ShortList is now ad free and supported by you, the users. When you buy through the links on our site we may earn a commission. Learn more

Quentin Tarantino's 25 Greatest Characters

Quentin Tarantino's 25 Greatest Characters

Quentin Tarantino's 25 Greatest Characters
12 August 2013

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)

(Images: Rex)

25. 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.

Shosanna (Inglourious Basterds)

23. Floyd (True Romance)

Played by: Brad Pitt

Here's a mildly interesting fact - Floyd’s line about getting “cleaning products” (probably repeated ad nauseam by your uni housemates whenever anyone left your digs) was improvised. Which just makes us love the sofa-bound caner even more. In fact, in our opinion, it's Pitt's best Tarantino role trumping, in just a few minutes of screen time, his excellent turn as Lt Aldo Raine in Inglourious. Controversial, we know.

22. Captain Koons (Pulp Fiction)

Played by Christopher Walken

Do yourself a quick favour. Watch this 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.

21. 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.

20. 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.

19. 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.

18. Nice Guy Eddie (Reservoir Dogs)

Played by: Chris Penn

You know you can get a Nice Guy Eddie doll, complete with late 80s "mobile" phone? Maybe get one?

Anyway, what a wonderful character. What a wonderful Nike shellsuit.

Depressing fact of the day: If you punch 'Nice Guy Eddie' into YouTube, that song by Sleeper comes top. There is no God.

17. 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.

16. 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.

15. 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.

14. 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. 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.

12. 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.

11. 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.

10. Virgil (True Romance)

Played by James Gandolfini

We can't put it any better than author John Niven who said: "He only had a small role in 1993’s True Romance – this three-minute scene was his biggest chunk of screen time. But he owned it. In that time he went from reflective (“The first time you kill somebody...”) to warm (when Patricia Arquette holds a corkscrew to ward him off, he smiles and says “You gotta a lotta heart kid...”) to horribly sexual (“You wanna play with Daddy?” opening his shirt, taunting her to stick him with the corkscrew) to menacing (his “Alright, no more Mr F*ckin’ nice guy”, as she stabs the corkscrew in his foot.) He burned off the screen."

Read Niven's full appraisal here.

(Image: Allstar)

9. 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.

8. 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'."

7. 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.

6. 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 top ten.

5. 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.

4. 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".

2. 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?

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.”