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Hunting the box-office bounty

On the eve of the release of Django Unchained, Ian Sandwell charts the global performance of Quentin Tarantino’s most recent films.

The blood may flow consistently in a Quentin Tarantino film, but the dollars do not always follow. Indeed, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds marked the first time a Tarantino film had crossed $200m at the international box office and the first time since 1994’s Pulp Fiction that the director had managed to register more than $100m in North America.

Inspired by Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 spaghetti western Django, Django Unchained is Tarantino’s eighth feature and stars Jamie Foxx as the titular slave who is hired by German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to eliminate a ruthless gang of killers called the Brittle Brothers. In return, Schultz promises to free Django from slavery and help rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Django Unchained is released by The Weinstein Company on Dec 25 in the US, with its international release handled by Sony Pictures Entertainment in the early months of next year, to capitalise on any awards buzz. 

Inglourious Basterds, which had a Cannes launch, followed a similar release pattern and went on to gross $321.5m globally. Waltz scooped the best supporting actor Oscar in 2010.

But predicting Django’s box-office trajectory is tricky as Tarantino’s performances have been a series of peaks and troughs. Following Pulp Fiction’s $213.9m global haul, 1997’s Jackie Brown saw a decline to just over $70m globally. After a six-year gap, the first part of Tarantino’s hotly anticipated two-part revenge saga Kill Bill slashed its way to $180.9m worldwide. Yet the same audience didn’t turn out for Kill Bill: Vol. 2, which dipped to $152.2m. There was an even steeper decline for the director’s ambitious Grindhouse project with Robert Rodriguez, which grossed just over $50m globally in 2007.

It is a similar pattern when just domestic returns are taken into account, although it is worth noting that Kill Bill: Vol. 2 was within $4m of Vol. 1’s tally and even opened higher than Vol. 1.

Adult-oriented fare in the Christmas period can do well. David Fincher’s violent action thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo grossed more than $100m following its Dec 21 release in the US last year. 

Global appeal

Internationally, the CIS is one of the first major territories to open Django Unchained on Jan 3. Yet the market didn’t respond particularly well to Inglourious Basterds, with a $6m return, and provided a similar amount for the two Kill Bill films combined.

Greater success could come from Django Unchained’s releases in Western Europe, where it is unleashed in France, Germany, Italy and the UK during the same weekend (Jan 16-18), before opening in Spain the following week (Jan 25).

The UK was the biggest international market for Kill Bill, with returns of $21m for Vol. 1 and $16.9m for Vol. 2. Inglourious Basterds grossed a solid $16.4m. France and Germany were bigger for Tarantino’s Second World War-set epic, with tallies of $23.6m and $25m, respectively.

Italy and Spain regularly deliver healthy numbers for a Tarantino film. Inglourious Basterds grossed $13.4m in Italy, while Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 took a combined $13.6m. Basterds grossed $15m in Spain, while Kill Bill took a combined tally of just over $10m.

Kill Bill saw strong returns in Japan, perhaps unsurprisingly given the heavy Asian cinema influence on the first film in particular. Vol. 1 scored $20m, the second highest international territory for the film, and while grosses dropped by half for Vol. 2 to $8.5m, it was still the third biggest international tally for the second film.

Django Unchained will benefit from the track record of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx. DiCaprio is on a sterling run at the worldwide box office (albeit one brought to a shuddering halt by J. Edgar’s $79m global gross). Inception took a huge $825.5m worldwide, including more than $290m domestically, while Shutter Island overcame mixed reviews to amass $294.8m globally.

Jamie Foxx helped to propel 2004’s Ray to more than $100m globally, the same year his double-header with Tom Cruise, Collateral, shot to $217.8m worldwide. And while Waltz has mainly stuck to supporting roles since his Oscar-winning turn in Inglourious Basterds, Water For Elephants, The Green Hornet and The Three Musketeers all saw global returns of more than $100m.

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