. Unusually Mr. Blonde doesn’t initially get set up as someone to be wary of, although his off-the-cuff remark about shooting Mr. White over breakfast is a bit more unnerving on repeat viewings. What makes Mr. Blonde so memorable is how cold and psychotic he is revealed to be when left in a room with a cop at his mercy. Being more grounded in realism than the usual Tarantino nutjob he’s possibly the most unsettling of his creations. His little mannerisms, like picking at the palm of his hand and grinning at White after inciting him to anger makes it a career best performance from Madsen.
Best Line: “Hey Joe…want me to shoot this guy?”
Played by Uma Thurman in ‘Pulp Fiction’
Who She Is: Mia Wallace is a former actress who, somehow, became the wife of powerful mobster Marcellus Wallace. Whilst Marcellus is out of town he asks one of his hitmen, Vincent Vega, to keep her company. In between snorting cocaine she has Vega take her out to 50s bar Jack Rabbit Slims for dinner and dancing before heading home. Although there’s electricity between them the night goes bad when Mia mistake heroin for cocaine and overdoses. Vincent races her to his drug dealer’s house in order to save her.
Why She’s a Great Character: Mia Wallace become an iconic character after being featured prominently in the marketing for the film, and features on the walls of film school nerds the world over. What’s unusual about Mia is how little we know about the character in contrast to how much she gives away. We don’t know how she went from being a failed actress to the wife of one of the most powerful men in LA, nor do we know anything about their relationship except that he’s controlling. On the other hand the way she ‘tests’ Vincent when he arrives to pick her up and behaves during their evening reveals plenty about her. She’s impulsive and stubborn to a degree, loves music and goes with her instinct. With only a few scenes she dominates much of the film.
Best Line: “I believe my husband – your boss – told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted. I want to dance, I want to win…so dance good.”
Played by John Travolta in ‘Pulp Fiction’
Who He Is: A criminal and hitman who is loyal to gangster Marcellus Wallace. Upon returning from time in Amsterdam he is teamed with Jules Winnfield in order to reclaim a briefcase, a job that results in a bloody shoot-out. When leaving the scene Vincent accidentally shoots their contact in the face. Now carrying a headless corpse in a car they pull over of Jules’ friends house and recruit The Wolf to bail them out. Later he takes Wallace’s wife out while the boss is out of town. After dinner in a retro diner and dancing Vincent winds up with Mia accidentally overdosing on his hands. After saving Mia Wallace from OD’ing his run of bad luck continues when he’s tasked with tracking down boxer Butch who didn’t throw a match. He tries to ambush Butch in his apartment but is interrupted in the bathroom and is shot with his own gun.
Why He’s a Great Character: Vince Vega is the quintessential Tarantino character. He’s cool with a unique sense of style and regular drops pop-culture references into conversation. He’s a violent criminal who doesn’t get carried away when confronted. He has a simple, realistic philosophy and mocks Jules’ attempt to recreate himself. The performance by John Travolta was a remarkable return to form for an actor whose star was on the wane, reminding people of his presence in films like Saturday Night Fever.
Best Line: “That’s a pretty fucking good milkshake. I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty fucking good.”
Played by Pam Grier in ‘Jackie Brown’
Who She Is: A 43 year old African American air hostess working for a crappy airline who makes extra scratch on the side moving money for arms dealer Ordell Robbie. When Jackie gets picked up by the ATF with $50,000 and cocaine coming out of work she begins to question her current role in the world and where she’s going to end up. Unwilling to roll over she begins to orchestrate events between cops, criminals and anyone else involved to walk away with a half million of Robbie’s money.
Why She’s a Great Character: Pam Grier is damn cool, there’s no getting around it. She made a name for herself in the blaxplotation market of 70s with roles like Foxy Brown, where her sharp delivery and badass attitude made her an audience favorite. Tarantino is certainly a fan because he put her at the fore-front of his third feature, a homage to her previous characters. Jackie Brown is a fantastic role, subtly switching out her attitude depending on who she’s playing. Coy for the ATF in one scene and getting in Ordell’s face the next. We also get the human side of Brown during her scenes with Max Cherry as they develop a relationship. A really well rounded character.
Best Line: “What’s the matter, haven’t ever borrowed someone’s car before?”
Played by Jamie Foxx in ‘Django Unchained’
Who He Is: Django is a slave during a dark time in America’s history who has suffered more than his share of abuse during his lifetime. The shining light in his world is his wife from whom he was separated when they were sold to different owners. Bought and freed by bounty hunter Dr. Schultz Django starts a new life as a bounty hunter and sets out to find his wife.
Why He’s a Great Character: Django the character exists in two forms. Although he’s been raised as a slave and has been indoctrinated from birth that he’s a lesser form of human he still carries a rebellious streak and a romantic soul. Despite living in hell he finds love and lets nothing stand in the way, making him an easy character to get behind. When he transitions into a professional killer he retains his soul while becoming a badass gunslinger. What’s not to love about this guy?
Best Line: “I’m just a little more used to Americans than he is.”
Played by Mélanie Laurent in ‘Inglourious Basterds’
Who She Is: Shosanna is the teenage daughter in a Jewish farming family during the Nazi occupation of France. When Jewish people begin getting rounded up their neighbor hides them under his floor boards…until the notorious Jew Hunter tracks them down and murders her family. The blood streaked Shosanna flees the scene and begins a new life in Paris. She runs a cinema that gets chosen to premiere the new Nazi blockbuster and plots to burn down her theater with the Nazi’s trapped inside.
Why She’s a Great Character: Shosanna is not a character who speaks her mind – a rare thing in modern cinema. Her cold exterior hides a damaged soul. After the massacre of her family at the hands of the Jew Hunter she seems to have kept her head down and lived her life as best she could. Whether she’s rebuffing the advances of a German soldier or plotting the deaths of hundreds she carries the same hard expression. Shosanna stands out as one of the most subtle characters in Tarantino’s catalog, the only scene where she drops her facade is when confronted by the Jew Hunter himself and her inner demons struggle not to surface. A wonderful performance.
Best Line: “You either do what the fuck we tell you, or I’ll bury this axe in your collaborating skull.”
Played by Steve Buscemi in ‘Reservoir Dogs’
Who He Is: Mr. Pink (real name unknown) is one of Joe Cabot’s crew of anonymous criminals brought in to pull off a heist that goes awry. Pink is one of the crew to escape the bloodbath that resulted along with a case of diamonds. He’s an outspoken and brash character who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he’s the first member of the crew to voice his suspicions about there being a double crosser in their midst. Unlike Mr. White he shows instant distrust for his former peers and while he doesn’t lay the blame at any one doorstep he does stir up plenty of paranoia.
Why He’s a Great Character: Amid the stone cold psychopaths and hardened criminals we needed someone to connect with, one character with a human response to the chaos happening around them. Steve Buscemi is the perfect foil to the rest of the cast. The hyper-kinetic performance is as off the wall as everyone else is measured and controlled. Although he is the voice of reason his manic attitude puts him at odds with the other criminals and he gets treated like the underdog. Of the main group of characters Mr. Pink is the one who remains a mystery to the viewer. We learn nothing of his background and previous relationship with Joe, and it seems difficult to imagine how a personality like his wound up a criminal in the confidence of such power figures. He’s the most intriguing member of the ensemble and being the only one who left the warehouse he’s been the source of much debate among fans (although given the number of cops lurking outside it’s unlikely he got far).
Best Line: “This is the smallest violin in the world, playing just for the waitresses.”
Played by Uma Thurman in ‘Kill Bill’
Who She Is: Beatrix Kiddo is introduced to audiences as ‘The Bride’, a hired killer trained who is part of a group working for the enigmatic Bill. After she goes AWOL the rest of squad gun down her wedding rehearsal, leaving her in a coma. When she wakes four years later she’s lost her child and chance at a new life. Instead she embarks on a ‘roaring rampage of revenge’, hunting down and slaughtering each of the Deadly Vipers.
Why She’s a Great Character: Tarantino has created a number of mass murderers but they’re rarely sympathetic. Instead they’re just fun to watch. Kiddo is the most well rounded character in the canon of Tarantino psychos. We don’t spend much time looking at her history but we get enough to have a sense of where she came from and what drives her. Rather than relying on cool dialogue to engage and entertain the viewer Beatrix Kiddo is someone we want to succeed because of the injustice that has been served to her. Although she’s a killer herself and is willing to carve her way through dozens of limbs to get her payback we still have her back.
Best Line: “Looked dead, didn’t I?”
Played by Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Pulp Fiction’
Who He Is: A professional hitman in the employ of the gang lord Marcellus Wallace. In Pulp Fiction he appears teamed with Vincent Vega and plays the over-the-top talkative and unpredictable role when they ‘get into character’. After finding themselves facing down a series of point-blank shots from a Jerry Sienfeld lookalike carrying a ‘hand cannon’ he re-evaluates and decides that he’s going to lead a different life.
Why He’s a Great Character: Not exactly a well developed character – we don’t get his back-story and although he has a drastic character arc it’s not given much screen time – but he’s still bloody fantastic. Almost two decades later he’s endured as the most memorable character in the movie and Jackson has essentially based his career on this performance. He’s explosively over-the-top, owns every inch of the screen and has the most quotable lines. Whether he’s chatting about burgers, quoting the bible or having an epiphany he’s fantastic.
Best Line: “It’s the one that says ‘Bad Motherfucker'”.
Played by Christoph Waltz in ‘Inglourious Basterds’
Who He Is: Col. Hans Landa is a well known member of the Nazi organization during the German Occupation of France in the second world war. The Austrian soldier is tasked with locating Jewish families who have remained in hiding, a task he is especially skilled at, leading to his being dubbed ‘The Jew Hunter’. His loyalty to the Nazi’s is revealed to be questionable – rather he seeks his own fortunes and allies himself with the Basterds to his own end.
Why He’s a Great Character: The story goes that Tarantino was on the verge of pulling the plug on his Nazi-scalping pseudo-Western because he couldn’t find the right person to play Landa. Seeing the character as being integral to the film he knew that a miscast would destroy the intended tone. Enter Christoph Waltz, an Austrian-German trilingual actor who seems fated to be play the part.
Landa is a pure contradiction. He’s as cruel and vicious as he is charming and polite, and the subjects of his confrontations are frequently disarmed by his cheerful disposition. He walks into situations in full control and knowledge of how they’re going to play out, yet he delights in leading people along. When confronting the undercover members of the Basterds in the lobby cinema he outright laughs at them and their attempts at subterfuge while they’re left looking uncertain as to how to proceed. Landa’s absurd behavior, such as playing one up on a French farmer by pulling out an over-sized pipe during a friendly interrogation, makes him as mesmerizing as a snake. You never know when he’ll strike.
Best Line: “Wait for the crème.”