Celebrate Quentin Tarantino’s 50th Birthday With 16 of His Favorite Films

Quentin Tarantino, America’s favorite over-caffeinated movie geek, turns the big 5-0 today — a bit of a shock, considering that he seems forever frozen as the animated, motor-mouthed kid we first met back in 1992, via his shockingly assured debut film Reservoir Dogs. Your film editor had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time considering Mr. Tarantino’s influences and filmography while writing the forthcoming 20th anniversary volume Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece (out October 15th — but already available for pre-order!). Part of the fun of trying to figure out what makes a movie encyclopedia like Tarantino tick — particularly one who wears his influences so proudly — is in diving into his favorite films and tracing the path his own work took from them. So if you’d care to celebrate QT’s 50 years by watching some of his most beloved pictures, join us after the jump for an adapted excerpt from the book, with a few recommendations from his favorite flicks.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (Charles Barton, 1948)

QT QUOTE: “The Abbott and Costello stuff was funny, but when they were out of the room and monsters would come on, they’d kill people! When was the last time you saw anybody in a horror-comedy actually kill somebody? You didn’t see that. I took it in, seeing that movie.”

QT INFLUENCE: Tarantino’s deft use of comedy to undercut horrifying or dramatic events, and catch audiences off-guard, is a constant throughout his work. (Reservoir Dogs leaps to mind, particularly Mr. Blonde’s dialogue with the severed ear.)

Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)

QT QUOTE: “I’d follow Assault on Precinct 13 wherever the hell it was playing. It was always great seeing it. It was neat.”

QT INFLUENCE: Itself an homage to one of Tarantino’s other favorite films, Rio Bravo, Assault’s claustrophobic, single-location intensity was duplicated in both Reservoir Dogs and From Dusk Till Dawn, where young Scott wears a “Precinct 13” T-shirt.

Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)

QT QUOTE: “A religious experience. Great novelists wish they had written a novel as good as Badlands was a movie.”

QT INFLUENCE: This tale of young lovers on a crime spree was a model for both Natural Born Killers and True Romance — with director Tony Scott making the latter’s debt even more plain by adding a female voice-over and a score echoing George Tipton’s music for Malick.

Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)

QT QUOTE: “Brian De Palma is the greatest director of his generation. This is his most purely personal and cinematic film.”

QT INFLUENCE: Though other DePalma films are more explicitly quoted in Tarantino’s work (Carrie in Kill Bill, for example), this one features a world-weary John Travolta performance that influenced Tarantino’s desire to cast him in Pulp Fiction.

Breathless (Jim McBride, 1983)

QT QUOTE: “When I saw this in ’83, it was everything I wanted to do in movies.” Quentin could reportedly recite its dialogue verbatim.

QT INFLUENCE: Early on, as a rockabilly soundtrack blasts, Richard Gere — driving in front of a black-and-white rear projection — tosses a gun on a comic book, an image that’s like a preview of the entire Tarantino mythos. Later, Gere argues about the Silver Surfer with a kid at a newsstand, a scene Tarantino aped twice — explicitly in his rewrite of Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide, and implicitly in Clarence’s discussion of the Elvis magazine cover in True Romance.

Casualties of War (Brian DePalma, 1989)

QT QUOTE: “To me, the greatest war movie and the greatest indictment of rape ever captured. The Vietnamese girl’s death walk has haunted me ever since.”

QT INFLUENCE: The tenderness of feeling, and even some of the dialogue, between Sean Penn and his dying soldier buddy were an admitted influence on the scenes between Mr. White and the gun-shot Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs.

Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)

QT QUOTE: Tarantino placed Django third on the list of his favorite spaghetti Westerns, and wrote of director Sergio Corbucci, “His West was the most violent, surreal and pitiless landscape of any director in the history of the genre. His characters roam a brutal, sadistic West.”

QT INFLUENCE: Django was such a hit that it inspired dozens, maybe hundreds, of unofficial sequels — including Tarantino’s own Django Unchained. Corbucci’s film also includes a young henchman named Ringo (à la Pulp Fiction), and a brutal ear-slicing scene.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)

QT QUOTE: “Probably the greatest example of re-invention of a genre on film. Horrible brutality, hysterical humor, blood, music, icons. What more could you ask for?”

QT INFLUENCE: Aside from its obvious influence on Django, Leone’s epic concludes with one of Tarantino’s favorite climactic devices: the so-called “Mexican standoff.” And in True Romance, when Clarence is describing the difference between “films” and “movies,” he notes, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, that’s a movie.”

His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)

QT QUOTE: “One of the things I’ll do, if it’s appropriate in a movie, is I’ll just get the actors together and I show them His Girl Friday — just to show them not that we have to talk that fast in a movie, but you can talk that fast.”

QT INFLUENCE: He ran Friday for the ensembles of Four Rooms and Death Proof, and for Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer during Pulp Fiction. Its screenplay includes instructions to speak their opening dialogue in “a rapid-pace His Girl Friday fashion.”

The Inglorious Bastards (Enzo G. Castellari, 1978)

QT QUOTE: “I think it’s one of the best movies in all Italian exploitation…. It’s terrific, it really is, really good, and the script is fantastic.”

QT INFLUENCE: Another of the more obvious influences; Tarantino stole (and deliberately misspelled) the title of this film for his own 2009 “men on a mission” WWII epic.

Le Doulos (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1962)

QT QUOTE:Les Doulos has always been probably my favorite screenplay of all time — just from watching the movie. I just loved the wildness of watching a movie that up until the last twenty minutes I didn’t know what the fuck I was looking at. And the last twenty minutes explained it all.”

QT INFLUENCE: This “shoot first, ask questions later” approach has been central to the structure and chronology of all Tarantino’s screenplays. Melville also patterned his cool heroes on characters in American gangster pictures — which American filmmakers like Tarantino then re-appropriated for their own works.

Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)

QT QUOTE: “When I’m getting serious about a girl, I show her Rio Bravo and she better fucking like it.”

QT INFLUENCE: Male camaraderie in tight quarters, as in Dogs; Clarence’s aforementioned speech in True Romance (“Rio Bravo, that’s a movie”); the closing line of the Killers script (“Let’s make a little music, Colorada,” a reference to Ricky Nelson’s singing cowboy, Colorado Ryan).

Rolling Thunder (John Flynn, 1977)

QT QUOTE: “To me, it’s the greatest combo of action film and character study ever made. If you like revenge movies, this is the best revenge movie to see.”

QT INFLUENCE: Major Charles Rane returns home from Vietnam in his dress blues — just like Captain Koons in Pulp Fiction. And there is a road movie element (in a convertible no less), with Linda Haynes playing a tough, Alabama/Mallory-style heroine.

Switchblade Sisters (Jack Hill, 1975)

QT QUOTE: “I’ve watched this with audiences all over the place…. At first, they’re laughing at the movie. But then, as it goes on, you start laughing with the movie. And then a very strange thing happens… all of a sudden, you realize you actually care about these people. This crazy, hysterical movie, you’ve actually gotten invested in the characters.”

QT INFLUENCE: The exploitation aesthetic of much of Tarantino’s work is on full display here, while the warehouse setting of the gang’s hideout and Hill’s favored medium-wide compositions foreshadow Reservoir Dogs. But you also see the roots of Tarantino’s love for tough female protagonists; the final knife fight feels like a warm-up for Beatrix and Ellie’s battle in Kill Bill Volume 2.

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

QT QUOTE: “It’s just perfect.”

QT INFLUENCE: The famous camera pan during the ear slicing in Dogs recalls Scorsese’s dolly to an empty hallway in Taxi Driver (both allowing the audience to “look away” during painful moments), while Mr. Orange’s mirror pep talk to himself is reminiscent of Taxi Driver’s iconic “You talkin’ to me?” scene — which is explicitly quoted by one of the hoods in True Romance. Scorsese’s climactic overhead shot, showing the carnage of a bloody shootout, is quoted in Django Unchained.

Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges, 1948)

QT QUOTE: “I could listen to the dialogue — and especially the way Rex Harrison says it — all day long.”

QT INFLUENCE: This late Sturges effort not only uses a three-story structure (shades of Fiction), but it navigates the line between genuinely dark fantasy and black comedy with a gracefulness that is central to Tarantino’s style.