Box Office: Will Tarantino Controversy Rattle ‘The Hateful Eight’?

Hateful Eight
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy.

Since bursting on the scene with “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992, the video store geek turned cinematic bad boy, has inspired blowback over everything from the use of racial slurs in his films to his penchant for disposing of his characters in gruesome fashion. But nothing has prepared him for the firestorm he’s unleashed over the last few days.

Tarantino’s appearance at an Oct. 24 rally in New York against police brutality led to boycott threats by law enforcement unions of his next film, “The Hateful Eight.”

Tarantino inspired their ire by remarking at the event,”When I see murder I cannot stand by. And I have to call the murdered the murdered and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”

And his comments at the gathering have kicked off a media backlash, landing him in the crosshairs of conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly and as front page fodder for the likes of the New York Post.

His words may be divisive, they may be ill-considered, but they are unlikely to doom “The Hateful Eight” at the box office, analysts say.

“It’s a minor distraction,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “People love Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker and an artist, and whatever he does on the side is white noise. It’s not going to stop people from watching his movies. He has a few personality wrinkles, but we’re not talking about Roman Polanski here.”

Indeed, filmmakers like Polanski and Woody Allen have endured punishing scandals only to go on to commercial successes and awards glory. In the case of Tarantino, his offense, if indeed it should be considered as such, is related to his political views, not any personal peccadilloes. Stars like George Clooney and Sean Penn routinely hold forth on social issues with no discernible impact to their careers.

“Audiences have become much more sophisticated about separating peoples’ personal thoughts and views and lives from their professional work,” said Joe Quenqua, director of the entertainment practice at DKC, a public relations firm.

Sometimes a spin in the news cycle can even boost business. In the past, films like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Passion of the Christ,” and last year’s “American Sniper” have gotten a box office lift from controversies. But the dissension surrounding their release stemmed from their on-screen content. “The Hateful Eight” is in an unusual position. Nothing in the film, which is set in the post-Civil War era, has anything to do with police violence. Its subject matter is completely divorced from the furor surrounding it.

That’s not to say the Weinstein Company, which is distributing “The Hateful Eight,” and Tarantino’s team isn’t in crisis mode.

“Studios invest a lot of time and money and resources into releasing a movie and they want to control as much of the campaign for that film as they can,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. “When you’ve got a vocal filmmaker or actor or celebrity that can cause a real headache for studios.”

In that case, team Weinstein might want to reach for the Advil. The indie label has a lot riding on the film, a Spaghetti Western mash-up that is heavy on the director’s pulp-culture flecked dialogue. Recent films like “No Escape” and “Burnt” have disappointed or flopped at the box office, and the studio is having cash flow issues. It needs “The Hateful Eight” to succeed.

But its chief, Harvey Weinstein, is heavily reliant on Tarantino in other ways. The director’s loyalty (Weinstein released “Pulp Fiction” launching Tarantino into the stratosphere) has lifted the Weinstein Company at key junctures. “Django Unchained” and “Inglorious Basterds” are the company’s highest grossing and fourth highest-grossing titles, respectively. In return for delivering hits, Weinstein largely leaves Tarantino alone, allowing him to bring his visions to the screen with minimal interference.

And in this case, Tarantino is showing no signs of backing down. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said that he didn’t mean to imply that all police officers were “murderers,” but did hit back at the unions for boycotting the film and trying to “intimidate” him. He’s scheduled two upcoming appearances on “All in with Chris Hayes” and “Real Time With Bill Maher,” neither venue a favorite with critics on the right.

Still public relations gurus think that the director may be able to defuse the situation by further clarifying his comments. They also argue that the fact that the film is still nearly two months away from its release will mitigate any fallout.

“The news cycle is accelerating all the time, but this one has some legs to it,” said Quenqua. “This is a bad situation for everybody involved. Even though this has a shelf life, it will be off the shelves long before the film campaign truly begins.”

The police unions could be the least of its concerns. “The Hateful Eight” has not been screened for critics yet, but if the picture has the same liberal use of a racial epithet that got Tarantino into trouble in films like “Jackie Brown” and “Django Unchained,” it could result in a graver problem.

“If he does use the n word and African-American leaders get upset, that could turn more people off and be an even bigger threat,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.

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  1. Asm says:

    Movie is tanking. God loving, police respecting citizens said NO thank you to this trash.

    • Will C says:

      Good for you. Still doesn’t change that you got manipulated into taking the wrong side of history because you can’t understand context without some media outlet putting a spin on it to have you believe what they want you to.

  2. The Josh Bernstein Show says:

    Quentin Tarantino probably lives in a 10,000 sq ft GATED and GUARDED Community with 24 Hour Surveillance and this nitwit has the gall to call our brave men and women in blue murderers?

  3. 85wzen says:

    Just because he said that some cops were murderers? Damn! Not like he said much! You folk need to get locked up more often!

  4. I saw the headline and thought perhaps he’d actually said something offensive. There’s nothing wrong with calling out murderers, and it’s distributing how those whose job it is, ostensibly, to protect us seem much more intent on protecting those among them who have committed wrongdoing.

  5. Joe M says:

    Quentin Tarantino is to America as Putin is to Russia – A LIBERAL ASS. He make money glorifying horrible, violent movies. He should be SEEN and NOT NEARD. Police Officers all over the country should UNITE and rebuff this BIGOT.

  6. Marty says:

    He crossed the line here and while I like his movies I cannot support someone who bears an overt hatred of those that risk their lives daily to protect ALL.

  7. cadavra says:

    The wide opening is two months off, an eternity in show-biz terms these days. This will be largely forgotten by then. And even if every single one of the nation’s 241,000 police officers AND their spouses don’t attend, that’s still less than $4 million, a smidgen compared to DJANGO’s $162 million domestic and $450 million worldwide theatrical gross.

  8. Can’t wait to see it.

  9. Gigi says:

    I will never go see another Tarantino movie or anything he (or his ilk) is associated with ever again. Shame on him spewing such garbage.

  10. CR Franze says:

    I’m with law enforcement. We won’t spent our money on any Tarantino film…ever!

  11. Hey hypocrite Tarantino, go on a police ride-a-long in the Bronx you POS. Bring some diapers with you coward!

  12. Boycott this scumbag’s movie! Here is another crappy movie with no plot and a bunch of murders and cursing.

  13. Tickets Please. Really have to see this movie. Where are the tickets Please.

  14. Mr. Mike says:

    Tarantino is done. He has lost at least half of all future audiences. The Hateful Eight was shot down by the Hateful One.

  15. Joel says:

    All this PB B.S….if one sees a person get murdered, why is it wrong to point out the murderer? He never said anything about “all cops”…but was stating that those who kill need to be called out and held accountable. I see nothing wrong with that. I’ll be happy to contribute to the coffers for HATEFUL EIGHT. (And no, I don’t care if the N-word is used…in fact, depending on the scenarios, I fully expect it. it’s post Civil War, people!

    • 1support says:

      I co-sign. Don’t like going to theaters too much in NYC cause of bed bugs……Having said that, after witnessing officers disrespect Mayor DeBlasio, I will probably go see this film… It was a turn-off watching the behavior of some officers’ and Mr. Tarantino never said, “all cops” were murderers! But unfortunately, their are a few that discredit the badge and the general public has grown tired of bullies and intimidation tactics… This may become Tarantino’s hugest opening as a result.

      “Mother, Mother there’s too many of you crying. Brother, Brother , Brother there’s far too many of you dying. You know We’ve got to find a way to bring Loving here to stay… What’s Going On”. Marvin Gaye, after 44 years, these words ring so true.

  16. stannorton says:

    It all depends on how good his latest film is.

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