The best Quentin Tarantino characters of all time
Quentin Tarantino's 25 greatest characters - from Mia Wallace to Jackie Brown.
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat - there's nothing great about cutting off another man's ear.
So when we're discussing the merits or otherwise of Quentin Tarantino's invariably aggressive characters, let's all accept that by "great" we don't mean admirable. We mean memorable. And there's a hell of a lot of them.
We set ourselves the task of whittling dozens and dozens of QT's finest creations down to just 25. You can let us know how horribly wrong we are in the comments, but bear in mind that for every negative comment made, the editor picks one of us writers to suffer his infamous Five Point Palm Exploding Paycheck Technique.
(Warning: Spoilers within)
Best Quentin Tarantino characters
1. Colonel Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)
Played by: Christoph Waltz
It's tough to be a good Nazi, but to be a truly horrendous one you have to go above and beyond. This movie features almost all of the National Socialist hierarchy (Hitler included) and yet it's Hans Landa, the Jew Hunter, that comes through as the most deplorable. Cunning, sly, sadistic, charming, funny even, Landa would even let Germany fall if it's to his benefit. At once repellent and yet entirely engaging and watchable, a character unlike any other.
Perhaps it would be fitting to hand the final word to Tarantino himself, who said: “Hans Landa is one of the greatest characters I have ever written, and one of the greatest characters that I will ever write.”
2. Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
Played by: Samuel L Jackson
Although his most famous lines have been over-quoted and abused by half-drunk teenagers for almost two decades now (a sign in its own right of Winnfield's brilliance), some of his finest moments are his more sedate. Just cast your eye down the IMDb page. Pick of the bunch for us is simply: "Mmmm! Goddamn, Jimmie! This is some serious gourmet shit! Usually, me and Vince would be happy with some freeze-dried Taster's Choice right, but he springs this serious GOURMET shit on us! What flavour is this?"
A genius script delivered impeccably.
3. Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill Volumes 1 And 2)
Played by: Uma Thurman
It's difficult to know where to start. Is it her virtuous nobility? Her unadulterated vengefulness? Her frightening ability to pluck the eyeball clean out of the skull of her opponent? Whatever it is, Beatrix Kiddo, The Bride, is a colossus of a character who strangle-holds your attention through both Kill Bill volumes.
Oh and here's a lovely little fact: In 2013, researchers named a new species of parasitic wasp, Cystomastacoides kiddo, after the character, stating that the naming was inspired by "the deadly biology of the wasp to the host".
4. Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction)
Played by: John Travolta
Ready for a prime example of making a bad decision in life? Tarantino cast John Travolta in Pulp Fiction only because Michael Madsen chose to appear in Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp instead. Oh Michael.
By all accounts JT took as little as $140k to play the part, a wise move given the life it breathed into Travolta's career. Michael Madsen, meanwhile, went on to appear on British Big Brother.
5. Cliff Booth (Once Upon A Time...)
Played by: Brad Pitt
He may live in a trailer alone with his dog, constantly at the beck and call of his friend / boss Rick Dalton, but Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is still a cool character. Not only does he stare down the Manson mob, when he does get into fights he's still very handy. Oh, and he's a pretty decent handman, too.
6. The Wolf (Pulp Fiction)
Played by: Harvey Keitel
"You've got a corpse, in a car, minus a head in a garage. Take me to it." And so begins the clean up job of one of the greatest bowtie wearers the silver-screen has ever seen. Fast-driving, quick-talking, problem fixing brilliance from front to back.
7. Calvin Candie (Django Unchained)
Played by: Leonardo DiCaprio
Let's just consider, for one second, that Calvin Candie calls his slave-driven plantation 'Candyland'. And that he insists, despite not knowing a word of French, on being called 'Monsieur'. What sort of lunatic does that? Well, the sort that forces slaves to fight to the death, we guess. His eerie psuedo science combined with a willingness to feed people to his dogs makes Candie a truly nightmarish and memorable character.
8. Jackie Brown (Jackie Brown)
Played by: Pam Grier
Incredulously not nominated for an Oscar, Pam Grier's Jackie Brown portrayal is nothing short of brilliant. A rarity in the Tarantino world, this is a women that boasts no outstanding talents (she isn't an assassin, for example) but captivates entirely on normality alone. She's ordinary, but she's plunged into an extraordinary scenario. A real contender, someone we root for from the opening "Across 110th Street" credits right to the climactic end.
9. Dr King Schultz (Django Unchained)
Played by: Christoph Waltz
What's not to love? A former dentist-turned-bounty hunter (it's the natural progression) he's a crack shot with a rifle, dresses exquisitely and is a man of the utmost principle. But the character would be nothing without the cast member. If ever an actor were right to deliver QT's script it’s Waltz, a man who savours and lingers on every note of Tarantino's flamboyant and flowing prose. A role written in to the script for him, Waltz fully justifies that decision and warrants his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Bafta Award for Best Supporting Actor, his second time receiving all three awards, having previously done so thanks to Inglourious Basterds.
10. Mr Pink (Reservoir Dogs)
Played by: Steve Buscemi
There are few Tarantino characters that are quite so likeable and detestable in equal measure. From his childish moaning at his assigned alias ("Mr. Pink sounds like Mr. Pussy. How 'bout if I'm Mr. Purple? That sounds good to me. I'll be Mr. Purple.") to his semi-sensical rant on tipping, he's relatable and cool, but will drag a woman kicking and screaming through her own car window before emptying a clip at half a dozen cops, if it comes to it.
11. Captain Koons (Pulp Fiction)
Played by Christopher Walken
Do yourself a quick favour. Watch Christopher Walken' four minute scene once more. It's arresting. It's more than that, it's jaw-dropping. Christopher Walken's only appearance in Pulp Fiction is a piece of superb movie-making. But more to the point the way Walken says "damned" at 3 minutes 42 is possibly the greatest word inflection in film history.
12. Mia Wallace (Pulp Fiction)
Played by Uma Thurman
Miramax favoured Holly Hunter or Meg Ryan for the role but QT stuck to his guns and got Uma Thurman in. And the result? Arguably (but let's not argue, let's be pals) Tarantino's most iconic character ever - helped in part by that poster. It's what we don't know about Mia that intrigues us the most. How did she go from being a failed actress in Fox Force Five to the wife of a mob boss, for example? A compelling, beautiful and intriguing character.
13. Lt. Archie Hicox (Inglourious Basterds)
Played by: Michael Fassbender
It may be that we're biased. It's just possible that because Hicox is a British soldier who goes out "speaking the King's" and supping Scotch, he appeals to us as much as he does. But face facts, Hicox is remarkably intelligent, incredibly brave and was personally selected by Winston Churchill to go undercover. Plus, anyone that dies from bullet wounds to the genitals deserves to be in this list.
14. Stuntman Mike (Death Proof)
Played by: Kurt Russell
Tight jeans, tight black t-shirt, silver driver jacket-wearing sociopathic stuntman/serial killer who kills women in and with his "death proof" car. Okay, not on paper a classic, but Kurt Russell makes this character his own. Twisted, stylish and eminently watchable.
15. Rick Dalton (Once Upon A Time...)
Played by: Leonardo DiCaprio
The more his career fades, the higher his margarita intake. Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a sublime invention. An actor straddling the old and new world of Hollywood, slipping in value and integrity gets a new lease of life when he takes on the might of Manson and his followers.
16. Clifford Worley (True Romance)
Played by: Dennis Hopper
We'll go out on a limb here. Cliff Worley's one-on-one scene with Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) is probably the greatest scene in the Tarantino repertoire, and bizarrely QT wasn't even behind the camera. The sizzling script (which was Tarantino's work, of course) may just play more in the favour in Coccotti, but it's Worley's willingness to die for his son that hits home hardest. Cleverly pushing Coccotti's buttons, poking and riling to the point of driving the mobster to murdering him, Worley would rather take a bullet than tell a killer where his son is. And he instigates that bullet with the most blistering of dialogues. Bravo.
17. Seth Gecko (From Dusk Till Dawn)
Played by: George Clooney
Seth's tattoos alone make him a memorable enough character, but throw in the smooth demeanour, the hardened ability to drink, the impeccable fashion sense and the uncanny knack for killing vampires and you have an outstanding anti-hero.
Put a gun to our heads and demand to know his finest moment (which would be a little excessive) and we'd plum simply for this quote: "Okay hard drinkers, let's drink hard. I'm buyin'."
18. Vincenzo Coccotti (True Romance)
Played by: Christopher Walken
"I haven't killed anybody... [BANG] Since 1984... [BANG, BANG]"
His True Romance screen time is limited but it's incendiary in the extreme. Cool, brutal and gripping, we are left desperate to know more about Mr Blue Lou Boyle's Sicilian counsel. What happened in 1984? What's happened before and since, and why in the hell isn't there a movie about any of it?
19. Shosanna Dreyfus (Inglourious Basterds)
Played by: Mélanie Laurent
The Jewish cinema lover in Inglourious Basterd, Shosanna (played by Mélanie Laurent) actually gets to do battle with Hitler which is a pretty cool revision of history for us. From the first moments of the film we see her character born - watching Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogate her family sets Shosanna off on a mission to rid the world of nazis, making her one of Tarantino's most sympathetic characters.
20. Ordell Robbie (Jackie Brown)
Played by: Samuel L Jackson
Unlike many a Tarantino gangster Ordell's not sadistic, but he'll shoot a man if it gets him ahead in business. And conveniently his business is black-market gun running. From blasting his buddy Louis in the gut for a relatively minor slip up, to luring poor Beaumont into one of the most obvious ambushes in cinema history, Ordell is a nasty piece of work, but my god he can talk. Pure Tarantino.
21. Elle Driver (Kill Bill: Vol. 1)
Played by: Daryl Hannah
Eye patches are cool, but only if you have at least one operable eye. A truth learned the hard way by the awesome Elle Driver (aka California Mountain Snake). In our opinion the coolest of the hit squad, someone who can make chewing ice an art form.
22. Daisy Domergue (Hateful Eight)
Played by: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Oscar nominated and for good reason, Jennifer Jason Leigh is a revelation as serial killer Daisy Domergue. She's treated like crap throughout what is a chauvinistic movie but also manages to be the stand-out character who gives as good as she gets, in a performance that's full of creeping evil.
23. Alabama Whitman (True Romance)
Played by: Patricia Arquette
Arquette's performance as Alabama Whitman blows Christian Slater's Clarence Worley clean out of the water, and as such she lingers longer in the memory - a more arresting and believable character. Brave, fun, passionate, loyal, she's a scintilating and charming person and the catalyst for the entire movie. Hell, if this scene right here doesn't put goosebumps on our arms, you may technically be dead.
24. Drexyl Spivey (True Romance)
Played by: Gary Oldman
There are few Tarantino characters quite as alarming as dear old Drexyl Spivey. Horrible name, creepy eye, vicious scar, horrendous accent and hair that looks like it needs a bloody good wash. Oh and then there's his penchant for pimping, drugs muling and shotguns. Truly grotesque individual. One hell of a character though.
25. Django (Django Unchained)
Played by: Jamie Foxx
Given Jamie Foxx's soft tone of voice, Django's hurt and anger is portrayed most strongly not through Tarantino's cutting dialogue, as is usual, but in Foxx's eyes and his mannerisms. Such a compassionate and well-rounded character it's possible to like Django and to never feel an ounce of guilt for it. A rarity in the QT universe.
- These are the best Quentin Tarantino movies, ranked.