Despite — or, more likely, because of — the debate raging around Quentin Tarantino’s latest genre pastiche “Django Unchained,” the film has opened to especially large numbers at the box office, even in its position as perverse holiday counterprogramming. The Weinstein Co., Tarantino’s loyal backers, must be pleased with the critical and audience response to the super-violent Western so far — not to mention the roiling public discussion.
The company announced Friday that “Django,” which opened Christmas Day to a record-breaking $15 million for an R-rated movie, has grossed $34 million in its first three days of release. This, despite a nearly three-hour running time. This successful start means the film has substantial momentum to carry into its first weekend in theaters.
Tarantino’s movies have never been blockbusters, but several have benefited from excited word of mouth and long legs in theaters. “Inglourious Basterds,” the filmmaker’s previous film and highest grosser, opened at number one in late August 2009 to more than $38 million. It ultimately topped out domestically with $120.5 million, plus another $201 million from foreign moviegoers. “Kill Bill Vol. 1” landed with a similar split in 2003, with $70 million domestic and $111 million overseas after a $22 million opening.
So “Django” has a shot to surpass Tarantino’s breakthrough “Pulp Fiction,” which grossed $214 million worldwide in 1994, though the more recent film’s focus on the pre-Civil War years of American slavery isn’t likely to appeal to foreign audiences the way his World War II-set revisionist history “Basterds” did. Whether it does or not, Tarantino’s hold on pop culture and draw among fevered filmgoers remain as vicious as a freed slave with a talent and taste for vengeance.