The third film directed by Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown was released in 1997. It stars Pam Grier in the title role alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda and the late Robert Forster, and was based on the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch. Grier’s Jackie is a middle-aged flight attendant caught between her arms-dealing boss and the law enforcement agents who are desperately trying to bring him down.
Below are some things you probably didn’t know about the film that the late critic Roger Ebert described as “alive, authentic and spontaneous.”
30. Pam Grier and Robert Forster got cast based on their auditions for other Tarantino films
The leads in Jackie Brown are taken by Pam Grier and Robert Forster, both of whom came close to working with Quentin Tarantino earlier on. The filmmaker had previously considered Pam Grier (a 70s cult icon in the ‘blaxploitation’ era) for Jody, the wife of Eric Stoltz’s Lance, in Pulp Fiction, before instead casting Rosanna Arquette in this relatively minor role.
As for Robert Forster, he had previously auditioned for the role of mob boss Joe in Tarantino’s debut film Reservoir Dogs. After regretfully turning both actors down after those early auditions, Tarantino promised both Grier and Forster that he would hire them in the future.
29. Sylvester Stallone turned down the role that went to Robert De Niro
The legendary Robert De Niro was cast against type in Jackie Brown as the well-meaning but dim-witted Louis Gara, but he was not the first Hollywood icon that Tarantino approached about the role. Sylvester Stallone has admitted that he was offered the part of Louis first, but turned it down.
This wasn’t the first time Stallone came close to a Tarantino role, as he was also briefly considered for the part of Butch in Pulp Fiction, ultimately played by Bruce Willis. Later, Stallone also passed on the part of Stuntman Mike in Death Proof, which eventually went to Kurt Russell.
28. Michael Keaton tried to talk Quentin Tarantino out of casting him
In the wake of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, most of the biggest stars around were lining up to work with Quentin Tarantino. However, in the case of Michael Keaton, the actor himself almost seemed determined not to be cast in the film. The Batman and Beetlejuice star was offered, and ultimately accepted, the role of FBI Agent Ray Nicolette in Jackie Brown.
However, Tarantino recalls that “[Keaton’s] whole process was to convince me that he’s not right for the role… but he never quite convinced me.” Post-Jackie Brown, Keaton’s career cooled off for a time, but the actor came back in a big way with his Oscar-nominated turn in 2014’s Birdman.
27. Samuel L. Jackson came up with Ordell’s look himself
The only central Jackie Brown actor to have worked with Quentin Tarantino beforehand was, of course, Samuel L. Jackson, who (after many years as a bit part actor) became a superstar after playing Jules in Pulp Fiction. The role of Ordell Robbie, while not a million miles away from Jules, offered Jackson the chance to play a real outright villain.
Tarantino and Jackson had long since built a mutual respect and trust, and so the writer-director gave the actor a lot of say into the realisation of Ordell, in particular his distinctive look. Tarantino explained, “The whole thing with the long hair and the goatee, the whole samurai, mad priest, mad Kung Fu priest on the mountain look, Sam came up with that… it was just terrific. It just made it.”
26. The film revitalised Pam Grier and Robert Forster’s careers
Jackie Brown has been widely praised for centring on an understated love story between two middle-aged, working-class people. The film sees Pam Grier’s Jackie and Robert Forster’s Max offered a chance at a new, better life – and the film seemed to offer much the same to the actors themselves. Grier had risen to fame in the 70s as the leading lady in a slew of exploitation B-movies, such as Coffy and Foxy Brown.
Similarly, Forster had been a character actor since the late 1960s, also working primarily in B-grade material. By the late 90s, neither Grier nor Forster had been given a leading role for some time, and both were delighted by the opportunity. This helped fuel a perception of Tarantino as a ‘comeback’ guy, helping revive the careers of ailing stars, much as he had done for John Travolta with Pulp Fiction, and later Daryl Hannah with Kill Bill.
25. Spike Lee challenged Tarantino over the film’s use of racial slurs
As a white writer and director, Quentin Tarantino has often sparked controversy with the use of racial slurs in his films. Jackie Brown, in which two of the central characters are black, features 38 uses of the N-word, mostly spoken by black characters. Quentin Tarantino responded to the controversy by saying that “the minute any word has that much power everyone on the planet should scream it, no word deserves that much power.”
African-American filmmaker Spike Lee is among Tarantino’s most vocal detractors on this matter. Lee remarked, “I’m not against the word, and I use it, but not excessively, and some people speak that way. But I want Quentin to know that all African-Americans do not think that word is trendy or slick.”
24. Robert Forster was the only member of the cast to get an Oscar nomination
Tarantino’s previous film Pulp Fiction won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and was nominated for a further six Academy Awards. This being the case, it was anticipated that the Academy would be equally rewarding towards Jackie Brown. However, the film garnered only a single Oscar nomination, for Robert Forster in the Best Supporting Actor category.
This was the first and only Oscar nomination ever received by Forster (who passed away in 2019); he lost out Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting. As happy as Tarantino was for Forster, the writer-director was upset that Pam Grier was not given the same accolade (although Grier and Samuel L. Jackson were nominated for Golden Globes).
23. Tarantino was such a big fan of Pam Grier, her movie posters were all over his office when she went to meet him
The iconography of Jackie Brown draws heavily on the ‘blaxploitation’ movies on which leading lady Pam Grier made her name. The most obvious of these is 1974’s Foxy Brown. On top of giving the title character the same surname (which, again, was Burke in Rum Punch), the film’s poster even uses a very similar font for the title. In fact, Quentin Tarantino was such a big fan of Grier’s early movies, he had posters for them all over his office.
These very posters hung on the wall when Pam Grier first came to meet with the filmmaker about making the movie. Grier recalls asking Tarantino, “Did you put these up because I was coming over?” To this Tarantino replied, “No, I was gonna take them down because you were coming over!”
22. It has the lowest body count and age rating of any Tarantino movie
To this day, Quentin Tarantino’s movies have always been under scrutiny for their use of often extreme violence.Jackie Brown represented a conscious effort on the filmmaker’s part to step away from this, as it remains his least violent work. In Britain, it’s the only Quentin Tarantino film to be rated 15, rather than the more restrictive 18.
There are a grand total of four deaths in the film – but none of them are graphically shown on camera. Technically this is the same body count as Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, but those death scenes are considerably more gruesome.
21. A full Chicks Who Love Guns sales video was made for the film
Jackie Brown features a scene in which Samuel L. Jackon’s Ordell shows Robert De Niro his VHS tape Chicks Who Love Guns, which serves as a somewhat salacious sales brochure for the illicit arms dealer. As absurd as it may seem, videos of this nature genuinely exist, and have been known to be sold in gun stores across the USA.
While only brief glimpses of the video appear in the movie, the filmmakers shot a full four-minute promo which was later included in its entirety as a DVD extra. The clip was directed by animator and graphics designer Norm Hvam, who also co-wrote the script for the sequence with Tarantino.
20. Bridget Fonda’s character watches a movie starring her real-life father, Peter Fonda
Jackie Brown co-stars Bridget Fonda as Melanie, seemingly one of several girlfriends kept by Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell. Fonda was an in-demand actress in the 90s, and is famous for being born into a long-established acting family. She is the daughter of the late actor Peter Fonda, as well as being the niece of Jane Fonda and the granddaughter of Henry Fonda.
Jackie Brown features a sly nod to the actress’s family heritage, as in one scene Melanie is shown watching a Peter Fonda movie: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, a 1974 car chase movie starring Fonda Sr. and Susan George; Tarantino would again reference this film in 2007’s Death Proof.
19. The film’s soundtrack features a 1971 song performed by a young Pam Grier
In the scene when Jackie is in jail, we hear a song entitled Long Time Woman. It’s a very fitting musical choice, not least as it’s performed Pam Grier herself; the song was originally recorded for use over the opening titles of Grier’s first movie, 1971 women in prison movie The Big Doll House. Nor is this the only musical cue featured in Jackie Brown to have originated in one of Grier’s earlier movies.
In the mall sequence after Jackie pulls a switch with the bags, the intense music is taken directly from a chase scene in Grier’s 1973 movie Coffy. We also hear (Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm, a track by American rapper Foxy Brown, who of course took her stage name from the 1974 Pam Grier movie.
18. Samuel L Jackson filmed his scenes at the weekend because he was shooting Sphere in the week
Samuel L. Jackson has long been one of the busiest, hardest-working actors in Hollywood, and his Pulp Fiction success only made him busier (it was just one of six movies he made in 1994 alone). Being as in-demand as he was, Jackson was actually shooting another major movie at the same time as Jackie Brown: sci-fi thriller Sphere, alongside Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone.
However, as Jackson and Tarantino were both keen for him to play Ordell in Jackie Brown, a schedule was carefully worked out around the actor’s Sphere commitments. Jackson shot all his scenes as Ordell on the weekends, whilst shooting Sphere (which opened February 1998) the other five days of the week.
17. The bag really did contain $500,000 in cash
Quentin Tarantino isn’t necessarily known for taking a method approach on all of his movies, but on Jackie Brown the filmmaker and his crew did make one rather audacious move for realism. The film hinges on an elaborate, carefully planned heist in which Jackie sets out to steal half a million dollars.
The astonishing thing is, when they shot the scene, the bag in question was not filled with prop bills. That’s right – the film’s crew literally filled the bag with $500,000 in cash, for real.
16. John Travolta was the first person offered the part of Ray Nicolette
Samuel L. Jackson is the only Pulp Fiction actor to reunite with Tarantino on Jackie Brown, but this wasn’t always the plan. Tarantino’s first choice for the supporting role of FBI Agent Ray Nicolette was Pulp Fiction’s headlining star, John Travolta. However, Travolta – who had enjoyed a significant career resurgence since (and in large part thanks to) Pulp Fiction – turned the part down.
Travolta made four movies in 1997, including action smash Face/Off, so it may have been that he didn’t have time to make Jackie Brown. With Travolta out of the picture, this cleared the way for Tarantino to cast Michael Keaton as Ray Nicolette instead.
15. Jackie’s car was also driven by Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction
While Samuel L. Jackson is the only actor from Pulp Fiction to appear in Jackie Brown, there is another connection. In the movie, we see Pam Grier’s Jackie driving a white Honda Civic – a car which might look familiar to eagle-eyed viewers. This very same white Honda Civic was driven by Butch, the fugitive boxer played by Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction.
It’s hard to believe the same car was still usable, considering how badly trashed it gets in Pulp Fiction. As viewers may recall, Butch runs over Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) in the car, before crashing and totalling it. With Pam Grier’s Jackie behind the wheel, the Civic isn’t put through its paces quite so heavily.
14. Tarantino and De Niro reportedly didn’t get along on set
Jackie Brown is the first, and to date only time that Quentin Tarantino and Robert De Niro have worked together, and rumour has it that the two men didn’t really get along that well whilst making the movie. For one, when De Niro read the script, he told Tarantino that he wanted the role of Max Cherry, but the writer-director told him he’d already chosen Robert Forster for that role, and offered him Louis instead.
As Louis doesn’t necessarily have much to do in the movie, Tarantino didn’t give De Niro much direction, which irked the esteemed actor. Tarantino has never been one to kowtow to superstars; he’s one of the only filmmakers of the past 30 years to snub Daniel Day-Lewis, who was very keen to play Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.
13. Christina Applegate was considered for Melanie
Before Bridget Fonda was cast as Melanie, another famous blonde Californian actress was in contention for the part: Christina Applegate, then at the height of her TV stardom thanks to sitcom Married… with Children. Applegate’s time playing Kelly Bundy was close to its end when Jackie Brown went into production in early 1997.
Unfortunately, production on the movie clashed with Applegate’s commitment to the final episodes of Married… with Children, so the role of Melanie went to Bridget Fonda instead. Applegate has since gone on to a successful film career, notably with the Anchorman and Bad Moms movies.
12. Chris Tucker has only made seven more movies since Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown features a brief appearance from comedian and actor Chris Tucker as Beaumont Livingston. Originally a stand-up comedian, Tucker found big screen fame alongside Ice Cube in 1995’s cult comedy Friday, then went on to make such hits as Money Talks and The Fifth Element. Tucker then followed his scene-stealing cameo in Jackie Brown with his biggest hit yet, 1998’s Rush Hour, alongside Jackie Chan.
However, in the years since then Tucker has made only six more movies, two of which were Rush Hour sequels. Of course, the salaries he commanded meant he probably didn’t need the work much: Tucker earned $20 million for Rush Hour 2, and $25 million for Rush Hour 3. His next movie, Air, is due in April 2023.
11. Tarantino and then-girlfriend Mira Sorvino have stealth cameos in the film
Much to the relief of many critics, Jackie Brown was the first Quentin Tarantino film in which the writer-director did not give himself an acting role. Back in the 90s, Tarantino was pursuing acting as seriously as filmmaking, most notably playing one of the leads in From Dusk Till Dawn, which he also wrote. However, Tarantino’s work in front of the camera was never as well-received as his work behind the camera, and over time his appearances as an actor decreased.
Even so, the writer-director does make a brief, uncredited appearance in Jackie Brown, as a voice on Jackie’s answering machine. Tarantino also gave actress Mira Sorvino, his girlfriend at the time, a similar stealth cameo; she is out of focus in the background during the courtroom scene.
10. Pam Grier originally assumed Tarantino wanted her to play Melanie
Pam Grier never expected to be given the title role in Jackie Brown. For one thing, the actress came close to not seeing the script that Tarantino had mailed to her at all; the writer-director hadn’t paid enough for the postage, so it almost didn’t even get delivered to Grier. Then, when Grier finally read the script, she had no clue that Tarantino had her in mind for Jackie Brown herself.
Grier has said she assumed the role she was reading for was Melanie, Bridget Fonda’s role. This was because, at that time, Grier was used to taking supporting roles, in such films as Mars Attacks! and Escape from L.A.
9. Michael Keaton played Ray Nicolette in another movie just a year later
After appearing as FBI agent Ray Nicolette in Jackie Brown, Michael Keaton briefly played the role a second time the following year in Out of Sight. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Out of Sight (which stars Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney) was in pre-production at studio Universal whilst work on Jackie Brown was underway at Miramax.
The two films have no connection other than that they’re both based on Elmore Leonard novels, and the character of Ray Nicolette is featured in both. Steven Soderbergh waited to see who Tarantino would cast as Nicolette before casting the role in his movie – and decided to again cast Michael Keaton, with Tarantino’s whole-hearted approval.
8. Tarantino didn’t direct another film for five years after Jackie Brown
Once Jackie Brown was on screens, Quentin Tarantino wasn’t in any hurry to get back to work on another movie. Still keen to stretch his wings as an actor, Tarantino made his debut as a stage actor in Broadway in early 1998, in the play Wait Until Dark. While his popularity meant that the show’s entire 16-week run sold out, Tarantino received largely negative reviews for his performance, and he hasn’t acted on stage again since.
He did take a number of other acting roles in the meantime, however, including a cameo in Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky, and a recurring bad guy on TV series Alias. It wouldn’t be until 2002, five whole years after Jackie Brown opened, that Tarantino started shooting his next movie, Kill Bill.
7. Tarantino surprised Grier with a cameo from her old co-star Sid Haig
When it came time to shoot the courtroom scene, Tarantino had a big surprise for his leading lady. The Judge who presides over Jackie’s case is none other than veteran exploitation actor Sid Haig, who had acted alongside Grier in many of her early hits, including The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, Black Mama White Mama and more. Grier had not known that Tarantino cast Haig in the movie, and she was delighted to see her old co-star again.
Sid Haig enjoyed a latter-day career resurgence after playing Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. He sadly passed away in 2019, not long after playing Spaulding a third time in Zombie’s trilogy closer 3 from Hell.
6. It’s the only Quentin Tarantino film to have been adapted from a novel
The 90s saw Quentin Tarantino hailed as one of the most original and creative minds in Hollywood. He was arguably more praised for his writing than his directing: as well as winning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Pulp Fiction (alongside Roger Avary), Tarantino wrote several hit movies which he did not direct including True Romance, Natural Born Killers and From Dusk Till Dawn.
Not many people expected, then, that for his third film as writer-director, Tarantino would adapt someone else’s work. However, Jackie Brown is based on the 1992 Elmore Leonard Rum Punch. While Tarantino’s work is littered with references to other movies, this is the only time he has made a movie directly adapted from a pre-existing source.
5. Tarantino nearly adapted an entirely different Elmore Leonard novel
Tarantino had not originally planned to call the shots on the big-screen adaptation of Rum Punch himself. The book was in fact one of three Elmore Leonards to which he and his collaborator Roger Avary had purchased the film rights. The other two novels were Killshot and Freaky Deaky – and originally, Tarantino was leaning toward making Killshot.
However, the writer-director had a change of heart when he read Rum Punch a second time and “fell in love” with the story. Killshot was finally filmed in 2008 with Diane Lane, Thomas Jane and Mickey Rourke, whilst Freaky Deaky was shot in 2012. Both were released direct to home entertainment and received poor reviews.
4. Elmore Leonard called it the best screenplay he’d ever read
Tarantino deviated from Rum Punch in some significant ways. First of all, the film changed the story’s setting from South Florida to Los Angeles. Perhaps even more significantly, in the novel Jackie is white, and her surname is Burke rather than Brown. Tarantino was initially reluctant to tell Leonard about the changes he had made to his source novel, so didn’t speak to the author at all until the film was ready to start shooting.
He needn’t have worried, as Leonard considered Jackie Brown the best of an impressive 26 adaptations of his work. The novelist (who died in 2013) even went so far as to declare Tarantino’s screenplay to be the best he had ever read.
3. It’s one of ten Elmore Leonard adaptations made in the 90s
Elmore Leonard had a long, varied and prolific writing career dating back to the 1950s. The first adaptations of his work were filmed in the late 60s, but it was in the 90s that Leonard really became a hot property as far as Hollywood was concerned. Starting with TV movie Border Shootout in 1990, the decade saw nine movies made of Leonard’s novels.
Along with Jackie Brown, the most famous of these were 1995’s Get Shorty and 1998’s Out of Sight. The other Leonard adaptations produced in the 90s were Touch, and the TV movies Gold Coast, Split Images, Pronto and Last Stand at Saber River. There was also the 1998 TV series Maximum Bob.
2. Samuel L. Jackson says Ordell is one of his five favourite roles
At the time of writing, Samuel L. Jackson’s IMDb page lists an eye-opening 204 acting credits, and the actor has said on the record that he considers Ordell in Jackie Brown to be one of his five personal favourites of all the roles he’s played. When asked to name his top five by Jimmy Fallon in 2019, Jackson first mentioned what his become his signature role: Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Filling out his top five, Jackson named two of his other Tarantino roles: Jules of Pulp Fiction, and Stephen Warren of Django Unchained. Finally, Jackson listed Mace Windu of the Star Wars prequels as his fifth personal favourite of all his roles.
1. The character of Melanie was inspired by exploitation actress Candice Rialson
Bridget Fonda’s Melanie is a very laidback California girl. As is hardly unexpected of Quentin Tarantino, the writer-director took inspiration for the character from his love of exploitation cinema. He largely modelled Melanie on actress Candice Rialson, a contemporary of Pam Grier in 70s B-movies (although the two actresses never worked together).
Rialson appeared in such cult movies as Candy Stripe Nurses, Mama’s Dirty Girls and Summer School Teachers. In mainstream cinema, Rialson took small roles in The Eiger Sanction, Logan’s Run and Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. She retired as an actress in 1980, and sadly passed away in 2006 from liver disease aged just 54.