They're gun-toting, sword-wielding femme fatales with impeccable style and a penchant for violence. Quentin Tarantino's treatment of women in cinema has long been the cause of feminist debate; are his strong, feisty and flawed female leads to be celebrated or is he responsible for fetishizing violence against women, in particular sexual violence?
In our opinion these are Tarantino's most iconic female characters. Whatever your thoughts on them, these glamorous, gutsy women - some borderline psychotic, others with unsavoury appetites for drugs and bloodshed - never fail to captivate...
Picture credit: Rex Features, Words: Anna Brech
Stephen: "Then why is you cryin'?"
Broomhilda: "You scaring me."
Stephen: "Why is I'm scarin' you?"
Broomhilda: "Because you're scary."
As a slave subject to the whims of her sadistic master Stephen in the ante-bellum American South, Tarantino's latest female lead Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) suffers more than most in Django Unchained. During the course of the film, she is raped, whipped and humiliated as her husband Django (Jamie Foxx) seeks rescue and revenge. "I wasn’t sure I was the right woman to do it," Washington said. "I knew that emotionally and psychologically it would cost me a great deal. And it was ten times harder than I thought it would be."
"I'll be down in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
Gangster's wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) steals the show as something of a femme fatale in Pulp Fiction, making barefoot dancing sexy for possibly the first time ever. A woman of mystery and irrepresible allure, her stylised cool is shattered in spectacular fashion by her voracious coke habit. Meg Ryan, Daryl Hannah, Joan Cusack, and Michelle Pfeiffer were all approached for the role, but it was Thurman that Tarantino really wanted.
"Any of you f***ing p**** move, and I'll execute every motherf***ing last one of ya!"
Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) helped secure Pulp Fiction's cult status with her brilliantly conflicted café scene at the beginning of the film. Any viewer fooled by the schmaltzy talk soon thinks again as Honey Bunny pulls out a handgun and blithely reels off one of the best one-liners in movie history. Tarantino wrote the part specifically for Plummer to partner her "Pumpkin" (Tim Roth).
"If you gave me a million years to ponder, I would never have guessed that true romance and Detroit would ever go together."
True Romance's ditsy Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) is one of Tarantino's more endearing leads. A sultry call girl who falls for her date (Christian Slater), she narrates her journey to true love - via bloody stand-offs with Mexican drug cartels - in a beguiling and oddly poetic Southern lilt. She's blonde, giggly and girly but never underestimate her power faced with a deadly assassin; she'll end up bloodied and victorious, ever devoted to her man.
"I've flown seven million miles. And I've been waiting on people almost 20 years. The best job I could get after my bust was Cabo Air, which is the worst job you can get in this industry."
As a low-paid flight attendant inadvertently caught between the cops and gun runners, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is an unlikely and underrated heroine in her self-titled movie. She's just struggling to get by and her ferocity to survive takes us by surprise. Calm, humble but quietly determined, Jackie outwits a string of bad-ass gangsters to ultimate triumph, with us cheering her all the way. "Pam is perfect for the role," Tarantino said. "She looks like she can handle anything."
"Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you've lost. They belong to me now."
Revenge is a dish best served cold, as Tarantino's most sadistic lead yet proves in gratuitously bloody detail in the Kill Bill series. The director's favoured muse Uma Thurman takes on the role of The Bride, a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad hell-bent on serving up vengeance with a samurai sword (or whatever implement she can find). It's not an easy journey as Uma later attested; "I get shot in the head, raped, kicked, beaten and sliced by samurai swords. The movie should have been called Kill Uma."
"The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is... I collect your f***ing head. Just like this f***er here."
Queen of the Tokyo underworld O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) is an enemy not to be under-estimated in Kill Bill: Volume 1. As the head of Crazy 88 and Gogo Yubari clans, she is quick to assert her authority, calmly relieving a crime lord of his head when he questions her heritage. Only The Bride (Uma Thurman) can really challenge her, proving, as Liu later said, that "when women do (action), there's something fierce about it."
"You are all going to die. And I want you to look deep into the face of the Jew that is going to do it!"
The self-professed "face of Jewish vengeance" Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) is a delicate, diminutive blonde who is first seen fleeing the scene of a massacre as Nazis slaughter her family at the start of Inglourious Basterds. Three years later, she's out for revenge in suitably gruesome style; she wants to fill a cinema with Nazis and burn it to the ground. She's smart, calculated and wholly single-minded - a one-woman testimony to the power of wrath.
Bridget von Hammersmark
"I know this is a silly question before I ask it, but can you Americans speak any other language besides English?"
As a glamorous Nazi film star secretly working for the Allies, Bridget von Hammersmark's (Diane Kruger) role in Inglourious Basterds is peripheral but it sums up everything that is great about a classic Tarantino lead. She's smart, seductive, fearless and very handy with a gun. Her screen siren status was inspired by real life actresses of that period, including Leni Refenshtal and Marlene Dietrich.
"Quentin's encyclopaedic, passionate, electrifying. We just clicked creatively."
No examination of Tarantino's lead stars can go without mention of Sally Menke, his right-hand woman who edited every one of his films up to her sad death in September 2010. The two struck up an intense, trusting relationship right from the start when he approached her to cut Reservoir Dogs in 1992. "I write by myself but when it comes to the editing, I write with Sally," Tarantino once said of his number one conspirator. "It's the true epitome, I guess, of a collaboration because I don't remember what was her idea, what was my idea. We're just right there together."