Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 American crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino in his feature-length debut. It stars Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Tarantino, and Edward Bunker as diamond thieves whose planned heist of a jewelry store goes terribly wrong. The film depicts the events before and after, but not during, the heist. Kirk Baltz, Randy Brooks, and Steven Wright also play supporting roles. It incorporates many motifs that have become Tarantino's hallmarks: violent crime, pop culture references, profanity, and nonlinear storytelling.
The film is regarded as a classic of independent film and a cult film, and was named "Greatest Independent Film of all Time" by Empire. Although controversial for its depictions of violence and use of profanity, Reservoir Dogs was generally well received, with the cast being praised by many critics. Despite not being heavily promoted during its theatrical run, the film became a modest success in the United States after grossing $2.8 million against its scant budget. It achieved higher popularity after the success of Tarantino's next film, Pulp Fiction (1994). A soundtrack was released featuring songs used in the film, which are mostly from the 1970s.
Eight criminals eat breakfast at a Los Angeles diner. Led by Joe Cabot and his son Nice Guy Eddie, all other criminals use aliases: Mr. Brown, White, Blonde, Blue, Orange, and Pink, respectively. After discussing the Madonna song "Like a Virgin" and arguing over Pink's habit of not tipping, the group leaves the diner to execute a diamond heist.
After the heist, White flees with Orange, who was shot in the stomach by an armed woman while hijacking her car, and is bleeding severely. At one of Joe's warehouses, White and Orange rendezvous with Pink, who believes that the job was a setup, and that the police were waiting for them. White informs him that Brown is dead, Blue and Blonde are missing, and Blonde murdered several innocent civilians during the heist; White is furious that Joe, his old friend, would employ a "psychopath" like Blonde. Having hidden the diamonds nearby, Pink argues with White over getting medical attention for Orange, and the pair end up arguing and draw guns at each other. They stand down when Blonde arrives with a kidnapped policeman, Marvin Nash.
Sometime earlier, Blonde meets with the Cabots, having completed a four-year jail sentence. To reward him for not having given Joe's name to the authorities for a lighter sentence, they offer him a no-show job. Blonde insists that he wants to return to "real work", and they recruit him for the heist.
In the present, White and Pink beat Nash for information. Eddie arrives and orders them to retrieve the stashed diamonds and ditch the getaway vehicles, leaving Blonde in charge of Nash and Orange. Whilst dancing to Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You", Blonde tortures Nash, slashing his face and cutting off his right ear with a straight razor. Blonde then retrieves a gasoline can from his car and douses Nash with gasoline, but before he can ignite it and set Nash on fire, Orange suddenly awakens and shoots Blonde to death, rescuing Nash. Orange then reveals to Nash that he is an undercover police officer and the police will arrive shortly.
Earlier, Orange, whose real name is Freddy, uses an elaborate tale of drug delivery to gain acceptance into the gang. Shortly thereafter, White befriends Orange.
Back in the present, Eddie, Pink, and White return to the warehouse where Orange tries to convince them that Blonde planned to kill them all and steal the diamonds for himself. Eddie impulsively kills Nash and accuses Orange of lying, as Blonde was a longtime friend of his father. Joe then arrives with news that the police have killed Blue. Before Joe can execute Orange, whom he suspects is the traitor, White intervenes and holds him at gunpoint, insisting that he doubts Orange is responsible. Eddie promptly aims at White, creating a Mexican standoff. All three fire; both Joe and Eddie are killed, and White and Orange are hit.
Pink, the only uninjured person, takes the diamonds and flees. As White cradles the dying Orange in his arms, Orange confesses that he is an undercover officer; White, upset at the betrayal, reluctantly presses his gun to Orange's head. In the background, Pink is heard attempting to escape as the police storm the warehouse and order White to drop his gun. White shoots Orange and collapses as gunfire erupts.
Quentin Tarantino had been working at Video Archives, a video store in Manhattan Beach, California, and originally planned to shoot the film with his friends on a budget of $30,000 in a 16 mm black-and-white format, with producer Lawrence Bender playing a police officer chasing Mr. Pink. Bender gave the script to his acting teacher, whose wife gave the script to Harvey Keitel. Keitel liked it enough to sign as a co-producer so Tarantino and Bender would have an easier job finding funding; with his assistance, they raised $1.5 million. Keitel also paid for Tarantino and Bender to host casting sessions in New York, where the duo found Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth.
Reservoir Dogs was, according to Tarantino, influenced by Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Tarantino said: "I didn't go out of my way to do a rip-off of The Killing, but I did think of it as my 'Killing', my take on that kind of heist movie." The film's plot was suggested by the 1952 film Kansas City Confidential. Additionally, Joseph H. Lewis's 1955 film The Big Combo and Sergio Corbucci's 1966 Spaghetti Western Django inspired the scene where a police officer is tortured in a chair. Tarantino has denied that he plagiarized with Reservoir Dogs and instead said that he does homages. Having the main characters named after colors (Mr. Pink, White, Brown, etc.) was first seen in the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The film also contains key elements similar to those found in Ringo Lam's 1987 film City on Fire.
The warehouse used in the film was actually an abandoned mortuary, which explains the hearse Blonde is sitting on during White and Pink's argument. In scenes with Orange in his apartment, the second floor of the mortuary was used and dressed up to look like living quarters. The location has since been demolished.
Tarantino has explained that he decided not to show the heist itself initially due to budgetary concerns; also, he had always liked the idea of not showing it and stuck with that idea in order to make the details of the heist ambiguous. He has said that the technique allows for the realization that the film is "about other things", a similar plot outline that appears in the stage play Glengarry Glen Ross and its film adaptation in which the mentioned robbery is never shown on camera. Tarantino has compared this to the work of a novelist, and has said that he wanted the film to be about something that is not seen and that he wanted it to "play with a real-time clock as opposed to a movie clock ticking".
Reservoir Dogs premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1992. It became the festival's most talked-about film, and was subsequently picked up for distribution by Miramax Films. After being shown at several other film festivals, including in Cannes, Sitges, and Toronto, Reservoir Dogs opened in the United States in 19 theaters with a first week total of $147,839. It was expanded to 61 theaters and totaled $2,832,029 at the domestic box office. The film grossed more than double that in the United Kingdom, where it did not receive a home video release until 1995. During the period of unavailability on home video, the film was re-released in UK cinemas in June 1994.
Reservoir Dogs is regarded as an important and influential milestone of independent filmmaking. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 92% based on 71 reviews, and an average rating of 8.87/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Thrumming with intelligence and energy, Reservoir Dogs opens Quentin Tarantino's filmmaking career with hard-hitting style." On Metacritic the film has an average score of 79 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Empire magazine named it the "Greatest Independent Film" ever made.
At the film's release at the Sundance Film Festival, film critic Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News compared the effect of Reservoir Dogs to that of the 1895 film L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat, when audiences supposedly saw a moving train approaching the camera and ducked. Bernard said that Reservoir Dogs had a similar effect and people were not ready for it. Vincent Canby of The New York Times enjoyed the cast and the usage of non-linear storytelling. He similarly complimented Tarantino's directing and liked the fact that he did not often use close-ups in the film. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times also enjoyed the film and the acting, particularly that of Buscemi, Tierney and Madsen, and said "Tarantino's palpable enthusiasm, his unapologetic passion for what he's created, reinvigorates this venerable plot and, mayhem aside, makes it involving for longer than you might suspect." Critic James Berardinelli was of a similar opinion; he complimented both the cast and Tarantino's dialogue writing abilities. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post was also enthusiastic about the cast, complimenting the film on its "deadpan sense of humor".
Roger Ebert was less enthusiastic; he felt that the script could have been better and said that the film "feels like it's going to be terrific", but Tarantino's script does not have much curiosity about the characters. He also said that Tarantino "has an idea, and trusts the idea to drive the plot." Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four and said that while he enjoyed it and that it was a very good film from a talented director, "I liked what I saw, but I wanted more." Ebert's biggest praise was the acting in the film.
The film has received substantial criticism for its strong violence and language. One scene that viewers found particularly unnerving was the ear-cutting scene; Madsen himself reportedly had great difficulty finishing it, especially after Kirk Baltz ad-libbed the desperate plea "I've got a little kid at home." Many people walked out during the film. During a screening at Sitges Film Festival, 15 people walked out, including horror film director Wes Craven and special makeup effects artist Rick Baker. Baker later told Tarantino to take the walkout as a "compliment" and explained that he found the violence unnerving because of its heightened sense of realism. Tarantino commented about it at the time: "It happens at every single screening. For some people the violence, or the rudeness of the language, is a mountain they can't climb. That's OK. It's not their cup of tea. But I am affecting them. I wanted that scene to be disturbing."
Reservoir Dogs has often been seen as a prominent film in terms of on-screen violence. J.P. Telotte compared Reservoir Dogs to classic caper noir films and points out the irony in its ending scenes. Mark Irwin also made the connection between Reservoir Dogs and classic American noir. Caroline Jewers called Reservoir Dogs a "feudal epic" and paralleled the color pseudonyms to color names of medieval knights.
Critics have observed parallels between Reservoir Dogs and other films. For its nonlinear storyline, Reservoir Dogs has often been compared to Rashomon. Critic John Hartl compared the ear-cutting scene to the shower murder scene in Psycho and Tarantino to David Lynch. He furthermore explored parallels between Reservoir Dogs and Glengarry Glen Ross. Todd McCarthy, who called the film "undeniably impressive", was of the opinion that it was influenced by Mean Streets, Goodfellas and The Killing. After this film, Tarantino himself was also compared to Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah, John Singleton, Gus Van Sant, and Abel Ferrara.
A frequently cited comparison has been to Tarantino's second and more successful film Pulp Fiction, especially since the majority of audiences saw Reservoir Dogs after the success of Pulp Fiction. Comparisons have been made regarding the black humor in both the films, the theme of accidents, and more concretely, the style of dialogue and narrative that Tarantino incorporates into both films. Specifically the relationship between whites and blacks plays a big part in the films—though underplayed in Reservoir Dogs. Stanley Crouch of The New York Times compared the way the white criminals speak of black people in Reservoir Dogs to the way they are spoken of in Scorsese's Mean Streets and Goodfellas. Crouch observed the way black people are looked down upon in Reservoir Dogs, but also the way that the criminals accuse each other of "verbally imitating" black men and the characters' apparent sexual attraction to black actress Pam Grier.
In February 2012, as part of an ongoing series of live dramatic readings of film scripts being staged with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), director Jason Reitman cast black actors in the originally white cast: Laurence Fishburne as Mr. White; Terrence Howard as Mr. Blonde; Anthony Mackie as Mr. Pink; Cuba Gooding Jr. as Mr. Orange; Chi McBride as Joe Cabot; Anthony Anderson as Nice Guy Eddie (Joe Cabot's son); Common as both Mr. Brown and Officer Nash (the torture victim of Mr. Blonde), and Patton Oswalt as Holdaway (the mentor cop who was originally played by Randy Brooks, the only black actor in the film). Critic Elvis Mitchell suggested that Reitman's version of the script was taking the source material back to its roots since the characters "all sound like black dudes."
The film was screened out of competition at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. It won the Critic's Award at the 4th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in February 1993 which Tarantino attended. The film was also nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics. Steve Buscemi won the 1992 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male. Reservoir Dogs ranks at No. 97 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.
In the United Kingdom, release of the VHS rental video was delayed until 1995 due to the British Board of Film Classification initially refusing the film a home video certificate (UK releases are required to be certified separately for theatrical release and for viewing at home). The latter is a requirement by law due to the Video Recordings Act 1984. Following the UK VHS release approval, Polygram released a "Mr Blonde Deluxe Edition", which included an interview with Tarantino and several memorabilia associated with the character Mr. Blonde, such as sunglasses and a chrome toothpick holder.
Region 1 DVDs of Reservoir Dogs have been released multiple times. The first release was a single two-sided disc from LIVE Entertainment, released in June 1997 and featuring both open matte and letterbox versions of the film. Five years later, on August 27, 2002, Artisan Entertainment (who changed their name from LIVE Entertainment in the interim) released a two-disc 10th anniversary edition on DVD and VHS featuring multiple covers color-coded to match the nicknames of five of the characters (Pink, White, Orange, Blonde, and Brown) and a disc of bonus features such as interviews with the cast and crew. However, the full screen version on the second disc was a pan and scan transfer from the widescreen 2.39:1 version, as opposed to open matte like the '97 DVD.
For the film's 15th anniversary, Lionsgate (which had purchased Artisan in the interim) produced a two-disc anniversary edition with a remastered 16:9 transfer and a new supplement, but not all of the extra features from the 10th Anniversary edition. In particular, interviews with the cast and crew were removed, and a new 48-minute-long feature called "Tributes and Dedications" was included.
The Reservoir Dogs: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was the first soundtrack for a Quentin Tarantino film and set the structure his later soundtracks would follow. This includes the extensive use of snippets of dialogue from the film. The soundtrack has selections of songs from the 1960s to '80s. Only the group Bedlam recorded original songs for the film. Reasoning that the film takes place over a weekend, Tarantino decided to set it to a fictional radio station 'K-Billy' (presumably KBLY)'s show "K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend", a themed weekend show of broadcasts of songs from the seventies. The radio station played a prominent role in the film. The DJ for the radio was chosen to be Steven Wright, a comedian known for his deadpan delivery of jokes.
An unusual feature of the soundtrack was the choice of songs; Tarantino has said that he feels the music to be a counterpoint to the on-screen violence and action. He also stated that he wished for the film to have a 1950s feel while using '70s music. A prominent instance of this is the torture scene to the tune of "Stuck in the Middle with You".
A video game based on the film was released in 2006 for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2. However, the game does not feature the likeness of any of the actors with the exception of Michael Madsen. The game was received unfavorably, with GameSpot calling it "an out and out failure". It caused controversy for its amount of violence and was banned in Australia and New Zealand.
Another video game, Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days, was released in 2017.
On December 14, 2017, Overkill Software added a heist to Payday 2 inspired by Reservoir Dogs in which the player is contracted to rob a jewelry store in Los Angeles with the Cabot family. It is unique in that the heist is played in reverse order, with day two occurring prior to day one, similar to how the film's plot is out of chronological order.
Kaante, a Bollywood film released in 2002, is a remake of Reservoir Dogs, combined with elements of City on Fire. The film also borrows plot points from The Usual Suspects, Heat and The Killing. Tarantino has been quoted as saying that Kaante is his favorite among the many films inspired by his work. Tarantino later screened Kaante at his New Beverly Cinema alongside Reservoir Dogs and City on Fire.