Quentin Tarantino did not present the Pulp Fiction plot in chronological order, but the movie's three stories are clearly intertwined. In order to properly weave the Pulp Fiction timeline's unorthodox storytelling together, Quentin Tarantino gathered a stellar ensemble cast. One Pulp Fiction storyline follows two hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) whose day starts off normally before quickly descending into chaos. Another story follows Travolta's character taking his boss's wife (Uma Thurman) out for a little fun, with things quickly going sideways when she overdoses. Lastly, there's the boxer (Bruce Willis), who has to go on the lam and, in a twisted turn of events, finds himself fighting his way out of the basement of a pawnshop owner.
Pulp Fiction's original three-hour cut was eventually shaved down into the 2-1/2-hour movie that revolutionized gangster cinema. The Pulp Fiction timeline's three stories are divided across seven nonlinear episodes, told over the course of two days. Although this greatly factors into why the characters and stories are so memorable, it can be difficult to make sense of the stakes, context, and chronology of the succeeding events. In the spirit of better understanding arguably Quentin Tarantino's greatest and most iconic film, here are the stories of Pulp Fiction in chronological order.
The "Prelude To The Gold Watch" Flashback
While the movie opens with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny robbing a diner, the Pulp Fiction plot - in chronological order - begins with the Captain Koons flashback. Captain Koons' (Christopher Walken) time may be brief, but he makes an impression. In this now-iconic flashback scene, the Pulp Fiction timeline briefly goes back to the mid-'70s, showing a young Butch sitting in front of the TV. His mother enters with Koons, a man who knew Butch's father when they were both in a Vietnam War POW camp and lets Koons take over. The Pulp Fiction scene sees Koons telling Butch a long story about a gold watch that belonged to Butch's father.
As Koons tells the story Butch's father ostensibly told him about the gold watch's journey from its purchase in the early 20th century and through the generations, it seems like such an inspiring tale. The Coolidge men have done everything to make sure their son gets the watch. In a surprisingly disturbing and lurid turn that underscores the real meaning of Pulp Fiction's title, Koons reveals how Butch's dad kept the gold watch safe in the POW camp in a very personal place, so his son could have it. While the rest of the scenes take place over two days, the Pulp Fiction plot in chronological order starts decades beforehand.
"Vincent Vega And Marsellus Wallace's Wife" Prelude
The beginning of the Pulp Fiction plot in chronological order is when Vincent (Travolta) and Jules (Jackson) - two hitmen who work for Marsellus Wallace (Rhames) - are on the job. It's unclear where exactly Vincent and Jules are headed, but Vincent spends some time telling Jules about his recent trip to Europe, complete with the French version of a Quarter Pounder - a "Royale with cheese" - and the bars in Amsterdam. By the time Vincent's story is finished, he and Jules are heading up to Brett's (Frank Whaley) apartment - the set-up to Pulp Fiction's miraculous divine intervention gun scene.
The men proceed to shake Brett down for something he owes to Marsellus Wallace. Following a conversation containing some of Pulp Fiction's most memorable quotes, Jules and Vincent shoot Brett, as well as two of his friends, miraculously miss Brett's friend Marvin (Phil LaMarr), and take Marvin as a hostage to answer to Marsellus. Ending Pulp Fiction's correctly-ordered second episode, they take the mysterious briefcase and head towards Marsellus' house with Marvin, but things go from bad to worse when Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face, making a big mess inside the car.
"The Bonnie Situation" Episode
Kicking off episode three of Pulp Fiction in chronological order, Jules and Vincent immediately head over to Jimmy's (Tarantino) house in Toluca Lake. The hitmen know they need to get the car cleaned up and themselves cleaned up too. It will be an incredible undertaking and only one man knows the right steps to fix it: Pulp Fiction's The Wolf (Harvey Keitel). The Wolf, an old-school pro who's been in more than one of these kinds of situations in his time, arrives at Jimmy's house.
Over a cup of coffee, he coolly tells Jules and Vincent every excruciatingly minute detail they have to take in order to clean the inside of the car, dispose of the body, and get themselves cleaned up before they can go back to work. The Pulp Fiction episode ends with Jules and Vincent out of their sleek suits and now dressed in colorful shorts and T-shirts, which they'll be seen in a few more times in other scenes that chronologically take place later in the day.
"The Diner" Prologue Scene
Pulp Fiction's story moves from Toluca Lake to the Hawthorne Grill diner, the scene that actually opens the movie, shortly after Jules and Vincent's encounter with The Wolf in the morning. A young couple, Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) sit in a booth. They discuss the merits of robbing all the people currently in the diner as well as the diner itself. Pulp Fiction's characters calmly come to an agreement that they're going to go through with the robbery.
At that moment, Pumpkin hops on top of the table while Honey Bunny stands on the ground and both point their guns at the diner patrons. Pumpkin calmly explains what's going on and that he and Honey Bunny will be collecting everyone's money and valuables, thus ending the first half of Pulp Fiction's story in chronological order.
"The Diner" Epilogue Scene
While this is the last scene in Pulp Fiction's movie, it takes place halfway through the story chronologically. In Pulp Fiction's fifth chronological episode, it's revealed Pulp Fiction's Jules and Vincent have also gone right to the Hawthorne Grill for lunch after their debacle earlier that day. The men eat in their newly-acquired outfits and chat about why Jules doesn't eat bacon, as well as what just happened to them. Vincent gets up to go to the bathroom, leaving Jules all alone, when Pumpkin and Honey Bunny hold up the diner. Pumpkin makes his way to Jules, demanding whatever is in Marsellus Wallace's briefcase.
Jules tells him that's a bad idea because it's the property of Marsellus and robbing him is a very bad idea. Jules instead offers Pumpkin all the money in his wallet. In one of the several Vincent Vega bathroom scenes in Pulp Fiction, Vincent exits the bathroom, sees what's going on, and holds up Honey Bunny as insurance against Pumpkin doing anything to Jules. Toward the end of this episode in Pulp Fiction's story order, Jules convinces Pumpkin to take the money and leave with his girlfriend.
Once they're gone, Vincent reminds Jules they have to go see Marsellus, so they put their guns in their shorts, take the briefcase, and leave. The last time we see them together in Pulp Fiction is that same afternoon as they meet up with Marsellus, who is having a conversation with Butch about throwing a boxing match later that night because it will benefit both Marsellus Wallace and Butch. Vincent encourages Pulp Fiction's Butch to really consider what Marsellus is offering.
The Prelude to "The Gold Watch" In Present Day
The present-day part of Pulp Fiction's "Gold Watch" prelude cuts to the evening of the same day as Jules and Vincent's mishap with Marvin, Honey Bunny and Pumpkin holding up the Hawthorne Grill, and Vincent talking with Butch about throwing the boxing match. Butch wakes up from dreaming about this memory of Koons giving him the gold watch. It seems Butch is having downtime in between rounds so, as Pulp Fiction's prelude ends, Butch is shown leaving the room and preparing to finish the fight.
"Vincent Vega And Marsellus Wallace's Wife" Episode
That night, the Pulp Fiction plot's correct penultimate episode sees Vincent showing up at Marsellus' house to take Marsellus' wife, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), out for a night on the town. It's not romantic, but more of a favor Vincent is completing at Marsellus' request. Vincent picks Mia up but before they go, she has a few bumps of cocaine to get the night started. Vincent drives Mia to a '50s-themed restaurant, Jack Rabbit Slims, where all of the employees are dressed like famous celebrities from the 1950s. Over the course of their dinner conversation during Pulp Fiction's story, Mia tells Vincent about her short-lived career as an actress.
At one point, Mia gets up, goes to the bathroom, and does another line of cocaine. She comes back to the table and eats. About halfway through dinner, one restaurant employee announces there's a dance contest starting, which Mia encourages Vincent to participate in with her. The pair get up on a stage in the center of Pulp Fiction's Jack Rabbit Slims' restaurant and, in one of Pulp Fiction's most famous scenes, start dancing to Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell." In Pulp Fiction's correct order, the couple then leaves the restaurant and goes home.
They make it back to Marsellus and Mia's house, and while Vincent is in the bathroom, Mia discovers his heroin and, mistaking it for more cocaine, does a line and overdoses. Vincent panics, so he rushes her to the home of his drug dealer, Lance (Eric Stoltz), to see if he can help. Lance figures out the only way to revive Mia is to take a large needle filled with an adrenaline shot and plunge it into Mia's heart - the infamous Pulp Fiction adrenaline shot scene. Vincent does the honors and successfully wakes Mia up. He takes Mia back to her house.
"The Gold Watch" Episode
The "Gold Watch" episode of Pulp Fiction's story order begins right after the boxing match, which is chronologically happening at the same time Mia and Vincent are at Jack Rabbit Slims. Butch leaves the match, having won, and somehow knocked out his opponent (the one Marsellus wanted Butch to purposely lose to) to the point that he killed him. Butch makes it back to his apartment but knows that he and his girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), can't stay there. Curiously, when Fabienne discusses body parts while talking to Bruce, she doesn't mention feet at all, which doesn't match up with Quentin Tarantino's alleged foot obsession. Butch and Fabienne hide out in a motel.
The next morning, Butch realizes he left his father's gold watch at his apartment. Butch leaves Fabienne at the motel and returns to the apartment to retrieve it. He enters the apartment carefully, knowing Marsellus is looking for him, and gets his watch. Hearing someone in the toilet, Butch waits for the person to exit, which turns out to be Vincent, whom Butch kills. As Butch is driving back to the motel, he happens to see Marsellus crossing the street. Butch tries to run him over and the two men get into a fight and end up in a pawnshop.
Things get horrible very quickly as the pawnshop owner and his friend, a security guard named Zed, take them hostage in the pawnshop owner's basement where Butch, with the help of Zed, rapes Marsellus. Even though it had only been minutes since Butch killed Vincent Vega - and Butch and Marsellus were just trying to kill each other - Butch puts aside his differences with Marsellus and rescues him.
Reluctantly, Marsellus and Butch come to an agreement: they're square as long as Butch leaves town and never speaks of the incident. Butch holds up his end of the bargain immediately, leaving Marsellus behind to brutalize their captors. Butch takes Zed's motorcycle chopper, returns to the motel, and drives off with Fabienne. Chronologically, this is the last moment in Pulp Fiction's correct story order.
Why Pulp Fiction Isn't In Chronological Order
While Quentin Tarantino's decision to tell the Pulp Fiction plot out of chronological order was partially stylistic, as he had just done so for the timeline of 1992's Reservoir Dogs, the nonlinear format also has a purpose in making the entire story more compelling. If Pulp Fiction was told in chronological order, Butch would be introduced as a child in the first scene, then wouldn't be seen again as Bruce Willis until over halfway through the film. When Pulp Fiction is told in a nonlinear fashion, viewers continue to see each character overlap with one another, which helps the audience understand how important they are to each other's stories.
Each episode of Pulp Fiction's story also features similar themes of redemption and personal conflict, which play out in a more cohesive, emotionally-compelling manner when overlapping with one another in a nonlinear order. By telling Pulp Fiction out of chronological order, movie director Quentin Tarantino makes it clear that each of the three stories is equally important in influencing one another and making one unified narrative.
How Does Pulp Fiction Connect To Other Tarantino Movies?
While the Tarantinoverse isn't as established as known movie universes like the MCU, Star Wars, or the Lord of the Rings movies, it does still exist, and understanding it significantly adds to the experience of watching most of his movies. In particular, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are connected in various ways. Michael Madsen's Vic Vega/Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs is actually the brother of John Travolta's Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction. In fact, in the '90s, Tarantino made plans to make a movie about the Vega brothers, which unfortunately hasn't materialized to this day. Another curious connection is Reservoir Dogs' Mr. Pink.
He could be the waiter Mia and Vincent encounter in Jack Rabbit Slims, as both characters are played by Steve Buscemi - also known as the Pulp Fiction Mr. Pink theory. Pulp Fiction also connects to several other Tarantino movies in different ways, and this pattern continues across most of the films that Tarantino has made throughout his career. This is why, apart from understanding Pulp Fiction in chronological order, it's also important to know where the movie sits in Tarantino's larger "real-world" timeline. Set in 1994, Pulp Fiction is actually right in the middle of Tarantino's timeline, after Reservoir Dogs which is set in 1992, and Jackie Brown in 1995.
Pulp Fiction In Order Wouldn't Work Because Tarantino Wrote It That Way
Interestingly enough, Quentin Tarantino himself has talked about the Pulp Fiction plot and why it is not in chronological order. In movies like Christopher Nolan's Following and Memento, the director edited them together out of order. Following was disorganized, similar to Pulp Fiction, while Memento was told in reverse order. However, Nolan could have put them in chronological order instead of filming them out of order while still telling the same story.
Tarantino also made Pulp Fiction like a puzzle. Tarantino wrote the movie out of order and meant for it to be that way in his structure and style. In an interview (via Film Comment), Tarantino said that the movie was about a "series of couples," where each story is about a couple and how they interact. He said that there was no way that each of the couple's stories could have worked without the stories before and after it. Pulp Fiction wasn't a puzzle the audience put together to understand the story, it was a puzzle the actors put together to tell the story.