It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino loves movies, and also loves referencing them when he makes his own movies. Sometimes, it feels like he takes inspiration from dozens – or even hundreds – of movies at a time, condensing individual moments, scenes, or shots from each into his own works. If he did this with limited reference points, it may feel like plagiarism… but it’s the fact he takes inspiration from so many sources and remixes them so drastically that ensures his films feel original.
What follows are the 10 movies that most directly line up with each of Tarantino’s own 10 feature films (here counting Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 as two movies). All his movies obviously borrow from various others, but the following 10 movies can be seen as the most direct inspiration for each of his, whether because of similar premises or numerous sequences that are borrowed and referenced in his own work.
1 ‘City on Fire’ (1987) & ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)
It’s fairly easy to make comparisons between Hong Kong crime thriller City on Fire and Tarantino’s feature debut Reservoir Dogs. The former involves an undercover cop infiltrating a gang of jewel thieves, while the latter involves the aftermath of a botched jewel heist, where it becomes clear that one member of the group is likely an undercover police officer.
The premises may sound strikingly similar, though Reservoir Dogs does distinguish itself through its non-chronological storytelling, the fact it doesn’t reveal who’s the undercover officer straight away, and the fact it doesn’t show the heist itself. City on Fire is more action-focused, delivering shootouts and other action sequences on top of its crime-related storyline.
2 ‘Band of Outsiders’ (1964) & ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)
Admittedly, Pulp Fiction is the hardest movie in Quentin Tarantino’s filmography to directly compare to another director’s work. It still stands as a film that’s never really been successfully replicated either, being about three different crime-related storylines that are told in a remarkably non-linear order, all tying in together in unexpected and unusual ways.
But there are comparisons to be made between it and Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 classic Band of Outsiders. The most obvious is that it has a dance sequence explicitly referenced in Pulp Fiction, while in addition, both are post-modern crime movies with characters who often talk about popular culture and pre-existing films.
3 ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ (1973) & ‘Jackie Brown’ (1997)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a bleak 1970s crime movie about one man – the titular Eddie Coyle – trying to cooperate with police by ratting out old criminal associates in the hopes it will reduce the sentences for his own crimes. One associate is a gunrunner named Jackie Brown, who shares a name with the titular character in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
Beyond this shout-out, both are also comparable for featuring characters on both sides of the law, and having tense narratives where seemingly few people can be trusted. Both movies are also similarly written, too, and it’s not too surprising to learn that Elmore Leonard – who wrote the novel Jackie Brown was adapted from – called the novel version of The Friends of Eddie Coylethe best crime novel ever written.
4 ‘Lady Snowblood’ (1973) & ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1’ (2003)
Kill Bill is known for its brutal and satisfying action, especially when it comes to the first volume. It’s a throwback to samurai and martial arts films of old, with its action sequences and overall story of revenge owing a good deal to 1973’s Lady Snowblood, an iconic Japanese samurai movie.
That movie also sees a woman seeking revenge on a group of criminals, stopping at nothing to seek bloody vengeance for the ways they wronged her and her family. It’s referenced in Kill Bill Vol. 1 through its setting, some of its costumes, its core premise, and during the climactic duel, which is set in a snowy locale that’ll look familiar to those who’ve seen Lady Snowblood.
5 ‘The 36th Chamber of Shaolin’ (1978) & ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2’ (2004)
Kill Bill Vol. 2 pivots a little from Vol. 1, seeing as it more frequently homages classic Westerns than samurai or martial arts movies. It contains less action, and much of it is set in desert locations, which makes it stand in contrast to the city locales seen throughout the majority of Kill Bill Vol. 1.
It thankfully doesn’t completely abandon its martial arts movie inspirations, seeing as it includes a lengthy training montage sequence that feels like a direct homage to the classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Uma Thurman’s The Bride goes through similar training seen in that film, and is also trained by a character played by Gordon Liu, who starred as the main pupil in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
6 ‘Vanishing Point’ (1971) & ‘Death Proof’ (2007)
Car chases in movies are almost always cool, and it’s something Tarantino understood well when he made Death Proof. The underrated 2007 movie follows two groups of young women who are stalked by a deranged stuntman in his seemingly indestructible car, and it overall serves as a throwback to car-heavy movies that were popular in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
One of its chief inspirations was 1971’s Vanishing Point, which is about one man taking on a dangerous challenge to get a Dodge Challenger from one location to another in a very short amount of time. It contains a good deal of high-speed action, and Death Proof is at its best when delivering the same, particularly notable in the film’s extended final chase sequence that ends the movie on a high note.
7 ‘The Inglorious Bastards’ (1978) & ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009)
It’s easy to get The Inglorious Bastards mixed up with Inglourious Basterds, given how (intentionally) similar the titles are. The former follows a group of American soldiers undertaking a dangerous mission in Germany during the Second World War, and the latter… also follows American soldiers risking their lives in Nazi Germany during World War Two.
Granted, there are certainly differences beyond the core premise. The Inglorious Bastards involves stealing a V2 warhead from German forces and is a more action-heavy movie, whilst Inglourious Basterds involves a plot to kill Adolf Hitler himself, features a couple of other subplots, and is overall more dialogue-heavy.
8 ‘Django’ (1966) & ‘Django Unchained’ (2012)
Quentin Tarantino had made his love of Westerns clear before 2012, but that year’s Django Unchained marked the first time he explicitly made a Western. It follows a former slave teaming up with a bounty hunter on a mission to rescue his wife who’s being held captive by a sadistic plantation owner.
It clearly takes inspiration from 1966’s Django, made most obvious by the title. That film has a very different plot, but is similarly gritty, violent, and tense, much like Django Unchained was 46 years later. Plus, Django Unchained also features a memorable cameo from Franco Nero, who played the title character in the 1966 movie.
9 ‘The Black Tavern’ (1972) & ‘The Hateful Eight’ (2015)
The Black Tavern is a fairly obscure martial arts movie that centers on a single tavern that’s filled with shady, violent characters, many seeking shelter from the cold weather outside. Throughout the film, various people come and go, with scenes featuring tension and distrust that often explode into spectacular (and surprisingly brutal) martial arts violence.
Tarantino’s The Hateful Eightcertainly isn’t a martial arts movie, but takes much of what makes The Black Tavern work and places it in a Western movie. It also centers on a group of characters in a confined setting during the dead of winter, with a great deal of suspicion and intrigue among them… and yes, plenty of scenes of surprising violence, too.
10 ‘American Graffiti’ (1973) & ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ (2019)
It’s hard to compare Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s narrative to a specific movie that came before it, as it’s a film that doesn’t have too specific a plot. It instead aims to capture a mood that was present at a time in history, here focused on depicting the more carefree, laid-back lifestyle of Hollywood in 1969, arguably a time when things were simpler.
George Lucas’ best-known movie that isn’t from the Star Wars series aims to do something similar. American Graffiti is a laid-back, character-focused, and nostalgic look at life for high school graduates during the early 1960s. There’s a similar rhythm and charm to both movies, and both serve as good examples of how movies can be compelling whilst not featuring intricate narratives.