When Quentin Tarantino began writing his 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction, there were no major indications that it would become the critically acclaimed hit that it did. In 1992, a then 30-year-old Tarantino was fresh off the success of his film Reservoir Dogs and working on the screenplay about criminals day-to-day lives in a grungy, violent Los Angeles. It was nearly illegible, written in several school notebooks in his own (reportedly nigh illegible) handwriting, and over the course of many long days and nights, Tarantino and his typist, Linda Chen, worked to pull it all together. The film’s producer, TriStar Pictures, had already invested $900,000 in the project, and were continually pressuring Tarantino to deliver the script, which by that time was already late. However, it turned out to be well worth the wait, and in May of 1993, Tarantino delivered a screenplay of 159 pages with the words “MAY 1993 LAST DRAFT” emblazoned on the cover.
When the film hit theaters a year later, it electrified an industry that had long had a craving for something as gritty and out there as Pulp Fiction. A mere seven years earlier, Tarantino had been just another starving artist in Hollywood, desperately sending out scripts that rarely saw so much as a glance from anyone influential enough to get them published. Common critiques of his work included complaints like “too violent” and “too vulgar”. However, he was purportedly a master of movie trivia at the LA video store where he worked, and it was there some of the ideas that would make up the basis for Pulp Fiction formed. The rest came from the 1963 anthology-horror film Black Sabbath, along with collaboration with director Roger Avary. The film was put on hold when Tarantino became embroiled in writing Reservoir Dogs, but the ideas never quite went away, and the success of his first film gave him enough director credibility to eventually create what is considered by many to be his greatest work. He wanted to do something using the tropes of popular crime movies; the boxer paid to through the match, the criminal that has to take out his bosses’ wife but not touch her, and the hitmen sent to kill and collect. The kind of stories and characters one would see in flimsy paperback ‘pulp fiction’ crime novels. He wanted to take these tropes and see how they would fare in a more realistic setting, and he wanted to see just how they would go awry.
Pulp Fiction breathed life into the industry in more ways than one. During that time, John Travolta was on a heavy career downswing, but his role as the heroin addicted hit man Vincent Vega revitalized his career. It also brought Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman into the spotlight like never before. The film ended up costing a paltry sum of $8.5 million, and most of that went into paying the actors. When the time came to hand out awards, Pulp Fiction netted itself a 1994 Palm D’Or at the Canne Film Festival, and was nominated for seven academy awards, including best picture and best director for Tarantino himself. Unfortunately, the picture was competing with critical darling Forest Gump, and only walked away with Best Original Screenplay.
When all was said and done, Pulp Fiction had made $213.9 million at the box office. Despite some losses on Oscar Night, Pulp fiction received and continues to receive rave reviews from critics. The film holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metascore of 94 on Metacritic. The Los Angeles Times was one of the few major news outlets to publish a negative review of the movie, though it did receive criticism over its violent content from a number of smaller outlets. The film was credited with changing the indie movie scene, and establishing Miramax as an indie giant, shattering expectations for what films with such small budgets could achieve.