Over the weekend, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, debuted in second place behind Disney’s The Lion King, earning $40.4 million. It’s an impressive start in a summer where non-franchise films have been largely ignored and it represents the auteur’s biggest opening weekend of his career. However, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may have to make quite a bit more in order to break even.
Cheaper than a franchise blockbuster, but much more costly than an indie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s most expensive film to date, with a production cost of $90 million after tax incentives and rebates. The film’s $40.4 million opening weekend represents a good chunk of that, but production is only part of a film’s costs. Between the $90 million production, marketing costs and talent deals for the stacked cast, the film will have to make an estimated $400 million to break even according to THR.
If those estimates are correct, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will need to do around ten times what it made in its opening weekend over the course of its run to get into the black. Without adjusting for inflation, of Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, to date only Django Unchained has made $400 million worldwide, finishing with $425.4 million. Inglourious Basterds is the director’s second-most successful film at the box office, earning $321.5 million worldwide.
You can hear Quentin Tarantino discuss some of the costs associated with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Toy cars!?) on the latest episode of The ReelBlend Podcast.
That $400 million seems like quite a lot when you consider that earlier this year, the blockbuster spectacle Alita: Battle Angel apparently needed $500 million to break even on a $170 million production budget. It’s far too early to tell whether or not Once Upon a Time in Hollywood can achieve that feat, but it will need to major staying power at the box office and a strong international performance in order to do so.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood doesn’t open in Europe, where Quentin Tarantino films do quite well, until next month. The film rolls out in Europe and other markets throughout August and once we see how it performs internationally we’ll start to get a clearer picture of whether it can hit that $400 million break even point.
On the domestic front, the first real indicator of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s legs will come next weekend when we see what kind of drop it has. As expected, critical reviews for Quentin Tarantino’s latest have been positive. So the film has that going for it, and it could receive a boost as we enter September and awards conversation starts. But there are some reasons to think that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood won’t have the staying power it will need.
For one thing, the film only received a “B” CinemaScore, matching Jackie Brown for the lowest awarded to a Tarantino film. That isn’t necessarily horrible or a harbinger of it plummeting at the box office, but the director’s most successful films, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained each earned an “A-,” whereas The Hateful Eight earned a “B+” and only made $155.8 million worldwide. So that may indicate that Once Upon a Time won’t have the kind of word of mouth necessary to get it to $400 million.
In this instance, the best opening night and weekend for a Quentin Tarantino film may have been deceiving. Fans show up opening weekend for the director, but wider audiences may have found the film too long or challenging and without the kind of propulsive action to keep them entertained of something like Django or Inglourious. Still, it is too early to tell where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will end up but it has a long way to go to break even if that $400 million figure is correct.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now playing. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to see what else is headed your way the rest of this year.