Study Guide

Pulp Fiction Introduction

Pulp Fiction Introduction


Release Year: 1994

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman


Quentin Tarantino. Ever heard of him?

He's the guy who scalped Nazis in Inglourious Basterds and spilled gallons of blood in Reservoir Dogs.

And in 1994, he unleashed upon the cinematic world a small, independent film that he made for just $8 million bucks. Yep—just. It's earned $200 million.

Not bad.

On board for the wild ride were some actors you may have heard of: John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, and Samuel L. Jackson. Yeah, them. The resulting film, Pulp Fiction, caused a critical uproar, changed the way people thought about independent films, and spawned scores of Tarantino-cool wannabes.

Pulp Fiction has three interlocking stories, told out of chronological order, about a crime boss, his two hitmen, and an aging boxer hired to throw a fight. In the process, an informant accidentally gets his face blown off, the crime boss' wife nearly dies of an accidental heroin overdose, a bunch of young drug dealers are non-accidentally executed, and the boss and the fighter are kidnapped by a duo of deranged rapists.

As a bonus, we learn what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in France.

The critical response? "The King Kong of crime movies," "the most influential film of the decade," "the indie that changed cinema," "a touchstone of cool."

Yowza.

Tarantino had some success with his first release, Reservoir Dogs, but no one was ready for the big splash that his crazy Pulp Fiction characters and their crazier predicaments would make. This little film ended up winning a whole heap of accolades, like Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay (a win), Best Picture, directing, acting, and editing. It revived the flagging careers of John Travolta and Bruce Willis and shot Samuel L. Jackson into super-stardom. The fact that you can't believe that the careers of Willis and Travolta were ever flagging is probably because of Pulp Fiction.

You might be asking: isn't $8 million what Bruce Willis would make for a Doritos commercial? Yeah, but Tarantino and Avary's script was so good that all these big deal actors took some big deal pay cuts just to be part of it. (The marquee players made about $150,000.)

In the end, Tarantino became the "it" guy of the '90s and beyond largely from his success with Pulp Fiction. It was an immediate cult classic, and decades after its release, it's still watched, debated, quoted, and analyzed to death by film critics and fans alike.

Oh, and that French Quarter Pounder with Cheese? It's a Royale with Cheese.

What is Pulp Fiction About and Why Should I Care?

You're cool, we know.

Our guess? You probably watch a lot of independent films. Because of its blockbuster level of success and profit, it's easy to forget that Pulp Fiction was just an indie made on a tiny budget by a director still relatively unknown to the public. But it goes to show that you don't need a hundred million dollars to create something worth watching.

In fact, Pulp Fiction changed the way people thought about the independent film industry. Before Tarantino came along, it was filled with a bunch of college grads and snobby elitists trying to share their unwanted (and probably self-indulgent and depressing) vision with the world. But Pulp Fiction let everyone see the power of the indie while also showing Hollywood that maybe not every viewer wanted another formulaic blockbuster.

Because he wasn't tied to a studio's demands to make a crime film with non-stop action and gore (we <3 you Liam Neeson!), Tarantino was able to give the audience criminals who talked. In fact, they never shut up. This kind of character- and dialogue-driven movie inspired films both great and terrible. Without the success of Pulp Fiction, we probably wouldn't have Amores Perros or Get Shorty. OTOH, we wouldn't have had The Boondock Saints.

Indiewire reminds us that lots of directors thought they could write a brash, violent film with lots of f-bombs and a chopped-up story line, and—just like that—have another Pulp Fiction. But "underneath the glossy, slick surface […] is an absolutely rigorous, even classical, adherence to the storytelling basics of character building and coherent plotting, the more effective for seeming so effortless, malleable and invisible" (source).

Oh, but, uh, Tarantino's a copycat, too.

He's been called a "cinematic kleptomaniac" for the way he lifts characters, images, and even dialogue straight from every film genre and pop culture category you can think of. So if you're yawning about studying the film based on its artistic merits or film history importance, you can still have fun watching and trying to identify the scores of films, TV shows, singers, movie stars, and junk foods mentioned in the film.

If you can find more than 25, we'll give you your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

We promise.

Trivia

You remember your U.S. History, don't you? Butch's fight—Coolidge vs. Wilson—is a reference to the presidents Calvin Coolidge and Woodrow Wilson (even though they never ran against each other). We can hear Warren Harding asking, "so what am I, chopped liver?" The other featured fight is a reference to two of Tarantino's friends from his old video store days, Jerry Martinez and Russell Vossler. (Source)

How did John Travolta appear to be plunging a hypodermic needle into Uma Thurman? Tarantino filmed him removing the needle then ran the film backwards. (Source)

For the scene when when Mia is drooling from her moth after the overdose, the crew used Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup. Mmm-mmm good. (Source)

The scene where Marsellus stops directly in front of Butch's car and turns to look at him is a shout-out to a very similar scene in the famous Hitchcock movie, Psycho. (Source)

To prepare for his role as a heroin addict, Travolta spoke with an addict about how to play a heroin high. The addict suggested he get drunk on Tequila and lie in a hot tub. Do not try this at home. (Source)

Samuel L. Jackson was supposed to wear a huge Afro wig in the film. But when a production assistant brought back a Jheri-curl wig, Samuel L jumped on it because he said that's what all the gangbangers were wearing. Travolta convinced Tarantino to let him use hair extensions to get that "Eurotrash" look. (Source)

Pulp Fiction Resources

Websites

When Sets Won't Do
Take a virtual tour of all the different filming locations used for Pulp Fiction. And no, Jack Rabbit Slims is not a real restaurant, it was a set. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Fandom 4 Lyfe
Check out this cool fan wiki of sorts. It has everything from articles and video clips to a full-fledged (though totally unofficial) FAQ.

Consensus: Awesome
The film got a 93% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

Everyone's a Critic
…and they all agreed with Rotten Tomatoes.

16 Pulp Fiction Quotes That Will Help You Become a Better Person.
Seriously, that's the name of the article.

Book or TV Adaptations

Pulp Fiction: The Game
Here's a quick Pulp Fiction summary with a twist. It's portrayed as an old school style arcade game with all the animation and clichés which give it a most authentic feel.

South Park Style
Brett and the boys as if they were Kyle and the boys.

Articles and Interviews

A Moral Masterpiece?
Maybe morality isn't the first thing that crosses your mind when you think of the crazy world and characters of Pulp Fiction. But let Quentin himself give you a quick breakdown of some big ethical decisions and their consequences.

Inside Story
The cast, producer and director dish on the making on Pulp Fiction and how no one thought it would be the smash hit it turned out to be.

Cool
Film critic Matt Seitz analyzes how Tarantino creates characters that are the embodiment of "cool."

A Rose by Any Other Name
Quentin dishes to Charlie Rose about the inspiration for Pulp Fiction.

Fan Means Fanatic
Fans speculate on the true meaning behind some of the scenes.

Happy Birthday
On the 20th anniversary of the film's release, CNN compiled 20 fun facts.

Legends
Roger Ebert interviews Tarantino. 'Nuff said.

Gettin' Medieval
Rolling Stone magazine breaks down the shocking rape scene. 20 years after the film's release, it's still disturbing and important enough to discuss.

Backstory
The director, cast, and producers reminisce about how Pulp Fiction finally got made. It wasn't easy..

Still Crazy After All These Years
On it's 20th anniversary, a compilation of what the critics said when the movie was first released.

Movie Madness
Here's a list of every movie, TV show, and movie star referenced in Pulp Fiction, including Tarantino's other films, which he loves to reference.

Clothes Make the Woman
A look at Mia Wallace and her iconic fashion look.

Video

Jules on Ice
Jules must've realized his dream of life coaching and decided no one needed his wise advice more than young hockey players.

Lego my Burger
There's always a Lego version.

Stranger than Pulp Fiction
Yolanda and Ringo's breakfast may be a whole movie apart from Jules and Vincent's, but let's not forget that they're actually going on at the same time. If fact, if you listen real close, you can hear (and see) Jules and Vincent in that opening scene.

Play It Again, Bruce
Here's a clip of Tarantino directing Bruce Willis in a scene from the film.

How We're Glad It Didn't End
The HISHE team is at it again, this time with their take on Pulp Fiction. Will Butch just pack his most precious watch himself? Will Marvin not get shot in the face? Watch and find out.

Pruning a Rose
Sometimes even a director's favorite scenes have to be cut if they're not right for the movie. Here are a couple that were lost in post-production, introduced by Tarantino himself. We get everything from Mia and Vincent's intersecting pants to a Lance monologue about human decency and some more of everyone's favorite, Raquel.

Images

Time Lines
Just in case our brief summary wasn't enough, maybe this infographic will make Pulp Fiction's chronology more clear…or maybe it will just confuse you. There are a lot of lines going on.

All Dolled Up
Some people just have a lot of time on their hands.

Off-Screen
The all-star cast all chillin'.

Screen Shots
One fan collected all the highlights of the film. See it here.

Bananas for Pulp Fiction
Graffiti artist Banksy had this take on our killers.

Collect 'Em All!
You won't want to wait for this genuine Jules Winnfield action figure. Seems like a strange movie for toy tie-ins.

Yes, Virginia, There Are Banana Slugs
Weirdest. Mascot. Ever.

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