When Pulp Fiction opened in theaters 20 years ago today, the mainstream moviegoing audience was introduced to a dynamic new Hollywood talent. Quentin Tarantino was a 31-year-old hipster whose formal film education never rose much higher than working as a clerk in a Manhattan Beach video store. A walking encyclopedia of film history who fetishized some of the more obscure genres, Tarantino had a gift for dialog and his own visual toolbox that expanded the language of cinematic storytelling. Pulp Fiction was the culmination of a two-year stretch where the director went from Nobody to Wunderkind, beginning with the Sundance premiere of Reservoir Dogs in 1992. That splashy debut established Tarantino’s bonafides with actors, critics, and insiders, and the idea of John Travolta dropping by his house to play board games and talk shop suddenly became feasible. His scripts for True Romance and Natural Born Killers made it to the screen—though not in the form he envisioned—but for a guy who most Americans still didn’t know, he had already earned an artistic reputation: He was cool.
Pulp Fiction was the culmination of all that creative build-up and industry goodwill. Tarantino attracted an amazing ensemble cast, one that looks even better in hindsight, in part because of what Pulp did for each of their respective careers, from Samuel L. Jackson to John Travolta to Uma Thurman. The film premiered at Cannes in the spring and was pronounced an instant classic. So even before it opened on Oct. 14 to win the weekend box office, Hollywood executives were barking into phones, “Get me the next Pulp Fiction!” or “Rewrite the single-dad as a samurai hitman!” and “Make sure there’s a snazzy soundtrack and at least one hipster dance sequence!”
Unfortunately, simply making something Tarantino-esque wasn’t the same because it lacked that certain thing… Tarantino. And more often than not, trying to imitate the new master’s superficial tics—without the elaborate and sturdy scripts that were also his trademark—just exposed a film and its director’s fatal flaws. But that didn’t stop studios from trying. Pulp Fiction sent ripples across Hollywood, and in the five years that followed, there were dozens of wannabes and knockoffs. Many were shameless ripoffs, some were decent imitations, and a few actually stand on their own merit. READ FULL STORY