Skip to navigationSkip to content
once upon a time in hollywood dicaprio
Sony Pictures
Dance like there’s no tomorrow.
MONOPOLY MONEY

Quentin Tarantino had a good weekend. Disney had a much better one

By Adam Epstein

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, made $40 million in its first weekend in the United States. Many are calling the sum a win for original films. And in a vacuum, it is.

The film, which takes place in Hollywood in 1969 and stars A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie (among a slew of other notable names), blew by its $30 million projection en route to becoming the veteran filmmaker’s biggest opening ever. A $40 million opening is excellent for any non-franchise film, even one that boasts as many stars as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

But that $40 million was still only slightly more than half of what Disney’s remake of The Lion King grossed in its second weekend in theaters. The photorealistic “reimagining” of the iconic 1994 animated film raked in $75 million at the box office this weekend, sending the live-action film toward the $1 billion mark and helping Disney make more money in a year than any studio ever—and it’s only July.

Disney has combined to gross nearly $8 billion at the global box office in 2019 from just six movies. It still has new Star Wars and Frozen movies coming out later this year. The studio will likely surpass $10 billion by year’s end, which will shatter the previous record, set in 2016, by $2.5 billion. That record, of course, was set by Disney.

The successful weekend for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the perfect encapsulation of originality’s losing battle against the Hollywood franchise machine (Quartz member exclusive). Even the most unimpeachable victories for original films still pale in comparison to what’s become an average summer weekend at the box office for Disney.

When you include the box office totals of the films under the 20th Century Fox banner (which Disney purchased last year), Disney accounts for more than 40% of the US box office. The studio with the next highest is Warner Bros., at about 14%.

Just last week, Avengers: Endgame surpassed Avatar to become the highest-grossing individual film of all time. Avatar was a Fox property, meaning Disney now owns Avatar, too. Starting in 2021, Disney will alternate Avatar and Star Wars film releases each year through at least 2027, all but ensuring the Mouse House dominates the box office market for the foreseeable future.

Disney’s dominion over Hollywood puts the success of Tarantino’s film in perspective. There are fewer and fewer success stories like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, while Disney’s monopoly is growing larger every year (Quartz membership). Disney owns the top five highest-grossing films of 2019, while only one of the top 10 (Jordan Peele’s Us) is an original, non-franchise movie. As solid as the debut of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was, the film probably won’t even crack the top 20 by the end of the year.