After eight days in theaters, Quentin Tarantino’s amped-up Western “Django Unchained” has grossed more than $77 million in the U.S. That puts it $24 million ahead of “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino’s highest grosser, at the same eight-day mark.
Granted, “Django” cost a lot more to produce than Tarantino’s revisionist 2009 World War II thriller, but it’s still likely to end up a shockingly successful film. Once foreign audiences have their chance, their love for Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio could very well overcome their usual antipathy for American Westerns and black themes.
Either way, “Django” already tops the total domestic gross of too many 2011 studio movies to count: “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Moneyball,” “We Bought a Zoo,” “Hugo,” “I Am Number Four,” “The Ides of March” and “Contagion,” among them. Before it’s done, “Django” is also likely to pass “War Horse,” “Real Steel,” “The Green Hornet,” “Cowboys & Aliens” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” if not more.
That’s an astonishing outcome given how bloody and graphic, long and odd, historical and radical “Django” is. It just may be that with his last two films Tarantino has shrewdly tapped into a distinctly American lust for revenge, played out in fantastical plots that reverse the very real evils of history. If that’s his new m.o., then the Oscar-winning writer-director will have a lot of material to choose from. (Native Americans and women are impatiently waiting their turn.)
Harvey has always been a loyal backer, and Tarantino has turned out to be one of his most profitable investments. In terms of the Weinstein Co.’s history, “Django” is looking increasingly likely to top Tarantino’s own best, “Basterds,” and may very well become Harvey and Bob’s biggest release ever if it gets over the $135.5 million Best Picture winner “The King’s Speech” grossed domestically in 2010-11. TWC’s latest Best Picture winner, “The Artist,” topped out at $45 million domestic in 2011-12. (Both of these were released on the same late weekend in November, a month earlier than “Django” hit theaters.)
“Django” would even break into the top ten highest-grossing films of the Miramax library that Bob and Harvey built. That rarified air includes “Chicago” ($171m), Scary Movie ($157m) and “Good Will Hunting” ($138m) — Tarantino’s own “Pulp Fiction” sits at number five with $108 million. And the film has already broached the top ten biggest Westerns of all time — a list that includes “Unforgiven,” “True Grit” (Coens, 2010) and “Dances With Wolves.”
These numbers aren’t the only reason that awards loom large for “Django,” which has received five Golden Globe nominations to “Basterds”’ four. “Django” star Christoph Waltz won the best supporting actor Golden Globe for “Basterds,” and then took that prize again at the Oscars, where “Basterds” had eight noms total.
And now “Django”’s Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone and Stacey Sherhave just nabbed a Producers Guild nomination — a major signal that it will be up for best picture at the Oscars. (Lawrence Bender also nabbed a PGA nom in 2009 for “Basterds.”)
Think about the position TWC is in: “Django” or David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” could take best picture; Tarantino, Russell and “The Master” mastermind Paul Thomas Anderson could all be up for best director; Jennifer Lawrence is a best bet for best actress; Bradley Cooper and Joaquin Phoenix are equally destined for best actor nods; Waltz and DiCaprio could be vying for best supporting actor, along with Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman; Amy Adams and Jacki Weaver may land best supporting nods; Tarantino and Anderson are surely both landing best original screenplay noms; and Russell is only losing the best adapted screenplay award if Tony Kushner gets it instead for his “Lincoln” log.
Should TWC grab a third consecutive Oscar for best picture it will be an incredible achievement. By early fall, it looked as if the company would be pushing “The Master” for the big prize. Then “Silver Linings Playbook” had all the momentum. But Harvey turned out to have nurtured an embarrassment of riches by backing a third idiosyncratic auteur with his most outlandish conceit yet — an escaped slave meting out righteous justice across the racist South, and making a lot of money doing it.