Movies & TV

The 13 Movies Everyone Must Watch Before Seeing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Including picks from Quentin Tarantino himself.

Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to period films—Inglorious Basterdswas set during World War II, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight took place in the 19th century. But Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, distributed by Sony Pictures and set in 1969 Los Angeles, is still a different kind of project for the filmmaker. “I think of it like my memory piece,” he told Esquire. “Alfonso [Cuarón] had Roma and Mexico City, 1970. I had L.A. and 1969. This is me. This is the year that formed me. I was six years old then. This is my world.”

It was a time of national upheaval—the year of the moon landing, months after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Woodstock was in August, and the decade would end on a tragic note with the disastrous Altamont Free Concert. The years ahead held the political chaos and economic recession of the 1970s. It was also a time of industry upheaval in Los Angeles, as the studio system, which controlled the creation and distribution of films in a tidy oligopoly, was nearing the end of its prolonged collapse.

So to help audiences step into the feeling of late '60s Hollywood, Tarantino curated a selection of films from Sony’s Columbia Pictures archive, which are airing on the Sony Movie Channel this week. Here are the movies the director recommends, along with a couple more period classics that we suggest.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

This dramedy takes a look at the sexual revolution through the stories of the two couples of its title, played by Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould, and Dyan Cannon, as they deal with infidelities and consider opening up their marriages. The film racked up four Academy Award nominations.


Cactus Flower (1969)

This frothy comedy made Goldie Hawn a movie star—she’d win the best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Toni, the ditzy girlfriend of Walter Matthau’s Dr. Julian Winston. He’s told Toni that he can’t marry her as he already has a wife and children, a fabrication that makes things complicated when he does decide to marry her and Toni expects him to go through a divorce. The film also stars Hollywood legend Ingrid Bergman as Winston’s nurse.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

This one’s not on Tarantino’s list, but this horror classic was directed by Sharon Tate’s husband Roman Polanski, who’s played by Rafa? Zawierucha in Once Upon a Time. It stars Mia Farrow as the titular mom-to-be whose bundle of joy doesn’t turn out to be quite what she expected.

Easy Rider (1969)

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper produced and directed this film in turn, and co-wrote it with Terry Southern, who also worked on the screenplay for Dr. Strangelove and wrote for Esquire. They star as biker cocaine smugglers making their way across the country, alongside a young Jack Nicholson—who’d earn his first Oscar nomination for his role.

Model Shop (1969)

This film tells the story of a downwardly mobile young architect who falls in love with a mysterious model, and like Once Upon a Time, it takes place in late 1960s L.A. Written and directed by French filmmaker Jacque Demy, the movie was poorly received upon its release but is now well-regarded by film buffs. 

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Enter the Dragon (1973)

This is another one pick that’s not from Tarantino’s list, and yes, it did come out a few years after 1969. But it’s considered one of the greatest martial arts movies ever, and stars Bruce Lee, who choreographed the fight scenes for The Wrecking Crew (and who Polanski seems to have initially believed was involved in his wife’s eventual murder). In Once Upon A Time, Lee is played by Mike Moh.

Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)

World War II’s Battle of the Coral Sea, which found the US Navy opposing the Japanese fleet, made history for being the first fight in which aircraft carriers faced off against one another, and served as the inspiration for this film.

Getting Straight (1970)

Tackling the student political activism of the 1960s, this film stars Elliott Gould as a graduate student navigating the political unrest at his university while dating a classmate, played by Candice Bergen.

The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Dean Martin stars as Matt Helm in this spy comedy, the fourth and last movie in its film series. It’s not a particularly well-remembered movie, but it’s the last film Sharon Tate appeared in that was released during her lifetime. Given the timeline, it’s likely the film that Margo Robbie’s Tate goes to the cinema to see herself perform in during Once Upon a Time.

Hammerhead (1968)

This British spy film stars Vince Edwards and To Sir With Love’s Judy Geeson, and tells the story of a mercenary determined to thwart a criminal mastermind with nuclear ambitions.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

In Once Upon a Time, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fading star who’s reluctant to go to Italy to shoot a Spaghetti Western, which weren’t considered as prestigious films as their Hollywood counterparts at the time. Though this is another movie that’s not included in Tarantino’s series, the Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood classic represents the genre at its very peak.

Gunman’s Walk (1958)

Classic Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter stars in this Western drama as the violent, explosive son of a rancher, whose father must reckon with the fallout of his crimes.

Arizona Raiders (1965)

Audie Murphy was one of the most celebrated heroes of World War II, and won every possible combat award from the American Army—his exploits included holding off 50 German soldiers from his position atop a burning tank. He then embarked upon a successful acting career, starring mainly in Westerns like this one.

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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