Cannes Flashback: 'Pulp Fiction' Shocked by Taking the Palme d'Or in 1994

JOHN SCHULTS/REUTERS/Newscom
From right: Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, at Cannes on May 21, 1994.

While many thought the award would go to Krzysztof Kieślowski's 'Three Colors: Red,' instead it went to the film by Quentin Tarantino — who will return to the Croisette this year with 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.'

Cannes' 1994 jury president, Clint Eastwood, remarked that the experience of seeing 23 films in one week made him "want to cut 20 minutes out of all my movies." Luckily for Quentin Tarantino — whose Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premieres in competition at this year's fest — one of the films that Eastwood and his jury liked was Pulp Fiction.

While many thought the Palme d'Or would go to Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors: Red, it went instead to Pulp Fiction. "It was a democratic decision," said Eastwood after the choice was announced. "People thought it was original." The verdict was a surprise for the filmmakers. "We thought maybe we'd get some kind of special award, like for best ensemble acting," says producer Lawrence Bender. "When it became clear [as the awards were announced] that we hadn't won anything and Kieślowski hadn't won anything, Quentin and I looked at each other and it was like, 'Shit, we could actually win this.' "

When they did, a woman in the balcony responded by screaming, "Kieślowski! Kieślowski! Pulp Fiction is shit." THR wrote that Tarantino handled this by giving "a jeering protester the finger as he accepted the prize from Kathleen Turner." The director went on to say, "I never expect to win anything when a jury has to decide because I don't make the kinds of movies that bring people together. I make the kinds of movies that split people apart."

In its review, THR liked the film's dialogue ("Some … lines are so pure, you could mix 'em with talcum and still make a big haul by selling in an alley somewhere") but didn't think it would do much at the box office ("Don't expect John Q. Public to smack down dough for this spray of ammo, torture, old tunes and new noise"). The $8.5 million production ($14.5 million today) went on to win an Oscar for best original screenplay and rake in $213 million worldwide ($365 million currently).

This story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.