Reservoir Dogs may have been his first film, but it was Pulp Fiction that made Quentin Tarantino a superstar. Not only that, but with its postmodern style and coolly eclectic cast of all-stars including John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis, Pulp Fiction actually changed cinema for good.
The Oscar-winning, critically adored and surprisingly commercially successful crime drama confirmed that any film directed by Quentin Tarantino was worth paying attention to – and Pulp Fiction may still, after seven subsequent movies, be the director’s greatest film to date.
With Tarantino’s ninth and most recent picture, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, having been received to critical acclaim, it looks as if the acclaimed director has no plans to quit churning out great cinema any time soon.
Still, 27 years later, Pulp Fiction remains an all-timer and – for many people – its creator’s most popular film. Here are 25 things you never knew about Quentin Tarantino’s classic sophomore movie.
25. The syringe shot required camera trickery to avoid Uma Thurman being seriously injured
Pulp Fiction isn’t a film that uses much in the way of cinematic trickery; it’s a straight-up, down-and-dirty crime movie in the 70s New Hollywood style – even when it comes to the scenes of realistic-looking violence.
Still, though Pulp favours drama and dialogue over special effects, one crucial scene did require Tarantino wave his magic wand as director.
For the scene in which John Travolta (as Vincent Vega) plunges the adrenaline needle into Mia Wallace’s (Uma Thurman) chest to kickstart her heart after her overdose, the actors had to play it backwards, with Travolta quickly drawing the needle away from Thurman’s chest.
Quentin Tarantino then reversed the scene in editing to give the impression Vincent was full-force stabbing Mia with the needle.
Tarantino simply had to do the scene that way – had the actors instead played it as seen in the film, John Travolta could have seriously hurt Uma Thurman.
24. Vincent’s classic car belonged to Quentin Tarantino
The cherry-red Chevy convertible that Vincent drives in Pulp Fiction, perfect though it is for the character, was not sourced specifically for the film.
The car wasn’t a prop, but a currently in-use car belonging to director Quentin Tarantino. Or at least it was at the time of filming.
During production on the film (and following shooting on John Travolta’s scenes, naturally), Tarantino’s classic Chevy actually went missing, apparently stolen.
Incredibly, the car was rediscovered in 2013, when a police officer found a (legally purchased) auto being stripped by a pair of kids in Oakland, California.
It was last reported that police were trying and failing to contact Tarantino regarding the car’s rediscovery – though he’s probably happy enough with the ‘P***y Wagon’ he kept from Kill Bill.
23. Jules’ ‘bad mother*****r’ wallet also belonged to Quentin Tarantino
If there’s one character to emerge as the true icon of Pulp Fiction, it’s got to be Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson in a career-defining role).
It’s not just the speechifying and all-round super-cool manner – Winnfield also has killer style, literally and figuratively.
For one he has that wallet, which has inscribed on it the words ‘Bad Motherf***er’ – a perfect movie prop, considering the character’s propensity for cursing.
This wasn’t a prop, however: the wallet, like Vincent’s car, again belonged to Quentin Tarantino, and was something the director used in everyday life.
The words reference Shaft, a favourite film of the director’s, and which opens with a theme song containing the line: “this cat Shaft is a bad mother”.
22. You may have missed a pretty offensive gag
Pulp Fiction, as evidenced by the controversy it caused at the time, is a film unafraid to cause offence.
One fairly insulting dialogue exchange that comes near the beginning of the film has long passed most viewers by, however.
When Vincent and Mia are ordering during their ‘date’ at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, the waiter asks if Mia wants her milkshake “Martin and Lewis or Amos and Andy”.
These are the names, respectively, of the vanilla shake and the chocolate shake at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a pretty insulting reference for anyone familiar with those two double acts.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – the ‘vanilla’ milkshake – were both white, while the stars of The Amos ‘n Andy Show – the ‘chocolate’ milkshake – were black.
21. Harvey ‘The Wolf’ Keitel was the one who secured Bruce Willis’ Pulp Fiction role
They may seem like an improbable match, but up-and-coming movie star Bruce Willis and established indie king Harvey Keitel, who respectively play Butch Coolidge and Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction, were already buddies prior to making the film.
It was after working together on the 1991 movie Mortal Thoughts that Willis and Keitel formed a friendship, one that Keitel wished to maintain into his next project.
It was Keitel, in true Mr Wolf fashion, who actually convinced Bruce Willis to take the part of sensitive pugilist Butch Coolidge (with his infamous gold watch) in Pulp Fiction knowing Willis had loved Tarantino’s first film.
Originally written for Matt Dillon, Tarantino refashioned the Butch role when a certain Die Hard actor became interested. Bruce Willis was 38 when Pulp Fiction started shooting, and was coming off a string off flops including The Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk and The Last Boy Scout.
Pulp Fiction didn’t just re-energise Bruce Willis’ career – having agreed to take a pay cut in exchange for a percentage of the film’s profits, Willis made a killing after Pulp grossed a surprising $213 million at the box office. The Tarantino-Bruce partnership paid off!
20. Samuel L Jackson almost lost his role in the film to another actor
It seems inconceivable that Samuel L Jackson, a now-legendary actor who was virtually made by his collaborations with Quentin Tarantino, almost didn’t get the Pulp Fiction gig.
And yet… Jackson’s role in the film – which got him Oscar-nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role – wasn’t always so certain.
Even though Tarantino had actually written the part of Jules Winnfield for Jackson, by then a Spike Lee regular, a great audition by Paul Calderon nearly saw Jules given to him instead.
Jackson, thinking his first audition was just a read-through, gave a weaker audition than Calderon, at the time known for bit parts in crime films including Bad Lieutenant and The Firm.
Hearing Tarantino was gravitating towards Calderon, Jackson auditioned again for the director, at producer Harvey Weinstein’s insistence.
Securing the role for himself with a superior second audition, Jackson bumped Calderon to a fleeting cameo in Pulp as a barman and landed himself an Oscar nom. The rest is history.
19. John Travolta got blind drunk as ‘research’ into his role
Like Bruce Willis, Pulp Fiction was the potential break that Grease and Saturday Night Fever star John Travolta needed after some years spent in the acting wilderness.
It’s no surprise, then, that Travolta went to greater lengths than usual to prepare for the part of heroin-using muscle Vincent Vega.
Wanting to know what it was like to shoot heroin (without having to actually use it), Travolta talked to a friend of Quentin Tarantino’s who had used in the past.
Tarantino’s friend told Travolta that the sensation was comparable to downing tequila and lying in a hot pool.
Travolta promptly jumped in a hot tub and downed shot after shot of tequila. His wife happily joined him in conducting this ‘research’.
18. Jules’ Bible passage is fake (and ‘borrowed’ from another film)
“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee!”
This line taken from the Bible, which Jules Winnfield recites whenever he’s about to kill someone in Pulp Fiction, is an all-time movie great. The only thing? It doesn’t come from the Bible at all.
The actual Ezekiel 25:17 reads: “And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay My vengeance upon them”. All rights reserved, naturally.
The version of Ezekiel 25:17 included in Pulp Fiction is made up, half-remembered from the good book and almost entirely stolen by Quentin Tarantino from a martial arts film.
Karate Kiba, aka The Bodyguard, a 1976 martial arts film, features this line: “The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children.
“And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!”
We think Tarantino would call that a ‘homage’.
17. That dance was ‘borrowed’ too
With Quentin Tarantino being such a cinephile, it’s no surprise that Pulp Fiction liberally ‘borrows’ ideas and lines – like the Ezekiel 25:17 passage – from other movies.
There are nods in Pulp Fiction to Psycho (Butch seeing Marsellus on the road as he’s driving to freedom), Deliverance (the male rape scene) and Bande a Part.
The last one, a French crime drama, in particular informs the famous dance sequence in Pulp between Mia and Vincent; Tarantino wanted his characters, like those in Bande a Part, to enjoy a spontaneous dance sequence where no one dances particularly well.
So, Bande a Part was the inspiration. The moves of Mia and Vincent’s dance, however, appeared in another movie.
Federico Fellini’s foreign-language classic 8 1/2 features a dance scene that Tarantino copied almost move-for-move to use in the dance between John Travolta and Uma Thurman.
16. Marsellus Wallace’s scar was Ving Rhames’ own
Fans have long speculated what the band-aid on the back of Marsellus Wallace’s head, which is the only part we see of the gangster for much of the film, truly means.
One prevailing theory is that the tape is hiding a scar where Marsellus’ soul was ripped out of his body.
It’s a neat idea, but Marsellus being some kind of modern-day antichrist was never in Tarantino’s mind. Instead, the band-aid came about as a result of divine luck.
Ving Rhames, who plays Marsellus Wallace, had simply cut himself shaving prior to the Pulp Fiction shoot and applied the band-aid.
Tarantino simply liked the look of Rhames’ taped neck so much he decided he would use it, introducing Marsellus with a shot of the plaster rather than his face to make him appear more intimidating.
15. Some of the film was directed by somebody else
Ever since they broke out on the independent movie scene in the early 90s, Quentin Tarantino and El Mariachi director Robert Rodriguez have been best buds.
Tarantino and Rodriguez are also regular collaborators; they worked together in 1995, 1996 and 2007, on the films Four Rooms (an anthology movie directed in part by Rodriguez and Tarantino), From Dusk Till Dawn (written by and starring Tarantino, directed by Rodriguez) and, later, Grindhouse.
Rodriguez and Tarantino don’t just work together, however – they also occasionally help direct each other’s films.
In 2005, for example, Tarantino was credited as ‘guest director’ on Rodriguez’s Sin City, for helming one scene of his friend’s ultra-stylised comic book movie.
This was repayment for Rodriguez directing part of Pulp Fiction 11 years before.
Some Pulp Fiction scenes featuring Jimmie, played by Tarantino in the film, are directed by Rodriguez, who presumably offered a hand so Tarantino could temporarily step down as director to instead focus on his acting.
14. There was almost a Pulp Fiction sequel
Vincent Vega, that Pulp Fiction character that John Travolta put in extra effort to play, was originally written with Michael Madsen in mind.
See, Madsen had previously starred as Vic Vega in Reservoir Dogs, and Quentin Tarantino wanted the actor back for his second film, playing Vincent Vega, the (apparently twin) brother of Vic.
After Travolta was cast, however, Tarantino envisioned those two now separate characters as brothers – and had the idea to bring both actors together for a separate follow-up film.
After Pulp Fiction, Tarantino fully intended to make a prequel to both Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs about the Vega brothers called Double V Vega.
Unfortunately, the film never happened, and the idea is now scrapped – it’s far, far too late for John Travolta and Michael Madsen to be playing younger versions of themselves – though Tarantino has recently been talking up what the film would have entailed: Vincent and Vic’s misadventures in Amsterdam, where Vic would visit to find Vincent running a nightclub for Marsellus Wallace.
13. Daniel Day-Lewis wanted to play Vincent – but Quentin Tarantino turned him down
After Michael Madsen decided he couldn’t play Vincent Vega for Tarantino, having already committed to another film, and before John Travolta had signed on the dotted line, two other actors were petitioning Tarantino hard for the role.
One was Bruce Willis, who Tarantino wanted for Butch Coolidge, while the other was the already-legendary Daniel Day-Lewis.
Around the time that Pulp Fiction was heading into production, Day-Lewis couldn’t have been much hotter, having recently starred in the blockbuster The Last of the Mohicans and having won just about every award going for My Left Foot.
For his next project, Day-Lewis gravitated towards Pulp Fiction, being such a fan of the script, but Tarantino badly wanted John Travolta instead.
Once Tarantino convinced Travolta to climb aboard, Daniel Day-Lewis got his answer – and Tarantino turned down the man who has since been called the greatest actor ever.
12. Mickey Rourke could have played Butch instead of Bruce Willis
In another tantalising case of what might’ve been, Mickey Rourke – who at the time of Pulp Fiction’s production had decided to go back to his first love, boxing – was offered the role of prizefighter Butch Coolidge before Bruce Willis.
It would have been a perfect role for Rourke, who had by the early 90s managed to burn so many bridges in Hollywood that he was badly in need of a hit.
Rourke turned the role down, however, choosing to focus on his new career in sport and delaying his comeback by more than a decade.
Instead, Rourke took a role in the little-seen – then and now – FTW, while Bruce Willis went on to a serious payday playing Butch.
Rourke later came to regret the decision, though not enough that he wouldn’t again turn down working with Tarantino on the director’s 2007 horror film, Death Proof. (Kurt Russell was cast in his place.)
11. There are some bizarre fan theories about what’s in the briefcase
The contents of that glowing Pulp Fiction briefcase, which Vincent and Jules retrieve for Marsellus Wallace at the beginning of the film, are never revealed to the audience.
Speculation regarding what Vincent and Jules are carrying, as a result, has been rife, and occasionally wild.
Some believe the briefcase contains Marsellus Wallace’s soul (hence the ‘666’ lock code); others think the stolen diamonds from Reservoir Dogs are in there.
Most tenuously of all, it has been suggested that the case contains Elvis’ gold suit, as worn by Val Kilmer in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance.
Quentin Tarantino himself doesn’t have a definitive answer – for him, what’s inside the briefcase is whatever the audience wants it to be.
10. Danny DeVito helped to get Pulp Fiction made as a producer
Ever since he broke out in the late 70s as one of the leads on the ABC sitcom Taxi, Danny DeVito has been one of the shining lights of comedy.
In the 80s, there was Taxi and Twins; in the 90s, Junior and Matilda; and in recent times, there has been DeVito’s gloriously debauched turn as Frank Reynolds on the FX comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
DeVito, in short, is a comedy legend. What, then, is his name doing on the credits for Quentin Tarantino’s bloody crime drama Pulp Fiction?
Well, in the 90s, DeVito wasn’t just a comedy guy, and he didn’t limit himself to acting – he also had a production company, Jersey Films, which was behind such major dramatic works as Erin Brockovich, Gattaca and Pulp.
It was DeVito who first got the ball rolling on production for Pulp Fiction, backing the film through Jersey Films and bringing Tarantino’s script to Harvey Weinstein, who would become a regular producer for Tarantino.
DeVito is listed as an executive producer on the film.
9. Quentin Tarantino asked Kurt Cobain to be in the film
In the notes for Nirvana’s third and final album, 1993’s In Utero, there’s a ‘Special Thanks’ credit for one surprising name: ‘Quentin Tarantino’.
It wasn’t that Tarantino and Kurt Cobain were best buds in real life or anything – this was just Cobain’s way of thanking the director for thinking of him for Pulp Fiction.
According to Courtney Love, Cobain’s wife from 1992 until his death in 1994, both she and Kurt were asked to star in Tarantino’s second.
Says Love, QT initially wanted Kurt and herself for the roles of Lance and Jody, Vincent’s drug dealer and his wife (“the one with all the s*** in her face”).
Unfortunately, Cobain turned Tarantino down and gave Pulp Fiction a firm ‘no’.
Ultimately, when Tarantino couldn’t get his rockers, Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette took the roles of the bickering husband and wife; still, the influence of Cobain and Love remains there to see in the characters they play on the screen.
8. Reservoir Dogs’ Mr Pink makes a secret cameo
Considering how terrific Steve Buscemi is in his breakout role as Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs, it might seem mystifying to some why Quentin Tarantino hasn’t worked with the actor since.
Well, Tarantino and Buscemi did in fact work together again, and on Pulp Fiction – you just probably didn’t notice.
In the Jack Rabbit Slim’s scene, Buscemi – decked out as 1950s rock and roll icon Buddy Holly – is the waiter who half-heartedly serves Mia and Vincent.
Buscemi was given this secret cameo in Pulp Fiction after he had to turn down the role of Jimmy, the part eventually played by Tarantino in the film, ironically because Dogs had made Buscemi so in-demand for other films.
Given the fact that Buscemi appears in disguise in Pulp Fiction, and given the film’s connection to Reservoir Dogs (the briefcase, the Vega brothers), some have speculated that Buscemi is actually playing Mr Pink once again in Pulp.
Proponents of this theory believe Mr Pink is laying low in Pulp Fiction as a waiter working at a diner following the events of Dogs.
7. Amsterdam weed may have been Tarantino’s true ‘inspiration’ behind Pulp Fiction
After Reservoir Dogs proved successful, and Quentin Tarantino had financial backing to go write a follow-up movie, the director took the money and relocated to Amsterdam.
There, Tarantino stayed at a hotel in the Red Light District and spent many days in the Betty Boop, one of Amsterdam’s many ‘coffee shops’, writing his next screenplay for what would turn into Pulp Fiction.
In a 2012 Playboy interview, Tarantino explained his writing process while high: “I don’t so much write high, but say you’re thinking about a musical sequence. You smoke a joint, you put on some music, you listen to it and you come up with some good ideas.”
At the end of his trip to the ‘Dam, Tarantino had a screenplay peppered with references to Amsterdam and weed culture (Mia Wallace likes to fly over to the Dutch capital every few months just to ‘chill out’, dontcha know).
If you watch the film closely you can also see, as in the image above of Bruce Willis wielding a samurai sword as Butch Coolidge, that some of the clocks in Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20 – the international code for the consumption of cannabis.
6. Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan auditioned to play Mia
Before Quentin Tarantino convinced Uma Thurman to star in Pulp Fiction, he auditioned a number of Hollywood’s best and brightest for Mia Wallace.
Among them were Meg Ryan and Holly Hunter, respectively of Sleepless in Seattle and The Piano fame, and both of whom were wanted for the part by studio Miramax.
Michelle Pfeiffer was also a contender, as were Isabella Rossellini, Daryl Hannah and Joan Cusack, while a surprise offer was made to one sitcom star.
According to her manager, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, then riding high thanks to the enormously popular sitcom Seinfeld, was also offered the part but turned it down.
In the end, Tarantino got the actress he wanted all along – he convinced Thurman to play Mia by reading the Pulp Fiction script down the phone to her.
5. The studio wanted Johnny Depp or Christian Slater for Tim Roth’s role
Quentin Tarantino is obviously a fan of Tim Roth. Having cast the Brit actor in his first film, QT has worked with the Londoner on a further three of his films.
Though you won’t see Roth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – he shot scenes for the film, but they were cut in post-production – the actor appears in The Hateful Eight as Oswaldo Mobray and, best of all, as diner robber ‘Pumpkin’ (opposite Amanda Plummer’s ‘Honey Bunny’) in Pulp Fiction.
It almost didn’t work out that way. Though Tarantino wrote the Pumpkin part in Pulp Fiction specifically for Roth – it says as much on the director’s casting wishlist for the film – he did have other actors in mind in case Roth couldn’t do it.
These included Johnny Depp, Tarantino’s second choice, as well as Gary Oldman, Nicolas Cage and True Romance star Christian Slater.
Naturally, once Tarantino had provided these other names, studio TriStar wanted the more bankable Depp or Slater instead of Roth. Fortunately for Tarantino, he got his man, and Roth was cast.
4. Jules got a Jheri curl hairdo by accident
Jules Winnfield’s look is so perfect, so iconic, it beggars belief that Quentin Tarantino almost didn’t sign off on arguably the most crucial element of it.
In Tarantino’s original vision for Pulp Fiction, Jules had a Blaxploitation movie-inspired afro, not the Jheri curl hairdo that Samuel L Jackson is seen sporting in the film.
That Jules ended up with the style was a happy accident. In a 2016 Late Show interview, Jackson explained: “unfortunately for [Tarantino], he sent this young, white PA over to South Central to buy an Afro wig. And she bought a Jheri curl wig thinking it was an Afro wig.
“Quentin kind of railed at her, went off, and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, it’s perfect,’ because NWA is starting to hit, you know, they were large, and all those guys had Jheri curls.”
Whereas in Tarantino’s mind Jules was to appear Shaft-esque, thanks to a simple mistake the character – and his hair – ended up with an altogether more unique look.
3. The Jack Rabbit Slim’s set was the film’s biggest single expenditure
As an independent feature and only Quentin Tarantino’s second film, Pulp Fiction was never going to be made for blockbuster money.
With a budget of just $8.5 million, Tarantino wanted Pulp Fiction “to look like a $20-25 million movie” – not an easy task, considering around $5 million went on the actors’ salaries before filming even began.
After salaries – Bruce Willis alone took home $800,000 for playing Butch – the biggest expenditure on Pulp Fiction was the set for Jack Rabbit Slim’s.
For $150,000, or the equivalent of lead John Travolta’s salary, Jack Rabbit Slim’s was built from scratch in a warehouse in Culver City in LA.
Only the exterior of Jack Rabbit Slim’s, seen briefly as Mia and Vincent walk from Vincent’s car, was a real location: a recently closed bowling alley called Grand Central Bowl.
2. Pulp Fiction was the first indie film to surpass $100 million at the box office
It’s difficult, in a world where box office records are broken seemingly every week, to truly convey the impact that Pulp Fiction had when it first opened in 1994.
In the year of release, Pulp was the 10th biggest movie at the international box office, with $212 million in global box office takings.
To put it in perspective, this put Pulp Fiction – made for just $8.5 million – in a top ten that included The Lion King, Forrest Gump and True Lies, studio movies that cost tens of millions of dollars (or $120 million, in the case of True Lies).
Tarantino’s second film was the first independent film to surpass $100 million at the box office – a feat it achieved in the US alone.
The film rejuvenated the careers of John Travolta and Bruce Willis, cemented Quentin Tarantino as a cinematic force and – regrettably, as time would tell – made Bob and Harvey Weinstein into legitimate Hollywood power players.
1. It was John Travolta’s idea to shoot Marvin in the face
The third ‘chapter’ in Pulp Fiction, subtitled The Bonnie Situation, features perhaps the biggest laugh in a film full of darkly comic moments.
The scene in which Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face at point blank range, spraying his brains all over the interior of Jules’ car, almost played very differently as written by Quentin Tarantino, however.
In the original script, Marvin was shot twice: once in the throat, causing him to die a slow death as Jules and Vincent bantered in Tarantino speak in the front of the car, and once more as Vincent put him out of his misery.
According to Phil LaMarr, who played Marvin in the film, this scene was changed during rehearsals at John Travolta’s suggestion.
Says LaMarr: “it’s pretty much the only thing in that script that changed… John said, ‘I gotta kill him? Oh man, the audience is going to hate me.’ And Quentin stopped and said, ‘You’re right.’”
Realising the difference between ‘putting Marvin down like a dog’ and an accidental, single-gunshot killing, Tarantino took Travolta’s advice and restructured the scene to be the way we know it today.