Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Riding Toward $40M Opening; 'Lion King' Stays No. 1

Andrew Cooper
'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

Quentin Tarantino's R-rated opus — starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt — earned a career-best $16.9 million on Friday.

Sony's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is riding toward a $40 million opening at the domestic box office after grossing $16.9 million on Friday — writer-director Quentin Tarantino's biggest opening day, not adjusted for inflation.

And for the full weekend, the critically acclaimed, R-rated movie looks to narrowly edge out Inglourious Basterds to mark Tarantino's best opening, thanks to his ardent fan base and the allure of seeing Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt together on the big screen for the first time.

One surprise: Once Upon a Time received a B CinemaScore from moviegoers. His two most successful films, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchanged, received an A-.

Tarantino's ninth film — and the first made without the aid of Harvey Weinstein — is billed as the only original tentpole of the summer for adults, which is otherwise dominated by franchise installments and other branded IP.

Speaking of the power of brands, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will still come in No. 2 behind Disney family powerhouse The Lion King, which is expected to earn $77 million-$80 million in its sophomore outing. The Jon Favreau-directed pic topped Friday's chart with $22.3 million.

Friday gross includes an impressive $5.8 million in Thursday previews.

Heading into the weekend, Sony remained conservative in predicting a $30 million opening for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But rivals and other box office analysts projected a start in the $40 million to $50 million range. Since adults don't rush out on the first weekend, the bigger question is the movie's staying power.

Once Upon a Time, set in the winter and summer of 1969, is a twinned tale of a changing Hollywood and the Manson Family. DiCaprio plays a washed-up Western star desperate to keep his career going, while Pitt plays his longtime stuntman. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, the actress and wife of Roman Polanski who was murdered by Manson's followers. Al Pacino also stars.

Inglourious Basterds, also starring Pitt, bowed to $38 million in late August 2009, not adjusted for inflation. And over Christmas in 2012, Django Unchained, starring DiCaprio, including $30.1 million for the Dec. 28-30 weekend (opening Dec. 25, it took in $63.1 million in its first six days).

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood cost at least $90 million to produce after tax rebates and incentives, likely making it Tarantino's most expensive film. It's getting the widest release of the maverick filmmaker's career, or more than 3,500 theaters.

The critically acclaimed movie, running two hours and 41 minutes, currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes score of 87 percent. That's down slightly from 93 percent following Once Upon a Time's world premiere in May at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sony and Marvel Studios' Spider-Man: Far From Home, Disney/Pixar's Toy Story 4 and Paramount's Crawl are expected to round out the top five.

July 27, 8 a.m. Updated with Friday grosses and revised weekend estimates.