10 References In Quentin Tarantino Movies You Didn’t Notice

Quentin Tarantino has always been a film lover’s filmmaker. He has constructed his movies with overt and loving references to a near encyclopedic knowledge of previous directors’ work. Critics decry him as a magpie, filching bits and pieces from other movies to build his own. But that overlooks the style and flourishes with which he works, and his uncanny way of combining his various references into something entirely new. He is perhaps the quintessential postmodern director, and his deliberate citations invariably add to a vision that couldn’t belong to anyone else.



Sometimes, his references are reasonably open and can be spotted by any viewer with a reasonable movie literacy. Examples include Uma Thurman’s yellow tracksuit in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 — an open nod to Bruce Lee’s outfit in Game of Death — and the vaunted briefcase in Pulp Fiction, which riffs on the central MacGuffin in 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly. But others are less readily noticed, either because the reference is reasonably obscure (sometimes consisting of just a single shot) or because Tarantino has layered it amid a plethora of other content. Below are ten of his more subtle references to other movies, arranged chronologically by the reference in question.


10 Metropolis Gave Inglourious Basterds Its Moment of Revenge

Brad Pitt, Til Schweiger, Daniel Brühl, Mélanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz, and Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner’s vengeful plans for the same.

Release Date
August 21, 2009

Cast
Brad Pitt , Diane Kruger , Eli Roth

Runtime
2 Hours 33 Minutes

Studio
The Weinstein Company

Production Company
Universal Pictures, The Weinstein Company, A Band Apart

Title

Writer

Director

Running Time

Year of Release

Metropolis

Thea von Harbou

Fritz Lang

153 minutes (original)

1927

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Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis is a masterpiece of the silent era and one of the cornerstones of science fiction filmmaking. It entails a class struggle between residents of the titular city. Most people know it from its signature moment as the leader of the workers, Maria, is replaced by a robot duplicate. The real Maria is eventually restored, and the workers burn the robot at the stake. It laughs madly as the flames consume it.

Inglorious Basterds culminates with Jewish theater owner Shosanna Dreyfus murdering the German High Command (including Hitler) by igniting a stack of flammable celluloid film behind the screen. Just before she ignites the blaze, her face appears on the movie screen, laughing as it ignites in active emulation of the Maria robot.

9 Psycho Inspired an Ill-Fated Meeting in Pulp Fiction

Uma Thurman on the movie poster for Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction

The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster and his wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.

Release Date
September 10, 1994

Cast
John Travolta , Uma Thurman , Samuel L. Jackson

Runtime
2 hours 34 minutes

Studio
Miramax Films

Production Company
Miramax, A Band Apart, Jersey Films

Title

Writer

Director

Running Time

Year of Release

Psycho

Joseph Stefano

Alfred Hitchcock

109 minutes

1960

Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho is one of the most important films in movie history, in part because of its big narrative twist when ostensible protagonist Marion Crane is murdered in the shower at the Bates Motel. The film’s first act concerns how she got there, when she impulsively steals money from her employer’s client in an effort to be with her boyfriend, Sam. As she’s leaving town, her boss crosses the street in front of her, recognizing her despite the fact that she told him that she was sick in bed.

Pulp Fiction one-ups that equation with an ill-fated meeting between crooked boxer Butch Coolidge — behind the wheel of his girlfriend’s Honda — and crime lord Marsellus Wallace, whom he has just betrayed. While Marion Crane just drives on and tries to keep her head down, Butch runs Marsellus over, igniting the chase that ends with them both in the basement with the Gimp.

8 8½ Shows Pulp Fiction’s Couple How to Dance

8 and a half

A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.

Release Date
June 24, 1963

Director
Federico Fellini

Cast
Marcello Mastroianni , Anouk Aimee , Claudia Cardinale

Runtime
2 Hours 18 Minutes

Writers
Federico Fellini

Producer
Angelo Rizzoli

Production Company
Cineriz, Francinex

Rotten Tomatoes Score

Acadamy Awards

Nastro d’Argento Awards

97%

  • Best Foreign Film
  • Best Costume Design – Black and White
  • Best Director
  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Story
  • Best Producer
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Score

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Pulp Fiction includes one of the greatest dance scenes in history, as Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace and John Travolta’s Vincent Vega cut a rug to Chuck Berry at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. On the surface, the scene riffs on Travolta’s star-making moves on the disco floor from 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, as well as reminding audiences how brilliant he could be. The actor’s career was in the doldrums when Pulp Fiction opened.

Tarantino patterns their dancing after another film about filmmaking: Federico Fellini’s , which concerns the travails of an Italian movie director suffering from creative frustration. In one key moment, the director’s friend — played by Mario Pisu — steps onto a dance floor occupied by older couples with his much younger girlfriend played by Barbara Steele. Their energy and vibrancy is adroitly captured by Thurman and Travolta flashing almost identical moves in Pulp Fiction.

7 Django Inspires Reservoir Dogs’ Most Gruesome Moment

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained

A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

Release Date
December 25, 2012

Runtime
2 hours 45 minutes

Production Company
The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score

Acadamy Awards

Golden Globe Awards

MTV Movie Awards

Saturn Awards

87%

  • Best Supporting Actor
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Supporting Actor

The original Django is a 1966 spaghetti Western, directed by Sergio Corbucci and loosely based on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It set off a massive trend of unofficial follow-ups — over 30 in totem — and famously serves as inspiration for Tarantino’s anti-slavery Western Django Unchained, including a cameo from Django’s original star Franco Nero.

But Tarantino’s Django influence arrives much earlier in his career as well. The Western entails a battle between rival gangs, which leads to a gruesome scene in which a spy for one side has his ear cut off with a straight razor. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs uses the same gimmick in its most memorably violent moment, as Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde cuts off a hostage cop’s ear more or less on a whim.

6 Jackie Brown Echoes The Graduate’s Iconic Opening

Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown

A flight attendant with a criminal past gets nabbed by the ATF for smuggling. Under pressure to become an informant against the drug dealer she works for, she must find a way to secure her future without getting killed.

Release Date
December 25, 1997

Cast
Pam Grier , Samuel L. Jackson , Robert Forster

Runtime
2 Hours 34 Minutes

Main Genre
Crime

Producer
Lawrence Bender

Production Company
Miramax, A Band Apart, Lawrence Bender Productions, Mighty Mighty Afrodite Productions

Title

Writers

Director

Running Time

Year of Release

The Graduate

Calder Willingham & Buck Henry

Mike Nichols

106 minutes

1967

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Music plays a huge role in Tarantino’s films, and it often informs character as much as plot or mood. 1997’s Jackie Brown contains a strong example in its opening credits, as Pam Grier’s world-weary flight attendant stands on the moving walkway at the airport while Bobby Womak’s “Across 110th Street” plays on the soundtrack. It captures the character’s vibe without a word of dialogue.

It’s also an open riff on the famous opening to 1967’s The Graduate, though admittedly involving a character who is worlds apart from Jackie Brown. As Dustin Hoffman’s disconnected college student Benjamin Braddock arrives home, riding an identical walkway with the credits rolling to his left, just as Jackie Brown does. It’s accompanied by Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” an equally telling indicator of the character’s mindset.

5 Django Unchained Pulls Its Finale from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Western cowboy characters in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) movie poster

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

Release Date
December 23, 1966

Director
Sergio Leone

Cast
Clint Eastwood , Eli Wallach , Lee Van Cleef , Aldo Giuffrè , Luigi Pistilli , Rada Rassimov

Runtime
2 hours 58 minutes

Writers
Luciano Vincenzoni , Sergio Leone , Agenore Incrocci

Story By
Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone

Production Company
Produzioni Europee Associate (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film

Rotten Tomatoes Score

Metacritic Score

97%

90

Tarantino loves spaghetti Westerns, in which its over-the-top embellishments fit in well with his penchant for exaggeration. He couldn’t resist making a nod to one of the genre’s all-time greats for the conclusion of Django Unchained. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly ends with Clint Eastwood’s Blondie forcing Eli Wallach’s Tuco into a hangman’s noose, then shooting the rope from a distance. As Blondie rides away, Tuco calls him a son of a bitch, only for the soundtrack to drown out the last word.

Django Unchained gives star Samuel L. Jackson — known for his signature use of a different swear word — a similar moment during its climax, as Jamie Foxx’s Django Freeman takes revenge on the surviving villains. They include Samuel L. Jackson’s turncoat Stephen Warren, whom Django singles out for a special fate. After shooting him in the kneecaps — while reciting a litany of Stephen’s crimes of complicity — he lights a stick of dynamite and walks silently out the door. Stephen rains down curses and threats behind him, but the explosion cuts him off just before he can complete the phrase “son of a bitch.”

4 Death Proof’s Killer Takes Notes from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Death Proof Film Poster

Death Proof

Two separate sets of voluptuous women are stalked at different times by a scarred stuntman who uses his “death proof” cars to execute his murderous plans.

Release Date
July 21, 2007

Cast
Kurt Russell , Zoe Bell , Rosario Dawson , Vanessa Ferlito , Tracie Thoms , Mary Elizabeth Winstead , Jordan Ladd

Runtime
127 minutes

Title

Writer

Director

Running Time

Year of Release

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Dario Argento

Dario Argento

96 minutes

1970

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Westerns weren’t the only Italian films to influence Tarantino, as 8 ½ proves. That includes Dario Argento’s giallo thrillers, particularly 1970’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage which involves a serial killer murdering young women in Rome. The film periodically adopts the killer’s voyeuristic point of view, snapping pictures of potential victims from a distance and viewing them through binoculars.

Tarantino’s Death Proof similarly involves a serial killer stalking young women, in this case Kurt Russell’s murderous Stuntman Mike. Just like the murderer in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, he takes photos of his victims from a distance. It allows Tarantino to neatly parallel one of Argento’s shots from the earlier film, with Mike snapping pictures of the film’s four protagonists as they arrive in Austin, TX. The real giveaway is the music on the soundtrack: Ennio Morricone’s main theme for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

3 Blade Runner’s Memorable Death Informs Kill Bill, Vol. 2

Kill Bill Vol 2

Kill Bill: Vol. 2

The Bride continues her quest of vengeance against her former boss and lover Bill, the reclusive bouncer Budd, and the treacherous, one-eyed Elle.

Release Date
April 16, 2004

Cast
Uma Thurman , David Carradine , Michael Madsen

Runtime
2 Hours 17 Minutes

Main Genre
Action

Producer
Lawrence Bender

Production Company
Miramax, A Band Apart, Super Cool ManChu

Title

Writers

Director

Running Time

Year of Release

Blade Runner

Hampton Fancher & David Peoples

Ridley Scott

117 minutes

1982

Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver is one of several characters taken down in The Bride’s “roaring rampage of revenge” in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. She’s also the only character who survives said rampage: blinded and left to die in Budd’s trailer with a deadly snake in the vicinity. Tarantino has periodically mentioned a desire to make Kill Bill, Vol. 3 at some point, which would almost certainly involve Elle should it ever come to fruition.

Her fate closely matches that of another character played by the same actor. Pris, one of the rogue replicants in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner, was Hannah’s breakout role two years before Splash made her a star. When Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard shoots her, she spasms wildly on the floor as her artificial muscles malfunction. When Elle loses her remaining eye, she thrashes on the floor of Budd’s trailer in a similarly violent manner.

2 City on Fire Gives Reservoir Dogs Its Famous Stand-Off

Reservoir Dogs Movie Poster

Reservoir Dogs

Release Date
October 9, 1992

Cast
Harvey Keitel , Tim Roth , Chris Penn , Steve Buscemi , Lawrence Tierney , Michael Madsen

Runtime
99 minutes

Main Genre
Crime

Production Company
Live America Inc., Dog Eat Dog Productions

Cinematographer
Andrzej Sekuła

Producer
Lawrence Bender

Sfx Supervisor
Stephen DeLollis

Title

Writers

Director

Running Time

Year of Release

City on Fire

Ringo Lam & Tommy Sham

Ringo Lam

105 minutes

1987

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Reservoir Dogs is known for a pair of stand-offs that play a key role in the narrative. The first involves Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White and Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink pointing guns at each other while the latter lies prone on the ground. Tarantino ups the ante in the finale with a three-way standoff between White, Joe Cabot, and Cabot’s son Nice Guy Eddie.

Similar stand-offs had been a staple of Hong Kong films for several years at that point, most notably John Woo’s pictures, which often used the trope to generate tension. But the closest match to Reservoir Dogs’ finale is 1987’s City on Fire, directed by Ringo Lam and marking an early breakout role for actor Chow Yun-Fat. It centers around a heist gone wrong, and includes an undercover cop in the ranks of the thieves, among other plot points openly copied by Reservoir Dogs. That culminates in a three-way stand-off nearly identical to Tarantino’s five years later, as father-and-son criminal kingpins point guns at a would-be employee unknowingly protecting the informant in their midst.

1 Miller’s Crossing Shows Kill Bill, Vol. 1 How to Shoot a Gangster

Uma Thurman with her blade in Kill Bill Vol. 1 Film Poster

Kill Bill Vol. 1

After awakening from a four-year coma, a former assassin wreaks vengeance on the team of assassins who betrayed her.

Release Date
September 29, 2003

Cast
Uma Thurman , Lucy Liu , Vivica A. Fox , Daryl Hannah , David Carradine , Michael Madsen

Runtime
1 hour 51 minutes

Main Genre
Action

Production Company
Miramax, A Band Apart, Super Cool ManChu

Title

Writer

Director

Running Time

Year of Release

Miller’s Crossing

Joel & Ethan Coen

Joel Coen

115 minutes

1990

Tarantino is known for his graphically violent action scenes, but he’s hardly the only auteur to use the tactic. Joel & Ethan Coen often bring shocking brutality to their moments of violence, notably in their Prohibition-era gangster film Miller’s Crossing. In one memorable scene, assassins come for Albert Finney’s benevolent mob boss Leo, only for him to turn the tables in spectacular fashion. Sitting in bed, he senses trouble, and hides under his bed just as a pair of killers with Thompson submachine guns kick down the door. He shoots one of them in the leg, then in the head when the man collapses, gathering the Tommy gun and dispatching the remainder of the hit team with lethal efficiency.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 uses the same gimmick in its anime-rendered background for O-Ren Ishii. She takes revenge over her parents’ murder at the age of eleven. When her target’s bodyguards charge in to stop her, she takes cover under the bed, then dispatches one of them the same way Leo did: a bullet to the leg followed by a bullet to the head.

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