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Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Produced by Lawrence Bender
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Background radio dialog:
Roger Avary
Starring Harvey Keitel
Tim Roth
Chris Penn
Steve Buscemi
Lawrence Tierney
Michael Madsen
Cinematography Andrzej Sekuła
Editing by Sally Menke
Studio LIVE America
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s)
  • October 23, 1992 (1992-10-23)
Running time 99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.2 million
Box office $14,661,007 [1]

Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 crime film marking the debut of director and writer Quentin Tarantino. It depicts the events before and after a botched diamond heist, but not the heist itself. Reservoir Dogs stars an ensemble cast: Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, and Lawrence Tierney. Tarantino has a minor role, as does criminal-turned-author Eddie Bunker. It incorporates many themes that have become Tarantino's hallmarks: violent crime, pop culture references, profuse profanity, and a nonlinear storyline. The film contains key elements similar to those found in Ringo Lam's 1987 film City On Fire.[2]

The film has become a classic of independent film and a cult hit.[3] It was named "Greatest Independent Film of all Time" by Empire. Reservoir Dogs was generally well received, and the cast was praised by many critics. Although it was never given much promotion upon release, the film was a modest success in the United States by grossing $2,832,029, which made its $1.2 million budget back. The film was more successful in the United Kingdom, grossing nearly £6.5 million, and it achieved higher popularity after the success of Tarantino's next directorial effort, Pulp Fiction.

A soundtrack titled Reservoir Dogs: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released featuring songs used in the film, mostly from the 1970s. In 2006, a Reservoir Dogs video game was released, and was banned in some jurisdictions for its violence.



  The opening sequence of the film, a slow-motion scene playing "Little Green Bag" by the George Baker Selection

The film begins with eight men eating breakfast at a Los Angeles diner. Six of them are using aliases: Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, and Mr. White. With them are gangster Joe Cabot and his son, "Nice Guy" Eddie.

After they leave the diner, the action abruptly cuts to a speeding car, in which Mr. White is comforting Mr. Orange, who has been shot in the abdomen and is bleeding badly. They arrive at an abandoned warehouse. Mr. Pink arrives next, and he angrily suggests that the group’s diamond heist, orchestrated by Joe Cabot, was a setup, due to the rapid police response. The men also discuss the actions of Mr. Blonde, who murdered several civilians in the jewelry store after the alarm had been triggered. Mr. White is angered that Joe Cabot, an old friend of his, employed such a psychopath and agrees about the possibility of a setup. Mr. Pink also reveals that he escaped with the diamonds and hid them in a secure location. They argue over whether to take Mr. Orange, who is now unconscious, to a hospital, and Mr. White reveals that he told Mr. Orange his true first name and where he was from.

Mr. Blonde, who has been watching them from a distance, steps forward and ends the dispute. Mr. White berates him for his deadly rampage, but Mr. Blonde calmly dismisses the criticism. He tells the others to stay as Nice Guy Eddie is on his way. Mr. Blonde has captured a police officer, Marvin Nash, and the three men beat Nash in an attempt to find out who the informant is. Eddie then arrives at the warehouse, and orders Mr. Pink and Mr. White to assist him in retrieving the stolen diamonds and disposing of the hijacked vehicles, while Mr. Blonde stays with Nash and the unconscious Mr. Orange.

Alone with Mr. Blonde, Nash denies any knowledge of a setup, but Mr. Blonde is uninterested and wishes to torture Marvin for his own amusement. As the radio plays the Stealers Wheel song, "Stuck in the Middle with You", Mr. Blonde does a menacing dance, slashing at Marvin's face with a straight razor and severing his right ear. He then douses Marvin in gasoline, but before he can ignite it, Mr. Orange shoots and kills Mr. Blonde. Mr. Orange tells Nash he is an undercover cop, and reassures Marvin that a massive police force is in position nearby but is waiting until Joe arrives before moving in.

Eddie, Mr. Pink, and Mr. White return to the warehouse to find Mr. Blonde dead. Mr. Orange claims that Mr. Blonde was going to kill all of them and take the diamonds for himself. After impulsively pulling out his gun and killing Nash, Eddie rejects Mr. Orange’s claims, telling him that Mr. Blonde was a close personal friend who had always remained loyal to him and his father. As Mr. Orange struggles to justify his actions, Joe arrives and reveals that Mr. Blue is dead, and confidently accuses Mr. Orange of being an informant, forcing Mr. White to defend his friend.

Joe is about to execute Mr. Orange when Mr. White pulls his gun on Joe, and Eddie in turn trains his gun on Mr. White. A Mexican standoff ensues. Suddenly Joe shoots Mr. Orange, wounding him again, Mr. White shoots and kills Joe in response, Eddie shoots Mr. White, severely wounding him, and Mr. White shoots and kills Eddie.

Mr. Pink, who hid under the stairs to avoid the shootout, takes the diamonds and flees the warehouse. Police sirens and shouting are heard outside, followed by several shots. As Mr. White cradles Mr. Orange in his arms, Mr. Orange reveals that he is in fact an undercover cop. This devastates Mr. White, who begins sobbing in frustration and points his gun at Mr. Orange's head. The police storm the warehouse, demanding that he drop his gun; followed by several shots, but it remains unclear if Mr. Orange and/or Mr. White are dead as the film ends.


The Reservoir Dogs
Other characters
  • Randy Brooks as Holdaway
  • Kirk Baltz as Marvin Nash
  • Rich Turner as Sheriff #1
  • David Steen as Sheriff #2
  • Tony Cosmo as Sheriff #3
  • Stevo Poliy as Sheriff #4
  • Michael Sottile as Teddy
  • Robert Ruth as Shot Cop
  • Lawrence Bender as Young Cop
  • Linda Kaye as Shocked Woman
  • Suzanne Celeste as Shot Woman
  • Steven Wright (voice) as the K-Billy DJ[4]


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[5] format with producer Lawrence Bender playing Nice Guy Eddie. When actor Harvey Keitel became involved and agreed to act in the film and co-produce, [6] he was cast as Mr. White. With Keitel's assistance, the filmmakers were able to raise $1.5 million to make the film.[7]

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".[7] The film's plot was suggested by the 1952 movie Kansas City Confidential.[8] Additionally, Joseph H. Lewis's The Big Combo inspired the scene where a cop is tortured in a chair.[8] Tarantino has denied that he plagiarized with Reservoir Dogs instead claiming that he does homages.[9] Also, the main characters being named after colors (Mr. Pink, White, Brown, etc.) was first seen in the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Of his decision to not show the heist itself, Tarantino has said that the reason was initially budgetary, but that he had always liked the idea of not showing it and stuck with that idea. He has said that the technique allows for the realization that the movie is "about other things".[7] He compared this to the work of a novelist, and has said that he wanted the movie 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".[10]


Reservoir Dogs opened in 19 theaters with a first week total of $147,839 in the United States.[11] The film was never released to more than 61 theaters there and totaled $2,832,029 at the box office.[11] The film gained most of its success due to the popularity of Pulp Fiction. After its success in Britain, it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Empire Magazine named it the "Greatest Independent Film ever made".[12] The film has since come to be seen as an important and highly-influential milestone of independent filmmaking.[13] Reservoir Dogs carries a 96% rating at Rotten Tomatoes,[14] while Metacritic carries an average rating of 78/100, based on 23 critic reviews, indicating generally favorable reviews.[15]

Reservoir Dogs has inspired many other independent films and is considered key in the development of independent cinema.[16] The Bollywood film Kaante (2002) from Sanjay Gupta is considered an unauthorized remake of Reservoir Dogs featuring a similar plot and dialogue style.[17] Reservoir Dogs is itself considered to have taken inspiration from Ringo Lam's Hong Kong action film City on Fire (1987), which features a similar final segment.[18]

The film was screened out of competition at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[19] It won the Critic's Award at the 4th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in February 1993 which Tarantino attended.[20]

American Film Institute Lists

Critical reaction

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, whereby audiences putatively observed a moving train approaching the camera and scrambled. Bernard claimed that Reservoir Dogs had a similar effect and people were not ready for it.[16] 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.[26] 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."[27]

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 stated 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 also claiming that he enjoyed it, and that it was a very good film from a talented director, like other critics, he enjoyed the cast, but stated "I liked what I saw, but I wanted more."[28]

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."[29]

Many people walked out during the film and 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.[7]

During a screening at a film festival in Barcelona, fifteen people walked out, including horror film director Wes Craven and special effects artist Rick Baker.[30] 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.[30]

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.[7] After this film, Tarantino was also compared to Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah, John Singleton, Gus Van Sant, and Abel Ferrara.[9] For its nonlinear storyline, Reservoir Dogs has also often been compared to Rashomon.[9] Critic James Berardinelli was of a similar opinion; he complimented both the cast and Tarantino's dialogue writing abilities.[31] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post was also enthusiastic about the cast, complimenting the film on its "deadpan sense of humor".[32] Todd McCarthy called the film "undeniably impressive" and was of the opinion that it was influenced by Mean Streets, Goodfellas and The Killing.[33]

Reservoir Dogs also ranks at #97 in Empire magazines list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time..[34]

Critical analysis

Reservoir Dogs has often been seen as a prominent film in terms of on-screen violence.[13][35][36] J.P. Telotte compared Reservoir Dogs to classic caper noir films and points out the irony in its ending scenes.[37] Mark Irwin also made the connection between Reservoir Dogs and classic American noir.[38]

A notable motif in Tarantino's films is the use of accidents to move the plot further. In Reservoir Dogs, the major plot event is also moved by an accidental occurrence; in this case the robbery going awry.[10] Caroline Jewers called Reservoir Dogs a "feudal epic" and compared it to Pulp Fiction. She paralleled the color pseudonyms to color names of medieval knights.[39]

A frequently cited comparison has been to Tarantino's second and more successful film Pulp Fiction,[10][38][40] 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,[10] and more concretely, the style of dialogue and narrative style that Tarantino incorporates into both of his movies.[41] Also, the theme of racism plays a big part in the films, specifically the relationship between whites and blacks. Stanley Crouch of The New York Times compared the way the white criminals speak of blacks in Reservoir Dogs to the way they are spoken of in Scorsese's Mean Streets and Goodfellas. Crouch observed the way the blacks are looked down upon in Reservoir Dogs, but also the way that the criminals accuse each other of "verbally imitating" the blacks and the characters' apparent sexual attraction to black actress Pam Grier.[41]

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: Lawrence 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 a black actor in the film)—critic Elvis Mitchell noted that this was taking the source material back to its roots since the characters "all sound like black dudes."[42]

Home releases

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 pan-and-scan and letterbox versions of the film.[43] Five years later, Artisan did a two-disc 10th anniversary edition 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.[44]

For the 15th anniversary of the film, Lionsgate, which had purchased Artisan in the interim, produced a two-disc 15th anniversary edition with a remastered 16x9 transfer, a new supplement, but not all of the extra features from the 10th Anniversary edition.[45] In particular, interviews with the cast and crew were dropped, and a new 48-minute-long feature called "Tributes and Dedications" was included.[45] The packaging for the 15th anniversary edition is fancier: the discs are enclosed in a large matchbook, and the matchbook is in a thin aluminum case made to resemble a gas can.

The original British VHS rental video was delayed until 1995 due to the BBFC initially refusing the film a home video certificate (UK releases are required to be certified separately for theatrical release and for viewing at home).[46] The latter is a requirement by law due to the Video Recordings Act 1984. During the period of unavailability on home video, the film was re-released in UK cinemas on 22 June 1994.[47].


Reservoir Dogs
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released October 13, 1992
Genre Rock
Length 30:50
Label MCA
Quentin Tarantino film soundtracks chronology
Reservoir Dogs
Pulp Fiction
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars link

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.[48] 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. The radio station "K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies" played a prominent role in the film.[49] The DJ for the radio was chosen to be Steven Wright, a comedian known for his deadpan delivery of jokes.[4]

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.[50] He also stated that he wished for the film to have a 1950s feel while using '70s music.[50] A prominent instance of this is the torture scene to the tune of "Stuck in the Middle with You".[51]

Bedlam were a 1990s rock group from Nashville fronted by Jay Joyce, who were signed to MCA Records. Their album Into the Coals was released in 1992. Further members were Chris Feinstein (bass) and Doug Lancio.[52] "Magic Carpet Ride" is a cover of the 1968 Steppenwolf song. "Harvest Moon" is written by Jay Joyce.

Sandy Rogers' "Fool for Love" initially was title song to the 1985 Robert Altman film Fool for Love.[53]

Track listing
  1. "And Now Little Green Bag..." - dialogue extract performed by Steven Wright (0:15)
  2. "Little Green Bag" - The George Baker Selection (3:15)
  3. "Rock Flock of Five" - dialogue extract performed by Steven Wright (0:11)
  4. "Hooked on a Feeling" - Blue Swede (2:53)
  5. "Bohemiath" - dialogue extract performed by Steven Wright (0:34)
  6. "I Gotcha" - Joe Tex (2:27)
  7. "Magic Carpet Ride" - Bedlam (5:10)
  8. "Madonna Speech" - dialogue extract performed by Quentin Tarantino, Edward Bunker, Lawrence Tierney, Steve Buscemi, and Harvey Keitel (0:59)
  9. "Fool for Love" by Sandy Rogers (3:25)
  10. "Super Sounds" - dialogue extract performed by Steven Wright (0:19)
  11. "Stuck in the Middle with You" - Stealers Wheel (3:23)
  12. "Harvest Moon" - Bedlam (2:38)
  13. "Let's Get a Taco" - dialogue extract performed by Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth (1:02)
  14. "Keep on Truckin'" - dialogue extract performed by Steven Wright (0:16)
  15. "Coconut" - Harry Nilsson (3:50)
  16. "Home of Rock" - dialogue extract performed by Steven Wright (0:05)

Video game

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. GameSpot called it "an out and out failure".[54] It caused controversy for its amount of violence and was banned in Australia[55] and New Zealand.[56]


  1. ^ Reservoir Dogs (1992) - Box office / business
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  52. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/artist/bedlam-p142399 Bedlam, Trio from Nashville, 1990s
  53. ^ http://www.rattlerecords.com/artist.htm Sandy Rogers: "Fool for Love"
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