Quentin Tarantino has Biggest Opening Weekend with 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'
July 29, 2019
Reports of the death of narrative cinema may have been exaggerated.
Yet… 2019 hasn't offered up a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of original storytelling on the big screen, except, perhaps, with the exception of Jordan Peele's Us, every major hit at the box office this year has either been a sequel, a reboot, or a remake tied to some existing intellectual property. In addition to the creative stagnation such storytelling implies, it has spoken volumes about how very few companies—save Disney which has the top five grossers of 2019—own big narratives.
And even though Disney once again took the number one spot over the weekend with their commercially-successful, yet critically dismissed photo-real remake of The Lion King, which took in $75 million over its second weekend in theaters, writer/director Quentin Tarantino enjoyed the biggest opening of his storied career with his original film Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. Once Upon a Time earned $40 million in its first weekend in theaters.
While the success of The Lion King represents a triumph of branding and technology, the wide enthusiasm for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood represents a triumph for original storytelling.
Although Tarantino's film wasn't exactly an underdog—it stars three of the hottest actors on the planet right now: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie— the film couldn't help but feel like a quaint offering in the face of the corporate mega-branding that delivers most big movies these days.
It's also important to note that Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood was backed and released by one of those major corporations, Sony, and their belief that such a film can work in the current marketplace. This kind of large studio support is an important show of faith in non-branded narratives.
Most significantly perhaps, is the fact that Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood not only mythologises on-screen storytelling, it mythologises narrative itself.
Set in the rapidly-evolving show business of 1969, DiCaprio plays an actor named Rick Dalton and Pitt plays his stunt double, Cliff Booth. In the fictional world of this film, Dalton lives next door to the real-life actress Sharon Tate, portrayed by Robbie. With Dalton mostly consigned to TV roles, the film luxuriates in Tarantino's affection for small-screen stories and the many conventions that surround them. But Dalton has made several movies as well, and Tarantino has a lot of fun staging sections of them and filling out Dalton's filmography. A love for the power of film and television is evident.
Without getting into spoiler territory, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood's biggest storytelling takeaway might be around how it shows that history, both personal and general, is always filtered through a narrative lens. It speaks to the centrality of narrative in shaping both our own view of ourselves, and that of the world around us.
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood makes a very strong case for the power of narrative, which can only be good for storytelling overall.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com