Monte Hellman was originally tapped to direct the film as Quentin Tarantino was a complete unknown. However, when Tarantino sold the screenplay for True Romance (1993) for $50,000, he lobbied hard to direct the film himself. Hellman took on an executive producer role instead.
Mr. Blonde's real name is Vic Vega. This is the same surname as Vince (John Travolta) from Quentin Tarantino's other film, Pulp Fiction (1994). Tarantino has revealed that Vic and Vince are brothers. He also intended to do a prequel to both films called "Double V Vega", which would star the Vega Brothers, but Madsen and Travolta eventually got too old to reprise their roles, and Tarantino has since abandoned it.
Michael Madsen had difficulty filming the torture scenes. He was particularly reluctant when he was required to hit actor Kirk Baltz. When the cop, pleading for his life, says that he has a child at home (a line not in the script), Madsen, himself a new father at the time, was so disturbed by the idea of leaving a child fatherless that he couldn't finish the scene.
Madonna - who is the main topic of the opening conversation - really liked the film but refuted Quentin Tarantino's interpretation of her song 'Like a Virgin'. She gave him a copy of her 'Erotica' album, signed "To Quentin. It's not about dick, it's about love. Madonna."
The film's budget was so low that many of the actors simply used their own clothing as wardrobe; most notably Chris Penn's track jacket. The signature black suits were provided for free by the designer, based on her love for the American crime film genre. Steve Buscemi wore his own black jeans instead of suit pants.
Quentin Tarantino was originally going to play Mr Pink, although he made a point of letting all the other actors audition for the part. When Steve Buscemi came in to read for it, Tarantino told him that he really wanted the part for himself and that the only way Buscemi could possibly wrest it from him was to do a killer audition. Buscemi duly complied.
The budget didn't stretch to obtaining police assistance for traffic control so in the scene where Steve Buscemi forces a woman out of her car and drives off in it, he could only do so when the traffic lights were green.
According to an interview on the DVD, Michael Madsen says that Kirk Baltz asked to ride in his trunk to experience what it was really like. Madsen agreed, but decided as he went along that this was time for his own character development. So he drove down a long alley with potholes, and then a Taco Bell drive-through before taking Baltz back to the parking lot and letting him out. The soda he ordered at said drive-through is the same one he can be seen drinking during his character's first appearance in the warehouse.
Quentin Tarantino wanted James Woods to play a role in the film, and made him five different cash offers. Woods' agent refused the offers without ever mentioning it to Woods as the sums offered were well below what Woods would usually receive. When Tarantino and Woods later met for the first time, Woods learned of the offer and was annoyed enough to get a new agent. Tarantino avoided telling Woods which role he was offered "because the actor who played the role was magnificent anyway". It is widely accepted that the role that Tarantino was referring to was Mr. Orange.
One of the radio ads heard in the background is for "Jack Rabbit Slim's", the fictitious 1950's-themed restaurant and "home of the $5 milkshake" that was also featured in Tarantino's second film, Pulp Fiction (1994)
Mr. Orange's apartment was actually the upstairs to the warehouse where most of the movie takes place. The filmmakers redecorated it to look like an apartment in order to save money on finding a real apartment.
The title for the film came to Quentin Tarantino via a patron at the now-famous Video Archives. While working there, Tarantino would often recommend little-known titles to customers, and when he suggested Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), the patron mockingly replied, "I don't want to see no reservoir dogs!" The title is never spoken in the film, however.
Armed with $30,000 and a 16mm camera, Quentin Tarantino was all set to make the film with a bunch of friends, including his producing partner Lawrence Bender who was going to play Nice Guy Eddie. It was then that Tarantino received an answerphone message from Harvey Keitel, asking if he could not only be in the film but help produce it. Keitel had gotten involved via the wife of Bender's acting class teacher, who had managed to get a copy of the script to him. Keitel's involvement helped raise the budget to $1.5 million.
Directly prior to the scene showing the colored bottles of soap, you see two shirts hanging on the wall, and a rag in the distance on the floor. These are appropriately in sync with the surnames of the characters in their present states. Mr. White and Mr. Pink are upright and close to each other, corresponding to the two shirt colors, while the orange rag laying in the distance would be the position of Mr. Orange in the next room.
The line where Mr. White tells Mr. Pink, "I need you cool. Are you cool?" was added into the script after a conflict between Lawrence Tierney and Michael Madsen. To break the scuffle and continue shooting, Quentin Tarantino said to Tierney, "Larry. I need you cool. Are you cool?"
The film was released in America with almost no promotion, so it did not do that well at the box office. In England, however, it was such a huge hit that Quentin Tarantino would be mobbed as he walked down the street in London. British filmmakers have been "influenced" by it since.
Quentin Tarantino had to fight Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein to keep the torture scene in the film, as Weinstein felt it would have a serious negative effect on audiences. Quentin stood his ground and Harvey ultimately relented.
The promotional posters for "Reservoir Dogs" say "Five strangers team up for the perfect crime...". The criminals in the movie - Mr. Pink, Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Brown and Mr. Blue - are in fact six strangers.
At the end of the scene where Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is talking to the other undercover cop in Johnnies restaurant they are talking about the comic character "The Thing" immediately after he says that it cuts to him in his apartment answering a phone. As he reaches to pick up the phone, he knocks over an action figure of Ironman, and the action figure of the Thing is visible at he edge of the table.
In then commentary of the True Romance (1993) DVD, Quentin Tarantino says that Tony Scott read both the "True Romance" and "Reservoir Dogs" scripts and told Tarantino he wanted to direct "Reservoir Dogs". Tarantino told him he could have "True Romance" but that he himself was going to direct "Reservoir Dogs".
Although there is no definitive answer to what Mr. White whispers to Mr. Orange, in the French release of the film he says "You don't want a blow job by the way?" and in the Italian dubbed version he says "Do you want me to give you a hand job, too?"
To avoid alienating the film's backers, producer Lawrence Bender had the tamer scenes shot first, so that the dailies would strengthen the backers' confidence before getting to the nasty, violent scenes.
The first draft script called for Pink Floyd's "Money" where "Little Green Bag" is now. It was later changed because Quentin Tarantino heard "Little Green Bag" over the radio and became extremely nostalgic.
In Mr. White's flashback, Joe asks him about a girl named Alabama. This is a reference to Patricia Arquette's character from True Romance (1993). Quentin Tarantino has stated that he originally intended this character to meet up with Mr. White and to become partners in crime. When "True Romance" was released a year after this film, the ending was changed and so this backstory became inconsistent because Alabama never went on to meet up with Mr. White.
Edward Bunker, a former career criminal, was the youngest felon to be sent to San Quentin. (He was 17.) He was a novelist and also played cons in other films - Runaway Train (1985), The Longest Yard (2005) and Straight Time (1978) (which was based on his novel) and worked as a technical advisor on others - Heat (1995), for instance. Jon Voight's character in 'Heat' was based on Bunker.
Kirk Baltz recalls that a more graphic version of the ear-cutting scene was filmed, involving a tube running up to his ear that squirted blood. Michael Madsen, however, has said he thought it was "rather tame", after seeing the scene play out that way.
Tarantino avoids product-placement in his movies as much as possible. This is why anyone who smokes is smoking a pack of "Red Apples", a brand Tarantino made up. The exception in this movie is when Mr. White offers Mr. Pink a Chesterfield cigarette. (Additionally, any cereal in his films (Fruit Brute, Kabooom!, etc.) are all brands that died out in the 1970s and no longer exist.)
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The opening scene in the coffee shop contains subtle foreshadowing about the identity of the "rat". When Joe demands to know which crook didn't contribute to the tip, Mr. Orange is the one who snitches on Mr. Pink.
According to Quentin Tarantino, Mr. Pink does in fact survive. You can verify this by increasing the volume of the background sounds: When Mr. Pink runs out of the building with the diamonds, police officers can be heard shouting at him to put his hands on the ground. Gunshots can be heard, then Mr. Pink shouts that he has been shot. You can then hear the officers talking to each other as Pink is arrested.
In the scene where Nice Guy Eddie talks on his cell phone about the botched robbery, an orange balloon can be seen floating past the car. Some believe that this was intentional, as to foreshadow Mr. Orange as the rat. However, Quentin Tarantino claims that it was accidental.
The total death count in this film (onscreen and off) is at least 17. Four clerks in the jewelry store, five of the six crooks (Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown), Joe Cabot and his son Nice Guy Eddie, the two cops Mr. White shot, the cop in the trunk (Marvin Nash), the cop Mr. Pink shot, the woman Mr. Orange shot, and the "black girl" Mr. Blonde shoots in the bank. The number of police officers Mr. Blonde had to shoot to escape the jewelry store is not mentioned. It can be assumed that Mr. Pink is not shot after he flees the warehouse; although you hear gunshots, he can be heard very faintly yelling something to the effect of "give up" shortly thereafter.
According to cast member Edward Bunker, there was a scene that would have shown exactly what happened to his character, Mr. Blue but the scene was cut due to the limited budget. He also said actor Lawrence Tierney could never remember his lines, so Tierney's scenes took a while to shoot.