Glorious Inglourious Basterds for Tarantino, Universal and the Weinsteins
By John Hamann
August 23, 2009
Like the crack of a baseball bat finding the sweet spot, the box office was electrified this weekend as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds opened strongly, setting a box office record for the offbeat director's career. The other openers, Shorts from director Robert Rodriguez, Post-Grad starring BOP-fave Alexis Bledel (Sin City, Gilmore Girls) and X-Games 3D: The Movie, all lived in the shadow of Tarantino and District 9, last weekend's big opener.
Our number one film of the weekend is Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, the violent World War II epic released by The Weinstein Company and the struggling-this-summer Univesal Studios. Basterds, despite its ultra-violence, R-rating and two-hour plus running time, ran up an extremely solid weekend score of $37.6 million from 3,165 venues. Tarantino should be extremely pleased. For a director without a large box office pedigree, this is a huge win, as this opening take destroys the helmer's former biggest opener, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, which opened to $25.1 million over three days in April 2004. On the domestic front, it already looks like Basterds will be at least Tarantino's second biggest film, as it will surely pass the $70 million earned by Kill Bill: Vol 1, and may have a chance at Pulp Fiction's domestic total of $108 million. For star Brad Pitt, Basterds is also a strong box office acheivement, finishing behind only the Ocean's 11 series ($38.1 million, $39.1 million and $36.1 million openings), Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($50.3 million opening) and Troy ($46.9 million opening).
Basterds worked for a number of reasons. The subject matter of the film enabled the engagement of Tarantino fans, hungry for strong dialogue, ultra-violence and cool movie music. Fans of the director were left somewhat confused after Grindhouse, the Tarantino/Rodriguez throwback experiment that pretty much failed in 2007 with an $11.6 million opening and $25 million finish. This is a return to form for Tarantino, and critics noticed. Inglourious Basterds is 86% fresh at RottenTomatoes, with 158 positive reviews out of a possible 183. These positive reviews were great news for the Weinstein Brothers and Universal, as good notices for a pop-culture director are often gold at the box office, and they erased some questionable word-of-mouth coming out of this year's Cannes Film Festival. With the reviews and the opening weekend, Basterds now has to be considered as the front-runner for Awards Season coming out of the summer movie season, along with Pixar's Up, and potentially District 9.
The real winners with Basterds, though, are the studios involved, The Weinstein Company and Universal. Universal has not had a summer to remember, releasing losers like Land of the Lost and Funny People, and losing millions in the process. Additionally, Harvey and Bob Weinstein desperately needed a win. The Weinstein Company has not had a hit since leaving Miramax, with their biggest title under their new banner being Hoodwinked, a 2005 kids movie that earned $51 million. Their (former) biggest opening was Hannibal Rising, which tanked in 2007 after opening to $13 million. According to the LA Times, Inglourious Basterds cost $70 million to make, with the Weinsteins splitting the costs and grosses with Universal, who is distributing overseas. With $200 million or more possible worldwide, both studios will see some nice profits from Basterds, and the Weinsteins still have The Road coming before the end of the year.