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June 24, 2022

The Best Quentin Tarantino Films: Key Takeaways for Screenwriters

Quentin Tarantino is one of the best and most well-loved directors and writers in movie history. Let's break down some of Quentin Tarantino's most famous films and see how we can apply his techniques to your writing.

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Django Unchained

One of Tarantino's most controversial films, Django Unchained, tells the story of a slave named Django. He escapes captivity and embarks on a revenge mission to free his wife Broomhilda from Broomhilda's new owner Calvin J. Candie, the owner of the Candyland plantation.

The film is noted for its violence and depiction of slavery in 19th Century America. The black characters enact what Tarantino refers to as "cathartic violence" against the white slave owners.

However, it wasn't without its critics. Fellow director Spike Lee said: "American slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western."

Lee felt the levels of violence in the film and its almost comedic depiction of violence was inappropriate.

The film stirred debates about how slavery should be depicted on screen and when entertainment becomes offensive. As a writer and filmmaker, you should strive to write something that gets people talking, and that brings a fresh take on an old idea. But, of course, this doesn't mean you completely ignore conventions, as this will alienate audiences and executives alike.

"Django Unchained" still.
"Django Unchained" spurred intense debate for it's depiction of slavery.

You should strive to balance an original take and a film that fits neatly into genre conventions. This is part of how you learn to become a screenwriter.

Tarantino was able to push these boundaries in Django Unchained because he is well established and well known. He knows people will still turn out to see his movies, and executives are likely to continue to commission him because he writes popular films.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Released in 2019, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was the first film that Tarantino both wrote and directed. This time, he turned his attention to the decline of the golden age of Hollywood at the end of the 1960s. He weaves real-life characters such as Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, and Sam Wannamaker with his own fictional invention, actor Rick Dalton whose career is fading.

The film also depicts the 1969 Tate–LaBianca murders carried out on the orders of Charles Manson, something that plays on Tarantino's signature portrayal of outlandish violence.

The film's main themes are the decline of Hollywood and an L.A., where everything seems to be changing. The film's setting says as much about the preoccupations of the modern-day industry as it does about the past.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services have taken a big chunk of Hollywood's audiences, and the cinema experience is in decline as it was in the late 1960s.  

The film grossed $374 million worldwide, making it a box office success, and a host of stars lined up to play the main parts, including Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Tarantino described it as a fairytale set in Hollywood and said the idea had been in development for several years.

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino's films often depict periods of great tension or change in history, and Inglorious Basterds is a classic example.

He depicts what he calls "cathartic violence" by focusing on a 1941 fictional plot to kill members of the Nazi leadership. The 2009 film stars Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Mélanie Laurent.

Tarantino almost finished the film in 2002 but could not come up with an ending. Instead, he went to work on the Kill Bill series, returning to Inglourious Basterds around 2007. This highlights the need sometimes to take a break from work that you are struggling with and return to it at a later time.

The film received mixed reviews. David Denby of The New Yorker said: "The film is skillfully made, but it's too silly to be enjoyed, even as a joke. [...]Tarantino has become an embarrassment: his virtuosity as a maker of images has been overwhelmed by his inanity as an idiot de la cinémathèque."

In Newsweek, David Mendelsohn said: "In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino indulges this taste for vengeful violence by—well, by turning Jews into Nazis."

The criticism again focuses on Tarantino's unusual portrayal of history to suit his narrative. Nevertheless, Inglourious Basterds gets his audience talking about controversial subjects and fosters debate, as all good films should do.

What can we learn about Quentin Tarantino's films?

There's much to be learned from Quentin Tarantino's films, including his style. He is a director who loves to stoke controversy by combining humor, violence, and unique interpretations of history.

Nearly all of his films take us on a journey into a notorious period of history we are all too familiar with and leave us feeling like we are on shaky ground. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood teeters around the Tate murders and glides in and out of reality by showing us fictional characters alongside real actresses from the 1960s Golden Era we all know about.

Inglorious Basterds does the same with conceptions of WWII, giving us a different take as Jewish people enact their revenge on the Nazi leadership. At the same time, Django Unchained makes a comedy out of slavery.  

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The Best Quentin Tarantino Films: Key Takeaways for Screenwriters
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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