There are three things in this life you can be certain of — death, taxes, and awesome Quentin Tarantino soundtracks. Tarantino is the master of the needle drop and knows how to place an existing song perfectly within a scene. It’s tough to narrow down the best Quentin Tarantino songs in his filmography, but that’s precisely what we did so that you can learn how to incorporate needle drops into your own work.

Watch: How Quentin Tarantino's Music Works

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12. “Hold Tight!” — Death Proof

Car Crash Scene  •  Death Proof

There are many reasons why the best needle drops of all time work so well. One reason is that they can lull the audience into a false sense of security before something outrageous happens.

That’s precisely the case for this scene in Death Proof. Our heroines are driving along listening to a '60s pop song, but little do they know they’re about to have a bad run-in with Stuntman Mike McKay. Tarantino even uses the song to hint at danger ahead by the way it abruptly cuts out halfway through when our perspective changes from the girls to Mike.


11. “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” — The Hateful Eight

End Credits  •  The Hateful Eight

This Roy Orbison track plays at the very end of the film and over the end credits. It’s common for a song to play at the end of a movie, but there’s a real art to choosing a song that sticks with the audience.

While some of the best tracks from Tarantino's best films are used in an ironic way, this song hits the theme directly on the head. It’s one of his most transparent and memorable musical moments because, literally, most people who were in the cabin aren’t coming home.


10. “Little Green Bag” — Reservoir Dogs

Intro  •  Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs became Quentin Tarantino’s calling card, and it set the stage for what we could expect from him going forward. One important feature was his propensity for inserting pop songs into key scenes, and the introduction using “Little Green Bag” is wonderful.

The thieves just finished their breakfasts and are on their way to pull off a big heist. The song encapsulates everything they’re feeling, and they’re ready to get their green bags. They’re oblivious to the bloodshed that’s about to unfold, but hey, it’s been a jolly good time so far.


9. “Django” — Django Unchained

Opening Credits  •  Django Unchained

If there’s one thing Tarantino has mastered, it’s the art of remixing pop culture to suit his needs. That’s on full display in the opening of Django Unchained when we’re introduced to our hero via a song from a 1966 spaghetti western.

Tarantino has said his film is a tribute to Django, and there’s no better way to show that than through song. If you’ve seen the 1966 film, then you know exactly what to expect in terms of themes and violence. 

Here, Tarantino uses a song from the past to inform us of what we can expect for the next couple of hours. Many Quentin Tarantino songs in movies come from other films. It’s done for a greater purpose than just showing off his film knowledge. It educates and informs the audience.


8. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” — Kill Bill Vol. 1

First Scene  •  Kill Bill Vol. 1

Opening a movie on such a melancholic track is a big risk. In this instance, it pays off because we know precisely what kind of movie we’re in for.

The song works on a literal level because The Bride has literally been beaten down by Bill. The song follows a moment of extreme violence, almost functioning as a eulogy for a funeral we haven’t seen yet. The subtle guitar twang is also reminiscent of what you might hear in a spaghetti western, which is a genre that has influenced many Tarantino films, including this one.

Besides the music in Kill Bill, Tarantino also makes some really interesting choices in sound design. Specifically, how he is able to guide the tone and overall pleasure of watching violent scenes with adjustments on the sound track. Here's a breakdown of how that works.

Tarantino Sound Design  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Tarantino threw everything he had into Kill Bill, music, sound, and seemingly every creative bucket list item he ever had. In addition to being a masterclass in how Tarantino writes dialogue, it’s also a great film to study to learn how to use needle drops.


7. “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” — Pulp Fiction

Mia Dancing  •  Pulp Fiction

This is another great example about how the best Quentin Tarantino songs completely mess with your expectations. Mia and Vincent return to her home as she puts on the Urge Overkill cover of a Neil Diamond song. The song has some pretty sensual lyrics, so we may expect a sultry scene to follow.

But of course, Mia ends up snorting heroin instead of cocaine, sending the scene into a completely different direction than what you were expecting. The song continues to play over her overdose, turning an already great sequence into an iconic one. The duality on display speaks to both Mia’s character and the film as a whole.


6. “Always Is Always Forever” — Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Manson Family  •  Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

It takes a while to realize the underlying menace taking place in the background of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s plot. Tarantino certainly went out of his way to bring the suspense in the Spahn Ranch sequence. But how do you hint at that menace without being so opaque? Having a bunch of young girls sing a song written by Charles Manson will do the trick.

Tarantino’s characters love listening to music. And many of them also love singing along. Having the Manson girls sing a song over what would ordinarily be an innocuous sequence clues the audience into what’s about to come. In many cases, diegetic sound can be more impactful than non-diegetic sound, so when deciding how to include a song in your own film, consider whether it should play over the scene or if a character should sing it.


5. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” — Inglourious Basterds

Shoshanna Prepares  •  Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino isn’t afraid to get a little anachronistic. For example, he uses a David Bowie song from the '80s in a film about World War II. And surprisingly, it works.

It’s a powerful sequence of Shoshanna getting ready to unleash her plan to kill Hitler and a theater full of Nazis. Bowie’s velvety vocals are precisely what the film needs to transition us into the final act of the film.

Unlike “Django,” which at least influenced a great deal of Django Unchained, the movie Cat People really has nothing to do with Inglourious Basterds. It’s just a great song used over a great sequence.


4. “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” — Kill Bill Vol. 1

Arrival of O-Ren Ishii  •  Kill Bill Vol. 1

If there’s any song that defines Quentin Tarantino's style, it’s this one. It hypes us for the final battle about to take place, but it goes beyond just being cool.

It serves as an interesting companion piece to “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” from earlier in the film. If that film showcases The Bride’s humanity and loss, then this song showcases her vicious nature. Other films and TV shows would go on to use this song, but none of them hold a candle to how it was utilized in Kill Bill.


3. “Across 110th Street” — Jackie Brown

Opening Credits  •  Jackie Brown

As we’ve seen in this list, Tarantino loves taking songs from other movies and re-contextualizing them. “Across 110th Street” comes from a 1972 film of the same name, but it’s given new life as we’re introduced to the titular character of Jackie Brown.

With lyrics like “You’ve got to be strong if you want to survive” playing over Jackie, who looks cool, calm, and collected, we feel like we know her before she’s even said a word. From the song to the fact that the sequence borrows heavily from the opening scene of The Graduate, it’s pure cinematic gold.


2. “You Never Can Tell” — Pulp Fiction

Mia and Vincent Dance  •  Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction is arguably Quentin Tarantino’s best film precisely for scenes like this. When the opportunity to compete in a dance contest comes up, Mia jumps up on stage with Vincent. It was also a chance for Tarantino to show appreciation for the music he grew up on, as evidenced in this interview.

Quentin Tarantino Interview  •  Eyes on Cinema

Their dancing styles say so much about their personalities. It also sets the stage for what their relationship will be like for the rest of the film. Mia is easygoing and carefree, exactly the type of person who might just… oh, let’s say, snort someone else’s drugs before knowing what those drugs are.


1. “Stuck in the Middle With You” — Reservoir Dogs

Stuck in the Middle With You  •  Reservoir Dogs

A catchy pop song and a little bit of torture went together surprisingly well to create one of the most iconic moments in all of cinema. Knowing how juxtaposition works, this scene pairs incredibly well with the song choice. And there’s no good reason why it should work. Even in an interview, Tarantino said it just seemed like a natural marriage.

Quentin Tarantino Talks Music  •  The Culture Show

But why does it work? Well, Mr. Blonde is having a pretty good time torturing the cop. Listening to the song puts us in a pretty good mood, too. It’s funny, especially when he proceeds to talk into the severed ear. There’s a level of detached irony making the song stand out and creating a scene you can’t help but remember.


Best needle drops in movie history

Quentin Tarantino has a knack for making iconic film moments through his song choices. But there’s more than one way to use music well in your movie. Take a look at examples from other filmmakers. Along with some free music examples, you may just find the inspiration you need to make your own scenes stand out even more.

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