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.
Here are 25 things you never knew about Tarantino’s classic sophomore movie.
25. The syringe shot required camera trickery to avoid Uma Thurman being seriously injured
One of Pulp Fiction’s most suspenseful moments comes when John Travolta’s Vincent Vega plunges the adrenaline needle into the chest of Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace’s chest to kickstart her heart after her overdose. The actors had to play this backwards, with Travolta quickly drawing the needle away from Thurman’s chest.
This shot was then reversed the scene in editing to give the impression Vincent was stabbing Mia with the needle at full force. Had the actors instead played it as seen in the film, John Travolta could have seriously hurt Uma Thurman, even with a fake needle.
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 it in Oakland, California.
23. Jules’ ‘bad mother*****r’ wallet also belonged to 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.’
Like Vincent’s car, this wasn’t a prop: the wallet also belonged to Quentin Tarantino and was something the writer-director used in everyday life. The words reference Shaft, one of Tarantino’s favourite films, whose famous theme song contains the line: “this cat Shaft is a bad mother…”
22. You might 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 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 Bruce Willis and 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, knowing Willis had loved Tarantino’s first film. 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.
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. Even though Tarantino wrote the part specifically for Jackson, his role in the film wasn’t always so certain.
A great audition by Paul Calderón nearly saw him cast as Jules instead of Jackson. In the end, though, Calderón was given a fleeting cameo in Pulp Fiction as a barman, whilst Jackson and landed himself an Oscar nomination for playing Jules.
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 heroin was like without actually using it, Travolta talked to a friend of Quentin Tarantino’s who had used in the past, who told the actor 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 Biblical passage which Jules recites whenever he’s about to kill someone is an all-time great movie line. 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.” The version included in Pulp Fiction is made up and almost entirely stolen from 1976 movie Karate Kiba (AKA The Bodyguard), starring martial arts legend Sonny Chiba.
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. The famous dance sequence in Pulp Fiction was inspired directly by two movies. Firstly, it pays homage to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film Bande a Part, which also sees its central characters enjoy a spontaneous dance.
The actual dance moves Travolta and Thurman use, however, are inspired by Federico Fellini’s 8½. This 1963 classic features a dance scene that Tarantino had his actors duplicate almost move-for-move.
16. Marsellus Wallace’s scar was Ving Rhames’ own
Fans have long pondered the meaning behind the band-aid on the back of Marsellus Wallace’s head. One prevailing theory is that the tape is hiding a scar where Marsellus’ soul was ripped out of his body, and that this is the unseen object inside the suitcase creating the golden glow.
It’s a neat idea, but Marsellus being some kind of modern-day antichrist was never in Tarantino’s mind. There’s a far more mundane explanation: Marsellus actor Ving Rhames had simply cut himself whilst shaving his head and naturally put a band-aid on it. Tarantino simply liked the look of this and decided to keep it on for the movie.
15. Robert Rodriguez directed the scenes in which Tarantino acts
Quentin Tarantino’s good friend and fellow filmmaker Robert Rodriguez helped out behind the scenes on Pulp Fiction without credit. In the scenes when Tarantino acts in the role of Jimmy, Rodriguez essentially took over as director to enable Tarantino to focus on his performance.
Tarantino and Rodriguez later worked together on anthology movie Four Rooms, horror movies From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse, and Sin City, in which Tarantino returned the favour to Rodriguez by directing a single scene.
14. There was almost a prequel crossing over Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs
Vincent Vega, that Pulp Fiction character that John Travolta put in extra effort to play, was originally written with Michael Madsen in mind. Madsen had previously starred as Vic Vega (AKA Mr Blonde) in Reservoir Dogs, and Quentin Tarantino wanted the actor back for his second film playing Vincent Vega, Vic’s brother.
After Travolta was cast, however, Tarantino 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 in their younger days, entitled Double V Vega. Unfortunately this never happened, and both Travolta and Madsen are far too old for it now.
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.
Day-Lewis couldn’t have been much hotter at the time, after starring in blockbuster The Last of the Mohicans and having won just about every award going for My Left Foot. Day-Lewis was keen to play Vincent Vega, but – even though he’s considered one of the greatest actors ever – Tarantino turned him down, as he wanted Travolta for the role.
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 and widespread acclaim playing Butch.
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 about what’s in the case has been rife, and occasionally wild, including the aforementioned theory that it’s Marsellus Wallace’s soul.
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. Tarantino himself has never given 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
Danny DeVito is known and loved for his acting roles in TV’s Taxi plus big screen hits like Romancing the Stone and Twins. He also directed a few hits, most famously Matilda. However, on top of this DeVito has also done his share of producing with his company Jersey Films, responsible for such acclaimed works as Erin Brockovich and Gattaca.
DeVito also helped get Pulp Fiction made, backing the film through Jersey Films and bringing Tarantino’s script to Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein, who (long before he was disgraced for his crimes against women) would become a regular producer for Tarantino. DeVito is listed as an executive producer on Pulp Fiction.
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 Love for the roles of Lance and Jody, Vincent’s drug dealer and his wife, eventually played by Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette.
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. However, 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 is the waiter dressed as Buddy Holly who half-heartedly serves Mia and Vincent. Some (Buscemi included) have theorised that this is in fact Reservoir Dog’s Mr. Pink, living under an assumed name whilst hiding from both the cops and the mob.
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.
At the end of his trip, Tarantino had a screenplay peppered with references to Amsterdam and weed culture, Vincent Vega having recently spent four years there. If you watch the film closely you can also see 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.
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 Reservoir Dogs, QT has worked with the Londoner on a further three of his films: Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (although Roth’s scenes were cut from the latter).
Tarantino wrote the Pumpkin part in Pulp Fiction specifically for Roth, but he had 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. The studio were keen for any of this bigger stars to be cast in the role, but Roth was available and Tarantino got his way.
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.
Jules ended up with this style by happy accident. Jackson claims an assistant bought a Jheri curl wig by mistake, thinking it was an afro, and that Tarantino was at first unhappy about this. Jackson, however, persuaded the director that this was a more fitting haircut for the character.
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.
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, it 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.
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 the film, when Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin (Phil LaMarr) in the face at point blank range. This was a change from the original script, in which Marvin was shot twice: once in the throat, and once more as Vincent put him out of his misery.
This scene was changed during rehearsals at John Travolta’s suggestion. The actor felt the moment as written was too mean-spirited and sadistic, and felt that it would be funnier if Marvin was simply killed instantly. Travolta also tweaked the scripted line “I shot him” into “Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face,” which increased the dark humour.