Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood[a] is a 2019 comedy-drama film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Produced by Columbia Pictures, Bona Film Group, Heyday Films, and Visiona Romantica and distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, it is a co-production between the United States, United Kingdom, and China. It features a large ensemble cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, the film follows a fading character actor and his stunt double as they navigate the rapidly changing film industry, with the looming threat of the Tate murders hanging overhead. It features "multiple storylines in a modern fairy tale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood's golden age."
Announced in July 2017, it is the first Tarantino film not to involve Bob and Harvey Weinstein, as Tarantino ended his partnership with the brothers following the sexual abuse allegations against the latter. After a bidding war, the film was distributed by Sony Pictures, which met Tarantino's demands including final cut privilege. Pitt, DiCaprio, Robbie, Zoë Bell, Kurt Russell, and others joined the cast between January and June 2018. Principal photography lasted from June through November around Los Angeles. This was the final film to feature Luke Perry, who died on March 4, 2019. The film is dedicated to him.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 26, 2019 and in the United Kingdom on August 14. The film has grossed $374 million worldwide and received praise from critics for Tarantino's direction and screenplay, the performances (particularly from DiCaprio and Pitt), cinematography, soundtrack, sound design, costume design, and production values. Among its various accolades, the film was chosen by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of the year. It received 10 nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won Best Supporting Actor (Pitt) and Best Production Design. It also won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Pitt) at the 77th Golden Globe Awards.
A television series titled Bounty Law, based on a TV program depicted in the film, is currently being developed by Tarantino.
In February 1969, Hollywood actor Rick Dalton, the star of the 1950s Western television series Bounty Law, fears his career is fading, as most of his recent roles have been guest appearances as villains. Casting director Marvin Schwarz advises him to make Spaghetti Westerns in Italy, which Dalton feels are beneath him. Dalton's best friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth—a war veteran who lives in a trailer with his pit bull, Brandy—drives Dalton around because Dalton's driver's license has been suspended due to DUI arrests. Booth struggles to find stunt work because of rumors he murdered his wife. Actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, have moved next door to Dalton, who dreams of befriending them to revive his career. That night, Tate and Polanski attend a celebrity-filled party at the Playboy Mansion.
The next day, Booth reminisces about a sparring contest he had with Bruce Lee on the set of The Green Hornet resulting in Booth being fired. Meanwhile, Charlie stops by the Polanski residence looking for Terry Melcher, who used to live there, but is turned away by Jay Sebring. Tate runs errands and stops at the Fox Bruin Theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew.
Dalton is cast to play the villain in the pilot of Western television series Lancer and strikes up a conversation with his eight-year-old co-star, Trudi Fraser. During filming, Dalton struggles to remember his lines and suffers a breakdown in his trailer as a result. He subsequently delivers a strong performance that impresses Fraser and the director, Sam Wanamaker.
Booth picks up a female hitchhiker, "Pussycat" and takes her to Spahn Ranch, where he once worked on the set of Bounty Law. He takes notice of the many "hippies" living there. Suspecting they may be taking advantage of the ranch's owner, George Spahn, Booth insists on checking on him despite "Squeaky"'s objections. Booth speaks with the now nearly blind Spahn, who dismisses his concerns. Upon leaving, Booth discovers that "Clem" has punctured a tire on Dalton's car. Booth beats him and forces him to change the tire. "Tex" is summoned to deal with the situation, but arrives as Booth is driving away.
After watching Dalton's guest performance on an episode of The F.B.I., Schwarz books him as the lead in Sergio Corbucci's Spaghetti Western, Nebraska Jim. Dalton takes Booth with him for a six-month stint in Italy, during which he films three additional movies, and marries Italian starlet Francesca Capucci. Dalton informs Booth he can no longer afford his services.
On the evening of August 8, 1969, their first day back in Los Angeles, Dalton and Booth go out for drinks to commemorate their time together, then return to Dalton's house. Tate and Sebring go out for dinner with friends, then return to Tate's house. Booth smokes an LSD-laced cigarette purchased earlier and takes Brandy for a walk while Dalton prepares drinks. Manson Family members "Tex", "Sadie", "Katie", and "Flowerchild" arrive outside in preparation to murder everyone in Tate's house, but Dalton hears their muffler and orders them off the street. Recognizing him, the Family members change their plans and decide to kill him instead, after "Sadie" reasons that Hollywood has "taught them to murder". "Flowerchild" deserts them, speeding off with their car. Breaking into Dalton's house, they confront Capucci and Booth. Booth recognizes them from Spahn Ranch and orders Brandy to attack. Together they kill "Tex" and injure "Sadie", though Booth is stabbed in the thigh and passes out after killing "Katie". "Sadie" stumbles outside, alarming Dalton, who was in his pool listening to music on headphones, oblivious to the melee inside. Dalton retrieves a flamethrower previously used in a movie and incinerates "Sadie". After Booth is taken away in an ambulance to receive treatment, Sebring and Tate invite Dalton over for a drink, which he accepts.
Quentin Tarantino portrays the director of Dalton's Red Apples cigarettes commercial and the voice of Bounty Law. Toni Basil appears in the opening credits Pan Am scene. Additionally Clifton Collins Jr., Omar Doom, Clu Gulager, Perla Haney-Jardine, Martin Kove, Michael Madsen, Scoot McNairy, James Remar, Brenda Vaccaro, Corey Burton (voice), and Tarantino's wife, Daniella Pick appear in the film.
Rick Dalton is an actor who starred in the fictitious television western series Bounty Law, based on the real-life series Wanted Dead or Alive, starring Steve McQueen. Tarantino's original inspiration for Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth came from an actor who he worked with on one of his films and the actors stunt double of many years. Dalton's relationship with Booth is based on Burt Reynolds' with his longtime stunt double Hal Needham. Tarantino's inspiration for Dalton was based on actors whose careers began in classical Hollywood but faltered in the 1960s, namely Ty Hardin, who went from starring in a successful TV western to making spaghetti westerns, and Tab Hunter. DiCaprio based his performance of Dalton on Ralph Meeker. Though not mentioned in the film, Dalton suffers from undiagnosed bipolar disorder, inspired by Pete Duel. Tarantino revealed that after the events of the film, Dalton finds more success. Him killing Susan Atkins with a flamethrower from one of his films, gets a lot of media attention, leading to offers for roles in feature films. He also gets bigger guest roles in TV series including an episode of Mission: Impossible that centers around his character.
Cliff Booth, Dalton's stunt double and best friend, is an indestructible World War II hero, Green Beret with a specialty in knives and close quarter combat, and "one of the deadliest guys alive." Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt modeled Booth after Tom Laughlin's portrayal of Billy Jack. Booth is inspired by Needham and Gary Kent, a stuntman for a film made at the Spahn Ranch while the Manson Family lived there. As well as stuntman and two-time national judo champion Gene LeBell, who worked on The Green Hornet after complaints by other stuntmen that Bruce Lee was "kicking the shit out of the stuntmen," and, like Booth, was suspected of murder but never convicted. Tarantino said there was one stuntman who served as Booth's primary inspiration. He stated he was a "Dangerous dude" and that "Tough actor[s] who don't show weakness" were scared of him. "There was just something scary about the guy" and "He could do stunts that nobody could." Billie Booth is Cliff's wife, whose death is based on Natalie Wood's.
Trudi Fraser, the precocious child actor working on Lancer, is inspired by an actual character from that series. In the film, Marvin Schwarz is Dalton's agent, a role that Tarantino wrote specifically for Al Pacino. Lorenza Izzo based her portrayal of Francesca Capucci, a starlet who marries Dalton, on 1960s Italian actresses Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, and others. Some characters, such as Zoë Bell's stunt coordinator, Janet Miller, and Heba Thorisdottir's makeup artist, Sonya, were portrayed by individuals who performed those same jobs for the film. In the film Randy Miller is the stunt coordinator for The Green Hornet. Bennie E. Dobbins was the real-life stunt coordinator for the series.
The screenplay for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was developed slowly over several years by Tarantino. While he knew he wanted it to be titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, evoking the idea of a fairy tale, he publicly referred to the project as Magnum opus. The life of the work for the first five years was as a novel, which Tarantino considered to be an exploratory approach to the story, not yet having decided if it would be a screenplay. Tarantino tried other writing approaches: the early scene between Rick Dalton and Marvin Schwarz was originally written as a one-act play.
Tarantino discovered the centerpiece for the work about 10 years previously while filming a movie with an actor that had been working with the same stunt double for several years. Even though there was only a small bit for the stuntman to do, Tarantino was asked to use him, and agreed. The relationship fascinated Tarantino and inspired him to make a film about Hollywood. Tarantino stated, while the stuntman may have been a perfect double for the actor years earlier, when he met them, "this was maybe the last or second-to-last thing they'd be doing together".
Tarantino first created stuntman Cliff Booth, giving him a massive backstory. Next, he created actor Rick Dalton for whom Booth would stunt double. Tarantino decided to have them be Sharon Tate's next-door neighbors in 1969. The first plot point he developed was the ending, moving backwards from there, this being the first time Tarantino had worked this way. He thought of doing an Elmore Leonard-type story, but realized he was confident enough in his characters to let them drive the film and let it be a day in the life of Booth, Dalton, and Tate. He would use sequences from Dalton's films for the action, inspired by Richard Rush's The Stunt Man, which used the scenes from the WWI movie they were making within the film as the action. Further, to get his mind into Dalton, Tarantino wrote five episodes of the fictional television show Bounty Law, in which Dalton had starred, having become fascinated with the amount of story crammed into half-hour episodes of 1950s western shows.
Tarantino kept the only copy of the third act of the script in a safe to prevent it from being prematurely released. DiCaprio and Pitt were the only two other people who read the entire script. In an interview with Adam Sandler, Pitt revealed that the only other copy of the script was burned by Tarantino.
On July 11, 2017, it was announced that Quentin Tarantino's next film would be about the Manson murders. Harvey and Bob Weinstein would be involved, but it was not known whether The Weinstein Company would distribute the film, as Tarantino sought to cast before sending a package to studios. Tarantino approached Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence to star. It was reported that Margot Robbie was being considered for Sharon Tate. Samuel L. Jackson was in talks for a major role, and Pitt was in talks for the detective investigating the murders.
After the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations, Tarantino cut ties and sought a new distributor, after having worked with Weinstein for his entire career. At this point, Leonardo DiCaprio was revealed to be among a short list of actors Tarantino was considering. A short time later, reports circulated that studios were bidding for the film, that Tom Cruise was in talks for one of the leads, and that David Heyman had joined as a producer, along with Tarantino and Shannon McIntosh. Tarantino later revealed the role Cruise was considered for to be that of Cliff Booth.
On November 11, 2017, Sony Pictures announced they would distribute the film, beating Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Annapurna Pictures and Lionsgate. Tarantino's demands included a $95 million budget, final cut privilege, "extraordinary creative controls", 25% of first-dollar gross, and the stipulation that the rights revert to him after 10 to 20 years.
In January 2018, DiCaprio signed on, taking a pay cut to collaborate with Tarantino again. Al Pacino was being considered for a role. On February 28, 2018, the film was titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with Pitt cast as Cliff Booth. DiCaprio and Pitt were each paid $10 million. In March 2018, Robbie, who had expressed interest in working with Tarantino, signed to co-star as Sharon Tate, while Zoë Bell confirmed she would appear. In April 2018, Jessica Lange was in talks to play Mary Alice Schwarzs, but dropped out and Brenda Vaccaro replaced her. In May 2018, Burt Reynolds, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, and Michael Madsen joined the cast. Timothy Olyphant was also cast. In June 2018, Damian Lewis, Luke Perry, Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning, Clifton Collins Jr., Keith Jefferson, Nicholas Hammond, Pacino, and Scoot McNairy joined the cast. Spencer Garrett, James Remar, and Mike Moh were announced in July. In August 2018, Damon Herriman as Charles Manson, and Lena Dunham, Austin Butler, Danny Strong, Rafał Zawierucha, Rumer Willis, Dreama Walker, and Margaret Qualley were cast.
When Butler auditioned for the film, he was not aware of which character he was being considered for. Tarantino told him it was for a villain or a hero on Lancer, when in fact it was for Tex Watson. To prepare for her audition, Maya Hawke practiced with her father, Ethan Hawke. She stated, "He (Tarantino) actually organized a really amazing callback process that was unlike anything I've ever been through... except maybe auditioning for drama school." Willis auditioned for two roles, neither of which she got, but was later offered the part of Joanna Pettet. Sydney Sweeney said everyone she auditioned with did so for the same character, then were told they could do extra credit. Some did artwork, and she wrote a letter in character. Julia Butters says her sitcom American Housewife was on while Tarantino was writing her character, Trudi Fraser. He looked up and said, "Maybe she can try this." Charlie Day was the producers' first choice to play Manson. Day did not show up to interview for the part because he did not want to see himself as Manson. Macaulay Culkin auditioned for an undisclosed role. It was his first audition in eight years.
Principal photography began on June 18, 2018, in Los Angeles, California, and wrapped on November 1, 2018. Burt Reynolds died in September 2018 before filming any of his scenes; Bruce Dern was cast as George Spahn in his place.
Tarantino's directive was to turn Los Angeles of 2018 into Los Angeles of 1969 without computer-generated imagery. For this, he tapped into previous collaborators for production: editor Fred Raskin, cinematographer Robert Richardson, sound editor Wylie Stateman and makeup artist Heba Thorisdottir. He also brought first-time collaborators, production designer Barbara Ling, based on her work recreating historical settings in The Doors, and costume designer Arianne Phillips, who had a strong client list including Tom Ford, James Mangold and Madonna. Despite Tarantino's intent, the production wound up using more than 75 digital visual effects shots by Luma Pictures and Lola VFX, mainly to cover up modern billboards and erasing non-1960s buildings from driving shots.
To film at the Pussycat Theater, production designer Barbara Ling and her team covered the building's LED signage and reattached the theater's iconic logo, rebuilding the letters and neon. Ling said the lettering on every marquee in the film is historically accurate. To restore Larry Edmund's Bookshop, she reproduced the original storefront sign and tracked down period-appropriate merchandise, even recreating book covers. Her team restored the Bruin and Fox Village theaters, including their marquees, and the storefronts around them. Stan's Donuts, across the street from the Bruin, got a complete makeover.
The Playboy Mansion scene was shot at the actual mansion. Tarantino was adamant about filming there, but it took a long time to obtain permission since the mansion had been sold to a private owner following Hugh Hefner's death. Tarantino and Ling met with the new owner to discuss the parts they wanted to use, but he was reluctant since the property was in the middle of a renovation. After long negotiations he agreed, and Ling was able to dress the vacant mansion, front courtyard, and backyard for the party scene, evoking as much of the 1960s appearance of the mansion as possible. The dance sequence for the scene was choreographed by Toni Basil.
The scenes involving the Tate-Polanski house were not filmed at Cielo Drive, the winding street where the 3,200 square-foot house once stood. The house was razed in 1994 and replaced with a mansion nearly six times the size. Scenes involving the house were filmed at three different locations around Los Angeles: one for the interior, one for the exterior, and a Universal City location for the scenes depicting the iconic cul-de-sac driveway.
Movie poster artist Steven Chorney created the poster for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a reference to The Mod Squad.He also created the posters for the movies within the film, Nebraska Jim, Operation Dyn-O-Mite, Uccidimi Subito Ringo Disse il Gringo, Hell-Fire Texas, and Comanche Uprising, which was reprinted for Dalton's home parking spot. Mad magazine caricaturist Tom Richmond created the covers of Mad and TV Guide featuring Dalton's Jake Cahill.
Tarantino told Richardson, "I want [it] to feel retro but I want [it] to be contemporary." Richardson shot in Kodak 35mm with Panavision cameras and lenses, in order to weave time periods. For Bounty Law they shot in black and white, and brief sequences in Super 8 and 16mm Ektachrome. In the film, Lancer was shot on a retrofitted Western Street backlot at Universal Studios, designed by Ling. Richardson crossed Lancer with Alias Smith and Jones for the retro-future look Tarantino wanted. The way they filmed Lancer was not possible in 1969, but Tarantino wanted his personal touch on it. Richardson said that filming the movie touched him personally, "The film speaks to all of us... We are all fragile beings with a limited time to achieve whatever it is we desire... that at any moment that place will shift... So take stock in life and have the courage to believe in yourself." In order to build the Lancer set Ling watched "Enormous amounts of episodes" of the series. She built a western town filled with adobe buildings. For Bounty Law, she went for a dusty, dirty, early Deadwood look, to separate it from the "Moneyed Lancer world".
Spahn Ranch was recreated in detail over about a three-month period. A wildfire completely destroyed the ranch in 1970 so the scenes for the movie were filmed at nearby Corriganville Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, which was also a movie ranch at one time. To improve the use of practical effects, Leonardo DiCaprio was allowed to light stunt coordinators on fire while shooting scenes with a flamethrower.
The exterior of the Van Nuys Drive-in Theater scene was filmed at the Paramount Drive-in Theater since the Van Nuys Drive-in Theater no longer exists. As the camera rises up over the theater, the shot transitions to a miniature set with toy cars. For some of the driving scenes, Los Angeles freeways were shut down for hours in order to fill them with vintage cars.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is also the name of the soundtrack. Jonah Bromwich of Pitchfork said the music was "a highlight" and an "oft-disquieting mixtape of golden-age rock n' roll, radio DJ patter, and period-specific commercials." Michael Roffman of Consequence said, "The collection is chock full of 60's selections that look strange on paper, but work effortlessly together on screen." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic said, "Listening to Once Upon a Time brings that world to life. It's like switching the AM radio on to a 1960s that never faded away."
Tarantino and his music supervisor, Mary Ramos listened to 14 hours of original 1969 KHJ-AM soundchecks to help create the soundtrack. It includes original Boss Radio jingles by Johnny Mann and commercials, as well as the voice of Don Steele, also featured in the film. Ramos and Tarantino selected the songs in his home by going through his vinyl collection. They were approached by some name acts to record covers and by Lana Del Rey to record original material but Tarantino insisted he only wanted to use music recorded before 1970.
Other songs in the film include "The Letter" by Joe Cocker, "Summertime" by Billy Stewart, "Victorville Blues" by The Harley Hatcher Combo, "Funky Fanfare" by Keith Mansfield, "The House That Jack Built" by Aretha Franklin, "Time for Livin'" by The Association, "I Can't Turn You Loose" by Otis Redding, "Soul Serenade" by Willie Mitchell, "Out of Time" by the Rolling Stones, "" by the Mamas and the Papas, "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" by The Royal Guardsmen, "MacArthur Park" by Robert Goulet, "I'll Never Say Never To Always", written by Charles Manson, "Straight Shooter" by the Mamas and the Papas, also performed by Samantha Robinson as Abigail Folger, and "The Green Door" performed by Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton.
Music by Bernard Herrmann created for Torn Curtain is used in the Spahn Ranch scene. Herrman's music from that film included in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is "The Killing", and "The Radiogram". Other music of his used is "The Rocks", and "The Return" (from Have Gun – Will Travel). Also used are the themes from Hell River by Vojislav Borisavljević, Against a Crooked Sky by Lex de Azevedo, Apocalypse Joe by Bruno Nicolai, and Mannix by Lalo Schifrin. Also, "The Bed" by Ennio Morricone (from Danger: Diabolik), "Ecce Homo" (from Sartana Does Not Forgive) and "Mexican Western" (from Any Gun Can Play) by Francesco De Masi, "Cooler" by Elmer Bernstein (from The Great Escape), "Freya Bangs", "Freya", "Karate Dance", and "TV Screen" (from The Wrecking Crew), "Theme from It's Happening" by Paul Revere & the Raiders, "Dalton Gang Ride Entrance" performed by Tom Slocum, John Bird, and the Cattle Annie Band (from Cattle Annie and Little Britches), the "Batman Theme" (from Batman), and the "FBI Theme and Score Cues" (from The F.B.I.).
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019. It was released theatrically in the United States on July 26, 2019 by Sony Pictures Releasing under its Columbia Pictures label. The film was originally scheduled for release on August 9 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Tate–LaBianca murders.
A teaser trailer was released on March 20, 2019, featuring 1960s music by the Mamas and the Papas ("Straight Shooter") and by Los Bravos ("Bring a Little Lovin'"). The official trailer was released on May 21, 2019 featuring the songs "Good Thing" by Paul Revere & the Raiders, and "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show" by Neil Diamond. The studio spent around $110 million marketing the film.
An extended cut of the film featuring four additional scenes was released in theaters on October 25, 2019. The new cut included an appearance by James Marsden as Burt Reynolds and a voice over by Walton Goggins.
The film was released through digital retailers on November 22, 2019, and on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, and DVD on December 10. The 4K version is available as a regular version and collector's edition. In April 2020 Media Play News magazine announced Once Upon a Time in Hollywood earned Title of the Year and Best Theatrical Home release in the 10th annual Home Media Awards. Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain a deleted scene, in which Charles Manson confronts Paul Barabuta, portrayed by Danny Strong, the homeowner and caretaker of the Tate-Polanski residence. Barabuta is based on the home's owner, Rudolph Altobelli and caretaker, William Garretson.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood grossed $142.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $232.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $374.6 million. By some estimates, the film needed to gross around $250 million worldwide in order to break-even, with others estimating it would need to make $400 million in order to turn a profit.
In the United States and Canada, the film was projected to gross $30–40 million from 3,659 theaters in its opening weekend, with some projections having it as high as $50 million or as low as $25 million. The week of its release, Fandango reported the film was the highest pre-seller of any Tarantino film. The film made $16.9 million on its first day, including $5.8 million from Thursday night previews (the highest total of Tarantino's career). It went on to debut to $41.1 million, finishing second behind holdover The Lion King and marking Tarantino's largest opening. Comscore reported that 47% of audience members went to see the film because of who the director was (compared to the typical 7%) and 37% went because of the cast (compared to normally 18%). The film grossed $20 million in its second weekend, representing a "nice" drop of just 51% and finishing third, and then made $11.6 million and $7.6 million the subsequent weekends. In its fifth weekend the film made $5 million, bringing its running domestic total to $123.1 million, becoming the second-highest of Tarantino's career behind Django Unchained. In its ninth weekend, its global total earnings reached $329.4 million, surpassing Inglourious Basterds to become Tarantino's second-highest global grosser behind Django Unchained.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 85% based on 564 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Thrillingly unrestrained yet solidly crafted, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tempers Tarantino's provocative impulses with the clarity of a mature filmmaker's vision." Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 83 out of 100, based on 62 critics, indicating "universal acclaim." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave it an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average of 4 out of 5 stars and a 58% "definite recommend."
The Hollywood Reporter said critics had "an overall positive view," with some calling it "Tarantino's love letter to '60s L.A.," praising its cast and setting, while others were "divided on its ending." ReelViews' James Berardinelli awarded the film 3.5 stars out of 4, saying it was "made by a movie-lover for movie-lovers. And even those who don't qualify may still enjoy the hell out of it." RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico gave it four out of four stars, calling it "layered and ambitious, the product of a confident filmmaker working with collaborators completely in tune with his vision". The Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper described it as "a brilliant and sometimes outrageously fantastic mash-up of real-life events and characters with pure fiction," giving it full marks. Writing for Variety, Owen Gleiberman called it a "heady engrossing collage of a film—but not, in the end, a masterpiece."
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave it five out of five stars, praising Pitt and DiCaprio's performances and calling it "Tarantino's dazzling LA redemption song." Steve Pond of TheWrap said: "Big, brash, ridiculous, too long, and in the end invigorating, the film is a grand playground for its director to fetishize old pop culture and bring his gleeful perversity to the craft of moviemaking." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film 4.5 out of 5 stars, remarking that "All the actors, in roles large and small, bring their A games to the film. Two hours and 40 minutes can feel long for some. I wouldn't change a frame."
Katie Rife of The A.V. Club gave it a B+, calling it Tarantino's "wistful midlife crisis movie." Richard Brody of The New Yorker called it an "obscenely regressive vision of the sixties" that "celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else." In Little White Lies, Christopher Hooton described it as "occasionally tedious" but "constantly awe-inspiring," noting it did not seem to be a "love letter to Hollywood" but an "obituary for a moment in culture that looks unlikely to ever be resurrected."
The film also garnered moral and theological praise. A Los Angeles Catholic bishop, Robert Barron, praised the character of Cliff Booth as embodying the four cardinal virtues, while theologian David Bentley Hart wrote that it "exhibit[s] a genuine ethical pathos" for its portrayal of "cosmic justice." He praised the revisionism when "Tarantino's version of the story unexpectedly veered away into some other, dreamlike, better world, where the monsters inadvertently passed through the wrong door and met the end they deserved."
The film premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palm Dog Award and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. The film received 10 nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director. It received five nominations at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, winning for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Screenplay for Quentin Tarantino, and Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for Brad Pitt. It received twelve nominations at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Tarantino, Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, and Best Supporting Actor for Pitt. DiCaprio and Pitt also received nominations at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards where it was also nominated for and . The National Board of Review included the film as one of the top 10 films of the year and awarded Tarantino Best Director and Pitt Best Supporting Actor. The American Film Institute included it as one of the top 10 films of 2019.
Archive footage from many films is included in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, including C.C. and Company, Lady in Cement, Three in the Attic, and The Wrecking Crew, in which Sharon Tate appears as Freya Carlson. Three scenes were digitally altered, replacing the original actors with Rick Dalton. One from an episode of The F.B.I., entitled "All the Streets Are Silent," in which Dalton appears as the character portrayed by Burt Reynolds in the actual episode. Another from Death on the Run, with Dalton's face imposed over Ty Hardin's. The third is from The Great Escape, with Dalton appearing as Virgil Hilts, the role made famous by Steve McQueen. For The 14 Fists of McCluskey, a WWII film within the film starring Dalton, footage and music from Hell River is used.
Mark Lindsay, lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders, whose music is featured in the film, once lived at 10050 Cielo Drive, the address of the Tate murders. On the poster of Dalton's film Red Blood Red Skin, inspired by Land Raiders, he appears with Telly Savalas. The posters for the two films are the same, except with Dalton replacing George Maharis. The movie Voytek Frykowski is watching is Teenage Monster, presented by horror host Seymour.
Cliff Booth is a reference to Brad Pitt's character in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Lt. Aldo Raine, a special forces WWII veteran who takes the cover of a stuntman. One of Rick Dalton's Italian films in the movie is directed by real-life director Antonio Margheriti. Antonio Margheriti is also used as an alias for Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) in Inglourious Basterds. The final scene features Rick Dalton in a commercial for fictional Red Apple cigarettes, which appear in many Tarantino films. When Dalton and Booth get back from Italy they walk by the blue mosaic wall in LAX, the same wall that the title character in Tarantino's Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) moves past in the opening credits of that film.
In the film, Bruce Lee engages in a fight with Cliff Booth on the set of The Green Hornet. The Green Hornet theme song is featured in Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume 1. The masks worn by the Crazy 88 gang in that film are the same as Lee's mask as Kato in The Green Hornet. The car Booth drives is a 1964 blue Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. It is the same year, color, make and model of the car that Beatrix "the Bride" Kiddo (Uma Thurman) drives in Kill Bill: Volume 2. Similarly, Rick Dalton's 1966 Cadillac de Ville is the same exact car driven by Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) in Reservoir Dogs. It is owned by Madsen.
In a scene, Sharon Tate goes into Larry Edmunds Bookshop and purchases a copy of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. In real life, Tate gave a copy to Roman Polanski shortly before her death. Years later, Polanski directed the film adaptation, Tess, dedicating it to Tate. Dalton mentions he owns his house on advice from "Eddie O'Brien." Tate and Polanski's Yorkie Terrier in the film is named "Dr. Sapirstein," as was Tate's Yorkie in real life, named after the doctor portrayed by Ralph Bellamy in Rosemary's Baby. The carrier she puts the dog in is the one that Tate actually owned. The outfit Margot Robbie wears in the Bruin Theater scene is the one Tate wore in Eye of the Devil.
In the film, Tate goes to see The Wrecking Crew at the Bruin Theater. She convinces the theater's employees that she stars in the movie after they fail to recognize her. Tarantino stated the scene came from a personal experience. When True Romance was released, he saw it at the same theater, where he eventually convinced its employees that he wrote the script.
On the set of Batman, for a crossover episode with The Green Hornet, a fight was scripted with Kato (Bruce Lee) losing to Robin (Burt Ward). When Lee received the script, he refused to do it, so it was changed to a draw. When the cameras rolled, Lee stalked Ward until Ward backed away. Lee laughed and told him he was "lucky it is a TV show." In the film, Cliff Booth fights Lee on the set of The Green Hornet; the fight ends in a draw. Booth refers to Lee as "Kato."
According to Rudolph Altobelli, who rented the house to Polanski and Tate, in March 1969, Charles Manson showed up. Polanski's friend Shahrokh Hatami also said he saw Manson enter the grounds. Hatami approached Manson, asking him what he wanted. He told Hatami he was looking for Terry Melcher. Hatami responded the house was the Polanski residence and perhaps Melcher lived in the guest house. Altobelli told Manson that Melcher no longer lived there. This happens in the film, with Sebring in place of Altobelli and Hatami.
On the night of August 8, 1969, Patricia Krenwinkel, Charles Watson, and Susan Atkins broke into Tate's house, murdering her and four others. In the film, they go to Tate's house to commit the murders but instead end up breaking into Dalton's house after he interrupts them. Linda Kasabian went along that night, though she did not murder anyone and stayed outside the whole time. In the film, she also goes along but does not participate. Watson told his victims, "I'm the Devil, and I came to do the Devil's business." In the film, he says it to Cliff Booth. In the film, Atkins convinces the others to seek revenge by killing Rick Dalton, star of a TV western. Since TV taught them to kill, it is fitting they kill the guy from TV, and "My idea is to kill the people who taught us to kill!" In real life, Manson Family member Nancy Pitman said: "We are what you have made us. We were brought up on your TV. We were brought up watching Gunsmoke and Have Gun – Will Travel." Sandra Good said: "You want to talk about devils and demonic and immorals and evil, go to Hollywood. We don't touch the evil of that world. We don't even skim it."
The next night, the same four, along with Leslie Van Houten, Manson, and Steve Grogan, drove to Leno and Rosemary LaBianca's house, murdering the couple. Afterwards, Manson directed Kasabian to drive to an apartment complex to commit more murders. Once there, Manson left in the car alone, leaving the others to hitchhike back to Spahn Ranch. In the film, it is Kasabian who drives off, deserting others. Watson says they can hitchhike back. Grogan was convicted of the murder of stuntman Donald Shea on Spahn Ranch, whom he repeatedly beat with a lead pipe. In the film, Grogan is instead beaten by stuntman Cliff Booth.
The 1959 Ford Galaxie driven by the Manson Family is a detailed replica of the car used in the Tate–LaBianca murders. Car coordinator Steven Butcher found the actual car, but after a meeting with Tarantino, they decided using it would be "too creepy." Boeing 747s are used in several airliner scenes, but were not in commercial use until 1970. The film is set in 1969.
Charles Manson once approached Steve McQueen outside of his Solar Productions office in San Francisco with a script he wrote, in hopes of getting him to produce it. When McQueen turned him down, an altercation happened, in which McQueen broke Manson's nose. On the night of the Tate murders, Jay Sebring invited McQueen over to Tate's house; however, his date wanted to stay in. After the murders, it was reported that police found a Manson Family hit list with McQueen's name listed amongst others such as Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra.
Bobby Beausoleil was a musician, actor, and porn star. He appeared in the documentary film Mondo Hollywood, also featuring Sebring. Catherine Share met Beausoleil on the set of the softcore porn film Ramrodder. Beausoleil introduced Share to Manson. Susan Atkins met Manson in San Francisco, where she had worked as an actress, portraying a vampire on Anton LaVey's Witches Sabbath Club Show. LaVey appeared with Beausoleil in Lucifer Rising, and claimed to have been a consultant on, as well as appearing as the Devil in Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.
The film's depiction of Bruce Lee drew criticism. Fans and contemporaries of Lee criticized the portrayal, with Lee's daughter Shannon describing the depiction as "an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air". Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with whom Lee trained and appeared in Game of Death, stated: "Of course, Tarantino has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants. But to do so in such a sloppy and somewhat racist way is a failure both as an artist and as a human being."
Mike Moh, who played Lee, said he was conflicted at first: "Bruce in my mind was literally a god. ... Bruce didn't always have the most affection for stuntmen; he didn't respect all of them." He stated, "Tarantino loves Bruce Lee; he reveres him." Brad Pitt and stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo objected to an extended version of the fight in which Lee loses. According to Lee's friend and The Green Hornet stuntman Gene LeBell, Lee had a reputation for "kicking the shit out of the stuntmen. They couldn't convince him that he could go easy and it would still look great on film." Lee biographer Matthew Polly stated, "Bruce was very famous for being very considerate of the people below him on film sets, particularly the stuntmen... So in this scene, Bruce Lee is essentially calling out a stuntman and getting him fired because he's the big star."
Tarantino responded, saying Lee was "kind of an arrogant guy," and that Lee's widow Linda wrote in Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew that he could beat Muhammad Ali. She wrote, "Even the most scathing critics admitted that Bruce's Gungfu was sensational. One critic wrote, 'Those who watched him would bet on Lee to render Cassius Clay (Ali) senseless if they were put in a room and told anything goes.'" In 1972, Lee himself stated: "Everybody says I must fight Ali some day. ... Look at my hand. That's a little Chinese hand. He'd kill me."
Shannon filed a complaint with the China Film Administration affecting the film's release in China unless alterations were made. On October 18, 2019, China cancelled the release of the film one week before its release date.
After being contacted over concerns, Tarantino invited a representative of Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate's ex-husband, over to his house to read the script and report back to Polanski, to assure him "he didn't have anything to worry about". Tarantino stated: "When it comes to Polanski, we're talking about a tragedy that would be unfathomable for most human beings," and that he did not contact him while writing it, as he did not want to cause him anxiety. Despite this, Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner criticized Tarantino for using Polanski's likeness after the film's premiere.
Debra Tate, Sharon's sister, initially opposed the film, saying it was exploitative and perpetuated mistruths: "To celebrate the killers and the darkest portion of society as being sexy or acceptable in any way, shape or form is just perpetuating the worst of our society." After Tarantino contacted her and showed her the script, she withdrew her opposition, saying: "This movie is not what people would expect it to be when you combine the Tarantino and Manson names." She felt that Tarantino was a "very stand-up guy"; after visiting the set, she was impressed by Robbie and lent her some of Sharon's jewelry and perfume to wear in the film.
After the premiere, journalist Farah Nayeri asked Tarantino why Robbie had so few lines. Tarantino responded, "I reject your hypothesis." Robbie elaborated, "I think the moments on screen show those wonderful sides of [Tate] could be adequately done without speaking." Tarantino said, "I thought it would both be touching and pleasurable and also sad and melancholy to just spend a little time with [Tate], just existing... I wanted you to see Sharon a lot."
Charles Manson was convicted of the murders of Tate and four others, despite not being present, due mostly to a theory presented by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi that Manson was trying to instigate an apocalyptic race war, leaving only Black Muslims and the Family. According to the theory, the Black Muslims would eventually look to Manson to lead them. According to members of the Family, Manson referred to the race war as Helter Skelter, getting the name from the song of the same name. Musician and filmmaker Boots Riley criticized Tarantino's film for not portraying Bugliosi's Helter Skelter narrative, or depicting the Family as white supremacists.
However, according to members of The Family, including Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel the Tate-Labianca murders were not perpetrated to start Helter Skelter, but as copycat murders mirroring that of Gary Hinman, in an attempt to convince police the killer was still at large. Bobby Beausoleil was in jail, charged with Hinman's murder. The Family attempted to get him released. According to Jay Sebring's protege and business partner Jim Markham, the murders were instigated by a drug deal gone bad, not a race war. He believes Manson was at Tate's house the day before the murders to sell drugs to Sebring and Voytek Frykowski, which resulted in the two beating Manson up. In his interview with Truman Capote, Beausoleil said, "They burned people on dope deals. Sharon Tate and that gang." Guitarist Bryan MacLean was invited to Tate's house on the night of the murders. Johnny Echols and Arthur Lee had previously replaced Beausoleil with MacLean in the rock band Love.
On August 5, 2019, it was reported that a four-hour cut of the film may be coming to Netflix. On January 3, 2020, Collider confirmed the statement in an interview with Quentin Tarantino, revealing the extended-cut of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood would probably be available in approximately one year.
Tarantino has expressed interest in creating a Bounty Law television series based on five half-hour scripts he wrote in preparation for the film. If so, he plans on writing three more episodes, hoping to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as Jake Cahill, the lead. The series would be shot in black and white and follow the half-hour format of Western television shows from the 1950s. Scenes from the episodes already written appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino plans on directing all episodes of the series.
In November 2020, Tarantino signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins. The first book he will write is a novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. On June 29, 2021 the novel and audiobook will be released, narrated by Jennifer Jason Leigh who previously starred in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. According to Tarantino, her character in The Hateful Eight, Daisy Domergue was, "A Manson girl out west, like Susan Atkins or something." The novel will be a reimagining of the film with much more detail. According to Tarantino it will be "A complete rethinking of the entire story" and have two chapters dedicated to the backstory of Cliff Booth.