The test for ‘Once Upon a Time In Hollywood’: Can original movies still sell tickets?

Posted at 11:22 AM, Jul 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-26 14:07:41-04

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” debuted to incredible fanfare at Cannes earlier this year, but the real test will come this weekend when it opens nationwide during what seems like an endless era of massive windfall for franchises and sequels.

So far, the only original, adult-leaning film in the domestic top-ten this year is Jordan Peele’s horror flick “Us,” which benefited from the name recognition of its director. The same could happen for “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.” It is Tarantino’s ninth film and stars Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie.

“Tarantino is one of a handful of directors that still sells tickets based on name alone above the title,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations. “Fans show up because it’s a Quentin Tarantino film.”

Bock said A-list actors don’t have the same box office appeal they used to, but “DiCaprio is one of those rare actors that’s synonymous with successful cinematic experiences.” Adding Pitt and Robbie to the credits means “this has must-see written all over it.”

Tarantino has directed some of the most acclaimed films of the last 30 years including “Pulp Fiction,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.” Tarantino has won two Academy Awards, both in the original screenplay category, and his films have made more than $1 billion worldwide, according to Comscore.

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” will be in 3,600 theaters this weekend and it has already made $5.8 million since it opened on Thursday night. The film, which takes place in a swingin’ sixties Hollywood, is expected to bring in roughly $30 million domestically by Sunday, according to Sony. That weekend total might seem paltry compared to “The Lion King’s” opening day gross of $78 million, but it would be a good start for an original that is not connected to a franchise.

The film also has positive reviews working in its favor. It has a 89% score on review site Rotten Tomatoes with some critics calling it Tarantino’s “best movie in a decade.”

But R-rated movies rarely do well at the box office. In fact, there are only three R-rated films in the year’s top 20 highest-grossing domestic films so far. It’s also going up against stiff competition from “The Lion King,” which made more than $190 million for its opening last weekend and is expected to take the No. 1 spot again.

Bock says that it’s vital to the film industry for “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” to be a box office hit.

“It’s important that a film earmarked for adult audiences can still succeed in this blockbuster climate,” Bock said. “If Quentin can’t open a well-received adult drama, there’s not much hope for anyone else.”

Sony studio chair Tom Rothman told The Hollywood Reporter recently that the film’s success is crucial because “You can’t give up on originality.”

“It comes from the imagination of a very singular writer-director,” he said. “And these characters are inhabited by the finest actors of our generation. I really want to believe that there remains room on the big screen for big original stories.”