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'Pulp Fiction,' A to Z

Tarantino's tale of chatty hit man criminals turns 20 today, and we're celebrating with a look at the film from Adrenaline to Zed

John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in 'Pulp Fiction.'
Mirimax Films/Courtesy Everett Collection
May 21, 2014 12:00 PM ET

Twenty years ago today, Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein unveiled the filmmaker’s sophomore movie — an ambitious anthology of crime stories, all interconnected and metatextualized — at a late Saturday night screening at the Cannes Film Festival. A little over three hours later, as the crowd staggered out of the Palais des Festivals, they knew they had an audience favorite on their hands. Soon, they would be able to add Palme d’Or winner, Best Picture Oscar nominee, the first indie film to break the $100 million mark, a gamechanger and a modern classic to the list.

Surf Music and Seventies Soul: The Songs of 'Pulp Fiction'

Rather than sending Pulp Fiction some fine china or a platinum band for its 20th anniversary gift, we’ve decided to do something a little different: an A-to-Z tour of the movie’s best-known moments, key players, inside-joke flotsam and jetsam, and more. It’s far from comprehensive, but like a Big Kahuna Burger for breakfast, we’re convinced this alphabetical breakdown makes for a tasty meal.

A: Adrenaline Used to revive Mia via intracardiac injection when she snorts a snoot full of Vincent’s heroin, mistaking it for cocaine. It’s also what’s coursing your body as you watch this movie, notably during the scene in question. (See also syringe.)

Amsterdam Dutch capital of the Netherlands where Vincent has just returned from; renowned for its liberal attitude toward drug use and “hash bars” where you can spark up to your heart — and lungs’ — content. (Mia Wallace has been known to chill out there occasionally as well.) Like much of Europe, the city is full of “little things” that make it different from America. (See also Royale With Cheese.)

Roger Avary Underrated director, screenwriter and a friend of Tarantino’s from their Video Archives days. The two collaborated on the screenplay for Pulp Fiction while Tarantino was holed up in Amsterdam, writing the script. Avary’s own script for a film called Pandemonium Reigns, in which a boxer double-crosses a gangster and tries to retrieve a beloved watch, formed the backbone of the “Gold Watch” chapter; Tarantino bought the script and incorporated elements into the movie, earning Avary a “Story by” instead of  “Written by” co-credit. This credit later became the source of friction and a temporary falling out between the two. Taking the stage with Tarantino to accept the 1994 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Avary thanked his wife and then abruptly excused himself to go pee. Also directed Killing Zoe, a heist film produced by Tarantino.

B: Bad Motherfucker The phrase that graces Jules’ wallet — an accurate description of the man who owns it.

Big Brain Something you should really check out on Brett, a young man who apparently wasn’t using said large cerebrum when he got involved in a shady — but good-intentioned — deal with Marsellus Wallace. (See also briefcase.

Blueberry Pancakes The preferred breakfast of Fabienne when she’s about to go on the lam with her beloved Butch. (See also Butch.) Reluctantly, she settled for buttermilk pancakes.

The Bonnie Situation How Jules describes the pickle he and Vincent find themselves in after accidentally blowing the head off of their associate, Marvin. Knowing that driving around in a blood- and brain-splattered car is not a good idea, they stop by Jules’ friend Jimmy’s house in Toluca Lake to figure out a plan of action. Jimmy — played by the director — wants them out of the house before his wife Bonnie, a registered nurse working the night shift, comes home and divorces him. (He does not want to get divorced.) Thankfully, the Wolf is on the way. (See also Winston the Wolf.)

Briefcase The MacGuffin that fuels several chapters of Pulp Fiction; little is known about the contents of this briefcase except that you get to it via a 666 lock-combination; it produces an unearthly glow when opened; it’s “beautiful”; and Marsellus wants it. The glowing aspect was borrowed from “the Great Whatsit” used in Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Several theories have sprouted over the years as to what is in there: the Holy Grail, Marsellus’ soul, the original ending of The Magnificent Ambersons, a guide to every single movie reference Tarantino makes in the movie, etc. Tarantino has yet to confirm any of these guesstimations. 

Butch Having met Tarantino at a BBQ through Harvey Keitel, avowed Reservoir Dogs superfan Bruce Willis let the hot young director know that he’d be up for playing any part in Tarantino’s new film, especially since the Die Hard star knew the script was dynamite. The result was Butch Coolidge, Willis’ boxer who takes on a so-so opponent in the ring (if his fellow pugilist was a better fighter, maybe he’d still be breathing) an unforgiving gangster kingpin, and the two biggest hillbilly sodomy enthusiasts ever to run a pawn shop. (See also pawn shop.) The casting was mutually beneficial: Willis’ participation allowed Miramax to presell foreign rights to the film, and the role helped resuscitate the star’s career. No offense to John McClane, David Dunn or David Addison Jr., but Butch may be the movie star’s single best performance to date.  

C: Captain Koons A Vietnam veteran who spent five years with Butch Coolidge’s dad in a Viet Cong P.O.W. camp. Having promised he’d pass along a family heirloom — a wristwatch — to Major Coolidge’s son if the major didn’t make it home, Koons personally delivers the timepiece to the boy upon his return to the States. He also delivers one of the film’s funniest and most touching monologues, made all the more memorable by Christopher Walken and his singularly offbeat cadence. 

Chevy Malibu Vincent Vega’s ride of choice — as well as Tarantino’s, as it’s his car (purchased with his Natural Born Killers script money) that Vega is driving. The vintage 1964 vehicle was stolen from the set; it was recovered in Oakland in 2013.

Chopper Zed’s ride of choice (see also Zed). Not a motorcycle, though tell that to Fabienne. (See also Fabienne.)

Dick Dale Legendary surf guitarist whose song “Misirlou” plays over the film’s opening credits. The instrumental ditty immediately establishes the movie’s retrofitted idea of cool and reminds you that Tarantino and his music supervisors/consultants had impeccable taste when it came to choosing the sound track. (Though the filmmaker has said that Dale’s tune was a suggestion made by fellow director Allison Anders.) In Jason Bailey’s book on the movie, Tarantino compares the track to a spaghetti Western theme — dig those horns! — and is quoted as saying, “It just says you’re watching an epic…it throws down a gauntlet that the movie now has to live up to.” If you were around in late 1994, you heard this song blasting out of car stereos, hip brunch places and barroom jukeboxes ad infinitum.

Disco The temperature that comes after “warm” and “hot” when you’re searching for something.

Divine Intervention A moment in which a deity and/or deities (God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Sergio Leone) makes his/her/their presence felt by personally interjecting him/her/themselves into the activities of mere mortals. Jules believes one such moment occurs when a gentleman with a “hand cannon” (see also Alexis Arquette) starts blasting, and neither he nor Vincent is harmed. Whether this is due to the properties of whatever is in that briefcase (a popular theory — see also Briefcase) or because the Lord whom Jules keeps referencing (see also Ezkiel 25:17) intervenes is currently unknown. Suffice to say, it’s enough to set the jheri-curled hit man on a righteous, non-murdering-people path. 

Dusty Springfield British singer whose album Dusty in Memphis is a must-own. “Billy Ray was a preacher’s son/And when his daddy would visit, he’d come along….”

E: Esmeralda Villalobos Tarantino saw a 30-minute short film named Curdled that featured Angela Jones as a cleaner similar to Winston the Wolf (see also Winston the Wolf). He was such a fan that he cast Jones and used a variation on the short's character — also named Esmeralda Villalobos — for the cabdriver who drives Butch back to his motel after the fight (see also Butch). Tarantino also executive-produced a 1996 feature-length take on the short. 

Ezekiel 25:17 If you heard this, it meant your ass.

F: Fabienne Butch’s girlfriend, lover of pot bellies and “oral pleasure,” blueberry pancake aficionado and forgetter of sentimentally-valued watches. She’s played by Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros, who was Anaïs Nin in the eroto-lit biopic Henry and June (1990) — co-starring fellow Pulp alumna Uma Thurman. (See also Uma.)

$5 Milkshakes Exquisite but expensive milkshakes served at Jackrabbit Slim’s. (See also Jackrabbit Slim’s.) They’re allegedly pretty fucking good, despite the fact they don’t have bourbon in them or nuthin’, and are said to complement a Durward Kirby burger or a Douglas Sirk steak.

A Flock of Seagulls A popular 1980s New Wave band, fronted by Michael Score — a singer with distinct haircut characterized by a coiff that resembled a waterfall. Also: the nickname of Brett’s similarly drooped-bangs roommate.

Fonzie The nickname of Arthur Fonzerelli and the epitome of cool; also, what everyone in the Hawthorne Grill, especially Yolanda/Honey Bunny, needs to be. (See also Hawthorne Grill and Yolanda.)

Foot Massages A popular intimacy in Tarantino’s world of smooth-talking criminals; it’s what allegedly gets Tony Rocky-Horror thrown out a window (see also Tony Rocky Horror) and what Jules is apparently the master of (he won’t be tickling or nothing). They all mean something, even if one acts like they don’t — which doesn’t mean they’re in the same ballpark as sticking your tongue in the holiest of holies.

Fox Force Five A crack team of foxy female assassins and the name of Mia’s failed pilot. Which is a pity, as we’d totally have watched her rock horrible, vaudeville-era jokes week after week. 

G: Garcon The French word for “boy” and not, as many may have previously surmised, “waiter.”

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