'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Box Office: Quentin Tarantino Scores His Second Best Opening

It's currently the talk of the town, but can Tarantino's latest sustain its success?

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Box Office
Sony Pictures

Everyone is talking about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but is everyone seeing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? The movie opened in second place over the weekend, grossing less than half of its reported production budget and falling short of early expectations. Still, it’s one of Quentin Tarantino‘s best debuts, attendance-wise, even if under the shadow of The Lion King‘s continued dominance at the box office.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood drew about 4.6 million people to its 3,659 locations across America in its first three days. That’s almost as good as Inglourious Basterds a decade ago. Tarantino’s World War II fantasy opened in August 2009 with an audience of 5.1 million folks. Both Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown had better debuts when you consider their per-screen averages given their relatively minimal distribution to just over 1,000 locations.

Here are all of Tarantino’s movies ranked by opening-weekend (or first wide-release opening*) domestic ticket sales:

1. Inglourious Basterds (2009): 5.1 million
2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): 4.6 million 
3. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004): 4 million
4. Django Unchained (2012): 3.74 million
5. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003): 3.66 million
6. Pulp Fiction (1994): 2.2 million
7. Jackie Brown (1997): 2 million
8. The Hateful Eight (2015): 1.8 million*
9. Death Proof [via Grindhouse] (2007): 1.7 million
10. The Man from Hollywood [via Four Rooms] (1995): 0.1 million
11. Reservoir Dogs (1992): 0.03 million

Neither Four Rooms nor Tarantino’s debut feature, Reservoir Dogs, went wide in their release, while The Hateful Eight began limited then expanded quickly. Pulp Fiction, of course, went on to become the filmmaker’s reigning all-time hit (with total gross adjusted for inflation). And despite being his fourth-best opener, Django Unchained became Tarantino’s second-best domestic success and is number one for his worldwide grosses.

For the curious, here are opening-weekend domestic ticket sales for movies involving Tarantino as a screenwriter but not director:

True Romance (1994): 1 million
Natural Born Killers (1994): 2.7 million
Crimson Tide (1995): 4.3 million
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996): 2.3 million

How did his latest perform compared to how it was tracking? Box Office Pro forecast a better opening for OUATIH back in May, reporting that the “highly anticipated” “ninth film” from Tarantino could make somewhere between $40 – 60 million with a mid-range guess of the equivalent of 5.5 million tickets sold. The reality was at the bottom of that range, which Box Office Pro got closer to last week with a prediction for somewhere between $30 – 50 million and guess of the equivalent of 4.4 million tickets.

Does OUATIH have a chance at a leggy run in theaters? While it’s the talk of the town this week, Tarantino’s latest might not be as hot moving forward. Critical reception averaged very well but still on the lower end of the spectrum for his work. Its score on Rotten Tomatoes (85%) is below those of (in order) Pulp Fiction (92%), Reservoir Dogs (91%), Inglourious Basterds (88%), Jackie Brown (87%), and Django Unchained (86%).

The movie only received a B grade from fans on its opening night via CinemaScore polling. The only movie with a lesser reception from moviegoers was Four Rooms, which wasn’t likely Tarantino’s part’s fault. Both Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight, which were said to disappoint many fans, also received B grades. Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1, and even Grindhouse got a B+ while Kill Bill Vol. 2, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained got an A-, his highest grade.

Common complaints from people seeing OUATIH over the weekend apparently regard its length, slow spots, and an assumption from Tarantino that everyone knows how the Manson Family murders went down 50 years ago (just check out our explanation of the ending for help). The movie is one of the few Tarantino features to have a lower audience score on Rotten Tomatoes than critic score (Jackie Brown and Kill Bill Vol. 1 are the others), but it also currently has the best IMDb rating after Pulp Fiction and the combined singular cut of Kill Bill.

Where OUATIH might do well is on return viewings by its more satisfied audience members as well as by some of the less certain crowd. Many fans are already seeing the movie multiple times to continue to appreciate its nuances in new ways. Those who aren’t sure what they think and those that return after checking out some of the background and analysis out there will be seeing if they like it better on the second try. A lot of them may wait for later for a revisit, though.

In other box office news, Spider-Man: Far From Home became the first Spider-Man movie to gross more than a billion dollars worldwide (not that Sam Raimi’s trilogy of films isn’t comparable if adjusted for inflation, especially Spider-Man 3). The best thing about that news is that the movie reportedly had to reach that milestone in order for Sony to continue working with Marvel Studios on their Spidey franchise.

The best per-screen average for a new movie was achieved by the beekeeping documentary Honeyland, which also had the best average overall after The Lion King, selling about 3,300 tickets across just two locations. Fellow new docs Mike Wallace is Here and For Sama also debuted well on just a few screens each, while another documentary, Maiden, became the latest nonfiction release to cross the $1 million mark.

Sundance sensation The Farewell continued to perform very well, entering the weekend top 10 for the first time in the family comedy’s third week of release. And still only on fewer than 150 screens. That’s especially noteworthy at a time when the only movies that don’t seem to be falling in time are Disney live-action reimaginings. In addition to The Lion King, Aladdin also held its spot from last weekend and Dumbo actually climbed from 43rd place to 33rd in its 18th week.

Here are the weekend’s top 12 domestic release titles by the estimated number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. The Lion King – 8.5 million (39.1 million)
2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – 4.6 million (4.6 million)
3. Spider-Man: Far From Home – 1.4 million (38.3 million)
4. Toy Story 4 – 1.2 million (44 million)
5. Crawl – 0.5 million (3.5 million)
6. Yesterday – 0.342 million (7 million)
7. Aladdin – 0.337 million (38.4 million)
8. Stuber – 0.195 million (2.2 million)
9. Annabelle Comes Home – 0.172 million (7.7 million)
10. The Farewell – 0.169 million (0.4 million)
11. Avengers: Endgame – 0.106 million (95.1 million)
12. The Secret Life of Pets 2 – 0.102 million (17.1 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.