With the release of Tarantino’s latest (and penultimate?) film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, we felt inspired to take a look at all the hidden messages, inside jokes, and revealing plot details scattered throughout all his films! From unexpected family connections to prophetic staging, Tarantino surprised us with film details that went straight over our heads.
Devoted homages, obscure references, and secret jokes are strewn throughout Tarantino’s films, in a collection of messages that tells a pretty personal story about the man behind the camera. Take a look at the subtle and revealing Easter eggs that prove his cult-following is well-deserved.
Blood Brothers in the Literal Sense
Unexpectedly, Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction is the brother of Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde! “Toothpick Vic” or Vic Vega impressed Tarantino so much he initially wanted Madsen to play Vincent in Pulp Fiction. After casting John Travolta instead, he decided that the two should be brothers. We would have loved to see the two share a screen…
He even planned to make a film starring both characters as the lead roles in a project titled The Vega Brothers, but it wasn’t followed through. Tarantino conceded that while he had the context set up – with the brothers working as dodgy club managers in Amsterdam – he couldn’t come to any concrete decision about the plot development.
Death Proof’s Plot Clues Planted in the Shirt
As part of the girl group we were first introduced to in Death Proof, Shanna Bannana, sadly, got dealt an unlucky hand as one of Stuntman Mike’s victims. However, her T-Shirt foreshadows the brighter future awaiting his future victims Zoe, Kim, and Abernathy.
Her lilac top has emblazoned on it an illustration from Russ Meyer’s film Faster Pussycat… Kill! Kill!, in which actress Tura Santana disarms a man as part of the female power trio Varla, Billie, and Rosie. Clearly, Tarantino was alluding to the inspiration for his female trio who succeed in bringing down deadly Stuntman Mike.
Yellow Suits Aren’t for the Yellow-Bellied
That iconic yellow tracksuit is forever immortalized in pop culture history, but interestingly it wasn’t an original design. With a deep appreciation for martial arts films, Tarantino took heavy inspiration from Bruce Lee’s one-piece in the 1978 film Game of Death. It almost looks like a carbon copy…
It’s fitting, as Beatrix Kiddo’s equally no stranger to combat fighting. No detail was spared – even the black paneling down the side of the Kill Bill outfit was the exact same width as Bruce Lee’s. Clearly, Tarantino wasn’t just taking inspiration from the Hong Kong hit, but unmistakably referring to it.
The Reoccurring Trunk Shot
The infamous Tarantino scenes shot from inside a car trunk has even led to the coining of the term “trunk shot,” referring also to the low-angle shots featured in all his films. We witness the actors hovering above us, putting us in the claustrophobic position of the defenseless film character.
Tarantino wasn’t the first one to film at this angle, and he likely took inspiration from other directors. However, his persistent use of the unusual angle saw its resurgence in cinema, giving the impactful shot a movie comeback! It wasn’t always possible to put a camera in the trunk of a car, so film teams had to think of clever ways to fool the audience!
Pulp Fiction Hints to Kill Bill a Decade Early
In true Tarantino style, he had his eye on the future when he foreshadowed his Kill Bill films in the early diner scene. It was even Mia who alluded to it – the future star of the franchise! Interestingly, he knew a decade in advance that he wanted Uma Thurman for the lead. When speaking to Vincent Vega (John Travolta) she lists the various members of The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, revealing that Pulp Fiction exists in the same universe as Kill Bill.
Mia says: “There was a blonde one, she was the leader. The Japanese fox a Kung Fu master. The Black girl was a demolition expert… The character I played, was the deadliest woman in the world with a knife.” In the film, Mia is referencing a TV show that never got past its pilot episode, which she credits for granting her a short “15 minutes” of fame.
Shaft Was a Descendent of Django
In a bizarre revelation during a panel interview, Tarantino made it clear that he saw Shaft, the ’70s blaxploitation detective, as a descendent of Jamie Foxx’s Django and his wife Broomhilda, as played by Kerry Washington. While Tarantino is known to be an exploitation film buff, we think you can agree that it’s a strange connection to establish!
He was asked to address the connection as the full name of Washington’s character is Broomhilda Von Shaft, who would have been his great-great-great-great grandmother. Either way, it’s shedding a whole new light to Django Unchained for us as we come to accept it as a Shaft prequel!
Foreshadowing You Own Death
In Lucy Liu’s iconic last fight in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 as O-Ren Ishii, she delivers the chilling line, “you might not last five minutes.” Little did she know that her undisguised threat was to come back and bite her, as Tarantino turned the tables on her character through twisted irony.
Tarantino perfectly timed their duel in the snow to be exactly four minutes and 59 seconds until O-Ren’s death! It seems the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad member prophesied her own passing, not Beatrix’s… In a scene that must have required meticulous planning, we’ve got to admit, that’s pretty dark!
A Hollow Victory for Mia and Vincent
Who could forget the dance sequence at the beginning of Pulp Fiction? Mia and Vincent Vega compete on stage in a dance competition and are seen taking home the trophy that evening when Mia walks through the door. It’s all innocent enough until later on in the film where we hear a different story…
In a radio broadcast that is barely audible, it’s revealed (to those with sharp ears) that the trophy was stolen and nowhere to be found. Seeing as Mia took home the trophy, it appears that the jiggling duo stole it and didn’t win the competition as Tarantino had us previously assume!
Naming Characters After People Around You
Abernathy Ross, played by Rosario Dawson, makes up one of the female foursomes in Death Proof. In the film, Ross reveals having a crush on Cecil Evans during a scene where the friends swap romantic love-life stories. This is in direct reference to the real-life transportation coordinator for films such as Sin City and Spy Kids as well as Death Proof!
As well as that, the character of Jungle Julia Lucai as portrayed by Sydney Tamiia Poitier is named after Tarantino’s former personal assistant, Victoria Lucai. We think you’ll agree that it’s touching to see these personal hidden tributes to the people in his real life!
Breaking Cars and Fourth Walls
Who could forget Stuntman Mike’s chilling smile in Death Proof, particularly when he stares straight down the lens before flicking away his cigarette! It was a perfect warning to the viewer that something was up with Kurt Russell’s character, making us too feel a victim of his wicked whims.
Die-hard Tarantino fans have generally accepted that Stuntman Mike’s death-stare (death-smile?) is a nod to French new wave cinema, in which breaking the fourth wall was commonly used. Typical of Tarantino’s style, he imbues this film technique with his signature humorous style. Its a technique he repeats in his new release Once Upon A Time In Hollywood too…
That’ll Be Karma to Go, Please…
Everyone remembers Mr. Pink’s rant in opposition to tipping waitresses at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs. In the scene, his unpopular opinion is met with disdain from the other members of the group. In a twisted Tarantino irony, he has Steve Buscemi act as the waiter for Mia and Vincent in Pulp Fiction!
With Pulp Fiction coming after Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino serves Mr. Pink some well-needed perspective in an ironic twist-of-fate. We’re sure his tirade against tipping came back to haunt him the day he started at the diner… we only wish we knew more about what led him there!
That’s a Tasty Burger!
The Kahuna Burger has cemented itself as a reoccurring fixture in Tarantino’s films. Appearing in Death Proof, Four Rooms, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs, as well as Robert Rodriguez’ From Dusk Till Dawn and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, the Hawaiian-themed fast food outlet is a cult classic.
The Big Kahuna is even featured in Tarantino’s latest project, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, in which Rick Dalton stars in a TV commercial for the food chain. It also makes an appearance as an ad on the side of a bus in one shot. They’re marketing it right because we’d do anything to try it!
…Stuntman Mike Is How Old?
A Death Proof easter egg is dropped when Stuntman Mike reveals to Pam his previous occupation as a stuntman for the ’60s TV Western The Virginian. It’s a nod to Kurt Russell’s history with the show when he starred as mistaken orphan Toby – an early start for Russell’s acting career!
Considering Russell hadn’t hit puberty when the show ran, it makes us question how old stuntman Mike is supposed to be! Perhaps it adds to his mystery… he might be a lot older than he looks or he might be lying to Pam. Vampire or a compulsive liar, he’s certainly a hair-raising character…
The Returning Sherif
Unsurprisingly, considering Tarantino’s interconnected universe, Sherif Earl McGraw is a frequent occurrence in his films. Appearing in From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill, Death Proof, and Planet Terror, it would seem this Sherif is subjected to some of the most gruesome crime-scenes in history!
The Sherif’s life came to an abrupt end in From Dusk Till Dawn due to the Gecko brothers. However, he surprised viewers by returning to two more films after that. Still, Tarantino has stated that Sherif Earl can move between his various alternate realities! A testament to the benefit of writing your own films…
Cigarrillos Manzana Roja
Tarantino famously includes his fictional “Red Apple” cigarette brand in almost all his films. Referred to as “Manzana Roja” by Señor Bob, these iconic cigarettes have reached cult status, appearing in Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Planet Terror, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight and recently, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
The logo depicts a grinning green worm emerging out of a shiny red apple, cigarette in mouth. Founded in 1862 allegedly, it seems to hold an underlying biblical reference. The apple symbolizes the temptation of man, just as eve was tempted in the Garden of Eden.
He Knows the D Is Silent
In this scene at the plantation owner’s mansion in Django Unchained, a man at the bar takes an interest in Jamie Foxx’s character, asking his name. “The D is silent,” Django asserts before the mystery man replies “I know”. It’s none other than Franco Nero, who played Django in the original 1966 Western.
Nero’s extended cameo in Tarantino’s 2012 hit film is a little nod to the past; where both Django’s meet and exchange a knowing glance at each other before the events of the evening unravel. Tarantino even borrows a plot point from the original Django in the form of the white-supremacist gang.
Any Lengths for Realism
When Michael Parks was cast to play Esteban Vihaio in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Mexican pimp and father figure to Bill, we wonder if he knew he’d be acting alongside women who really worked in the risky field! Forget method-acting, Tarantino is going one step further as Director by engaging in method-casting!
Seen lounging around the entrance, the women onscreen are even in their real-life setting, as Vihaio’s house was indeed a genuine brothel. The women were hired as extras for the scene where Beatrix tries to find information about Bill’s whereabouts and was the last scene they shot for Kill Bill: Vol. 2.
Just When Stuntman Mike Couldn’t Be Any Creepier
This hard to spot easter egg was planted for the eagle-eyed among Tarantino’s fans. In a scene where the group of four girls are drinking in a bar, we get a glimpse of this tank-top hanging in the top left-hand corner of the frame, hovering just above them. It happens to be the tank-top worn by Kurt Russell in ’80s action movieBig Trouble in Little China!
It’s a significant detail that acts as a prophetic warning, as Stuntman Mike proves to be the end of them! Perhaps it’s a sign that Mike was watching the group in this scene, as we discover throughout the film that he thoroughly researches his victims before going in for the kill…
When in Doubt, Hit the Bottle
Tarantino craftily planted clues in Reservoir Dogs as to who the rat in the pack was. In a scene where Nice Guy Eddie relays the moment cops jumped on them during the heist, his car is trailed by a single orange balloon! It only makes an appearance for a second, but tells us that the clues were there.
Similarly, Mr. Orange’s position is said to be highlighted again in the arrangement of soap bottles in the image above. During the scene where Mr. White and Mr. Pink are trying to figure who the snitch is; pink and white bottles stand grouped together on one side of a desk, with orange bottles separated on another side…
I Can Do It Better, I Just Don’t Have the Time
Gordon Liu was cast as Master Pai Mei, teacher to Bill and Beatrix and father of the Five-Point-Palm-Exploding-Heart technique. He was actually chosen as he starred in one of Tarantino’s all-time favorite martial arts movies, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin – a huge influence on Tarantino’s writing for the Kill Bill films!
Bizarrely, Tarantino actually set out to play Master Pai Mei himself! “I’d trained to do the fights and everything,” he admitted, adding, “but it was such a big-deal movie that it needed all my attention directing.” We don’t know about you but we can’t think of a funnier sight…
More to Donny Than We Know
Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz might have been a ruthless killer, but he still had a sentimental side. The club he used to smash the heads of commanders in occupied France was a heavy baseball bat he collected Jewish signatures on, including that of holocaust victim Anne Frank.
Donny Donowitz is also the father of True Romance’s Lee Donowitz, Tarantino revealed during a Q&A! In Tarantino’s ever-connected fictional world, he bizarrely sees Eli Roth’s character as a parent to the Hollywood film producer portrayed by Saul Rubinek… who saw that coming!
In the operation devised by the basterds to infiltrate the film premiere at Shosanna’s cinema, we learn Donny Donowitz’ alter-ego is named Antonio Margheriti. In the hilarious exchange between the basterds and Colonel Hans Landa, Eli Roth’s character tries to pronounce his alias as best he can…
His moniker is actually a homage to the real-life Italian horror director Antonio Margheriti, who Tarantino has long held an admiration for. He is especially fond of Margheriti’s exploitation film Cannibal Apocalypse, a science-fiction cult horror film!
Homage to the Queen of Blaxploitation
Icon of Blaxploitation cinema, actress Pam Grier was written into Tarantino’s Jackie Brown as a homage to her culture impact on the genre, and on Tarantino himself. She played Foxy Brown in Jack Hill’s 1974 film of the same name, with Tarantino going on to borrow the font used for the posters of the predeceasing film in his film.
Interestingly, Grier originally auditioned for the role of Jody, Rosanna Arquette’s character. While she wasn’t cast in that role Tarantino kept her mind, writing the role of Jackie Brown specifically for the queen of Blaxploitation. Who else could have played the part!
Django Unchained: Part Two
Django Unchained was Tarantino’s first Western film, which only increased his appetite for filming the genre. He wanted to make it’s sequel directly after the release of the 2012 movie and set to writing for it. However, he found that Django’s presence in the story was too encroaching, and so began the reimagining of The Hateful Eight!
Samuel L. Jackson was actually cast in place of Jamie Foxx as Django, allowing Bounty Hunter Major Marquis Warren to deviate from Django’s high moral standard (to put it mildly.) It also allowed us to question each character, as everyone’s identity is shrouded in mystery from the start.
Redeeming the Hicox Family Name
Tarantino just can’t seem to stop creating familial connections between his characters, regardless of whether they’re from a different universe or not! He has revealed that Tim Roth’s character Pete Hicox (AKA Oswaldo Mobray) in The Hateful Eight is an ancestor to Michael Fassbender’s character in Inglorious Basterds!
Unlike Django and Shaft, these two characters couldn’t be any more different. Roth plays a Domingray gang member, murderer, and thief, while Fassbender’s character Lieutenant Archie Hicox is a British Royal Marine who works with the Basterds to attack the Nazi’s! Two people couldn’t be any less alike, however, they do have a special talent for going undercover… so that’s what he inherited!
No One Leaves a Winner
Tarantino mirrored his favorite film of all time, spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) in Reservoir Dogs. In a tense scene, he borrowed the Mexican stand-off from Sergio Leone’s movie in which Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach come together for one of the most iconic scenes of cinema.
Tarantino has also implemented the Mexican stand-off in Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight, and True Romance, as well as having characters in Inglourious Basterds actually talk about the term “Mexican stand-off!” His love of a victory-less confrontation between characters allows Tarantino to leave the audience with conflicting feelings.
Zoe Bell Stars As… Zoe Bell
In her role as one of the four women targeted by Stuntman Mike in Death Proof, Zoe Bell starred as herself! As a friend of Tarantino’s, he admitted that he thought so highly of her, he just had to find a role for her in his film! She has the unfortunate role of a woman trapped on the bonnet of a speeding car…
Impressively, the real Zoe Bell performed all the stunts herself. As a professional stuntwoman and, as Tarantino believes, one of the best in the world, she acted all the scenes on top of a high-speed car chase in real-life, wriggling and all! Talk about dedication to your work…
Channing Tatum as You’ve Never Seen Him
In Channing Tatum’s cameo in The Hateful Eight, the actor steps away from his usual film role of good guy/hunk! In the film, Tatum takes on the role of Jody, brother to Daisy Domergue and head of the Domingre Gang. As you can guess, Jody is far cry from Magic Mike.Tarantino even gave him a gold front tooth for good measure to take the edge off of his good looks!
Tatum is in the antagonist role, which is assumed to be a tribute to Henry Fonda’s role in Once Upon A Time In The West – who also took a step away from his typecast to portray a villainous character. The casting decision was chosen to shock the audience, and we can’t argue that Tatum’s role-reversal didn’t come as a surprise…
Does the Car in Death Proof Remind You of Anything?
One of the four women targeted by nefarious Stuntman Mike in Death Proof has a pretty inconspicuous car that the girl gang travels in. With its solid yellow exterior and black sport stripes along the side, it was meant to bring to mind the yellow suit worn by Beatrice in Kill Bill!
Basing the car’s paint job on Kill Bill’s Bride’s martial arts outfit – which in turn is based on Bruce Lee’s costume in Game of Death (1979) – is giving us a headache trying to keep track of all the references! However many homages Tarantino’s plays in his tribute-inception, it’s nice to see his he isn’t letting go of his foot-fascination anytime soon…
No One’s Surprised That Tarantino’s a Control Freak
The real Tarantino die-hards among you will be well aware that he doesn’t hire anyone to create original musical scores for his movies. He opts instead to choose the music himself, turning to his personal music collection to create his desired tone. “I just don’t like the idea of giving that much power to anybody on one of my movies,” he admitted.
Tarantino has spoken about his fear of another single person having so much influence over his film. “I would much rather work with a music editor than a music composer,” he conceded, adding that he would often feel inspiration for a song and wait until it had the right place in one of his scripts.
When Austin Powers Cameo’d in Inglourious Basterds
Mike Myers played Ed Fenech in Inglourious Basterds, bizarrely named after the actress Edwige Fenech who starred in raunchy Italian comedies between the ’60s to the ’80s. While his character has little to do with the actress he’s named after, Tarantino did have another idea behind Myer’s role.
Tarantino wrote Myer’s character to be a parody of British Generals that were depicted in World War II cinema. Taking inspiration from ’63s The Great Escape, with the line “we have all our rotten eggs in one basket,” Tarantino almost copied it word for word from a line in the epic war film.
Tarantino wanted to link his 1994 cult hit Pulp Fiction to his 2007 exploitation horror film, which he connected by recycling a line. Death Proof’s Kim Mathis, played by Tracie Thoms, reveals she needs to relieve herself to which her friends Lee and Abernathy reply “that’s a little more information then we needed to know.”
This line directly references Mia’s conversation with Vincent Vega in Pulp, in which he brashly tells her nature is calling, to which she responds “that’s a little bit more information than I needed, Vince, but go right ahead.” Perhaps Tarantino is drawing parallels to his female protagonists, their need for decorum and their naivety…
Tarantino Leaves Clues to His Surprising Hobby
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Django Unchained as the unpredictable and nefarious Calvin Candie was one hell of a memorable performance. And his “Candyland” estate is ever more noteworthy considering the origins of its nickname. It likely refers to the classic board game of the same name, as it is long understood that Tarantino has a fondness for the pastime!
His unexpected interest is apparent in Pulp Fiction too, with games such as Operation and Life making brief appearances. As a collector of board games, it’s not surprising that Tarantino includes a personal homage to his surprising passion in his films which, in his words, he’s “been collecting for years.”
I’ve Seen That List Before…
We’re sure it won’t take much to recall the scene where Beatrice writes out her death list in Kill Bill. What you might not be aware of is the reference it makes to Sergio Corrbuci’s 1968 western film The Mercenary, in which Franco Nero creates a list that looks suspiciously similar…
Tarantino appears to have borrowed the style of handwriting, the five-point-list, as well as the graduation in the size of the lettering as the list increases, adding urgency and suspense. With his well-documented love of spaghetti western cinema, its clear Tarantino pays tribute to Corrbuci’s classic.
Pay Attention to the Details
If this list has taught you anything, it’s that everything in Tarantino’s films means something! The duck ornament on the hood of Stuntman Mike’s “death proof” car is in reference to the truck that features in Sam Peckinpah’s 1978 film Convoy, which is owned by the character Rubber Duck.
Similarly, Tarantino references 1968’s Bullitt and 1974’s Dirty Mary Crazy Larry films through the license plate numbers featured in Death Proof – JJZ-109 and 938-DAN. We think its touching to see him pay tributes to the long list of cinema that inspired him!
It’s Toe-tally True
While it’s not so clear about the context, Tarantino has a particular fascination with feet… specifically women’s feet. They are frequently zoomed in on, barefooted or even licked. This was the case in a particular Death Proof scene. We apologize if you can’t watch his films the same way ever again!
Remember the foot close up in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 where Beatrix keeps uttering “wiggle your big toe” in the van? Or the various feet out of car windows in Death Proof? Or Bridget Fonda’s toe close-up in Jackie Brown? Or Mia dancing barefoot in Pulp Fiction? But like we said, who knows why or in which context they keep featuring…