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Top 10 Quentin Tarantino Characters

A difficult list to make and I am sure you'll disagree

(from left to right) Cast of Pulp Fiction with Bruce Willis, Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta
Top 10 Quentin Tarantino Characters

This was not an easy list by any stretch. As I went through Quentino Tarantino's films and jot down my favorite characters from each, my list continued to grow and grow... well beyond ten names. At one point I thought I would do a top 15, but that would have meant leaving off a couple of characters I didn't want to see left out and I didn't want to have to go up to 20 because at that point it just becomes excessive and sort of ruins the fun of narrowing things down to ten and taking a stand. So I ended with ten, but made sure to list my honorable mentions at the end, a list that still left a couple of names out of the mix I very easily could add to the top ten on any given day.

When it comes to looking at Tarantino's films and the characters he has created you enter a vast world of creativity, filled with dialogue that is unparalleled in my opinion. Sure, Tarantino rips off other films and even some of the best lines from some of his characters are direct rip-offs or have been slightly altered to fit the situation. However, they work every time. "You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize," says Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) in Reservoir Dogs harkening back to James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces, and it works.

Now, as you pour over my list of characters you may see some unexpected names. This is because what I like most about Tarantino's films is his dedication to all characters and not just his leads. A character could be on screen for only a couple of minutes and make a lasting impression. So often is the case, the leads in Tarantino's films are enhanced by those they come into contact with and as a result it not only creates lasting memories of the supporting character but enhances the lead beyond measure.

With that said, I stuck only to Tarantino directed films, which meant the likes of From Dusk Till Dawn, True Romance and Natural Born Killers were out of bounds. Other than that, it was fair game. The only Tarantino directed film not represented is Four Rooms and I really don't think Sin City counts considering his contribution in the director's chair was minimal.

And now, without further ado... my top ten Quentin Tarantino characters...

Esteban Vihaio (Michael Parks) - Kill Bill: Vol. 2

"If we had met back when I was in business, you would have been my number one lady."
Photo: Miramax

I mentioned Michael Parks' performance as the pimp Esteban Vihaio when I did my ranking of Tarantino's first six films recently so those that read that piece really shouldn't be all that surprised by his appearance here at the ten spot. I absolutely love this character and love his interaction with Uma Thurman as The Bride. This is an example of exactly what I was talking about when I said the supporting characters enhance the lead. The two of them playing off one another in the scene that follows is my absolute favorite part of Kill Bill: Volume Two and Esteban's inclusion on this list was never in doubt.

Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) - Jackie Brown

"Jesus, but if you two are not the biggest pair of fuck-ups I've ever met in my entire life. How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail."
Photo: Miramax

I mentioned Bridget Fonda's performance as Melanie when I did my roundup of Quentin Tarantino foot fetish scenes and for good reason, I loved her in this role and thought she was the one character I 100% connected with in Jackie Brown. When she met her final demise I was actually sad to see her go. I loved everything this character brought to the table from her dedication to morning marijuana, her unwanted seduction of Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) and her plot to rip-off Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson). Again, I was sad to see her go.

Nice Guy Eddie Cabot (Chris Penn) - Reservoir Dogs

"Listen, Vic. Whatever you wanna do in the privacy of your own home, go do it. But don't try to fuck me in my father's office - I don't think of you that way. I like you a lot man, but I don't think of you that way."
Photo: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The biggest reason Chris Penn's character Nice Guy Eddie Cabot stands out for me from Reservoir Dogs is because of all the layers this guy is dealing with. From referring to his mafioso father as "Daddy" to wielding a heavy hand when confronted with a major problem at a warehouse when he walks in to find a police officer duct taped and bleeding. Yet Eddie keeps a handle on things. My favorite, however, is his eye-roll after asking about the whereabouts of Mr. Blue and Mr. Blonde says, "Either he's alive or he's dead, or the cops got him... or they don't." He's the reaction man to an impossible situation and he couldn't have been drawn up any better.

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  • Martian Army

    Great list. But seriously, The Bride should have been somewhere in the Top Ten, instead of just an honorable mention. Still a great list. QT is my hero, and he creates some of the most original and colorful characters I have ever experienced.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

    @Martian Army: The Bride is a great character, but I think she is the #1 example of a Tarantino character enhanced by those around her. She meets a MASSIVE group of eclectic characters that shape her path, without them I don't think she is nearly as interesting.

    I am betting, though, she is the one character most people will disagree with me on and would place in their own top tens.

  • http://www.fixfilms.com Paul L.

    Fine list apart from the DEATHPROOF mention. I wouldn't have ANY of the characters from DEATHPROOF ANY where near that list. Midpoint car-crash aside DEATHPROOF is an absoutely awful piece of cinema; with cardboard cut-out characters, over-indulgent/pointless dialogue and overlong/repetitive scenes with absolutely no narrative drive.

    Noted: it was meant to be a Z-Movie homage but Tarantino is so much better than that -- as he proves with INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. An absolutely storming film with awesome script, characterisation, performances and scenes which balance suspense and extreme violence perfectly.

    As a historical document it's so OTT, you cannot take IB seriously at all; but you can't take away the fact it's an riotous blend of Western and War films. I watched it last night and people were applauding and cheering at the end! Haven't seen a London audience do that in a while.

  • Nick

    10. Bridget von Hammersmark - Inglourious Basterds. I just fell in love with her in that La Louisiane sequence. Diane Krueger was gorgeous, charming and very sympathetic, and she demonstrated some wonderful acting in a scene with Pitt and Roth, and later in her final scene with Christoph Waltz. Of all the characters, I felt for her the most.

    9. Max Cherry - Jackie Brown. A great comeback turn from Robert Forster, and the perfect example of what a truly brilliant "subtle acting" is. Granted, Forster doesn't demonstrate a lot of emotions, but he nevertheless creates a strong and charismatic character who you totally sympathize with from his first scene.

    8. Mia Wallace - Pulp Fiction. Yeah, she's on screen for like 20 minutes, but she's simply awesome in those 20 minutes. Incredibly charming, witty, beautiful and humorous, with some of the best dialogue in the film, having a great chemistry with Vincent, and participating in one of my favourite sequences from any movie ever. Of course, I'm talking about the dance. Uma Thurman was fantastic, she appeared for 20 minutes, stole the movie and got away with it, leaving us wanting more.

    7. Budd - Kill Bill Vol. 2. Michael Madsen was nothing but outstanding in the film, providing menace, charisma, wit and power. And he makes you feel sorry for him, with him living absolutely alone in a desert, having a shitty job and being abused by his boss on a regular basis. Madsen turned in a fascinating performance, once again reminding us that he doesn't belong to those direct-to-dvd movies that nobody watches. It's a goddamn shame that he hasn't had a lot of roles like this - a sad example of wasted potential.

    6. The Bride - Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2. Arguably the most complex character QT has ever created, and played brilliantly by Thurman in the two movies. She's one of the most badass action heroines in history, at the same time being deep and tragic character. Her scenes with Bill in Vol. 2 were perfect, she makes you feel for her much more than in Vol. 1, with you feeling for Bill at the same time.

    5. Mr. Orange - Reservoir Dogs. A complex, humorous, charismatic young guy, who took upon the task he wasn't ready for, and in the end heavily paid for it. His "commode story" monologue is easily my favourite part of the film, he makes you feel for him, and his last scene with Mr. White is so, so, so powerful. Tim Roth was great.

    4. Mr. White - Reservoir Dogs. Yes, of all the bunch I like this man the best. It's him who's the most tragic character in that film, having befriended a man whom he didn't really know, he's actually human, and he's the character I feel for the most. And Harvey Keitel's expression at the closing shot of RD will stay with me forever.

    3. Col. Hans Landa - Inglourious Basterds. I watched the film yesterday, and while I too will have to make up my opinion after multiple viewings, from the very opening scene there was no question in the brilliance of this character. He goes from serious to funny and then back in a matter of seconds, and it doesn't feel wrong one bit. He's menacing and charming, funny and brutal, he's unlike any Nazi you'll ever see, and he would be great to have a glass of milk with. Christoph Waltz is brilliant, and I really hope he wins an Academy Award. And it's about time for Quentin Tarantino to have finally directed an Oscar-winning performance, too.

    2. Bill - Kill Bill Vol 2. His couple of scenes from Vol. 1 were great, but it was from the very opening scene in Vol. 2, when the character really grabs your attention and doesn't let go till the very end. I said it before and I'll say it again, David Carradine deserved any kind of award for his performance. His delivery is perfect, his dialogue is pleasure to hear, he's very charismatic and tragic character, and I was feeling incredibly sorry for him at the end of Vol. 2. One of my favourite movie characters ever.

    1. Jules Winnfield - Pulp Fiction. I'll put it simply: the coolest movie character ever. Ever.

    Honorable mentions:
    Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) - Reservoir Dogs
    Vincent Vega (John Travolta) - Pulp Fiction
    Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) - Jackie Brown
    Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) - Kill Bill Vol. 1
    Esteban Vihaio (Michael Parks) - Kill Bill Vol. 2
    Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) - Death Proof
    Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) - Inglourious Basterds

    Overall, I believe that when it comes to creating memorable characters and directing actors - um... nobody is better than Quentin Tarantino. He brings the best game out of any actor, and the only director who could possibly give him a run for his money is Martin Scorsese. QT created some of the most iconic and memorable characters ever, and I hope he will continue to do so. As Inglourious Basterds clearly showed, he has lost none of his ability.

  • http://thekingbulletin.blogspot.com Danny

    Love that you had Michael Madsen in there, he is such an underrated actor. As for Keitel's line is Reservoir Dogs, it is one of my favorite QT lines.

    Can't wait to see Waltz. Do you think he will be lead or supporting actor comes Award season?

  • oldskool138

    Out of all the characters you picked from Death Proof, you picked the one I hated the most. I found Kim to be shrill and annoying. Number 2? Really? Her one character trait was screeching "Muthafucka" every two seconds.

    If you were going to pick someone from that boring waste of a film, you should have picked Stuntman Mike. He was the most interesting character in a movie almost totally devoid of them.

  • http://www.fixfilms.com Paul L.

    @Danny: Waltz is exceptional and should get a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He delivers on all counts: dialogue, physicality, mannerisms and menace. Tarantino has unearthed an - unheard of (to me) until now - exceptional German actor.

    For sheer physical presence Til Schweiger is also great as Sgt. Stiglitz.

  • Adriano

    @Nick: "Arguably the most complex character QT has ever created." Couldn't agree more on your comment about The Bride. When I read Brad's list I was like, "WHOA, no Bride!". She's the most emotional Tarantino character. And I never thought Uma Thurman could top her performance in Pulp Fiction; well, she did. The moment she wakes up in the hospital and look at her hands... brilliant. It moved me.

    And yeah, Max Cherry and Jackie Brown should be on the list. When I saw Jackie Brown, it was the first time that, while watching a Tarantino movie, I thought, "These are *real* people". But I love the mention of Melanie, I was also pretty sad by her demise! She was just... adorable.

  • LJ

    Mr Brown should have had a mention just for the "Like A Virgin" speech alone.
    Only Joking yeah it was a gd list but I don;t think Kim should have been in it. Better than Jules ? Hell No I'm a massive Tarantino fan but Death Proof was a borefest the last half hour couldn't make up for the previous 45. Having just watched Jackie Brown again last night i'd say that Jackie herself deserves to be in the line up, it's not Tarantino's best work either but then again he wasn't gonna make a film on the same scale as Pulp Fiction even he knew that whatever he made after that wasn't gona touch upon it.
    I'm happy with the list the exclusion of Jackie from the list and the inclusion of Kim is my only real criticism, but why no Mr Pink either.
    "Hear that, that is the world's smallest violin playing only for the waitresses," That line alone deserves his inclusion not honorable mention. I'm not gonna do my own line up because i'm hopefully seeing Basterds tomorrow but i Know that both Mr Pink and Jackie Brown would be in the ten if i did.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-1550-Seattle-Movie-Examiner Brian Zitzelman

    There are two I'd put on mine not listed here.

    - Jackie Brown herself, a marvelously complicated character, played to perfection by Pam Grier.
    - Mr White from RD, with my all time favorite Keitel performance, the guy is so sure of himself and its a tragedy how much faith he puts into the wrong man.

  • john stockton

    Failure to include Drexl Spivey should not go unpunished.

  • Justin Michaels

    poor list, Brad. its like youre trying to be cool (and current) with some odd choices. Kim from Death Proof? Brad Pitt being wooden and hammy at the same time? come on. Michael Parks' character in Kill Bill 2 is utterly pointless and indulgent, when all he really does is tell The Bride: 'yeah, Bill lives down the road there...'
    i have to admit though, your Jules Winnfield hockey video won me over - would definitely be my number one, if a rather obvious choice.
    Mr Pink and Max Cherry (a super performance in Jackie Brown from Robert Forster, even if I don't love the film) would be up there. as would Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) from Sin City - a complete and utter b**terd in a scene that was directed by Tarantino.
    the big question of course is which is the best of Quentin's two masterpieces: http://rossvross.com/2009/07/17/reservoir-dogs-v-pulp-fiction/
    would be interested to know what you think

  • The Jackal

    @Brad: Uma Thurman is quite possibly QT's greatest muse of all-time. How is then, Brad, that you failed to mention even one of her classic characters. You can be forgiven for not including Mrs. Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction (still QT's finest cinematic achievement) but how in the hell did you fail to include THE BRIDE from Kill Bill?

    Also, no Marcelus Wallace? No Bill from Kill Bill? No Butch from Pulp Fiction? Take some time to consider the error of your ways Mr. Brevet - please....

    One of QT's biggest fans

  • The Jackal

    @Brad: Oh, and did you really dare to put Kim from Deathproof over Mr. Jules Winnfield? JESUS CHRIST MAN?

    "Check out the brain on Brad" - Jules Winnfield

  • Grass Skirt

    He only wrote it. But "True Romance" has a gaggle of characters that might be worth mentioning.....Clarence (Slater), Alabama (Arquette), Clifford (Hopper), Drexl (Oldman), Floyd (Pitt), Vincenzo (Walken). I know he didn't direct it, but they are QT's Characters....there I feel better.

  • steve

    really wanted to see captain koons in at least the top ten

  • http://thekingbulletin.blogspot.com Danny

    @Paul L.: Yeah from all of the reviews I've read, Waltz's performance seems like the one thing that everyone has agreed is very, very good.

  • T

    I think you should call these lists your top ten favorites lists instead of declaring them the best objectively. Everyone's list is going to be something different.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

    @T: That is why I call it "my" list and ask for "your" list at the end. I never claim to be publishing the end-all be-all and that is rather self-explanatory if you read the piece. Did you read what I wrote by the way?

  • zyzygy

    Waltz owned that role and whomever saw that movie has to agree that it was not only scene-stealing but movie-stealing, in the same way heath stole dark knight.

  • Bzzd

    Without having seen Basterds:

    10: Marsellus Wallace - It's the slow methodical delivery, even after being raped.

    9: Vincent - Impossible to have Jules without Vincent, a really classic duo.

    8: K-Billy DJ - I just realized how much I remember Wright's voice from that movie, like the PA from MASH

    7: Budd - Pure White Trash

    6: Max Cherry - I guess people don't like Jackie Brown as much as Tarantino's others but I really like all the nuances that every actor brought to their parts.

    5: Louis Gara - Same as above, watching the annoyance level rise and rise is so good.

    4: Mr. White - The veteran who makes the worst mistake he could and you can see the heartbreak at the end and what he does leaves you cold.

    3: Jackie Brown - I never new what to think of the character the first time through but she ended up playing everybody and I really enjoyed it.

    2: Nice Guy Eddie - You said it best Brad.

    1: Most quotable character ever!

  • Bzzd

    Oops forgot to type "Jules" as #1 dbag

  • Daniel Wolfe

    The Only One I Would Add To The Top Ten And Curious Why You Didn't Even Add To Your Honorable Mentions Is My Personal Favorite Stuntman Mike. I Love All Quentin's Movies And A Ton Of His Characters. But I Think Other Than Jules, Stuntman Mike Has Some Of The Best Dialogue In Any Of Tarantino's Film's. The Scene Where He's Trying To Convince Butterfly To Give Him A Lap Dance Is Fantastic! Though This May Change Once I See Inglorious Basterds. Col. Hanz Landa Does Seem Like A Fun Character. Cannot Wait To See It.

  • Lisa

    I am just curious as to why my personal fav of his "True Romance" was not mentioned at all. Clarence and Alabama Worley were both wonderful characters who found love at the beginning of the film and managed to keep it despite all manner of violence and general thuggery. Please do not discount that movie. It has everything a film fan could want...love, death, blood, purloined cocaine, roller coasters and a cast that was truly amazing. Also, it has Brad Pitt as Floyd the stoner...a girls dream.

    FROM BRAD: Read. You are curious because you didn't read the article and only looked at the pictures. Read and before you even get to the top ten you will have the reason. Read.

  • http://thekingbulletin.blogspot.com Danny

    @T: The last sentence of Brad's introduction says "my top ten Quentin Tarantino characters". What more are you looking for?

  • BR

    Brad how could you leave Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz out of this list. He was amazing! He was one of my favorite characters of that movie, but yes Hans Landa was incredible. Played his role to perfection and Pitt was excellent as always!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com mitch

    I was ready for The Bride to be number one. I was shocked when she wasn't. She was without a doubt my favorite character in ANY QT film.

  • Daniel Wolfe

    Well Taking Some Time And Putting Some Serious Thought In, Without Having Seen Inglorious Basterds. Here Are My Top Ten Favorite Characters.

    10. John Travolta As Vincent Vega - Pulp Fiction
    9. Vanessa Ferlito As Arlene (A.K.A. Butterfly) - Death Proof
    8. Quentin Tarantino As Chester - Four Rooms
    7. Lucy Lui As O-Ren Ishii - Kill Bill
    6. Tim Roth As Ted The Bellhop - Four Rooms
    5. Steve Buscemi As Mr. Pink - Reservoir Dogs
    4. Tracie Thoms As Kim - Death Proof
    3. David Caradine As Bill - Kill Bill
    2. Samuel L. Jackson As Jules Winnfield Pulp Fiction
    1. Kurt Russell As Stuntman Mike - Death Proof

    Honorable Mentions:
    Pam Grier As Jackie Brown - Jackie Brown
    Samuel L. Jackson As Ordell Robbie - Jackie Brown
    Zoe Bell As Zoe - Death Proof
    Michael Madsen As Mr. Blonde - Reservoir Dogs
    Tim Roth As Mr. Orange - Reservoir Dogs
    Michael Madsen As Budd - Kill Bill
    Sonny Chiba As Hattori Hanzo - Kill Bill
    Uma Thurman As The Bride - Kill Bill

  • T

    Having now seen Inglorious Basterds, I now understand why Tarantino said he would've scrapped the entire movie had he not been able to find the perfect Hans Landa. Truly one of my favorite characters out of all the Tarantino movies I have seen.

  • lisa

    @Lisa: You are right...I did not read the entire piece.

  • Phaedre

    I am sad that Tim Roth was left off this list, in his role in pulp fiction, and in four rooms (which i guess wasn't purely a tarantino film, but was still fucking amazing)

  • Phil

    10. Michael Parks – Kill Bill Vol. 2
    9. Bridget Fonda - Jackie Brown
    8. August Diehl – Inglorious Basterds
    7. Michael Madsen - Reservoir Dogs
    6. Brad Pitt - Inglorious Basterds
    5. Uma Thurman - Pulp Fiction
    4. Uma Thurman - Kill Bill Vol 1+2
    3. John Travolta - Pulp Fiction
    2. Samuel L. Jackson - Pulp Fiction
    1. Christoph Waltz - Inglorious Basterds

  • Frank

    One of my favorites that noone mentioned is george clooney as seth gecko in from dusk til dawn. he was just too damn cool.

  • Ryan

    I think Floyd from True Romance should absolutely be on this list.

  • Jessica

    What about Melanie Laurent's portrayal of Shosannah from Inglourious Basterds? That was a brilliant, head-strong character, and Laurent really brought her character to life. You could cut the tension with a knife during the scene with Christoph Waltz. "Wait for the Creme!" Stunning!

  • Mike

    I was so glad to see Michael Parks listed. Watching him in two roles in the Kill Bill films, the sheriff who conducts the wedding massacure (with his son!) and then as the old pimp was a stunning study of acting. It's just hard to believe at first he's the same actor. And I could watch him and Uma dance around in that coy scene over and over again.

  • http://moviesfilmsmotionpictures.wordpress.com The Biggest Joker Fan

    Pretty cool list, Hans Landa by far the best. I do believe Stuntman Mike and Bill belong on this list as well though. Another character I would put on this list would be Lt. Archie Hicox. I absolutely loved him and I believe his character is being over shadowed by Raine and Landa.

  • POLISHLITTER

    Here's my list.....I'm a bit old fashion when it comes to Tarantino....the older the film the better it is IMO!

    10. Pai Mai-Kill Bill 2
    9. Captian Koons-Pulp Fiction
    8. Drexal Spivey-True Romance
    7. Earl McGraw-From Dusk till Dawn
    6. Hattori Hanzo-Kill Bill 1
    5. Butch Coolidge-Pulp Fiction
    4. Mr. Blonde-Reservior Dogs
    3. Jules Winfield-Pulp Fiction
    2. Freddy Nowendike-Reservior Dogs
    1. Seth Gecko-From Dusk till Dawn

  • Yac

    10: The Bride (Kill Bill)
    9 : Lt. Aldo Raine (Inglorious Basterds)
    8 : Jackie Brown (Jackie Brown)
    7 : Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction)
    6 : Stuntman Mike (Death Proof)
    5 : Mr. Blonde (Reservoir Dogs)
    4 : Mr. Pink (Reservoir Dogs)
    3 : Bill (Kill Bill)
    2 : Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
    1 : Col. Hans Landa (Inglorious Basterds)

  • forgetMEnot

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxAIWLEy4mA

    The diner scene from Death Proof.

  • jj

    The man who helped Budd bury the Bride in Kill Bill. Don't know his name but, he was great!

  • Ric_Boy_Floyd

    1- Hans Landa
    2- Bill
    3- Jules Winfield
    4- Ordell Robbie
    5- Budd
    6- Vincent Vega
    7- Beatrice Kiddow
    8- Esteban Vihaio
    9- Stuntman Mike
    10- Marcellus Wallace

  • mrleft

    bruce willis as Butch Coolidge.i dont know why,he is my favourite character from any movie and i think that willis did a great job. butch vs marcelus was my favourite chapter.ving rhames was great too