Every Opening Scene From Quentin Tarantino Movies, Ranked
The featured scenes within a given film from Quentin Tarantino are typically replete with extended exchanges of dialogue, aestheticized instances of violence, and some frankly wonderful performances. But certain scenes stand out among others, and plenty of his best are placed at the beginning of their respective projects.
This list won’t include or account for the opening title sequences with their sprawling scores and satisfying soundtracks, but instead, if those are indeed featured at the start of a given Tarantino film, then this list will be looking at the sequence that begins as soon as the credits end. Characters and dialogue will both encompass a scene, in this case. All that said, this is every opening scene of Tarantino’s filmography, ranked.
10 Death Proof – The Car Ride
Though there are some gruesome, action-packed death scenes that highlight the film’s overall tone, make no mistake: the bulk of Deathproof (2007) revolves around in-depth conversations. Three girls ride in a car — one driving, one in the passenger seat, and one lounging in the back. They discuss casual, everyday topics, like many exchanges of Tarantino’s dialogue.
But there are also some idiosyncrasies with this specific group of women, like their hardcore, respective accents, their cheering for “Jungle Julia” billboards as they drive past, their casual smoking of cigarettes. And well-placed exposition embeds itself around every corner of conversation. The scene lasts just over five minutes, but that time will fly by as you find yourself engrossed by the dialogue.
9 Kill Bill: Volume 2 – Beatrix’s Monologue
Driving down an undisclosed road at a high speed, Beatrix Kiddo monologues her way through the opening scene of Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004). And, perhaps most significantly, the soliloquy ends with the line, “I’m gonna Kill Bill”.
The dialogue flowed well thanks to Tarantino’s script, but the biggest story to reveal itself from this scene is the fact that Uma Thurman was actually harmed during its filming. She was allegedly asked by Tarantino to go forty miles per hour exactly to meet his standards for the scene’s finer details, like her hair blowing in the wind. She asked for a stunt double to take her place, but she ended up doing it and suffered a concussion after the car crashed into a tree. No wonder they haven’t worked together since.
8 Jackie Brown – Jackie Gets Confronted
An engrossing entry of the soundtrack rolls perfectly with the opening credits as the titular character journeys through the airport in which she works. Then, the plot of Jackie Brown (1997) is commenced when she’s confronted by two men who immediately appear to be more than mere airport security guards. And, they are, but the audience has no idea the extent of their importance, nor their business with Jackie.
It’s quickly revealed, however, that she was smuggling a large sum of cash into the States from Mexico, all for a ruthless gun runner named Ordell Robbie. The audience hardly has time to understand these characters in such a short amount of time while still sympathizing with their situation, but Tarantino manages to hold their attention through well-written dialogue alone. It’s undoubtedly a trend for him.
7 Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – Rick Dalton, Bounty Law!
Framed as a sort of trailer or preview for a fictional television show called Bounty Law, the beginning to Tarantino’s most recent film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) chronicles the exploits of Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) as a Western television actor. It also introduces the character’s stunt double, his friend Cliff Booth — a persona that garnered actor Brad Pitt his first ever Academy Award, one for Best Supporting Actor.
It’s clear in these opening moments that DiCaprio and Pitt — in their first ever on-screen appearance alongside one another — will highlight the film’s quality in the long run with their witty, back-and-forth wordplay. But this scene also establishes a tangible tone to the film that develops into a truly memorable dynamic well before it’s all said and done.
6 Kill Bill: Volume 1 – The Massacre
Tarantino begins Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) with a proverb captioned on the screen: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” He then follows with the inciting incident off the bat — the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, led by the titular Bill, and their killing of The Bride, Beatrix Kiddo. There’s just a single line of dialogue in the scene, one from Beatrix just as she gets shot. And without a second viewing of the films, or at least retrospection after having seen them both, it may not be clear what she says.
The whole scene consists of just a single shot, too: Beatrix’s bloodied face. And only two things happen, really. Bill’s hand reaches into frame and wipes off the blood. Then, he shoots her. That’s it. It’s among Tarantino’s shortest opening scenes, second only to its sequel, but this one went down as far more intriguing.
5 Reservoir Dogs – On Madonna and Tipping
A heist film, Reservoir Dogs (1992) was Quentin Tarantino’s feature directorial debut, and it opens with eight thieves sitting around in suits, having breakfast at a local diner in Los Angeles. And they essentially just have a discussion. They deduce the meaning of a Madonna song and critique the general prospect of tipping your server, but there’s more under the surface than a simple scene of dialogue.
They don’t discuss the heist or other elements of the narrative that could be considered exposition, but there are glaring personality traits revealed within the conversation. Take Mr. Orange, for instance. Played by Tim Roth, he’s eventually revealed to be a double agent working for the police, who ultimately gets the team busted. And here at the breakfast table in the opening scene, you might remember him ratting out Mr. Pink as the one who didn’t tip. Some well-placed foreshadowing from Tarantino.
4 The Hateful Eight – A Storm’s a Brewin’
There seem to be two primary characters in The Hateful Eight (2015) off the bat: John “The Hangman” Ruth, and Daisy Domergue. They were played to wonderful degrees by Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, respectively. But soon after the opening credits roll, the sprawling score comes to a halt. The scene gets its feet beneath it and begins to take motion, and the audience meets another character: Major Marquis Warren, played by longtime Tarantino collaborator Samuel L. Jackson.
What follows is a tantalizing exchange of back-and-forth dialogue, replete with clever exposition and interesting character dynamics. Then, they pick up another weary traveler along the way to Minnie’s Haberdashery: Chris Mannix. The most unstable character of the bunch, Mannix adds a particular animation to the mix, and the resulting performances are just flat-out impressive.
3 Django Unchained – Unchaining Django
After a three-minute-long, spaghetti Western-inspired score, Tarantino introduces the main players of Django Unchained (2012) right off the bat. Dr. King Schultz, a former dentist and budding bounty hunter, arrives on the scene to find, purchase, and for all intents and purposes rescue a slave named Django, who knows a trio of slaver brothers that the bounty hunter has on his list.
And many key personality traits are seamlessly established — Schultz (played to an Oscar-winning degree by Christoph Waltz) doesn’t speak English as a primary language, but his vocabulary is deeper than any American he encounters. Then, Django (played by Jamie Foxx) is hesitant to harm his former slaver, whereas throughout the course of the film, he develops quickly into a stone-cold killer. And these two characters immediately create a chemistry that remains tangible the whole way through.
2 Pulp Fiction – The Diner
Famous in part due to his seemingly-realistic dialogue, Tarantino implemented undertones of everyday topics into each conversational corner of Pulp Fiction (1994). Throughout the plot, these iconic characters discuss common concepts such as hamburgers, Madonna, and foot massages. And it’s entirely engrossing every step of the way.
In the opening scene within a small Los Angeles diner, Tim Roth’s Ringo (also called Pumpkin) and Amanda Plummer’s Yolanda (or, Honey Bunny) at first seem to be talking about nothing in particular, but it all leads to the featured inciting incident: withdrawing their guns, holding up the diner, and stealing from everyone therein. This scene subsequently showcases greater structural purposes by the time it’s all said and done, and eventually epitomizes the film’s emphasis on nonlinearity.
1 Inglourious Basterds – LaPadite’s Farmhouse
What makes this scene so special was the utilization of a narrative technique called vicarious suspense. Popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, the tool is more commonly known as “The Bomb Under the Table”, where the screenwriter or director reveals to the audience a key detail of the scene that remains unknown to one of the featured characters, or more. And in two minutes, the bomb will explode — this creates far more suspense than simply detonating the bomb suddenly without the characters or the audience knowing it’s there in the first place.
Tarantino employed this device to a tee with Inglourious Basterds(2009) — S.S. Colonel Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz) and Perrier LaPadite (played by Denise Ménochet) have the conversation at the table, and a group of Jewish girls hiding beneath the floorboards act as the figurative bomb. This built tremendous suspense as, set during WWII, Hans Landa was known around the European theater as “The Jew Hunter”, and he was specifically seeking out the girls beneath the floor. This scene introduced the world to Christoph Waltz and in tandem won him his first Oscar. But it will also go down in history for the masterful filmmaking tactics used by Tarantino.