Pulp Fiction At 20: Reflecting On Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 Masterpiece

Above: John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Quentin Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction'

Some films just don’t age well – the jokes become stale, the style and period become dated and the stars fade, turning what might have been a box office smash or critical darling into a representation of a particular period of time in filmmaking.

Then there are movies like Pulp Fiction.

Twenty years after its release, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 black comedy crime caper remains as fresh and entertaining as it was when it took the movie world by storm at Cannes and became the first “indie film” to surpass $100 million at the domestic box office. Worldwide, it took in more than $210 million – not a bad return for a film with an $8 million budget.

A lot has transpired in the 20 years since Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield first entered our lives and as Pulp Fiction celebrates its 20th birthday, it’s only fitting that we offer up some fun facts and trivia on the surprise hit that had a major impact and stands as one of the best movies of all-time.

1. A Different Jules

Samuel L. Jackson almost didn’t the part of jheri-curled hitman Jules Winfield. Paul Calderon was positioned to play the part until Jackson was prompted to audition for a second time and knocked it out of the park. Calderon remained in the film, playing the bartender at Marcellus Wallace’s club.

2. Travolta Resurgence

While he went on to be an A-List star in the years following Pulp Fiction, the inclusion of Travolta as Vincent Vega was a big risk. Sure, the Look Who’s Talking franchise had some success, but no one would have expected the guy from the talking baby movie to become an Academy Award nomiee and one of the biggest, most bankable stars on the planet just a few years later.

3. Bruce Willis Was The Biggest Star

Not that Willis isn’t a legitimate Hollywood star, but looking back on the trajectory of everyone including in this film, it’s crazy to think that the inclusion of Willis as Butch helped give the movie a little more traction and garner a slightly bigger budget. Before that point, there wasn’t a clear “star” attached to the project.

4. The Academy Screwed Up

We have the benefit of hindsight now, but looking at who took home statues from the 67th Academy Awards makes you wonder what the voters were thinking. Forrest Gump cleaned up, winning Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, while Martin Landeau beat Jackson in the Best Supporting Actor category and Dianne Wiest earned the Best Supporting Actress award over Uma Thurman. The only award the movie won was Tarantino and Roger Avary taking home the statue for Best Original Screenplay.

5. The Start Of A Beautiful Relationship

Pulp Fiction became the jump off point for several future Tarantino collaborations, but the man with the most appearances in front of the director’s lens is Jackson, who has been a part of four more Tarantino flicks since portraying the Bible-quoting hitman Jules – Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.

6. Mrs. Mia Wallace

While she earned an Oscar nom for her role as the wife of the vengeful mobster, it was a future teaming with Tarantino that relaunched Thurman’s career. Kill Bill was her return to the screen after an extended break following the birth of her first child. The character was thought up by the actress and director during filming of Pulp Fiction.

7. Introducing Ving Rhames

Though he’d been a working actor for a decade prior to Pulp Fiction, there is no doubt that portraying Marcellus Wallace launched Ving Rhames’ career. After playing the menacing mob boss with the Band-Aid on his neck, the Juilliard-trained actor went on to land major roles in Con Air, Rosewood and the Mission: Impossible franchise.

8. Small Parts, Big Impact

One of the many cool things about this movie is the various “supporting parts” that still stand out after all these years. In most films, the peripheral characters don’t really register. If it’s a particular good film or performance, maybe one character stands out. In Pulp Fiction, you have an assortment of non-central figures that shine through and steal the movie during their brief appearances including Eric Stoltz as Lance, Tim Roth as Pumpkin/Ringo and Christopher Walken as Captain Koons.

9. “The Wolf”

The best of the “small role, big impact” players is unquestionably Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolf. Keitel was one of the stars of Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, and the role was written specifically for him. Although he’s only present for one brief sequence, “The Wolf” remains one of the most memorable characters from the film.

10. Ezekiel 25:17

Yeah, Jules’ favourite scripture to quote before he busts a cap in someone’s ass? Not a real Bible verse. In reality, the verse is much shorter and far less dramatic, although the overall tone of vengeance remains the same.

11. The Dance Competition

Having watched Vincent and Mia shimmy and shake at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, you would think there is no way anyone else could have possibly won the evening’s dance competition. Turns out, someone else did win. Even though Vincent and Mia return to the Wallace homestead with a trophy in their possession, later in the film you hear a news report on the radio about the trophy being stolen.

12. Quotes Galore

One way to tell how well a movie is going to stand up over the long haul is how quotable it is. Sure, there are bits from any movie you can recite initially, but dropping a “Dude, where’s my car?” on someone in 2014 is all kinds of lame. Pulling out any one of a dozen tried and true quotes from this bad boy will still get you a nod of approval and admiration. Now say good night, Raquel.

13. Killer Soundtrack

I bet you never thought you’d love “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” before you saw Pulp Fiction? In addition to Urge Overkill’s rendition of the Neil Diamond classic, the film had an ecclectic collection of quality joints pumping throughout, including some Kool and the Gang, a litle Al Green, “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Flowers on the Wall.” Add in some of the music from the movie itself that didn’t make the actual CD after the fact and you have yourself one well-scored film.

14. The Bad MF Wallet

The wallet Jules makes Ringo/Pumpkin (Tim Roth) retrieve from his collection in the diner – the one that says “Bad MF” on it – was actually Tarantino’s wallet. The inscription is a reference to Shaft. Ironically, Jackson went on to star in John Singleton’s 2000 remake, portraying the nephew of the original John Shaft.

15. Vincent’s Car

Yeah, that was Tarantino’s too. The car was actually stolen during production and wasn’t tracked down until earlier this year. There is no word on whether the scratched Butch left on the vehicle still remain there today.

16. “Any Time Is A Good Time For Pie.”

Tarantino evidently likes this line as not only does Fabienne tell it to Butch when discussing her breakfast choices, but it had also appeared in True Romance, the 1993 Tony Scott-directed movie starring Christian Slater that Tarantino had written. For the record, we agree: any time is, in fact, a good time for pie.

17. Don’t Go To The Bathroom, Vincent

Whenever Travolta’s character heads to the bathroom, bad things happen. Not only does he get shot when he’s doing his business, but Mia Wallace’s overdose and the robbery at the diner also take place while Vincent is enjoying a little alone time in the restroom.

18. Future Jules?

We already mentioned that Sam Jackson has gone on to have parts in several other Tarantino flicks, but did you know you might have seen Jules Winfield in the future in Kill Bill? When Jules tells Vincent he’s retiring from the “murder for hire” business, he says he wants to be a drifter. Jackson’s role in Kill Bill, Vol. 2? A piano-playing drifter named Rufus. Coincidence?

19. Out Of Sequence

Lots of people have tried it since Pulp Fiction, but Tarantino’s broken timeline is tough to duplicate. While it takes a little bit of concentration to piece together when everything is transpiring, it’s also part of what makes the movie so great – you get the backstory after the fact and it all adds up when the ends credit roll.

20. Critically Acclaimed And A Cult Favorite

Not many films are both beloved by fans and praised by critics, but Pulp Fiction has accomplished that feat. In addition to appearing on scores of “Best Film” lists and being preserved in the National Film Registry, it is one of those movies that everyone who loves movies absolutely adores.

Tags: Quentin Tarantino

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