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Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge
Willis was already a movie star when Pulp Fiction hit theaters in 1994, but at the time Tarantino cast him as Butch Coolidge, he was coming off a series of critical and box office failures (Striking Distance, anyone?).
Joining Tarantino's low-budget, off-beat passion project "meant lowering his salary and risking his star status, but the strategy [...] paid off royally,"critic Peter Bart later explained. "Pulp Fiction not only brought Willis new respect as an actor, but also earned him several million dollars as a result of his gross participation," he wrote.
Tarentino originally had real-life former boxer Mickey Rourke in mind for the role, but when Rourke turned it down, the director chose Willis for his old school physicality. "Bruce has the look of a 50s actor. I can't think of any other star that has that look," he later explained.
Willis went on to continue his superstar career, playing in hits like The Sixth Sense (1999), The Whole Nine Yards (2000), Sin City (2005) and Looper (2012).
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Ving Rhames as Marsellus Wallace
Rhames' role as fictional crime boss Marsellus Wallace was originally offered to former Blaxploitation film star Sid Haig. When Haig passed on the role, it went to Rhames, who according to producer Lawrence Bender, gave "one of the best auditions I've ever seen."
His critically acclaimed performance led to his casting in a series of box office hits like Mission Impossible (1996), Con Air (1997) and Out of Sight (1998).
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Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace
It's hard to imagine anyone as Mia Wallace besides Thurman, but the film's studio, Miramax, originally preferred Holly Hunter or Meg Ryan for the iconic role.
Yet Tarantino was sold on Thurman after their first meeting, and the actress would go on to become a sort of muse for the director, later starring in his Kill Bill series.
She earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the role, and became an overnight A-list sensation in Hollywood. Outside of the Kill Bill series, Urman went on to star in Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol. I and II, and won a Golden Gloe in 2003 for her performance in Hysterical Blindness.
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John Travolta as Vincent Vega
Travolta was, of course, already a major star when he was cast as the Francophile hitman Vega -- but his career had taken a bit of a dip prior to his casting.
Tarantino famously wanted Michael Madsen for the role, but when he passed in favor of playing Virgil Earp in Wyatt Earp, the studios insisted Daniel Day-Lewis, fresh off his Oscar win for My Left Foot, be cast instead.
According to The Daily Beast, it was the only role Day-Lewis ever actively pursued. But Tarantino had his mind set on Travolta, and the part played a major role in reviving the actor's career.
“I remember it was a big deal with Miramax, too, because Daniel Day was hotter than heck and I was colder than Alaska, so the idea that Quentin went for me over Daniel Day-Lewis was a very big deal,” Travolta told the outlet.
“But I understand now, in retrospect, why he did. By using Uma, me, and Bruce, he balanced it with pop culture, and that wouldn’t have happened with Daniel Day or anyone else vying for that part.”
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Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield
Jackson was one of the few characters Tarantino actually had in mind for the part while he was writing the screenplay, but the actor nearly blew it after Paul Calderón upstaged him in an early audition. (Jackson reportedly had thought his audition was just a script reading).
But when he auditioned again for what would become the film's final dinner scene, he tried reading the lines completely differently than he had practiced beforehand. He later revealed that Bender and Tarantino didn't know how the movie would end until they saw his take on the scene.
Jackson's role earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, while Calderón ended up appearing as Wallace's bar tender/assistant.
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Tim Roth as Ringo/"Pumpkin"
Another actor who was cast in the role Tarantino had originally envisioned for him was Roth, who had already worked with the director on Reservoir Dogs.
Dropping the American accent he used in the first Tarantino film in favor of his natural British speaking voice, Roth ended up hanging on to the role that certain studio bosses had reportedly preferred for Johnny Depp or Christian Slater, playing Ringo the stickup artist.
In addition to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Roth earned further recognition working with Tarantino on Four Rooms (1995) and The Hateful Eight (2015).
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Eric Stoltz as Lance
Tarantino has famously denied rumors that Kurt Cobain was up for the role as Lance, Vince's drug dealer. He's also denied that, if Cobain had gotten the part, Courney Love would have played his onscreen girlfriend Jody, who was ultimately played by Patricia Arquette.
But Tarantino has admitted that executives wanted Gary Oldman for the part, and that he even considered taking it for himself. The director ultimately chose to play Jimmy, so that he could film Lance's famous syringe scene himself, according to The Daily Beast.
Stoltz went on to have a successful career on the big and small screen, most recently appearing in CBS's Madam Secretary.
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Patricia Arquette as Jody
She didn't have much screentime, but Arquette found herself at the center of one of the film's most iconic moments: the overdose needle scene.
Pam Grier was almost cast for the role, even audtioning for it, but utlimately Tarantino felt it wouldn't be realistic for a tough woman like Grier to be pushed around by a wimpy drug dealer boyfriend.
But after her strong audition, Tarantino crafted his next film, Jackie Brown, with Grier in mind, according to The Daily Beast.
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Quentin Tarantino as Jimmy
Tarantino has long enjoyed taking roles, both big and small, in his own films. He's appeared as high-profile characters in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Grindhouse, and Django Unchained, as well as in smaller roles, like as an uncredtied voice in Jackie Brown.
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Harvey Keitel as The Wolf
One of the film's most memorable characters, Keitel's performance as The Wolf was most likely inspired by his role as Victor "The Cleaner" in 1993's Point of No Return, in which he played a secret agent specializing in fixing assisination plots gone awry.
Tarantino wrote the role for Keitel, one of his favorite childhood actors. The two had also worked together on Reservoir Dogs, and would team up again for From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Inglorious Bastards (2009).
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Christopher Walken as Captain Koons
Walken's few minutes of screentime as Captain Koons, a military man who had served with Butch's (Willis) father, is one of the more hilarious, and disgusting, cameos of all time.
In his scene, Walken's character delivers a young Butch a gold watch that had been in his family for generations. The story of the watch's journey from WWI, to WWII, to Vietnam, into Koons' rectum and ultimatey back to Butch, is one of the film's most unforgettable moments.
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