4. Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs
Harvey Keitel was a notable actor in the 1970s after starring in Scorsese films such as “Taxi Driver” and “Mean Streets”, but by the time he had been replaced in “Apocalypse Now” by Martin Sheen, he had trouble finding a project that both matched his talent and deserved his experience.
After co-starring in some big movies leading up to “Reservoir Dogs” such as “Bugsy” and “Thelma & Louise”, it may have seemed that he was lending a hand to Tarantino rather than the other way around, but that isn’t the case at all.
Appearing in big movies doesn’t mean anything unless the actor is given the chance to prove themselves, and “Reservoir Dogs” helped do just that for Keitel. In “Reservoir Dogs”, he was able to show his worth, his ability, and his inevitable permanence as a Hollywood icon.
After “Reservoir Dogs”, he went on to appear in “Pulp Fiction” and “From Dusk Till Dawn” and, years later, would appear in two Wes Anderson movies and also star in Paolo Sorrentino’s film “Youth” which may have been the worst film of 2015, but it at least has a great cast.
3. Kurt Russell in Death Proof and The Hateful Eight
There are some who may say that it was “The Hateful Eight” that served as Kurt Russell’s comeback but, in reality, it’s “Death Proof” that truly brought about the revival of his career.
Russell began as a 1980’s Zac Efron, starring in feel-good, goofy Disney movies such as “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes”, a movie in which Russell plays a computer, and “The Barefoot Executive”, a film about a beer-drinking monkey that can predict television ratings. He went on to star in four John Carpenter films, Escape from New York, The Thing, and Escape from L.A., and Big Trouble in Little China and then in Garry Marshall’s slapstick romantic comedy Overboard.
Up until 2007, he had played parts from the teenage heartthrob, to the rugged hero, to the goofy yet loveable romantic lead, so there was only one role left for Russell: the villain. Russell stars in “Death Proof” as the hilariously maniacal serial killer with an indestructible car.
“Death Proof” has everything one should expect from a Tarantino film: a hilarious take on violence, interesting dialogue, and gripping action sequences, and the role of Stuntman Mike was practically made for Russell. “Death Proof”, and eventually “The Hateful Eight”, would help make him relevant for newer audiences. Not only is he starring in “Furious 7”, but he is also set to appear in “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” in 2017.
2. Pam Grier in Jackie Brown
“Jackie Brown” is one of the most underrated Tarantino films (besides maybe “Death Proof”), and it also has one of the greatest casts of all of his movies. In the 70s, Pam Grier was the queen of the blaxploitation genre, starring in films such as “Foxy Brown” and “Coffy” (the trailers for these two movies are often played before the feature presentation at Tarantino’s theater The New Beverly in Los Angeles).
Tarantino wanted to cast Grier in his film because her previous films had inspired him and he was a big fan. Grier once said that when she met Tarantino in his office to meet about her role in “Jackie Brown”, his walls were covered in posters for her old movies.
Tarantino had originally wanted to cast Grier in “Pulp Fiction” as Jody, but the role went to Rosanna Arquette. Regardless, Tarantino had a bigger idea for her, and that would be the lead to his follow-up film to his massive hit “Pulp Fiction”: “Jackie Brown”. Though she appeared in films like “Escape from L.A.” and “Mars Attacks!”,
“Jackie Brown” was a role that was tailor-made for her. At 48 years old, she was on no one’s radar for a lead role, expect Tarantino, of course. He was convinced that she would win an Oscar for her role as Jackie Brown, but she was never even nominated.
Of course, it wasn’t her performance that seemed to be at fault for the fact that she wasn’t nominated, and unfortunately, the Academy hasn’t changed much over the years. Grier went on to appear in other films over the next few years, but she never felt she experienced a lull through the fluctuation of her stardom. She stated that sometimes she just couldn’t find a project she liked, but she never thought of that as a lull.
1. John Travolta in Pulp Fiction
As far as revived careers go, John Travolta may be the poster child. By the time he appeared in “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, his career had already been somewhat revived once by Brian De Palma.
After starring in “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977 and then “Grease” in 1978, De Palma saw talent in Travolta and cast him as the lead in one of his underrated cult classics “Blow Out” in 1981; he also gave him a small part in “Carrie” before he had made it big with “Grease”. “Blow Out” may have been a box office failure, but it gave Travolta the chance to show his range.
It should be no surprise that Tarantino was a big fan of De Palma, and it just so happened that the “Reservoir Dogs” director had a habit of casting actors in his own movies after they had previously starred in some of his favorite films.
Tarantino saw Travolta’s talent in “Blow Out” and was inspired to cast him in “Pulp Fiction”, though the actor was considered a washed-up star by the time the 90s rolled around. Tarantino’s risk paid off when “Pulp Fiction” became a massive hit and launched Travolta back into stardom.
After “Pulp Fiction”, he starred in more big movies like “Get Shorty”, “Face/Off”, and “Broken Arrow”. After the 90s were over, Travolta had become a Hollywood has-been yet again, and would go on to star in some almost impossibly awful films. Maybe another comeback is in order. Third time’s a charm?
Author Bio: Alyssa Merwin is a writer, movie-lover, and amateur film critic from Los Angeles. She loves science-fiction, drama, and horror films but she is obsessed with the dark shadows, dangerous femme fatales, and cigarette-smoking, fedora-wearing leading men of film noir. If she could go back in time to any point in history, it would be the glamorous award ceremony for the 12th Academy Awards in 1940. You can find her work at alyssamerwin.com.