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7 Classic Movies that Influenced Quentin Tarantino

Horror, Suspense, Film Noir - and Plenty of Laughs


One of the most exciting American filmmakers since Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking style has earned its own adjective: “Tarantinoesque.” Revered for his unique post-post modern sense, he’s been criticized for overt appropriation of techniques and imagery from films he admires.

Yes, Tarantino’s pop culture-conscious style is an amalgam of the movies he watched during his do-it-yourself film education as a video store clerk. Everybody knows Tarantino was influenced by the Blaxploitation genre; the films of France, Hong Kong and Japan; and '70s film. But what films from Hollywood’s Golden Age inspired him?

1. ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ - 1948

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
As a five year old, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was Tarantino’s favorite movie. “The spookiest laugh fest on record” was named one of the top 100 funniest films of all time by Reader’s Digest, the first in a series where the inept comedy duo met Universal’s classic monsters. The pair play deliverymen charged with depositing Dracula and Frankenstein's monster at their final resting place: a wax museum. But the monsters revolt, and try to snatch Lou's brain. Tarantino credits the film with teaching him that horror and comedy can overlap, often with stunning results. He has described his own Kill Bill as “Funny. Solemn. Beautiful. Gross. All at the same time."
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2. ‘Rio Bravo’ - 1959

Rio Bravo
Warner Brothers
A small-town Texas sheriff (John Wayne) enlists a drunk (Dean Martin), a kid (Ricky Nelson) and a dyspeptic old man to help him fight off a ruthless cattle baron. Tarantino has cited this film, directed by Howard Hawks, as his favorite movie of all time. “When I’m getting serious about a girl, I show her Rio Bravo and she better $@#&*%! like it.” One of the many films Tarantino references in his screenplay True Romance.(Bonus: Dean and Ricky sing too!)
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3. 'White Heat' - 1949

White Heat
Warner Brothers
In what many consider his best performance, James Cagney stars as Cody Jarrett, a ruthless gang leader and unabashed mama’s boy. After breaking out of prison, Cody assembles a small band of criminals to execute a vengeful killing spree. Unbeknownst to Cody, his henchmen have their own motives for joining up. The film’s long list of iconic action sequences includes a murderous train robbery, Cody’s crazed outburst in a prison mess hall, and a climactic shoot-out on an oil tanker. The nonchalance with which Cody and others commit cold-blooded acts of violence had a direct impact on Tarantino’s portrayal of his Reservoir Dogs gangsters.
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4. 'His Girl Friday' - 1940

His Girl Friday

Cary Grant does everything he can to sabotage his ex-wife’s plans to marry a bland insurance salesman in Howard Hawks’ screwball comedy. Rosalind Russell co-stars as a spitfire newspaper reporter and Grant’s ex-wife. Tarantino has admitted to being strongly influenced by writer Ben Hecht’s snappy dialogue, in the second film made from Hecht’s successful stage play. On the first page of his Pulp Fiction screenplay, Tarantino describes two characters talking “in rapid-fire motion like His Girl Friday.”

5. 'Kiss Me Deadly' - 1955

Kiss Me Deadly
United Artists
In this over-the-top film noir, based on the novel by Mickey Spillane, a private detective works to solve the murder of a beautiful hitchhiker with a mysterious connection to the mob. Kiss Me Deadly’s Ralph Meeker (as Detective Mike Hammer) provided Tarantino with the jumping-off point for Bruce Willis’s prizefighting character in Pulp Fiction: he’s bully and a jerk, except when he’s with his girlfriend, when he’s a sweetheart.
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6. 'The Killing' - 1956

The Killing
United Artists
Tarantino’s favorite heist film, The Killing put Stanley Kubrick on the map as a director. Sterling Hayden stars as an ex-con who masterminds a scheme to steal $2 million from a local racetrack. The plan suffers, however, when the wife of one of Hayden’s subordinates tries to cut herself (and her lover) in on the payoff. Tarantino has been judged harshly by some critics for borrowing heavily from this film for his breakout hit Reservoir Dogs; its influence on Tarantino’s use of the fractured narrative structure is undeniable.
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7. 'The Taking of Pelham 123' - 1974

The Taking of Pelham 123
United Artists
This expertly paced thriller stars Robert Shaw as one of four gunmen who hijack a New York subway train and hold its passengers for ransom. Walter Matthau is outstanding as the seasoned transit cop who must beat the clock to contend with their demands. The heist genre is clearly a favorite of Tarantino’s; this is also where he nabbed the idea to color-code his Reservoir Dogs criminals’ names.
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