UPDATED: “The Hateful Eight” earned a solid $16.2 million in its first weekend of wide release, but the reception for the blood-drenched film pales in comparison to director Quentin Tarantino’s previous efforts.
In fact, that stands the lowest result for one of the director’s solo efforts since “Jackie Brown” kicked off to $9.3 million in 1997. It trails the debuts of “Inglourious Basterds” ($38 million), “Django Unchained” ($30.1 million), “Kill Bill: Vol.1” ($22.1 million) and “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” ($25.1 million).
Harvey Weinstein, the indie mogul who has fielded every one of Tarantino’s releases, took umbrage with an earlier version of this article, calling Variety to press his case that the piece did not fully account for the box office juggernaut that is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The seventh film in the science-fiction franchise has dominated ticket sales, racking up more than $740 million domestically in its first three weeks of release.
“We’re living in a ‘Star Wars’ universe,” he said. “I love ‘Star Wars.’ I think it’s great. It’s not sour grapes, but if I’m writing a memo to myself, I would say ‘do not open against ‘Star Wars.’ Do not open against the biggest movie of all time.”
The popularity of ‘Star Wars” coupled with “The Hateful Eight’s” roughly three hour running time has prevented the film from commanding as many screens as it might have and from having as many showtimes. Weinstein also noted that “Django Unchained” debuted against the second weekend of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “Les Miserables,” while “Inglourious Basterds” faced no other major studio release.
“We would have doubled the gross without ‘Star Wars,'” said Weinstein, who believes “The Hateful Eight” will show some endurance in the coming weeks.
Despite “Star Wars” mania, going into the weekend most analysts were expecting “The Hateful Eight” to pull in at least $20 million. The Weinstein Company acknowledged it would have liked to see a higher gross.
“It’s a really crowded marketplace,” said Erik Lomis, distribution chief at the Weinstein Company. “We were looking to do a little more, but it’s a good start.”
The film also had to contend with a number of films aimed at older audiences, including the lesbian romance “Carol,” the financial comedy “The Big Short,” and the biopic “Joy.” The fight for sophisticated moviegoers will grow more pitched next weekend when “The Revenant,” a historical drama with a gore quotient that may outmatch “The Hateful Eight’s,” expands nationwide.
Lomis noted that “The Hateful Eight” had an unorthodox release pattern. The studio debuted special, longer versions of the film in 100 theaters over Christmas week, where it screened in 70mm. That form of projection has largely been abandoned in an era of digital prints, but cinephiles believe it results in a crisper image.
Combining the $6.6 million that “The Hateful Eight” made exclusively from its “roadshow” version during its initial week in theaters would result in a gross that is closer to the average opening for a Tarantino film, Lomis argued.
This roadshow version has proven to be popular with Tarantino’s core fans. Last weekend, 15% of the film’s gross came from 70mm venues, and Lomis thinks exhibitors will keep the film in these special theaters through January. Demographically, the R-rated film is skewing heavily male, with men making up 62% of ticket buyers. Nearly 60% of the audience is between the age of 25 and 49.
Tarantino has been on a historical kick of late, revisiting the past to put a spaghetti western-infused spin on dark chapters such as Nazi-dominated Europe and slavery in the antebellum South. “The Hateful Eight,” a western that unfolds in the wake of the Civil War, continues that exploration, and, like his recent “Django Unchained,” has generated controversy for its use of the N-word. Tarantino also sparked a firestorm of media attention and threats of a police boycott (one that never materialized) after appearing at an October rally against police violence.
Ultimately, a film rises or falls on its own merits. To that end, reviews for the film have been positive, although “The Hateful Eight” hasn’t achieved the same level of acclaim as “Django Unchained” or “Inglourious Basterds.” Moreover, critics like the New York Times’ A.O. Scott have contended that the film is misogynistic because of the way that characters treat Jennifer Jason Leigh’s criminal firebrand as a punching bag. Despite the furor surrounding it, the film and Leigh are expected to be major contenders when Oscar nominations are announced this month, something that could goose receipts.
“The Hateful Eight” cost less to produce than other Tarantino productions. Filmed for $62 million, the film was made for a roughly half of “Django Unchained’s” $100 million budget, so the studio doesn’t have to match that film’s $425.4 million global total to turn a profit.
That said, the Weinstein Company still has a lot riding on the film. The indie label recently laid off 50 people from its 225-person staff and has decided to slash the number of films it releases from 18 a year to between eight and ten. It needs a hit to placate a board of directors that is reportedly eager to see a return on its investment.
To that end, Tarantino, who previously reversed a flailing Weinstein Company’s fortunes when “Inglourious Basterds” became a summer hit in 2009, has proved an indefatigable campaigner. He has gamely showed up at screenings of the film, and in magazine profiles and newspaper pieces is appearing as the face of a movie, which unlike “Inglourious Basterds” or “Django Unchained,” lacks an A-list star of the caliber of Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Every time Quentin shows up, the fans go crazy,” said Lomis, adding, “With awards season coming up, we’re going to have a really solid run.”