Quentin Tarantino on likeable heroes (How is he dead wrong?)

Quentin Tarantino was a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast. They covered many subjects. One of them was his belief that the ’80s was one of the worst decades for film.

Quentin Tarantino

Now, as a child who grew up on Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Robocop, Terminator, Return of the Jedi, Die Hard, and Predator, to name a few, I found it hard to agree with him.

For Quentin Tarantino, his big issue was he felt the 1980s was a period of self-imposed political correctness, a self-made blacklist like the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.

(Although if you want to get into the weeds of it, the 1950s was a self-imposed blacklist too. No Hollywood player ever sat in front of Senator Joe McCarthy. In fact, the clue is in the title, HUAC stood for House Un-American Activities Committee. What the heck is a senator doing in the house of representatives? The Hollywood blacklist was written by the upper echelons of the American Communist Party. This is a long way to say that not only is Goodnight and Good Luck a bad film it’s full of shit too. Up yer hole with a big jam roll Mr Clooney.)

Back to the point

Anyway, I got sidetracked there. Tarantino’s main problem with that neon-drenched decade’s films was that it felt like a pendulum swing from the 70s when everything was downbeat, and everyone was an antihero. He mentions a couple of films from the decade as standing out, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark and Pedro Almodovar’s Matador.

Another problem Tarantino had with films from the 80s is all the heroes had to be likeable.

Now, when I’m working with writers, they always push back against the likeable hero. Interestingly, Tarantino is doing the same.

“Not all heroes have to be likeable.”

You keep telling me that, and now it feels like Quentin Tarantino has piled onto that too.

Here’s the thing, Tarantino does not practice what he preaches. In all his films, his heroes are to a certain degree likeable. Now they may not be rescuing a cat from a tree, but it’s there.

Let’s go through each of his films, shall we?

Quentin Tarantino Movies

In Reservoir Dogs, Mr White’s treatment and compassion towards Mr Orange make him likeable.

In Pulp Fiction, we get the hang out with Jules Winfield and Vic Vega. We listen to them as they talk about cheeseburgers and foot rubs. We get an idea of their characters. As making them likeable goes, this is probably the weakest, but still, you like them.

In Jackie Brown, she doesn’t rat out Ordell to the cops when she gets stopped at the airport and when she gets caught out for having the cocaine, we like her a bit more.

In Kill Bill, when we start off, the Bride is bloody beaten and pregnant. To top it off, she gets a bullet in her head. We want the Bride to get sweet bloody revenge. So we’re on her side from the jump.


Death Proof is similar to Pulp Fiction in that we hang out with the main heroes and get a feeling of them through their interplay.

Inglorious Basterds with Shosanna’s whole family are massacred like the Bride. We want to see her win.

In Django Unchained, we like Django because he starts off as a slave, and we want to see him free. We like King Schultz because he treats Django with respect, shoots only when threatened and gives the other slaves everything they need to escape to freedom.

In Hateful Eight, Samuel Jackson’s character is likeable because he has a letter from Abraham Lincoln. We all like honest Abe, so someone he corresponded with must be a good person, right? By the time we find out the letter is fake, we already like him.

In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Rick Dalton spends the first scene get ground down and told about how much of a has-been he is. When he cries in the car park, we like Cliff Booth for the care and attention of his friend/boss.


Now I’m not writing this to own Quentin Tarantino or disagree with him. No, the reason is that it feels like some confuse “likeable” with “nice”. I am not a fan of nice heroes. They come across as duplicitous and weak. In fact, nice people, in general, should not be trusted.

You can have antiheroes, but you have to make them likeable, and you can do that by either have everyone around them be worse, have them kicked while they’re down or have them go out of their way to be good.

Tarantino is right about a lot of things, but here he gets it wrong. You have to get the audience on your hero’s side.


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