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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: Rick's 1980s Action Career, Explained

Following the brutal climax of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, television cowboy Rick Dalton goes on to enjoy a successful career in 1980s action movies, according to writer/director Quentin Tarantino. The 1969-set movie follows a few days in the life of Rick and his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth, who struggle to find their place in a changing Hollywood. Meanwhile, actress Sharon Tate has moved in next door to Rick, setting the stage for a history-altering retelling of the infamous Charles Manson cult murders.

Played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Rick Dalton is the washed-up former star of Bounty Law, a fictional Western inspired by the Steve McQueen-starring Wanted Dead or Alive. Rick is a relic of Hollywood’s golden age, a proud conservative who resents the counterculture movement and initially refuses to make Spaghetti Westerns in Italy to salvage his fading career. Relegated to guest appearances on television, Rick is stuck playing the heavy, designed always to be beaten by the new wave of action heroes. That is until his violent actions at the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood make news headlines.

Related: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: Rick's Hidden Medical Condition Explained

Tarantino clearly has a lot of love for these characters, boasting about how much footage never made the movie’s final cut and revealing extra information via Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's new novelization, like whether or not Cliff killed his wife. While promoting the novel, Tarantino revealed in an interview on The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith exactly what happens to Rick in the future. The actor successfully profits off the Manson Family attack before revitalizing his career with a string of 1980s rip-offs.

As revealed in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s novel, Rick gains notoriety for burning a Manson follower with a flamethrower from his movie The 14 Fists of McClusky. This garners worldwide attention, with Rick turning into a “folkloric hero of Nixon’s silent majority.” Considering his blunt dismissal of hippies, it’s not difficult to imagine the one-time TV cowboy becoming a conservative icon. This attention lands him in better guest roles on bigger tv shows. In fact, Tarantino enjoyed creating the character so much that, just for his own amusement, he wrote another book cataloging Rick's complete filmographyThe Films of Rick Dalton. Tarantino describes how Rick’s real success comes with the revenge thriller The Fireman, which he co-writes and produces with Cliff. This buddy project revives his movie career in the early 1980s, taking heavy inspiration from real films The Exterminator and Death Wish.

In The Fireman, Rick plays a cop and Vietnam veteran who discovers corruption in the police force. After his partner, played by a young Samuel L. Jackson, is killed, Rick’s protagonist dresses as a firefighter and, echoing his actions when facing the Manson follower, uses a flamethrower to enact his revenge. Directed by Rick, with Cliff helming the action sequences, the movie is a success and lands Rick a lucrative production deal, including two sequels to The Fireman. Contradicting Tarantino's earlier comments on Rick's future, the director gives Dalton the third wave of his career, in which he makes a string of straight-to-video action movies, ripping off the likes of Rambo, The Terminator, and Mad Max. It may not be the most acclaimed career for an actor who struggled to swallow his own pride in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but it appears Rick is content with his renewed fame.

Rick retires in 1988 after his action stardom takes him to Italy and the Philippines. It’s unlikely his further adventures will ever be explored onscreen, but the so-far unpublished book reveals Tarantino’s deep admiration for the character. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has seemingly softened Tarantino, who gives Rick a happier resolution than the film's heroic yet ambiguous ending.

More: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Every Major New Detail In The Novel

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