In 1858, Django (Jamie Foxx
), a slave, is chained to a bunch of other slaves and being marched to his new owner's estate in Texas by the Speck brothers. At nightfall, a German man in a dentist cart pulls up and hails the Speck brothers. He introduces himself as Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz
Schultz is clearly more intelligent and enlightened than the Specks. He says he is looking for a slave who can identify a band of wanted fugitives known as the Brittle brothers. Django announces that he knows the Brittle brothers and can identify them. Schultz offers to buy Django, but his polite and educated manner rubs the ill-mannered Specks the wrong way, and Ace Speck threatens to shoot him with his shotgun. In response, Schultz lowers his lantern, whips out a revolver, and shoots Ace, then Dicky's horse, causing Dicky to fall off his horse. The horse carcass then lands on and crushes Dicky's leg, leaving him screaming in pain. Crippled, he agrees to sell Django, and Schultz pays the man (for both Django, and the dead Speck's horse), gets an official title to Django, and prepares to ride off.
Before Schultz leaves, however, he frees the remaining slaves (clearly, Schultz finds slavery abhorrent) and says that they may either carry the remaining Speck brother back to town, or shoot him and flee. As Django and Schultz ride off, we hear Speck pleading for his life. We hear a gunshot and can see blood splatter as Dicky's brains are blown out.
Django and Schultz arrive in the small town of Daughtrey near El Paso. As they travel through the streets, townspeople stop to stare in disbelief at the sight of a nigger on a horse, much to Schultz's confusion. As Schultz ties his cart down at a hitching post, he checks some papers to make sure he's in the right place. The two then walk into a saloon despite the fact that Django is forbidden from doing so because he is black due to the South's segregation laws. When Schultz insists on being served, the barkeep runs out of the saloon, Schultz calling after him to specifically bring the sheriff, not the town marshal.
While they wait, Schultz pours beers for himself and Django and leaves money on the bar. He explains that he is no longer a dentist, but a bounty hunter in search of the Brittle brothers who are wanted dead or alive. He admits that although he knows the general location of the brothers, near Gatlinburg, they have adopted aliases, and he needs somebody who can identify them. Schultz tells Django that if he helps him bring in the Brittle brothers, Schultz will give him his freedom, pay him a $75 share of the reward, and let him keep his horse. Django immediately agrees, when, as if on cue, Schultz sees the sheriff coming down the sidewalk.
The sheriff enters the saloon, shotgun in hand, and tells Schultz and Django to leave. The two comply, and exit out the swinging doors. We see that a number of townspeople are watching the spectacle unfolding as the sheriff asks them why they are coming into his town and showing themselves with the sole purpose of causing trouble. Schultz is silent, then steps forward. A spring-mounted Derringer pops up in his right hand, and he shoots the sheriff in the stomach. The townspeople are stunned as the sheriff stumbles to the ground, moaning in pain from the bullet wound. Schultz walks around the wounded sheriff, aims his Derringer, and shoots him in the head, killing him. The townspeople immediately run for their lives. Schultz looks up and tells the bartender that now is the time to fetch the marshal. The bartender runs off while Schultz and Django go back into the saloon to wait.
The town marshal and most of the town arrive and train rifles on the front door of the saloon. Schultz hears that he has 100 rifles aimed at his head, and gets the marshal to agree to not have him shot dead like a dog in the street when he comes out. Schultz then exits, hands raised over his head, and a paper in his hand. He announces to the marshal and to the assembled townsfolk what has really happened: that the dead man the people of Daughtrey saw fit to elect as their sheriff, who went by the name of 'Bill Sharpe', is a wanted cattle rustler named Willard Peck, with a $200 bounty on his head. Schultz suggests that the marshal pay him the $200 fee.
Later, while camping, Django admits to Schultz that what he wants to do once he is liberated is buy freedom for his wife, a slave girl named Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington
) who had been a servant of a German mistress before being sold into slavery in the U.S. Their owner Carrucan (Bruce Dern
) was cruel and disapproved of their marriage, so the pair attempted escape. They were caught by the Brittle brothers, who tortured and branded them both with the mark of a runaway, a small "R" on their right cheeks. Carrucan then directed the Brittle brothers to sell the pair to separate owners, and to take the lowest price for Django.
Django and Schultz eventually develop a plan to infiltrate an estate near Gatlinburg where they suspect that the Brittle brothers reside and for Django to identify them. Django is to play-act as a freed slave who has been hired as Schultz's valet. They arrive at the plantation owned by Spencer "Big Daddy" Bennett (Don Johnson
). Schultz states he is looking to buy one of Bennett's slave girls for an exorbitant price. As he and Bennett talk business, Django is given free range to look around the estate.
Django asks Betina, his escort, if she knows of the Brittles. Betina admits that she doesn't know them, leading Django to suspect that the Brittles are using an alias name. At this, Betina reveals that three overseer brothers known as the Schaeffers did arrive in the past year. She points out the first one in the field. Django looks through his telescope and sees that it is Ellis. Seeing Ellis causes Django to have a lengthy flashback over running away with Broomhilda and pleading with Big John to spare Broomhilda from the whip, unsuccessfully. The flashback ends with Big John saying, "I like the way you beg, boy."
Snapping out of his flashback, Django learns that Big John and Little Raj are on a different part of the plantation, about to whip a young slave girl for breaking eggs. The two have tied her to a tree by the arms and Big John is about to use the whip on her when Django appears and shouts Big John's name. Big John turns, stunned to see Django, who suddenly produces a Derringer similar to Schultz's and shoots him through a Bible page glued to his shirt. He looks down at his bullet wound, stunned, as Django tells him, "I like the way you die, boy," and Big John pitches forward, dead. Little Raj attempts to grab his revolver, but Django grabs Big John's whip and uses it to beat him unconscious. He then takes the gun and unloads it into Little Raj, just as Schultz comes racing in. Django tells Schultz that Ellis is already galloping away across the cotton field. Schultz tracks Ellis through his sniper rifle, and once Django says he is sure he is right, Schultz fires. Blood sprays the cotton flowers as Ellis falls off his horse, a bullet in his chest. Though Bennett is incensed when he arrives, he is forced to let them go once Schultz explains they are legally authorized to kill and collect these men.
That night, out for revenge, Bennett calls out all the fellow white men of the plantation to kill Django and Schultz, spotting their dentist's cart camped outside of town. The men make their charge over the hill in KKK style masks, and surround the small campsite. The scene then changes to earlier, when Bennett is giving instructions to the other Klansmen to not shoot Django or Schultz unless they are shot at. He puts his bag hood on, and a funny scene ensues as Bennett finds he is unable to see through the eye holes in his mask. Everyone else starts to bicker about how badly made their masks are, which ends with Willard, whose wife Jenny spent all afternoon making masks for them, giving up and riding away, furious. Eventually, the Klansmen get their act together.
As they surround the cart, one of the men spots what he thinks is Django and Schultz hiding under the cart. He peeks under, only to find that the 'bodies' are actually bedrolls. Bennett wonders where the two bounty hunters actually are. In response, the scene cuts to Django and Schultz hiding in a tree a short distance away, Schultz carrying a rifle. Schultz says, "auf wiedersehen," and fires at the cart, setting off a bundle of dynamite hidden in the tooth on the roof of his cart. It blows up and kills most of the Klansmen. Bennett manages to survive the detonation and begins riding away. Schultz sees this and hands the rifle over to Django, letting him do the honors. Django tracks, and then fires, hitting Bennett and shooting him off his horse. Schultz realizes that Django is a formidable natural sharpshooter.
King asks what Django will do now that he is officially free, and Django says he will locate his wife (believed to be in Mississippi) and try to purchase her freedom. King, who has bonded with Django and is impressed by both his intelligence and marksmanship, proposes to help Django rescue his wife if Django will work with him over the winter in collecting bounties. King is also impressed with Broomhilda's name (and her ability to speak German), telling Django the German legend of Siegfried and Brunhilde. In the legend, the beautiful Brunhilde is captured and imprisoned in a tower on a mountainside that is guarded by a dragon and surrounded by hellfire. Her lover, Siegfried, rescues her, facing the mountain and dragon simply because he is brave, but also overcoming the hellfire out of his love for Brunhilde. Django is quite taken with the tale.
Django agrees to King's proposal, finding him to be a deeply honorable man in spite of his line of work. King trains Django to not only be an expert with a gun, but also how to read and present himself in public. On one mission, Django and King perch themselves on a hill overlooking a small farm where Django hesitates to kill a man who is now peacefully working on the farm and has a son. King explains that before the man owned this farm and started a family, he murdered several people while robbing stagecoaches, and that he has a $7,000 bounty on his head. King explains that it is this own man's actions in a dirty world that has brought the bounty hunters to his door. Hearing this, Django shoots and kills the man in front of his son. King tells him to keep the wanted poster, as a bounty hunter's first successful poster is good luck. Throughout the winter, Django imagines he and Broomhilda free and happy.
Jumping forward to March 1859, once winter passes, the two head back to the South in search of Broomhilda. King discovers that she was sold to a man named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio
), the owner of a plantation known as 'Candie Land'. Candie is famous for breeding "mandingos"--slaves who are bred to fight each other to the death (bare-knuckle) for their owner's amusement (and for betting purposes). King says that he will pose as a wealthy European who seeks to purchase one of Candie's mandingos to take to fight in Europe, and that Django is his business partner and talent evaluator.
That evening, Django and King arrive at a Candie's Cleopatra Club and they meet Candie's lawyer, Leonide Moguy (Dennis Christopher
), who explains that Candie is obsessed with French culture (although Candie, unlike the actually cultured King, does not speak French). The two are brought upstairs where they watch a mandingo fight, which is very brutal and fatal for the loser, who gets his eyes gouged out by the winner. As Candie congratulates his winning mandingo, the owner of the dead mandingo, an Italian businessman named Amerigo Vessepi (Franco Nero, the star of the original 'Django' in a suprise cameo) frets over the loss of his fighter and retires to the nearby bar for a drink. Django introduces himself to Vessepi before he walks out (a clear homage and wink-to-the-audience of the two Django actors in the same scene in the only time in this movie). It turns out that Candie is boorish and clearly arrogant and ignorant despite his wealth and high upbringing. Django is incredibly offensive to Candie and his guests, talking back to all the white men. Candie finds Django's rude and defensive behavior amusing and King to be charming. King and Django state that they are willing to pay an exorbitant amount ($12,000) for one of Candie's better mandingos and they arrange to return with him to his estate.
The next morning, the group travels in a convoy to the Candieland ranch. Django continues to act defiantly, insulting both slave and white man alike, and displays his intelligence. When King asks Django why he is so belligerent, Django says he is playing his role in this dirty world. Candie states that he believes one in 10,000 black men are exceptional, and believes Django to be one of those rare few.
At one point on the travel into Candyland, they see one of Candie's slaves chased up a tree by some of Candie's white trash work-men and their vicious hounds. It turns out the slave, D'Artagnan (named by Candie after the hero from The Three Musketeers
, a book written by Frenchman Alexandre Dumas, whom Candie admires), is a mandingo who was caught running away. Candie convinces D'Artagnan to come down from the tree where D'Artagnan pleads he can't handle any other fights despite having won three in a row. Candie states that his slaves can't retire from fighting until they have won at least five matches in order for him to recoup his $500 investment in them, and that D'Artagnan must be killed. Schultz suddenly offers to pay Candie $500 to spare D'Artagnan's life, but Django, realizing such odd behavior would blow their cover, loudly declares that D'Artagnan isn't worth a single penny. Schultz, coming to his senses, agrees not to pay for D'Artagnan, and Candie has the slave ripped to pieces by the hounds as they all look on. Django glares at Candie, but imagines himself reunited with Broomhilda to keep his anger suppressed.
A little later, they all arrive at Candie Land and meet Candie's widowed older sister Lara Lee (Laura Cayouette) and his loyal house-slave and foreman trustee Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson
). It is clear that Stephen is appalled that Django is free and riding on a horse into the estate along with his master and other white men. Django also takes an instant dislike to Stephen.
Stephen informs Candie that, while he was gone, Broomhilda also attempted to escape and is now locked in the Hot Box, a metal pit in Candie's field. Schultz says he wants to meet Broomhilda, saying he heard legend of her German-speaking abilities. Candie, wanting to please his guest, orders Broomhilda to be cleaned up and sent to Schultz's room. Once there, Schultz explains to Broomhilda (in German) that he and his "friend" are here to rescue her. He then signals Django to come into his room, and Broomhilda faints with happiness upon seeing her husband. Schultz, impressed with Broomhilda's intelligence, begins the next phase of his plan.
That evening at dinner, Broomhilda serves Candie and his many guests - including Schultz and Django. Lara notes that Broomhilda seems to be attracted to Django. This piques Stephen's curiosity (we see that Stephen is clearly invested in Candie's success, and forces the other slaves to call him "Sir," or "Mister Stephen" as though he were their master) and he begins to interrogate Broomhilda in a back room. Broomhilda denies knowing Django, but Stephen knows that she is lying because she bears the same small 'r' brand (for "runaway") on the right side of her face as Django does.
Meanwhile, Schultz, despite Django's "objections," offers to buy Candie's third-best mandingo for $12,000. They agree that Schultz will return to the estate in five days with a lawyer to complete the transaction. Candie, clearly thrilled at this windfall, is then asked by King whether he can also purchase Broomhilda and take immediate possession of her (King claims he is interested in her ability to speak German, though Candie is convinced Schultz is simply sexually attracted to her).
Before Candie can accept the deal, Stephen interrupts and asks to speak to his master in another room. Once there, Stephen (who is drinking brandy) tells Candie that he is convinced that Django and Broomhilda know each other and that Schultz and Django intend to buy her, leave the property, and never return for the mandingo. Candie is incensed and returns to the dining room with a small bag containing the skull of an old slave of his plantation, Ben. He then explains that he collects the skulls of his dead slaves and, invoking the pseudoscience of phrenology, has determined that the reason they don't rise up and kill their masters, despite easily outnumbering the whites, is that their brains are predisposed to subservience whereas white brains are built for dominance and ingenuity. Candie then reveals he knows that they want Broomhilda, and unless they immediately pay him $12,000 for her, he will kill her and examine her skull in front of them. King immediately agrees to these terms, and Candie tells Django that he is not exceptional after all.
Schultz pays the $12,000 and Candie has his lawyer, Leonide Moguy, begin drawing up the papers transferring ownership of Broomhilda to King. Candie gloats about his victory and intelligence, and Schultz begins to think of D'Artagnan's brutal death. The papers are signed, but before they leave, King insults Candie's intelligence, noting how especially stupid Candie is, since he names his slaves after characters in novels written by Dumas even though Dumas was a black man.
Candie, seeking to humiliate Schultz and recognizing that Schultz finds him to be a disgusting human being, says he will not allow the travelers to leave with Broomhilda unless King shakes his hand, a Mississippi & Southern tradition. This is more than Schultz can take. As he stretches out his hand to shake Candie's hand, the spring-loaded pistol he used on the sheriff of Daughtrey pops into his right hand and fires through the flower on Candie's lapel. Candie looks down at the bullet wound, clutches his chest, staggers backwards and falls over, dead. Stephen screams, "No!" and rushes to Candie's side. Butch Pooch, Candie's bodyguard, turns around. Schultz apologizes to Django for being unable to resist temptation, and then Pooch fires his shotgun. The bullet hits Schultz with enough force to throw him back into a bookcase, dead.
Just as Schultz's body hits the ground, all hell breaks loose as Django grabs the distracted Pooch's revolver and shoots him. Moguy tries to run, screaming for help, but is shot multiple times as he tries to enter the foyer. Django then is thrown back into the foyer, and a shootout ensues as he trades fire with numerous white ranchers. Blood flies everywhere and bodies fall left, right and center. Despite taking several losses, several reinforcements of white ranchers arrive, armed with repeating rifles, where they use ladders to scale the second floor of the house to gain access and take position atop the second floor balcony where they open massive return fire against the lone Django who is forced to take cover under some furniture. The shootout ends when Django runs out of ammo, while Stephen and Billy Crash capture Broomhilda and threaten to kill her unless Django surrenders. Feeling that he has no other choice, Django does surrender and he is brutally beaten by Candie's crew.
When Django awakens several hours later, he is naked and tied upside down in a shack. Billy Crash is preparing to castrate him with a red hot knife. Stephen enters and tells the man that the plans have changed, and Django is no longer slated for castration. After the man leaves, Stephen explains that Django would have died too quickly if he had been castrated. Stephen, wanting Django to suffer, has arranged to sell him to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company as a slave, where Django will spend the rest of his days.
En route to the mining company, Django is able to get the attention of one of the transporters (a group of Australians, including a cameo by director Quentin Tarantino). He tells them that he is a bounty hunter, not a slave, and that he was tracking a man worth $7,000 before he was captured. He promises that if they free and arm him, he will give them the lion's share of the reward. They find the bounty notice (from Django's first kill) on his person and also question the other slaves, who admit that Django is a bounty hunter and rode in to Candie Land with a white man on a horse. The transporters unwisely free Django, give him a pistol and he immediately kills them all and frees the other slaves bound for the mine. He takes a horse, guns, and dynamite and heads back to Candie Land.
Django first stops and massacres the men (trackers) who had hunted down the escaped D'Artagnan with their hounds, killing them all in D'Artagnan's name (the masked female tracker is played by Zoe Bell, and another tracker is played by Tom Savini). He then finds King's dead body in a stable with the freedom papers for Broomhilda still on him. After he takes the papers, Django swears that his next act of vengeance will be in honor of King.
Django sneaks back onto the estate and finds and frees Broomhilda. He has her wait outside Candie Land while he engages in further preparations. That evening, Candie's family and friends return from Candie's funeral, Django is there waiting and shoots them all, even Lara; despite that she is unarmed, one can conclude that because she suggested (with the help of Stephen) that Django be sent to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company, so Django eliminated her. He then shoots Stephen in the kneecaps, stating that, in the 9,999 slaves Stephen has likely betrayed while working for Candie, he has never met one like Django. Stephen defiantly cries out that Django will be hunted down and killed by bounty hunters for his crimes, and that the South will never die. Django lights a fuse, and walks out on Stephen. The explosion utterly destroys Candie's mansion.
Django meets his wife, who waits for him with two horses outside the estate. The two are finally reunited, and ride off into the night to face whatever destiny awaits them. Django is destined to become a legend, just as Siegfried before him did.
After the end credits, we cut to the slaves Django freed from the mining company transporters. They remain seated where Django left them, still in awe of what they witnessed. Then, one asks what the name of that black man was (suggesting Django may not yet become a legend).