Box office numbers as of September 24, 2019
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could become Quentin Tarantino's biggest box office hit, but it'll struggle to get there. The period piece opened in theaters this past summer, taking viewers on an entertaining journey through 1960s California. It's a testament to the film's quality it's remained at the forefront of the Oscars 2020 discussion, even as several of the main fall festivals launch other awards hopefuls generating a ton of buzz. Just about everyone is in agreement Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will score multiple nominations, including several major categories.
In addition to being a critical darling (though there have been some controversies), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was also a massive commercial success. Posting Tarantino's largest opening weekend with $41 million, the film's earned $138.3 million domestically and $344.7 million worldwide against a $90 million production budget. Since the movie came out in July, business for it has slowed down considerably and it'll soon be out of U.S. theaters. That being said, it still has an outside chance of becoming Tarantino's highest-grossing film of all-time.
It was recently announced Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will debut in China on October 25. China, of course, is the world's second-largest film market and has proven to be a boon for studios in the last handful of years. Tentpoles, in particular comic book movies, do extremely well in China. The MCU has been a favorite in the country for a while, and last year, Venom and Aquaman received rare extensions. When a film plays in China, it's a big deal.
Currently, Tarantino's highest-grossing movie globally is Django Unchained, which made $425.4 million back in 2012. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is $80.7 million away from matching Django. That puts it as a distinct disadvantage, especially because China is the only market waiting to receive the film. So, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood would need to have an unprecedented performance (for a Tarantino film) in the Middle Kingdom to make up that gap. This goes without saying, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn't a Marvel movie, and Tarantino isn't much of a draw in China. Django Unchained made $2.6 million there, and several of his movies didn't even play in China. It seems farfetched to expect Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (which is a love letter to a very specific American era) to gross over $80 million in China.
Even if Once Upon a Time in Hollywood falls short of overtaking Django, that won't take anything away from its accomplishments. The film was noteworthy for being a deviation from the typical Tarantino formula, and arguably isn't as accessible to mainstream audiences as some of his other hits. That Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did this well during the competitive summer movie season illustrates Tarantino is a brand unto himself and is still incredibly popular 25 years into his feature filmmaking career. If he is to retire after his 10th film, Tarantino will be bowing out on a high note.