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‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Is Off to a Good Start, But It’s Not Tarantino’s Best

With a $40 million opening, Quentin Tarantino's film fell short of "Inglorious Basterds" — but the real test will lie in its longevity.


“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”


This weekend brought good, not great, results. With only two releases in the last 10 days (albeit both critically important), business was equal or slightly better than last year: Overall domestic box office approached $160 million.

The Lion King” kept its #1 slot, though a 61% drop was higher than anticipated. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” delivered about as expected, at just over $40 million in initial estimates. This time last year, we saw “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” gross $61 million. So in sheer numbers, Tom Cruise and his franchise had 50% more appeal than Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Quentin Tarantino. That shows the challenge original films face today, no matter how acclaimed.

The year-to-date shortfall remains close to $500 million, or a little under 7%, and it appears that this summer will fall below last year’s total. It would take a surprise hit to close the gap over the next five months.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Sony Pictures

Where Tarantino’s last film, “The Hateful Eight,” was a flop, “Once Upon A Time” should best its gross sometime this week. In terms of original films released this year, its opening is second only to Jordan Peele’s “Us.” Sony is pushing the narrative that “Once Upon a Time” represents his biggest opening, but that’s only true in unadjusted terms.

Judging by ticket sales, it’s around 4.5 million versus 5.1 million for the 2009 World War II film “Inglorious Basterds,” which has an adjusted gross of about $46 million. “Django Unchained” opened on Christmas Day 2012, a Tuesday; it made $71 million adjusted in its first six days, including the weekend.

To look at it another way: The opening gross is about the same as M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass,” which cost $70 million less than the reported $90 million here (that said: very economical given the cast, period design, and other top-end technical credits).

Ultimately, the test will not come from adjusted grosses or comps, but how well the film can sustain in the weeks ahead. Sony hasn’t supplied a demographic breakdown, but individual theater grosses suggest that it so far lacks the vital minority-audience support critical for most breakout hits.

The top six theaters were all in Los Angeles. Three of the top 10 totals were theaters that included 70mm prints, with Arclight Hollywood (despite some early show issues) grossing over $500,000 alone. (Chicago’s Music Box and Manhattan’s Village East, not normally high-end grossers for studio films, also placed high.) The 70mm screens will gross around $400,000, with 51 theaters that play in 35mm taking in an additional $800,000.

Reasons for a good-not-great result are self evident: the film’s length (2 hours, 45 minutes), an R rating, and appeal outside the mainstream. However, a bigger concern is the B Cinemascore, the same as “Hateful Eight.” Both “Django Unchained” and “Inglorious Basterds” earned an A- before strong post-opening weekend multiples.

The trajectory here is unclear. Initial reaction includes passionate audience response along with some who are mixed, if not outright disappointed. However, Cinemascore is not always the best arbiter, and some fans will buy multiple viewings. This film has the sense of being something different: special, cinematic, and important to experience in theaters. Initial interest skewed somewhat younger than usual, and since older audiences sometimes wait longer to see a film, it could push to a higher ultimate result.

Theoretically, the ultimate domestic gross could be as low as $100 million. It would be a major achievement to equal “Basterds” adjusted total ($145 million), let alone “Django” ($184 million). “Pulp Fiction” soars above both, and should remain Tarantino’s best.

Only minor foreign territories opened this weekend, and China remains unbooked. Tarantino has been a major foreign force, and the star power will work in its favor. Still, with $100 million or more for marketing, profitability is unclear. While Sony stands as having the most to gain or lose, its competitors are watching closely: When it comes to determining the future risks they’ll take on original, big-budget films, Tarantino is the canary in the Hollywood coal mine.

“The Lion King” made $75 million in its second weekend, and stands at $350 million domestic for 10 days and nearly $1 billion worldwide. It’s staggering. The people have spoken.

(from left) Ellie (Lily James, back to camera) and Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) in "Yesterday," directed by Danny Boyle.


Photo Credit: Jonathan Prime/Uni

Only two other films managed over $4 million this weekend. Massive hits “Spider-Man: Far from Home” ($12.2 million) and “Toy Story 4” ($9.9 million) continue to thrive. The former is over $1 billion worldwide, and the latter could still reach it. The craft and skill in making these films is daunting, but it seems much easier than overcoming the resistance that faces a film like “Once Upon a Time.”

“Crawl” dropped a bit to place fifth ($4 million), with $31 million so far — respectable for its costs. “Yesterday” had a larger drop, likely because its core older audience had interests in the Tarantino title. It has reached an unexpected $63 million.

“The Farewell” placed 10th while in only 135 theaters — a testament to its strong performance as well as the dearth of competing titles.

The Top 10

1. The Lion King (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$75,524,000 (-61%) in 4,725 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $15,984; Cumulative: $350,776,000

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 85

$40,350,000 in 3,659 theaters; PTA: $11,028; Cumulative: $40,350,000

3. Spider-Man: Far from Home (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #2

$12,200,000 (-42%) in 3,851 theaters (-564); PTA: $3,168; Cumulative: $344,455,000

4. Toy Story 4 (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #3

$9.872,0000 (-36%) in 3,610 theaters (-140); PTA: $2,735; Cumulative: $395,629,000

5. Crawl (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$4,000,000 (-34%) in 2,720 theaters (-450); PTA: $1,471; Cumulative: $31,463,000

6. Yesterday (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #5

$3,000,000 (-40%) in 2,550 theaters (-112); PTA: $1,176; Cumulative: $63,342,000

7. Aladdin (Disney) Week; 10 Last weekend #7

$2,788,000 (-32%) in 1,798 theaters (-307); PTA: $1,551; Cumulative: $345,929,000

8. Stuber (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #6

$1,679,000 (-59%) in 2,150 theaters (-900); PTA: $781; Cumulative: $20,101,000

9. Annabelle Comes Home (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #8

$1,560,000 (-40%) in 1,287 theaters (-694); PTA: $1,212; Cumulative: $69,737,000

10. The Farewell (A24) Week 3; Last weekend #12

$1,554,000 (+36%) in 135 theaters (+100); PTA: $11,510; Cumulative: $3,657,000

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