Quentin Tarantino’s ‘10 films’ rule is pointless – and will ultimately damage his legacy

Once upon a time in southern France: Quentin Tarantino at the Cannes Film Festival in 2023 (Getty)
Once upon a time in southern France: Quentin Tarantino at the Cannes Film Festival in 2023 (Getty)

The Movie Critic is no more. The long-teased final film from Quentin Tarantino has been abandoned, according to Deadline, sending the pulp savant back to the proverbial drawing board.

The project was said to revolve around a reviewer of porn films in the 1970s, and was rumoured to star Brad Pitt as well as Paul Walter Hauser, the brilliant lead in Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell. Now, The Movie Critic seemingly joins Tarantino’s R-rated Star Trek film in the graveyard of cinema’s what-might-have-beens. Maybe The Movie Critic would have been a disaster. But wouldn’t it have been nice to find out?

For many years, Tarantino has insisted that he will retire after his 10th film, or at the age of 60. He is currently 61, and has so far directed nine films, if we count the two Kill Bills as one (which he seems to be doing). This vow was seemingly made as an attempt to preserve the integrity of his own oeuvre. “Directors don’t get better as they get older,” he told Playboy in 2012. “Usually the worst films in their filmography are those last four at the end ... I don’t want that bad, out-of-touch comedy in my filmography.”

Now, notwithstanding the matter of whether he’ll actually go through with the retirement – an eventual change of heart seems about as plausible as the alternative (an indulgent twilight career as a novelist and podcaster) – there’s something dispiriting about Tarantino’s self-imposed creative curfew. In trying to curate his own legacy, he may well end up souring it.

The first and most glaring issue with Tarantino’s gambit: it simply isn’t the case that filmmakers get worse in old age. While this may broadly hold true with great musicians, and a good amount of the time with novelists, the current filmmaking scene is teeming with directors making some of their best work in their eighth, ninth, and even, in the case of American documentarian Frederick Wiseman, 10th decades.

Martin Scorsese; Steven Spielberg; Hayao Miyazaki; Claire Denis; Pedro Almodovar; David Lynch – there are too many examples to list. If Stanley Kubrick had decided to retire at 60, we wouldn’t have got Eyes Wide Shut; if Akira Kurosawa had done it, there would be no Ran.

Tarantino himself is living proof that filmmakers do not simply slide into creative oblivion as soon as the crow’s feet set in: 2019’s Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood was arguably the best and most accomplished film he’s ever made. (Ironically, it would have made the perfect tonal capper for his career; whatever he makes next will inevitably have the whiff of afterthought.)

To be clear: no one should ever be under any obligation to make art they don’t want to make. If he wants to quit, he can quit! But make no mistake, Tarantino’s legacy will be the lesser for it – and, while his violent, provocative sensibility has won him no shortage of detractors over the years, it’s hard to dispute that cinema will be worse off when it finally drops out of the Quentin Tarantino business.

There are almost no filmmakers out there who are able to make adult-rated films on Tarantino-sized budgets (in the $100m/£80m range), with the kind of A-list actors Tarantino attracts, all while maintaining the kind of creative autonomy he has been afforded. When he retires, it’s not the case that the opportunities will simply be passed on to his successor. The money will go elsewhere, into safer bets, or smaller projects.

Miyazaki, the animation genius behind Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, is an interesting counterweight – a filmmaker who has vowed to retire several times, only to be lured back again and again. Each time, the decision has been fully vindicated: his last two features, The Wind Rises and The Boy and the Heron, are among the very best he’s done.

It’s telling, perhaps, that news of The Movie Critic’s demise comes amid reports that Spielberg, 77, has settled on a new project – a UFO film, his 36th feature. Scorsese, 81, is following last year’s triumphant Killers of the Flower Moon with two back-to-back projects: one about the life of Jesus, the other a Frank Sinatra biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio. If both come to fruition, it would take Scorsese’s tally to 28 narrative films as well as 17 feature-length documentaries.

In the shadow of these bodies of work, Tarantino’s 10-film posturing seems rather pointless. It’s true that you should always leave ’em wanting more. But you can’t help but suspect he’ll end up wanting more, too.