Like John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino is partial to casting stars and not-quite-stars of previous decades in his films, giving them an agreeably iconic treatment and their best roles in years. Like Robert Altman he has a gift for casting stars and not-quite-stars of the present and either completely transforming them or throwing their semi-established personas into sharp focus, providing them with their starmaking roles. Sometimes, as with John Travolta and Steve Buscemi, it becomes a pivotal moment in the actor's career, sometimes, uhm, less so.
Rosanna Arquette / Jody in Pulp Fiction
Pre-Tarantino: Rising star of the early and mid 1980s. Her career got sidetracked after she co-starred with Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Since then has been appearing in supporting roles and minor productions.
Post-Tarantino: More of the same, although there has been an improvement in the quality of her output.
Edward Bunker / Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs
Pre-Tarantino: Convicted fellon, screenwriter and novelist. Author of No Beast So Fierce, which was turned into the movie Straight Time. Appeared in small, sometimes non-speaking, roles since the late 1970s.
Post-Tarantino: Continues to appear in bit parts here and there. In 2000 adapted his novel Animal Factory for the screen, with his Reservoir Dogs co-star Steve Buscemi as director.
Steve Buscemi / Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs (also: Pulp Fiction)
Pre-Tarantino: Character actor in independent films, regular of the Coen Brothers.
Post-Tarantino: Supporting parts in larger Hollywood productions, starring roles in indies, also a writer/director.
David Carradine / Bill in Kill Bill
Pre-Tarantino: Actor since the 1960s, most famous for 1970s TV series Kung Fu, which was referenced in Pulp Fiction. Later appeared in mostly low-budget fare and a sequel to Kung Fu.
Sonny Chiba / Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill
Pre-Tarantino: Japanese action star of the Street Fighter movies of the mid 1970s. Was referenced by name in True Romance. The first Street Fighter was also briefly shown in the movie.
Robert Forster / Max Cherry in Jackie Brown
Pre-Tarantino: Film actor since the late 1960s, spent most of the 1970s in TV series Banyon and Nakia as well as negligible supporting roles. From the early 1980s became a staple in low-budget crime/action/horror movies, several of them starring Fred Williamson (see below).
Post-Tarantino: Received his first and only Academy Award nomination for Jackie Brown, losing to Robin Williams. Had several minor roles in high-profile movies as well as larger, and critically acclaimed, roles in smaller movies, specifically 2000's Diamond Men.
Pam Grier / Jackie Brown in Jackie Brown
Pre-Tarantino: Blaxploitation icon of the early and mid 1970s, reduced to mostly minor roles for most of the 1980s and 1990s.
Post-Tarantino: Nominated for several awards for her performance in Jackie Brown, including her first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination (lost to Helen Hunt). Had a leading role in TV series Linc's, which ran for two seasons (1998-2000), but otherwise failed to take advantage of the momentum.
Sid Haig / Judge in Jackie Brown
Pre-Tarantino: Staple character actor in blaxploitation and b-movies since the early 1960s, several of them starring Pam Grier (see above).
Post-Tarantino: Appeared in only one movie, Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses.
Daryl Hannah / Elle Driver in Kill Bill
Underrated actress since the late 1970s whose stardom never quite materialized. Had same moderate success in the mid 1980s. Hannah has been stuck in indie/TV/b-movie inferno for over a decade.
Samuel L. Jackson / Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction (also: Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown, Kill Bill)
Pre-Tarantino: Film actor since the early 1970s, usually restricted to small supporting roles. Regular actor of Spike Lee starting with School Daze and most prominently featured in Jungle Fever. Graduated to starring roles before Pulp Fiction, but mostly in commercially unsuccessful films.
Post-Tarantino: Received his first and only Academy Award nomination (losing to Martin Landau) and the first of four Golden Globe nominations. Went on to become one of the most sought after actors of the rest of the 1990s and the 2000s, starting at the ripe age of 45.
Harvey Keitel / Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs (also: Winston Wolfe in Pulp Fiction, Jacob Fuller in From Dusk Till Dawn)
Pre-Tarantino: One of the most promising young actors of the 1970s Keitel wasted away his promise on high-quality but obscure and uncommercial films in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He spent practically all of the 1980s in a career slump and was ripe for a comeback by the early 1990s. Keitel was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Bugsy in 1991, but it was his iconic leading role in Reservoir Dogs that made Hollywood take notice again.
Post-Tarantino: Became one of the patron saints of the American indie movement and had high-profile roles in The Piano, Holy Smoke, U-571, etc.
Michael Madsen / Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs (also: Budd in Kill Bill, Babe Buchinksy in Inglorious Bastards)
Pre-Tarantino: Character actor since the early 1980s, including a prominent role in Thelma & Louise.
Post-Tarantino: Had his most recognizable role in Reservoir Dogs and went on to a solid if unspectacular career mostly in crime and exploitation movies, conspicuously including Free Willy.
Michael Parks / Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in From Dusk Till Dawn
Pre-Tarantino: Star of cult TV series Then Came Bronson in 1969-1970 that spent the next 30 years doing TV movies and cheap thriller/action flicks.
Post-Tarantino: Slightly more high-profile films, including a larger role in From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter.
Amanda Plummer / Honey Bunny in Pulp Fiction
Pre-Tarantino: Character actress since the early 1980s with a penchant for offbeat movies and roles.
Post-Tarantino: More of the same.
Ving Rhames / Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction
Pre-Tarantino: Talented but unacclaimed character actor from the mid 1980s.
Post-Tarantino: One of the most sought after supporting actors of the rest of the 1990s and 2000s. Won a Golden Globe and was nominated for a myriad of awards, all of them post-1997.
John Saxon / FBI Agent Stanley Chase in From Dusk Till Dawn
Pre-Tarantino: B-movie icon since the 1950s who had some success in supporting roles in mainstream movies.
Post-Tarantino: More of the same.
Bo Svenson / The Preacher in Kill Bill (also: Inglorious Bastards)
Pre-Tarantino: Swedish-born actor in American TV and movies since the late 1960s. Replaced Joe Don Baker in the Walking Tall series of exploitation movies, and appeared in the TV series, as well as varios low-budget trash from the 1970s to the 1990s. Had starring role in the original 1977 version of Inglorious Bastards.
Uma Thurman / Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction (also: The Bride in Kill Bill)
Pre-Tarantino: Made a strong impression in the late 1980s, while still in her teens, but failed to get her hands on appropriate roles.
Post-Tarantino: Received her only Academy Award nomination and her first Golden Globe nomination for Pulp Fiction (lost both to Dianne Wiest, later won Golden Globe for Hysterical Blindness). On the other hand made poor choices in movie roles and received several Razzie nominations (although her first one was pre-Tarantino) and had increasingly fewer film appearances, especially since her marriage to Ethan Hawke. As of this writing doing a comeback of sorts.
Lawrence Tierney / Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs
Pre-Tarantino: Legendary film noir actor of the 1940s who ruined his own career through alcohol and violent behavior. Had increasingly fewer roles until the early 1980s when he made a minor comeback as a recurring character on Hill Street Blues at age 60. Barry Gifford's non-fiction book The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Movies is named after one of Tierney's most famous roles in 1947's The Devil Thumbs a Ride.
Post-Tarantino: Several minor roles throughout the 1990s, some of them outright cameos. Died in February 2002 at age 82.
John Travolta / Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction
Pre-Tarantino: Huge box office star in the late 1970s with Saturday Night Fever and Grease, but a string of flops in the early 1980s (most prominently Blow Out) triggered a career slump that lasted for more than a decade. Meanwhile Travolta found work in disposable garbage and/or the Look Who's Talking franchise, even being nominated for a Razzie award for Worst Actor of the Decade in 1990.
Post-Tarantino: After being cast as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction Travolta regained his stardom in the mid 1990s and had an impressive series of hits. Was nominated for an Academy Award for his leading role in Pulp Fiction, his first since Saturday Night Fever. As of this writing (May 2003) none of his last five movies has shown a profit, so the tide might be turning.
Christopher Walken / Capt. Koons in Pulp Fiction
Pre-Tarantino: Had some early success in the 1970s and won an Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for The Deer Hunter in 1979. After Heaven's Gate bombed at the box-office Walken's career derailed and his movie roles became few and far between for the rest of the 1980s. Made a comeback of sorts in the early 1990s, before appearing in Pulp Fiction.
Post-Tarantino: Had close to fifty film and TV roles since 1994, including some starring roles in independent films and an Academy Award nomination for his role in Catch Me If You Can (lost to Chris Cooper).
Fred Williamson / Frost in From Dusk Till Dawn
Pre-Tarantino: Football player, broke into movies with a supporting role in Robert Altman's MASH. Went on to star in dozens of blaxploitation and other action b-movies, some of them self-produced and/or self-directed.
Post-Tarantino: More of the same.
Bruce Willis / Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction
Pre-Tarantino: Had a series of flops circa 1991-1994, approximately between his two Die Hard sequels. Accepted his role in Pulp Fiction for $800,000, a fraction of his usual fee.
Post-Tarantino: Received favorable notices for his role, had a lot of commercial success in the mid and late 1990s and has been much more favorable to appearing in uncommercial or low-budget productions ever since.