Django – The ‘D’ may be silent but box office returns aren’t

February 19, 2013 by Tom Ferda 

Published in LA SPLASH MAGAZINE Feb. 19, 2013

Django….the ‘D’ may be silent but worldwide box office returns are making a lot of noise, to the tune of $363 million gross to date.

After winning a slew of hardware for Django, including the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, Quentin Tarantino has created a buzz aroundDjangoUnchained_Tarantino small Hollywood as he prepares for Oscar weekend.

Django Unchained enters the Academy Awards ceremony with five nominations and Tarantino finds himself a vote away from making his way back up to the same podium where he hoisted the Best Screenplay award for inking ‘Pulp Fiction’ in the mid-90’s.

Tarantino is the master of exploiting evil. He last did it to perfection in “Inglorious Basterds” and he did it again in Django. The spaghetti Western styled film is 165 minutes of violence and vengeance and is Tarantino’s first major undertaking since he penned and directed Basterds in 2009.  The gifted director is twisted, in good way, and is one of those visionaries capable of mixing horror, humor and violence without offending most moviegoers in the end.

Shot on 35 mm film in 130 days, Tarantino used California, Wyoming and Louisiana as his backdrop for Django.  And yeah, ‘film’ is worth a mention in a day when blockbusters like The Avengers, Argo, Life of Pi and Skyfall are being shot with Arri Alexa digital cameras and enhanced with a ton of CGI effects.  Tarantino remains ‘old school’ and still opts for loading film mags.

Prior to shooting Django, Tarantino took a break from directing for a few years. After producing the Robert Rodriguez film ‘Planet Terror’ in 2007 he wrote and directed Basterds. After receiving eight Oscar nominations for the film, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, he stepped back behind the camera to create Django a project that has brought him back into Hollywood’s spotlight.

While Basterds had an estimated $75M budget and showed a U.S. box office return of $121M, Django was shot for $100M, quite a risk for the spaghetti Western genre but the risk has paid huge dividends. How could it not when it has Tarantino’s stamp on it and he’s teamed up with The Weinstein Company who also distributed Basterds.

The verdict came in right out of the gate.

Audiences came out in hoards since the Christmas Day release, intrigued with bounty hunters seeking revenge and spraying lead at a groupSouthern lynch-mobbers who spit out the N-word 109 times. In fact the $15 million dollar Christmas Day opening set a record for an R-rated film opening and finished third on the all-time list for the holiday.

Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

The casting for Django took several turns. Tarantino’s first choice to play the lead was Will Smith but Smith was later replaced by Jamie Foxx; a better choice in many people’s opinion. Foxx comes across more rugged, hardened than the light-hearted Smith. After Leonardo DiCaprio was cast in the antagonist lead role as a racist, plantation owner and Christoph Waltz took the role as the bounty-hunter, Jonah Hill, Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell were offered starring roles but couldn’t sign on due to conflicts in scheduling.

We all know how Tarantino likes to excavate fossils in Hollywood. Like how he reinvented John Travolta to play a heavy in Pulp Fiction, the director cast Don Johnson to play a racist KKK goon in Django. Yeah, that Johnson, the one who made white suits chic for guys in the 80’s.

While this year marks the 20th Anniversary of Tarantino’s critically acclaimed low-budget masterpiece Reservoir Dogs, it may also mark the year he hoists another Oscar. Regardless the man with great vision finds himself sitting near the top of the Hollywood pyramid once again.

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