Who Pulp Fiction's Real Main Character Is (By Most Time Onscreen) (2024)

Summary

  • Vincent Vega is the main character of Pulp Fiction based on screen time, impacting other characters' lives significantly.
  • Butch could also be seen as the protagonist due to character growth, highlighted by Vincent's unexpected death.
  • Pulp Fiction's unique structure allows various characters to shine, with Vincent and Butch standing out in their journeys.

While Pulp Fiction’s structure means the movie has no specific main character, ranking the characters by screen time allows viewers to discern who the real protagonist is. Director Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs might have made a name for him in the indie movie circuit, but it was 1994’s crime epic Pulp Fiction that made him a household name. Pulp Fiction’s darkly comic LA saga proved that Tarantino’s unique style had major mainstream appeal, earning over $200 million on a budget of only $8 million. This was pretty impressive considering how risky Pulp Fiction’s unconventional non-chronological storytelling style was.

Pulp Fiction’s story was told out of order, with the narrative flitting in and out of the lives of various LA underworld criminals over a few busy days. From Samuel L Jackson’s iconic hitman Jules to Bruce Willis’s taciturn boxer Butch, everyone gets a moment in the spotlight thanks to Pulp Fiction’s unique structure. Pulp Fiction is arguably the least conventional of Quentin Tarantino’s movies in terms of sequential storytelling, with even ambitious later efforts like Inglorious Basterds offering viewers a more straightforward timeline. That said, it is still possible to discern Pulp Fiction’s main character.

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John Travolta's Vincent Vega Has The Most Screen Time In Pulp Fiction

Vincent Vega Is Pulp Fiction’s Hero Judging By Screen Time Alone

In a more traditional movie, Travolta’s screen time would be fairly skimpy for the protagonist.

An intrepid member of The Quentin Tarantino Archives combed through Pulp Fiction to work out each lead actor’s screen time, and the results were surprising. John Travolta’s Vincent Vega gets the lion’s share of Pulp Fiction’s 154-minute runtime with 83 minutes onscreen, although this is a pretty paltry amount of screen time for an ostensible main character. In a more traditional movie, Travolta’s screen time would be fairly skimpy for the protagonist. However, the screen veteran’s role comfortably outlasts his closest competitor, Jackson’s Jules Winnfield, who has 58 minutes of screen time. Uma Thurman’s Mia racked up a mere 32.

Bruce Willis’s troubled fighter Butch received 52 minutes of screen time, although his role in the movie feels a little more substantial since his plot intersects with the exploits of Vincent and Jules. The stickup artists Honey Bunny and Pumpkin receive 15 minutes apiece, while Tarantino’s own character Jimmy gets just 12 minutes. One of the movie's most under-explored stories, the subplot that follows Harvey Keitel’s implacable Pulp Fiction fixer Winston Wolf also has only 12 minutes of screen time. Even this is still more than Butch’s nemesis turned ally, Ving Rhames’s Marsellus, and his love interest, Maria de Medeiros’ Fabienne.

Vincent Is Pulp Fiction's Main Character In Thematic Terms, Too

Vincent’s Journey Intersects With Butch and Jules’ Respective Crises

Who Pulp Fiction's Real Main Character Is (By Most Time Onscreen) (2)

Vincent is arguably the connective tissue who brings these people together as he is friends and partners with Jules, works for Marsellus, narrowly avoids an affair with Mia and saves her life, and is killed by Butch.

While Travolta’s character has the longest amount of screen time in the movie, Vincent is also Pulp Fiction’s main character since his storyline impacts his, Jules, Mia, Marsellus, and Butch’s lives. Vincent is arguably the connective tissue who brings these people together as he is friends and partners with Jules, works for Marsellus, narrowly avoids an affair with Mia and saves her life, and is killed by Butch. Although Pulp Fiction’s ending centers on Jules’ perspective, it is notable that Vincent is still featured in the sequence. Arguably, Vincent’s presence in the scene detracts tension by giving away the ending.

Since viewers know that Vincent will soon be killed by Butch, they can infer that Jules and Vincent emerge from their interaction with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny alive. This would have been avoided if Vincent had been absent from the diner scene, but he needed to be present. In thematic terms, Vincent’s presence at pivotal points in the lives of every other character plays a part in the decisions they make which go on to define their lives. Vincent sees the bullets miss Jules and witnesses his epiphany, and he later provides Mia with the heroin she almost overdoses on.

Why Bruce Willis' Butch Could Also Be Considered Pulp Fiction's Main Character

Butch Arguably Has A Claim To Pulp Fiction’s Protagonist Status

Pulp Fiction's Vincent death proves that the movie’s focus has unceremoniously switched from Travolta’s character to Bruce Willis’s antihero, and Butch proceeds to go through major character growth as his plot continues.

That said, this doesn’t account for Vincent’s relationship with Marsellus and Butch. Both characters undeniably play a major role in Vincent’s story, but Vincent’s existence is only a blip in Butch’s subplot. Thus, it could be argued that Butch is potentially an alternative candidate for Pulp Fiction’s main character. Pulp Fiction’s Vincent death proves that the movie’s focus has unceremoniously switched from Travolta’s character to Bruce Willis’s antihero, and Butch proceeds to go through major character growth as his plot continues. Butch doesn’t think twice about mowing down Vincent, but later re-enters the pawn shop to save Marsellus.

While Jules also has a change of heart and develops a conscience during Pulp Fiction’s story, his journey is never given as much focus as Butch’s fight. Similarly, although Mia dances with death and dominates the movie’s cultural legacy, she doesn’t really change as a result of her experiences. Like Travolta’s Vincent, Butch starts Pulp Fiction's story as one sort of person and becomes a new man before the credits roll, meaning he and the hit man can both lay claim to the movie's main character status.

Who Pulp Fiction's Real Main Character Is (By Most Time Onscreen) (3)
Pulp Fiction

R

Drama

Crime

Where to Watch

*Availability in US

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Director
Quentin Tarantino

Release Date
October 14, 1994

Studio(s)
A Band Apart , Jersey Films
Writers
Quentin Tarantino
Cast
John Travolta , Bruce Willis , Ving Rhames , Samuel L. Jackson , Uma Thurman , Christopher Walken , Tim Roth , Harvey Keitel , Eric Stoltz , Rosanna Arquette

Runtime
154 minutes
  • Movies
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)

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Who Pulp Fiction's Real Main Character Is (By Most Time Onscreen) (2024)

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