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.
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. 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. 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.
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. DiCaprio and Pitt share the big-screen with Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell, Lena Dunham and the late Luke Perry.
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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.
“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. 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.
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. 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. The director’s Oscar-winning “Django Unchained” is his biggest box office success to date with $425 million worldwide.
Despite the new nationwide release, “The Lion King” is expected to once again dominate in North America. 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.