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This summer has mostly been feast or famine at the box office, with blockbusters hitting and missing in equal measure, and acclaimed smaller films aimed more at adults going largely ignored by general audiences. That could be about to change though because Quentin Tarantino is back with his ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which got off to a strong start on opening night.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood drummed up a fantastic $5.8 million from preview screenings that began at 4 p.m. on Thursday night according to Deadline. Tarantino’s latest played in 3,318 locations last night and will expand out to 3,659 today as the Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio film heads into a weekend where it could exceed expectations.
That $5.8 million opening night is far and away the best ever for a Tarantino film, surpassing $1.3 million Inglourious Basterds made in 2009, although that film’s preview screenings began at midnight. That positions Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to possibly have the biggest opening weekend for a Quentin Tarantino movie. That title currently also belongs to the Tarantino/Brad Pitt collaboration Inglourious Basterds, which opened to $38 million.
The long range tracking from a couple of months back had Once Upon a Time landing between $40 million and $60 million but recently as we got closer to release, that had been revised to the low-$30 million range. In this age, brands and properties, not names tend to drive revenue at the box office but there are exceptions. One possible comparison is 2017’s Dunkirk from another director with a big name and a coterie audience, Christopher Nolan.
That film blew away its $35-$40 million tracking for an opening weekend of $50.5 million. Whether Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will fly that high we’ll have to wait and see but it did best Dunkirk’s $5.5 million opening night. So Once Upon a Time has a real shot at having Tarantino’s biggest opening weekend, which would go a long way towards its $90+ million production cost.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has some stuff going for it too. It has been Quentin Tarantino’s biggest pre-seller and reviews have been positive as well. The film currently sits at 89% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Opening night audiences also seemed to really enjoy it with the film earning 4 stars and 55% recommend from ComScore/Screen Engine PostTrak exits.
However, opening night audiences are going to be those who are all in on Quentin Tarantino so we’ll have to wait and see how general audiences feel. On that point I am very curious to see what the word of mouth is. Because while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an obviously Tarantino film it's a different kind of Tarantino film. It is also 2 hours and 41 minutes and I don’t think it will have quite the broad appeal that something like Django Unchained did.
Despite the strong start opening night, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will still probably have to settle for second place at the box office behind The Lion King. The Disney remake made an absurd $191 million opening weekend. So barring an absolutely calamitous drop in its second weekend or an insane performance from Tarantino’s ninth film, the king stays the king.