Quentin Tarantino latest film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, has been described as an elegy for a bygone era of the movie business. But many of Tarantino’s biggest fans have no first-hand experience with the ’50s western TV shows and ’60s counter-culture films that he’s eulogizing. For those people, seeing a new Tarantino film might bring back memories of a distant time when Tarantino himself was his own genre.
Back in the ’90s, you couldn’t walk into a video store or watch cable without seeing movies plainly influenced by Tarantino’s first two films, 1992’s Reservoir Dogs and 1994’s Pulp Fiction. These Tarantino rip-offs were populated by sharp-dressed hitmen and philosophizing petty criminals. They peppered their conversations with pop-culture references before blowing somebody away while an oldie from the ’60s or ’70s played on the soundtrack.
There were doomed lovers on the run from the cops. There were cameos by cool character actors like Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken, who inevitably said things like, “You know who you’re stealing from?!?” There were numerous instances of “ironic” sexism, racism, and homophobia. There was ironic everything in these movies.
Tarantino remains an influence on subsequent generations of filmmakers. But the peak of Tarantino-esque cinema was roughly 1994 to ’97 — the period that coincides with the peak of his fame, when he was a fixture on talk shows and even a guest host on Saturday Night Live. It also marked the gap between Pulp Fiction and Tarantino’s third film, Jackie Brown. The public was fascinated with QT, and they wanted lots and lots of QT-like content.
Looking back, it’s incredible how many filmmaking careers were launched in that era by directors who worked in Tarantino’s quirky crime-film lane. There was Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight), the Wachowskis (Bound), Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects), and Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels). And then there were veteran filmmakers whose careers were revitalized by plugging into this style, including The Coen Brothers (Fargo), Steven Soderbergh (Out Of Sight), and Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan).
But the movies most closely associated with the Tarantino-esque genre are the low-budget, disreputable ones. The films that in retrospect seem closer to the trashy B-movies that Tarantino was inspired by, than anything Tarantino himself ever made. Here are 10 of the most essential.