Unspooling over a handful of days in February and August of 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the director’s love letter to Tinseltown, albeit one inked with a poison pen. Atypical of QT, his latest is a giddy grab bag of pop culture references and playful allusions to Hollywood’s past and potential futures.
While there are dozens of movies specifically referenced in the film (and you’ll find a few of them on this list), there are also several that we’ve included that involve either people who are in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, or that are thematically similar, or share the same locales while exploring complementary conceits and perceptions. While not a definitive listing, it’s a great starting point and there’s bound to be a few surprises for casual Tarantino fans and serious cineastes as well. Enjoy!
10. The Nice Guys (2016)
Set in Los Angeles circa 1977, Shane Black’s neo-noir private eye comedy isn’t just a valentine to the La La Land that used to be, like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Nice Guys is an edgy and artful buddy picture at heart. True, the Nice Guys takes place almost a decade after Tarantino’s film, but it does detail another turning point for the film industry, at that odd time when porn films were peaking and as close to mainstream as they ever were.
Black’s The Nice Guys is as fast-paced as it is funny, with great performances from Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and Angourie Rice, upon whom a fair bit of ink has been spilled hailing her turn as Gosling’s streetsmart daughter. This is most certainly true, but also making a memorable appearance is Margaret Qualley, who also makes a meal of her scenes as a spaced-out hippie in Tarantino’s OUATIH.
So, while Black’s noir-ish riff on LA is an elegiac and nostalgic confection, it shares enough of that grit, grim humor, comedic rapport, and quick wit that it will appeal to fans of both films for many of the same reasons. Recommended.
9. The Wrecking Crew (1968)
The fourth and final film in the spy-fi Matt Helm film series, each featuring “the King of Cool” Dean Martin, director Phil Karlson’s The Wrecking Crew isn’t exactly cubic zirconia comedy, it’s pretty light weight stuff. That said, this particular swinging-spy comedy franchise does have some easy-going attributes that make it a great artifact of the late 60s.
The main draw to The Wrecking Crew is Sharon Tate’s charismatic performance as the bumbling Danish guide and possible top secret British agent Freya Carlson (fun fact: Freya Carson was the inspiration for “Felicity Shagwell” in 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me).
Freya, when not taking some silly pratfalls, does manage to kick some butt (action scenes in the film were choreographed by Bruce Lee, and this is illustrated briefly in a sequence in OUATIH), and while Martin mostly calls in his performance, this film also earns extra cool points for giving Chuck Norris his first ever screen role.
This is the film featured in a couple of scenes in OUATIH when Sharon (Margot Robbie) takes it in as a matinee, having a sweet exchange with a ticket-seller and then a little later, sharing the audience’s laughter and mirth. It’s one of the most euphoric, dreamlike sequences of OUATIH, watching as Robbie’s Sharon watches the real Tate on screen. It’s subtle but effective, and helps to illustrate that Sharon Tate was a real person, full of life and light, and not just a fatality of a hideous crime.
8. The Big Lebowski (1998)
“I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me. You know, that or, His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing,” explains the titular unemployed layabout, in the Coen Brothers’ most idiosyncratic and outright enjoyable shaggy-dog misadventure.
As the Dude in question, Jeff Bridges will be forever identified as the personable pothead, who’s Raymond Chandler-inspired exploration to nowhere (The Big Lebowski rubric is a reference to his 1939 novel “The Big Sleep”) has spawned one of the most fervid fanbases around, and it’s easy to see why.
Sure, on the surface there may not be a lot of obvious interconnections between The Big Lebowski and Tarantino’s OUATIH, but both films share a whimsical narration that unfolds in Los Angeles, where the audience spends a lot of time just hanging out with a wide assortment of people; some close to fame, others on the periphery, and all fascinating to varying degrees.
The eccentric characters that the Dude encounters –– the brilliantly inspired cast includes Steve Buscemi, Flea, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, and many more –– in vignette fashion across L.A. and environs, pay careful homage to film noir conventions, along with the witty repartee, dangerous dealings, and unconventional, almost stream of logic maneuverings, making for a verifiable comedic masterwork.
7. The Great Escape (1963)
The classic jailbreak film from John Sturges, adapted from Paul Brickhill’s 1950 novel wherein he recounts first-hand his true life story of a daring mass escape from Stalag Luft III, a POW camp in Poland during World War II. This thrilling, fact-based account of Allied soldiers escaping their Nazi captors via tunnelling out of their prison is a thrilling cinema classic.
In Tarantino’s OUATIH we are treated to a sequence in which DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton discusses that he was once shortlisted for the lead role in The Great Escape and we even get a glimpse of what The Great Escape might have looked like with Dalton in Steve McQueen’s breakthrough star turn. Additionally, a scene from OUATIH that unfolds at the Playboy Mansion has a cameo by Damian Lewis as McQueen, who plays the part rather spectacularly.
Leading the big deal cast of The Great Escape is of course McQueen as American Captain Virgil Hills and Richard Attenborough as British Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, with other luminaries such as Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Donald, James Garner, David McCallum, Donald Pleasence, and William Russell in this often parodied, spoofed, and highly influential tale of alliance, survival, and tragedy.
6. Short Cuts (1993)
Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, like Tarantino’s OUATIH is a magnificent LA-based ensemble piece, and both films artfully communicate a sense of time and place over a finite but fascinating period.
Short Cuts weaves together a batch of Raymond Carver’s trademark spare and disturbing short stories into an unordinary quagmire of disparate, desperate characters in a precarious and incensing fashion. Bookended between two disasters; aerial spraying during a medfly outbreak and an unsettling earthquake, the film’s impressive cast — some twenty-two principals, including Anne Archer, Bruce Davison, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andie MacDowell, Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Madeleine Stowe, Lili Taylor, Lily Tomlin, Fred Ward, and Tom Waits — under Altman’s twinking, assured direction, never falter.
As with Altman’s and Tarantino’s best work, Short Cuts and OUATIH touch upon many moral issues but do very little moralising. This mixture of sentiment and cynicism, heartbreak and hysterics careens fearlessly into self-reflexive thoroughfares, taking the viewer into the darkest avenues that humanity lurks and leans in.
Short Cuts is an emblematic example of 1990s cinema, and it may be Altman’s greatest work, awash with restless, allusive imagery, insights, and intensity. Short Cuts is a long ride, and an extraordinary wandering of unforgettable art and impact.