- Disney’s “The Lion King” won the domestic box office for a second-straight weekend with an estimated $75.5 million.
- But the real story of the weekend is the performance by Sony’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” which came in second place with a strong $40.4 million.
- Quentin Tarantino’s ninth movie proved that audiences will come to original movies — when they are motivated correctly.
- Now Sony’s game plan is to make “Once Upon a Time” the must-see movie for the rest of the summer.
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Disney’s “The Lion King” brought in an estimated $75.5 million to win the box office for a second-straight weekend and has a global take of over $960 million. It’s only a matter of time that it becomes Disney’s next $1 billion earner. But that’s not the main story of this weekend’s box office.
The real story is that a studio has finally released something that has motivated audiences to put down their hard-earned cash for something other than a superhero movie, franchise title, or remake. That’s right: An original story.
Sony’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” the ninth movie from Quentin Tarantino and the first-ever from the auteur backed by a studio (up to this point in his career, Tarantino’s movies have only been released by Harvey Weinstein-owned companies), came in second place with $40.4 million. The best opening ever for Tarantino, topping the $38 million made by “Inglourious Basterds” its first weekend in 2009.
The movie had a lot going for it going into this weekend. There’s Tarantino at the helm, which guarantees his fans coming. Then add the biggest stars in the world in the lead roles, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Plus the talk since the first reports of the movie that in some way the story revolves around the Manson family and the death of actress Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie). It had a recipe for success.
But to cash in, Sony is doing something that’s very rare in today’s industry: it’s playing the long game.
The studio knows it’s not going to get back the movie’s $90 million budget (plus its marketing) in its opening weekend. It just won’t happen for a movie with an original story in this day and age. Especially one that’s R-rated and runs almost three hours long. So Sony is taking the movie’s strong 85% Rotten Tomatoes score and the positive word of mouth from this weekend and will make “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” the movie you have to see (hopefully more than once) before the summer ends.
The timing seems right. There’s only one really big movie event on the horizon for some time, and that’s Universal’s “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” next weekend. Sony’s thinking is seemingly that “Once Upon a Time” will be the movie that will thrive during the dull month of August. And audiences for a movie like Tarantino’s aren’t a first-weekend crowd. They will show up when it fits their schedule. As long as the theater count doesn’t have a sharp decline, “Once Upon a Time” could have a good amount of coin by Labor Day.
And don’t forget the international take. Tarantino’s last three releases have all performed better overseas than domestically.
Sony, like every studio, needs its money-making IPs to survive. It’s latest Spider-Man movie, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” is the first in the franchise ever to cross $1 billion at the worldwide box office. But the head of the studio, Tom Rothman, also thrives to give audiences originality. And “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is the latest example of his drive to pull that off.
As he told Business Insider over the phone last week as he put final preparations on the release of his Tarantino movie: “I’m going to go to my grave believing that if we make fresh things, there is still an audience for freshness.”