DiCaprio and Pitt share the big-screen with Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell, Lena Dunham and the late Luke Perry. Though box office charts are currently dominated by superhero tentpoles and Disney remakes, audiences have been responding to movies based on original ideas like A24's "Midsommar" and Universal's "Us" and "Yesterday," which could bode well for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." Tarantino's film will also benefit from some serious star power.
Sony, the studio distributing “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” shelled out a hefty $90 million in production fees, a figure that doesn’t include global marketing costs. The director's Oscar-winning "Django Unchained" is his biggest box office success to date with $425 million worldwide. Unless the film exceeds expectations, it will fall behind "Inglourious Basterds" as Tarantino's biggest opening weekend to date. That movie, which also starred Pitt and debuted in late summer, launched with $38 million and went on to earn $120 million at the domestic box office and $321 million globally.
Critics were high on the movie at Cannes, and it holds an impressive 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, but festival buzz doesn't guarantee commercial appeal. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is one of the few options this summer skewed toward older crowds, but ticket sales will heavily depend on how receptive crowds are to the combination of Tarantino and the high-wattage cast.
Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt's characters in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," will have to take on much more than a changing showbiz landscape. This weekend, the washed-up actor and his majordomo are battling Disney's juggernaut "The Lion King" at the domestic box office.
However, older moviegoers aren't a demographic that rushes out to see a movie on opening weekend, meaning solid word-of-mouth could parlay into a long and lucrative life in multiplexes. Its sophomore outing could double — or even triple — "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's" initial grosses. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" should earn $30 million when it debuts in over 3,600 theaters. Tarantino's R-rated auteur drama and Disney's PG family film will be appealing to very different audiences, but "The Lion King" is once again expected to suck up much of the oxygen in theaters across the country.
The movie follows DiCaprio and Pitt as an aging actor and his longtime stunt double who are struggling to find their place in a changing Hollywood. At the same time, Sharon Tate (Robbie), the up-and-coming actress married to director Roman Polanski, moves next door. The drama, which pays tribute to the golden age of Tinseltown, is set in the late 1960s against the backdrop of the Manson family murders.
Jon Favreau's photorealistic update raked in a massive $192 million during opening weekend, the best start among Disney's remakes and the second-biggest domestic debut of the year. If "The Lion King" sees a hold similar to the studio's past re-imaginings such as "Beauty and the Beast," "The Jungle Book" and "Aladdin," the musical could collect between $87 million and $100 million during its second weekend in theaters.” /> Despite the new nationwide release, "The Lion King" is expected to once again dominate in North America.

Here’s a Playboy Mansion party where Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) is hanging out, as you might expect him to be, but then so is Mama Cass (Rachel Redleaf). At that point, we’re hooked enough on Tarantino’s heightened version of true-life Hollywood that this love triangle sounds like a little movie of its own. McQueen, talking to Rick, fills in the back story of Sharon, Roman, and their friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), the hairdresser who is still in love with Sharon — and, according to McQueen, is hanging around with them because he’s biding his time, waiting for Roman to screw up his marriage.
Pitt is just as inspired: The sequence in which that Manson girl, named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), gets Cliff to drive her back to Spahn Ranch, where Cliff used to shoot Westerns, and where he meets the Family (though not Charlie, who is only in the film for about 30 stray seconds), is creepy, suspenseful, and vengefully gratifying. In the late '60s, a lot of people passed through Spahn Ranch, and this encounter — though, of course, pure fiction — plays with an eerie plausibility. All Cliff wants to do is say hello to his old colleague George Spahn (Bruce Dern). Rick, on the set of "Lancer," turns out to be a desperate but terrific actor. But to do so he’s got to threaten his way past Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning), who sleeps with George to secure the place for the Manson cult. There’s a sensational extended sequence of him playing the villain, forgetting his lines, hating himself in the trailer, then revving himself to go back and give a hell of a performance, and it’s all a testament to what an extraordinary actor DiCaprio is.
It has been 25 years to the day since Quentin Tarantino’s "Pulp Fiction" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, crystalizing a cinema revolution, and we have never looked back. Yet here’s one more QT anniversary, a bit less monumental but, in its way, as meaningful: It has been 10 years since the premiere of "Inglourious Basterds," which also took place at Cannes — and for me, at least, that means it’s been a decade since Quentin Tarantino gave us an unambiguously great Quentin Tarantino movie.
I will say that what Tarantino does here rhymes, to a point, with the violent climax of "Inglourious Basterds." Yet that movie, as much as it toyed with history (which was no more, really, than any of the late-studio-system World War II movies it drew from), was also, in the largest sense, true to history. It’s now August 8, 1969, and the rest of the film is devoted to Quentin Tarantino’s version of how the Manson murders play out, which I will not reveal. The way Tarantino plays with the Manson murders in "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood" is at once more extreme and more trivial. And frankly, for this Tarantino believer, that made it less satisfying. Which is, in fact, what happened. Hitler got destroyed, and the Americans won.
By the end, Tarantino has done something that’s quintessentially Tarantino, but that no longer feels even vaguely revolutionary. He has reduced the story he’s telling to pulp.” /> And the way the movie resolves all this feels, frankly, too easy. You can say, as many will, that it’s only a movie. But for much of "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood," Tarantino brilliantly uses the presence of the Manson girls to suggest something in the Hollywood cosmos that’s profound in its diabolical bad vibes.
And when Cliff, driving Rick’s yellow Cadillac Coupe de Ville, keeps passing an outrageously flirtatious teenage girl in cut-offs and a halter top, who lives with a guy named Charlie at Spahn Ranch, the sense of worlds colliding, in ways as sinister as they are vibrant, feels right. The first half of "Once Upon a Time…," which is the superior half, is set in February '69, and Tarantino views these two characters with a straight-up macho humanity that is gratifyingly unironic. A scene with Rick, portraying a black-hatted villain on the new series "Lancer," getting into a philosophical chat about acting with his eight-year-old girl costar, who’s a budding feminist Method Actor? Bring it. Why not. And he does digress, in that following-his-free-associational-bliss way. DiCaprio and Pitt fill out their roles with such rawhide movie-star conviction that we’re happy to settle back and watch Tarantino unfurl this tale in any direction he wants. A car-slamming fists-meets-martial-arts duel on the set of "The Green Hornet" between Cliff and Bruce Lee (played to ferocious perfection by Mike Moh)?
In "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood," Tarantino re-creates the Hollywood of 50 years ago with a fantastically detailed and almost swoony time-machine precision, and it’s not just about the marquees and the billboards featuring end-of-the-studio-system-era corn like "Three in an Attic," or all the juicy Top 40 chestnuts on the soundtrack. The movie captures how Hollywood, by 1969, was a head-spinningly layered place.
And here, beyond the music, is the new noisiness of America: the "hip" commercials blaring from transistor radios, the TV sets that never get turned off, the flamboyant hippie garb that’s starting to go mainstream, turning the counterculture into a living fashion boutique. Red Baron"), which popped like crazy yet with a rambunctious easy-listening bounce. Here’s the rock 'n' roll of the moment (like Paul Revere and the Raiders or "Snoopy vs. Here’s the TV-cowboy mystique of the '60s, which is really a degraded schlock echo of the movie-cowboy culture of the '50s.
(When the tears come, it’s for how badly he has let career melt down.) Cliff, by contrast, is a war veteran and rough-and-tumble stud bruiser who lives in a cruddy trailer next to the Van Nuys Drive-In but seems happy and satisfied, like most Brad Pitt characters, with himself. When he’s crossed, he will kick the bejesus out of anyone, and he’s got a bad reputation: The rumor is that he killed his wife and got away with it. (A flashback to a scene on a boat with that very wife, who digs at him mercilessly, doesn’t spill the beans, but it’s not exactly evidence that the rumor is wrong.) Rick, who appears to be based at least partly on Burt Reynolds, is an instinctive actor, a gentle charmer, and a secret softie in a brown-leather jacket — the first Tarantino hero to prove that real men do cry.
In a sense, he's right, but he goes and does it, taking Cliff with him, and he spends six months there, making a few more movies; he comes back with an Italian wife. Isn’t he the master of showing? And it’s at around the point of his return that "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood" begins to move forward with less cocksure bravura, less virtuoso snap. Rick has an offer on the table, from a shrewd if scuzzy agent (Al Pacino), to shoot a Western in Rome. The prospect fills him with despair; he thinks spaghetti Westerns are the bottom rung of the entertainment totem pole. In the movie, Tarantino has already introduced a narrator, who he uses sparingly, but then he starts to use the narrator more often, breaking the show-don’t-tell mystique, and we wonder why.
Both are drawling, easy-going good ol’ boys who are functional drunks (Rick favors whiskey sours; Cliff likes his bloody Marys), and they’ve been kicked around Hollywood, but they’ve got a yin-and-yang connection. In "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood," Tarantino tells the dual story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), who starred in a black-and-white TV Western series called "Bounty Killer" in the late '50s and early '60s, but whose career is now hitting the skids; and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick’s longtime stunt double and best pal, who has basically become his gofer and driver.
And Tarantino takes us deeper than we’ve been into the life of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who along with her husband, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), has rented the house next to Rick’s on Cielo Drive. Robbie nails Tate’s wide-eyed slightly aristocratic sensual daze, and has a lot of fun in a scene where Sharon goes to a theater to watch herself in the Matt Helm caper "The Wrecking Crew," exulting in her performance as she props her dirty bare feet up on the seats, so that Quentin — in an image he uses as a motif more than ever before — can park his camera in front of them, as he does a little later with the Manson girls. Many have turned the spectacle of Charles Manson and his girls into drama, but Tarantino is onto something by viewing Manson's followers as ominous harpies who also incarnated a new kind of sexualized feminine consciousness.
It comes closer than "Django Unchained" or (God knows) "The Hateful Eight." It’s a heady, engrossing, kaleidoscopic, spectacularly detailed nostalgic splatter collage of a film, an epic tale of backlot Hollywood in 1969, which allows Tarantino to pile on all his obsessions, from drive-ins to donuts, from girls with guns to men with cars and vendettas, from spaghetti Westerns to foot fetishism. In this case, he doesn’t have to work very hard to find spaces for those fixations, since Tarantino, in this 2-hour-and-41-minute tale of a Hollywood caught between eras, is reaching back to the very source of his dreams. "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood," which premiered today at Cannes, is not that X Factor movie — though for long stretches (a good more than half of it), it feels like it could be.
You know the difference as well as I do, because it’s one that you can feel in your heart, gut, and soul: the difference between a Quentin movie that’s got dazzle and brilliance and a number of hypnotic sequences, and is every inch the work of his fevered movie candy brain, and a Quentin film that enters your bloodstream like a drug and stays there, inviting (compelling!) you to watch it again and again, because it’s a virtuoso piece of the imagination from first shot to last — and every moment is marked by a certain ineffable something, the Tarantino X Factor that made "Pulp Fiction" the indie touchstone of its time.