Another weekend, another set of box office records broken by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

But so what if the latest installment of the Skywalker family soap opera is on the verge of overtaking "Avatar" as the top-grossing movie of all time in North America? Quentin Tarantino's in trouble!

The Oscar-winner's latest, "The Hateful Eight," enjoyed a surprisingly successful limited run last week, earning a robust $4.6 million on just 100 screens -- no mean feat for an ultra-violent western that ran three hours and was playing on rebuilt or de-mothballed 70MM projectors. But the movie's entry into wide release, with a cut that was 20 minutes shorter, didn't fare so well.

Playing on nearly 2,500 screens, and with no competition from other new wide-release movies, "Hateful" was expected to gross about $25 million this weekend. Instead, it scored an estimated $16.2 million, having to settle for third place behind "Star Wars" ($88.3 million) and the Will Ferrell comedy, "Daddy's Home" ($29.0 million).

That marks the director's lowest opening since "Jackie Brown" in 1997, another Christmas Day release. His last two movies, 2009's "Inglourious Basterds" and 2012's "Django Unchained," had wide-release debuts above $30 million and ultimately grossed more than $120 million each in American theaters. "Hateful" is doing about half the business Tarantino and his backers, the Weinsteins, are used to.

In retrospect, it's easy to see what went wrong with "Hateful Eight." Here are some of the reasons it ran out of steam.
1. Lack of Star Power
Tarantino may be a household name, a rarity among directors, but he's still always relied upon star power to sell his films. Here, the focus is on the ensemble, rather than any one star, though Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins have earned most of the media attention among the cast. Jackson's films may have grossed more than any other actor in history (thanks to his roles in "Jurassic Park," the "Star Wars" prequels, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe), but he's not a box office draw as a lead actor.

2. The Genre
Westerns were Hollywood's bread-and-butter once, but that was decades ago. Only 11 westerns ever have grossed more than $60 million at the domestic box office, and while one of them was Tarantino's "Django," there's no indication that fans wanted the genre-hopping filmmaker to climb back into the saddle so soon.

It's also possible that viewers who want to go to a western are saving their money to see "The Revenant," which opens wide this Friday.
3. Less-than-universal Praise From Critics
The film has an aggregate score of just 75 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes and 69 percent at Metacritic. Those are numbers most directors would love to have, but not an auteurist darling like Tarantino, who's accustomed to near-unanimous raves and awards-season recognition. His reputation, going all the way back to his first film, 1992's "Reservoir Dogs," is built upon his embrace by critics. That they are no longer buying what he's selling can't be lost on potential ticketbuyers.

4. The Roadshow
This should have been an excellent promotional stunt for the film, but many reports focused on the exorbitant cost of scavenging, rebuilding, and operating all the 70MM projectors required for the tour, as well as the inevitable glitches during screenings. Even so, the roadshow did generate positive word-of-mouth, both among customers (as measured by a just-okay B grade at CinemaScore) and box office observers, citing the film's excellent $46,000 per-screen average during the roadshow's opening weekend last week.

But it's not clear that such positive buzz means anything, since the print that debuted in multiplexes this weekend isn't really the same film that roadshow viewers saw, but rather a print with diminished screen size, colors, and running time. The roadshow did a great job of selling a product most viewers won't get to enjoy.
5. The Boycott
Did Tarantino's outspoken defense of the Black Lives Matter movement hurt attendance? There certainly were a number of calls, from police organizations and conservative pundits, to punish Tarantino by boycotting the film. Whether people stayed away for that reason is hard to tell, though social media response suggests that a lot of casual moviegoers are still angry at Tarantino.

6. Tarantino's His Own Worst Enemy
It's tempting also to blame the movie's extreme length and violence for putting audiences off, especially during the Christmas season, but those elements didn't hurt Christmastime release "Django." Tarantino viewers, after all, know what to expect. But maybe that in itself is the problem.

For all his hopping between genres and time periods, you could argue that Tarantino's films really haven't changed much over the course of his quarter-century career. His hallmarks have remained the same, and maybe viewers have finally grown tired of his formula.

And maybe that was inevitable. It's hard to sustain a career based on shock and controversy for 25 years. (Look at Spike Lee.) That's because what was once shocking eventually becomes tame. It's hard to remember now how electrifying "Pulp Fiction" once seemed, now that it's on basic cable all the time and is remembered largely as the film where Travolta chattered about cheeseburgers and danced the twist with Thurman.

The "Hateful Eight" filmmaker is no longer the video store clerk upstart who crashed the movie establishment's party; he is the establishment. After decades of success and acclaim, the most shocking thing he can do now is fail. And while his latest isn't a failure, it seems to have fallen short with his fans.
categories Movies, Box Office