When the nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards were announced Thursday morning, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film The Hateful Eight was mostly shut out. He didn’t even get any love in either the directing or original screenplay categories, both of which he seemed like a shoo-in for. His signature style of directing and clever dialogue have become two of the things that set Tarantino apart from everyone else. However, Quentin Tarantino’s movies always sound a certain way, as well.
Thankfully the music for The Hateful Eight did get its due Thursday morning, as the film’s score, composed by the legendary composer Ennio Morricone, was nominated for Best Original Score. It had won in that same category a few days earlier at the Golden Globes.
Yet The Hateful Eight is a kind of departure for Tarantino in terms of soundtracks to his films. They are usually wildly eclectic and wholly original collections of music, more often than not, curated by Tarantino himself. That’s not the case with The Hateful Eight, which is more of a traditional score. A good score nonetheless, but still, not necessarily a soundtrack. In fact, it might make a person wonder — where does The Hateful Eight rank among the other Tarantino soundtracks? That in turn might make a person do something crazy, like rank said soundtracks. Crazy how that works out, huh?
9. Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004)
For the second Kill Bill movie, Tarantino enlisted not just RZA, but Robert Rodriguez, who helped score the movie. Yet a lot of what Rodriguez did does not appear on the official soundtrack and instead, it’s music by some of Tarantino’s usual suspects, Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov. There’s also a little country music here, with tunes by Johnny Cash and Charlie Feathers.
8. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Ennio Morricone’s work shows up on a handful of Tarantino soundtracks but The Hateful Eight is all him. The 87-year-old composer, famous for his work with Sergio Leone and the latter’s spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, returned to the business of composing westerns after a 30-year absence. The result is that yes, it is a good score for a western and it absolutely works. Yet compared to other Tarantino soundtracks, it feels a little… normal. I suppose when you set the bar as high as Tarantino has, something falling short feels more like a disappointment, which I should stress, The Hateful Eight soundtrack is most definitely not. It’s a context thing, I guess.
7. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
I mean honestly, what exactly does someone expect from a Tarantino movie that at one point features the killing of Hitler? Well, for starters, there’s more of Morricone’s music, eight tracks in the film, four of which are on the soundtrack. If not for the hasty production of the film, there would have been more. Rounding out the soundtrack is music from various spaghetti westerns, the great “Slaughter” by Billy Preston and “Cat People” by the late David Bowie. It’s the first soundtrack to a Tarantino movie that does not include dialogue excerpts from the film, which is a shame because there’s definitely some juicy nuggets in the movie from its stars, Christoph Waltz and Brad Pitt.
6. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003)
Tarantino got some help with this one, enlisting the assistance of RZA who helped curate the soundtrack, as well as composed some original arrangements and production. The result is a back and forth between RZA-helmed tracks and tunes that have become commonplace in Tarantino films: incredibly random selections from incredibly random artists coupled with lesser known tunes from bigger known artists. Case in point: there’s “Woo Hoo” by the 126.96.36.199’s, an all-girl Japanese garage band, and then the album’s opener by Nancy Sinatra, “Bang Bang — My Baby Shot Me Down.” It’s not a soundtrack that can be easily listened to from start to finish. Cherry-picking tunes is a much better route for this one.
5. Django Unchained (2012)
Leave it to Tarantino to make a western, then hitch a soundtrack onto the film’s wagon that somehow successfully saunters between presumed Western standards and songs by Rick Ross, John Legend and a mashup featuring James Brown and 2Pac. No really, it works. It, in some ways, perfectly epitomizes Tarantino’s filmmaking in how he flawlessly marries genres. The soundtrack also makes perfect use of an old Jim Croce tune, “I Got a Name,” burrowed in a midst tasty dialogue from the film and compositions by Bacalov and Morricone.
4. Jackie Brown (1997)
Of all of Tarantino’s soundtracks, the soundtrack to 1997’s Jackie Brown sounds the most thematically and tonally consistent. It’s funky and smooth, just like the film’s main character, Jackie Brown, played by Pam Grier. It’s full of some great soul classics, kicking off with Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” and including a Bill Withers’ gem, “Who Is He — And What Is He to You?” and Minnie Riperton’s “Inside My Love.”
3. Death Proof (2007)
Tarantino’s half of the Grindhouse double feature he did with Robert Rodriguez in 2007 comes off like a roadhouse bar’s jukebox, coupled with instrumentals pulled from the scores of other films. One of those is “Paranoia Prima” by Morricone from the 1971 movie The Cat o’ Nine Tails. As for the songs on the album, I can say this: a lot of the songs on the Death Proof soundtrack have been featured prominently in numerous mixes and playlists I have made over the years — especially “Baby It’s You” by Smith, “Staggolee” by Pacific Gas & Electric, and “Down in Mexico” by The Coasters. This soundtrack ranks so high due in large part to the strength of those songs.
2. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
With Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino not only laid down the foundation for how he’d make movies, but also how he’d curate soundtracks. Snippets of dialogue were probably included in soundtracks before this one, but it became more of a thing when Tarantino did it, largely because his dialogue is so entertaining and unique. As for the music, it’s wonderfully all over the place, relying heavily on music from the late ’60s and ’70s. The through line is the voice of Steven Wright, playing the role of a DJ hosting “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend” on the fictional radio station Tarantino worked into the movie. And who could forget the classic (and totally sadistic) use of “Stuck in the Middle with You?”
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
It’s the quintessential Tarantino soundtrack and the one most people think of when talking about music in his movies. Whereas all of Tarantino’s soundtracks have an air of chaos and unpredictability to them, this one feels more like organized chaos. You wouldn’t think that Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” would make sense anywhere in the vicinity of “Lonesome Town” by Baker Knight, but it kind of does. I’d say “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green is my favorite song that is most associated with Pulp Fiction, although “Misirlou” by Dick Dale is a close second. There’s some killer dialogue clips on the soundtrack to, especially “Royale with Cheese.”