Quentin Tarantino has been making feature films for over 25 years, and he’s managed to give cinema some of the greatest genre hybrids ever. IndieWire celebrates the Oscar-winning auteur by looking back at 20 amazing shots that define his career.
The “trunk shot” has become a definitive element of Tarantino’s visual style over the last 26 years. The director did not come up with the camera angle himself, but he has popularized it in his movies and is the director most associated with the shot.
“Reservoir Dogs” was Tarantino’s first collaboration with Polish cinematographer Andrzej Sekuła, who would go on to also shoot “Pulp Fiction.” The Mexican standoff scene is one of its most famous sequences.
Tarantino is an expert at blocking tracking shots (see “Jackie Brown”), and in this “Reservoir Dogs” scene he’s able to capture the hotshot swagger of his titular criminals in one take.
The famous briefcase shot in “Pulp Fiction” is a nod to a similar image in Robert Aldrich’s 1955 film noir “Kiss Me Deadly.” The contents within the briefcase have inspired countless fan theories. John Travolta told The Daily Beast he was instructed by Tarantino to act impressed, as if he was seeing something he never had before.
Tarantino shoots Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace as a femme fatale throughout “Pulp Fiction,” but one of the reasons his script remains a landmark is because of how he chooses to expand and add to some of film’s most classic archetypes.
Tarantino tells you everything you need to know about the isolated, elusive, and confident Jackie Brown (the door number is 1 for a reason) in this master establishing shot.
Tarantino kicks off “Jackie Brown” with an epic tracking shot that puts the opening credits over his titular character traveling on a moving walkway. The scene is famously scored to Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street.”
“Jackie Brown” is the rare Tarantino movie not shot by either Robert Richardson or Andrzej Sekuła. Mexican cinematographer Guillermo Navarro was behind the camera for the film. He later received the best cinematography Oscar for “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
“Kill Bill” is notable for being the first collaboration between Tarantino and Robert Richardson, who would go on to shoot all of the director’s next projects (save for “Death Proof”). Tarantino used the Western genre and its love of eyeline closeups as a visual touchstone throughout the two-part samurai film.
The famous blue silhouette fight between The Bride and members of the Crazy 88 mafia is a visual ode to the opening of Nakano Hiroyuki’s “Samurai Fiction.” Tarantino films the Crazy 88 fight in blue, while Hiroyuki opted for red.
Tarantino references Nakano Hiroyuki again in “Vol. 2” when showing The Bride’s martial arts training under mentor Pai Mei. Here Tarantino evokes the red famously used by Hiroyuki in the opening of “Samurai Fiction.”
The fight between The Bride and the teenage assassin Gogo Yubari is one of the most famous set pieces in “Vol. 1.” Gogo’s death, a centered closeup of the character with blood tears dripping down her cheeks, is “Kill Bill” at its most iconic.
“Death Proof,” Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” entry, is often considered the director’s weakest effort to date, although it does contain one of his most exhilarating set pieces. The film builds to an epic car chase featuring stuntwoman Zoë Bell doing some death-defying tricks. Tarantino, who shot “Death Proof” himself, wows the audience with overhead shots that prove this chase is really happening.
The reveal that French dairy farmer Perrier La Padite is hiding Jews under the floorboards of his country home is masterfully handeled by Tarantino and Richardson. The shot represents the emotional turning point of Tarantino’s prolonged opening scene.
Tarantino has often channeled the famous door shot from John Ford’s “The Searchers” in his movies. “Kill Bill” uses the door shot as a visual reference for one of its scenes, and Tarantino evokes the shot again in “Inglourious Basterds” as Shoshanna runs for her life away from her home.
Using a reflection shot for Shoshanna to visually represent her status as a double agent is not the most inspired image, but it works like gangbusters as the character contemplates her final mission.
The most famous shot in all of “Inglourious Basterds” is the image of Shoshanna’s face projected on a burning film screen. The film was the third collaboration between Tarantino and Richardson, and earned the cinematographer an Oscar nomination.
After Django finally succeeds in rescuing his wife and burning the Candyland plantation to the ground, Tarantino and Richardson block the character in the center of the frame (a choice that represents the restored balance in Django’s life) and illuminate his face with the flames from the burning mansion. It’s a shot of pure victory that is all the more rousing given all of Django’s defeats in the film.
The provocative image of blood splattering over cotton plants was used heavily in the marketing for “Django Unchained,” and the shot has gone on to be one of the film’s most iconic. Richardson earned another Oscar nomination for best cinematography for his work on “Django.”
Tarantino and Richardson famously shot “The Hateful Eight” on 70 mm film, using Ultra Panavision 70 and Kodak Vision 3 film stocks. The movie is Tarantino’s love letter to widescreen Westerns, and the location shots throughout the feature are some of Tarantino’s most jaw-dropping. Richardson was nominated again for the best cinematography Oscar.