Who doesn’t love a shared universe? Oh sure, Disney and Marvel Studios would have you believe these days that they invented the concept, but films have been doing it since at least Universal Pictures’ iconic run of monster movies in the 1930s and ‘40s. And Quentin Tarantino has always been a quiet fan of world-building, with all or most of his films existing in the same universe since at least ‘94. This includes Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Even as this latest movie is an elegiac love letter to a time gone by—if they existed at all—there is no denying that Tarantino’s meticulously researched recreation of late ‘60s Tinseltown is also a fantasy. The ending pivots on the idea of this being a genuine fairytale, albeit of the bloodthirsty kind, which we unpacked in this spoiler-laden article here. However, Tarantino likewise waits until the very last frame, and after the credits have started, to confirm that his altered version of infamous ‘60s history occurs in the same universe as most of his other films. Hence why when Leonardo DiCaprio’s shamelessly desperate Rick Dalton shills for cigarettes, he shills for Red Apple Cigarettes.
The mid-credits scene itself is an accurate recreation of so many 1950s television ads where actors (or network spokesmen) turn into glorified sponsors for their own entertainment. While on the set of his late 1950s TV show, Bounty Law, Rick stands by a jail cell likely made out of plywood as he breathes deep into his tobacco. Unto itself, it’s one of many authentic references to pop culture of that era.
Claiming each bud is hand-rolled, Rick promises, “Better drag, more flavor, less throat burn.”
However, it also is a confirmation that we’re all in one giant Tarantino shared universe. For eagle-eyed viewers, Red Apple Cigarettes is a very exclusive brand. Indeed, it was first introduced in Tarantino’s original Los Angeles magnum opus, Pulp Fiction in 1994. In that movie, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) compulsively smokes her Red Apple brand while ordering a five-dollar shake—across from John Travolta’s Vincent Vega no less (who is meant to be the brother of Michael Madsen’s Vic Vega from Reservoir Dogs). Tarantino reportedly invented this brand so he wouldn’t advertise any real world cigarettes, but it then became a running joke, turning up in the short film he directed for his segment of Four Rooms (1995); George Clooney and Tarantino’s Gecko Brothers are also introduced smoking their Red Apples in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).
The brand would go on to appear again as a billboard that Uma Thurman’s Beatrix Kiddo walks past in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). Red Apple has even appeared in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997). Admittedly in that last instance, it was because Tarantino was dating one of the film’s stars, Mira Sorvino, at the time and it was just a cheeky nod to their relationship. Nonetheless, it establishes the bizarre reality where Romy and Michele’s hijinks occurred in the same world where Travolta gave Thurman a shot of adrenaline after she’d overdosed, and Clooney stabbed a vampire in the heart with a wooden stake attached to a jackhammer.
So too does Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s tall tale occur in this same space, with Red Apple being an old enough brand that DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton was pimping it on television while having dreams of breaking into movies. But those odds, pre-Sharon Tate, were about as realistic as Red Apple being a quality product. After all, the actual final line of the movie (not including the Batman radio ad that comes afterward) is Rick spitting out the cigarette after nailing the take and whining that Red Apple Cigarettes “taste like shit.”
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