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Pulp Fiction is perennially found both on critics' lists (such as the AFI's One Hundred Years, 100 Movies List) and in popular rankings, placing consistently in the top 10 on the IMDB Top 250 List. In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted it the 18th greatest comedy film of all time. In Britain (2001), it was voted as the 4th greatest film of all time in a nationwide poll for Channel 4, beaten only by The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather and Star Wars. In 2005, Time.com named it one of the 100 best movies of the last 80 years. It won the 1994 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It was named Best Picture by the L.A. Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. Many critics, including Siskel and Ebert, have compared Tarantino's success with Pulp Fiction to that of Orson Welles after the release of his Citizen Kane.

The movie was moderately controversial at the time of its release, partly due to the graphic violence and partly due to its perceived racism, as Jackson and Travolta played moderately sympathetic characters who freely used the words "motherfucker" and "nigger" (along with variations of the respective words).

The success of Pulp Fiction spurred studios to release a slew of "copycat" films soon after that tried to duplicate the film's formula of witty and offbeat dialogue, an elliptical/non-chronological plot and unconventional storyline, and gritty subject matter. Most, if not all of these films, did not fare well at the box office and were dismissed by critics as inferior and derivative, though the raver film Go did receive critical acclaim, as did Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; the latter being a particularly successful transplant of the film's basic premise into the underworld of London.

The unconventional attitude of the movie, in particular its lack of a standard chronological structure, has often led the film to be cited as an example of a postmodernist film.

The film had a significant impact on the lives of its cast members. It revived the fortunes of John Travolta who was going through a career slump at the time, and Bruce Willis solidified his career as a leading man and taking on a different range of character. It got Uma Thurman onto the Hollywood A-list and led to more work for character actors such as Ving Rhames and Harvey Keitel. Eric Stoltz also profitted. However, the actor who gained the most from Pulp Fiction was Samuel L. Jackson, who wowed critics and audiences in a part Quentin Tarantino wrote especially for him. Once relegated to supporting roles, Jackson became prominent in independent film.

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