Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in … Hollywood took off to a fantastic $40 million in the US and marked a record opening for the director. That was enough to beat stablemate Spider-Man: Far from Home, but short of The Lion King‘s domestic top finish of $75 million. Sony’s USA first-and-only opening is a rare strategy for a film with clear global appeal but looks set to pay dividends overseas next frame as widespread fan buzz adds to already glowing critical reviews.
Once Upon a Time has Leonardo DiCaprio starring as an actor on the last legs of his career while Brad Pitt takes a turn as his stuntman cum driver/handyman who spends much of his time working on his boss’s house in the Hollywood Hills, just down the drive from the Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s (Margot Robbie) residence. The pair are thrown through the wringer in the world of swinging 60s Hollywood in ways that only this film’s director could conceive. The film is reported to have cost $90 million to produce and Sony didn’t cut any corners on advertising with a $110 million global campaign starting with a full-fledged assault at Cannes where a near-final cut screened in May. Tarantino and his two marquee stars are said to be receiving 30% of the film’s gross, leaving the studio needing this one to be a global hit in order to turn a profit from theatrical sales. Awards talk began in earnest after its Riviera premiere and that could boost the film’s stock significantly when streaming and televised distribution contracts come into play down the line.
This week’s big domestic opener certainly was a win for high concept original filmmaking, but the global chart still belongs firmly to Disney’s ever-present franchise sequels and remakes. Aladdin, now two months into its global run, just crossed the billion-dollar mark after a $9.9 million worldwide frame. Toy Story 4 meanwhile added $29.7 million in its 41 markets and at $917.92 is coming up on the nine-figure milestone as well. The Lion King, for its part, was the number one movie on earth for the second weekend in a row and did $218 million this weekend. King’s global cume reached $962.6 million and should break the billion-dollar mark by Wednesday at the latest. Spider-Man: Far from Home is already over that mark, at $1,036.000.
Together with Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame‘s historic tally, these last three hits have pushed Disney’s theatrical earnings for 2019 to $7.67 billion dollars. That’s enough for an all-time yearly income record for a single studio, set before the end of July. Three more massive films on the horizon will move that bar even higher. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, opens on October 18. Then we have Frozen 2, the sequel to the biggest animated film of all time, on November 22. After that, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker starts on December 20. Even a very conservative projection of $3 billion between these films puts Disney’s global earnings for the year in uncharted 11 figure territory. Films like Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood prove that the public still appreciates fresh and risky ideas, albeit even in this case from a director whose name is a brand of its own. But it’s hard to see how long studios and their shareholders will continue to bet on these in the face of such gargantuan competition.