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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - What We Know So Far

This summer, for the first time in four years, we're getting a new Quentin Tarantino film, and while every new movie from the director of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill is an event, this one might just have the power to be especially significant. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a love letter to a bygone era of both Los Angeles history and the history of movies, the story of an actor and his stuntman trying to get by in a changing industry, and a film that will in some form turn its focus to the murders Charles Manson and his followers carried out during that horrific summer. For this film, Tarantino has united no less a pair of superstars than Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio on the big screen for the first time, and assembled a dynamite cast that also includes Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, and many more. What started as an abandoned novel from one of the most exciting directors of his generation might turn out to be a career landmark, and we've got the info you need to be ready. Read this before you see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

When is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's release date?

It's been nearly four years since Quentin Tarantino's last film, The Hateful Eight, and anticipation has been building for his next flick ever since. Things really started to heat up in the summer of 2017, when it was reported that Tarantino's next project would be a film set in Hollywood at the time of the Manson murders. The film secured distribution from Sony in the fall of 2017, and by January of 2018 Leonardo DiCaprio had signed on to work with Tarantino again on the project. The film spent the first six months of 2018 beefing up its cast as it headed into production. When it came to for a release date, Sony initially aimed for August 9, 2019, which would mark the 50th anniversary of Sharon Tate's murder at the hands of the Manson Family. By the summer of 2018 that release date had changed, with insiders noting a release date in July would give the film more time to play in front of summer audiences. After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is scheduled to hit theaters on July 26, 2019.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's killer trailer

After a brief teaser trailer was released in March 2019, the full official trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood finally arrived in late May, and it's a thrilling Tarantino mash-up of music, comedy, and violence set against the backdrop of a bygone Hollywood. The trailer begins by setting Rick and Cliff up as heroes of their chosen professions, veterans who know how the game is played and how they fit into the Hollywood machine. Then things take a turn and something becomes very clear: Rick is struggling with his new job on a Western TV series, and Cliff is simply getting older. The actor and the stuntman are beginning to feel like washed-up losers, and it doesn't help that Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski — the hottest actress and director in town — have just moved into Rick's neighborhood. 

Meanwhile, dark deeds seem to be afoot, as the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trailer also introduces the Manson Family. Cliff has bonded with a young hippie girl who takes him to Spahn Ranch to meet Charlie, and Cliff later spots Manson himself hanging out in Hollywood looking ominous. As the trailer escalates into a series of images we don't yet have context for, we clearly see the Manson Family gearing up for that fateful night on Cielo Drive when Tate and several of her friends were slaughtered. Will Rick and Cliff figure out what's going on, or will they simply be bystanders?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's amazing cast

Quentin Tarantino has been releasing movies for nearly three decades, and in that time we've come to expect his flicks to feature impressive and often surprising ensemble casts that include everyone from distinguished to character actors to old favorites making a comeback and major movie stars willing to take a pay cut just to work with him. Even among the rest of Tarantino's filmography, though, the cast he assembled for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is particularly impressive. Anyone who's seen the trailers or even just the posters knows that the marquee stars here are DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie, but there's an insanely deep bench at work on this movie.

In addition to those three stars, the film will also feature Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Scoot McNairy, Al Pacino, Lena Dunham, Maya Hawke, Damian Lewis, Mike Moh, and Luke Perry in his final film role. And those are just some of the biggest names attached to a film jam-packed with great actors.  

What are the critics saying about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?

Most American moviegoers won't get the chance to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood until it arrives in theaters on July 26, while some viewers around the world won't get to see it until a good deal later (U.K. cinemas will have the film in mid-August). That means a large number of critics and fans have yet to see the film, but we do have its initial reaction from the Cannes Film Festival to rely on in terms of its quality. After its world premiere Once Upon a Time in Hollywood received a six-minute standing ovation from the Cannes crowd, and reviews coming out of the festival have been largely positive. Though the ending, which Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian called "startling and provocative," proved divisive, most critics were pleased with Tarantino's visual style, the replication of 1960s Hollywood, and the chemistry between first-time scene partners DiCaprio and Pitt. So, while not everyone agrees, odds are this is a movie worth looking forward to.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's story

Like so many of Quentin Tarantino's films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set to juggle multiple different plot threads that all converge in some way in 1969 Hollywood. It's the end of an era in the film industry, and Tarantino's two lead characters are feeling the change in a major way. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an aging TV star, and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his longtime stuntman. They're both starting to feel like relics of a bygone era as Hollywood moves on around them, but even as their industry changes, Rick and Cliff are still trying to live their lives — and when the curtain rises on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, those lives are about to take them into the center of a strange and bloody chapter in Los Angeles history. You see, Rick's neighbors are director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and Cliff just happens to take a trip out to Spahn Ranch where he meets a strange guy named Charles Manson. What happens next when those worlds collide is still a mystery, but Tarantino's film is definitely going to dig deep into one of the most pivotal moments in 1960s Hollywood.

Does Once Upon a Time in Hollywood depict an alternate history?

Like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained before them, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set against a very particular historical backdrop. In both of those films, Tarantino took liberties as he saw fit in an effort to best serve his story: Blowing up a whole plantation house full of slavers in Django and flat-out machine-gunning Hitler in the face in Basterds. That last scene, an imagined World War II triumph, is winked at in the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trailer, when Rick — in a film within the film — sprays a bunch of Nazi commanders with a flamethrower. Nods like that, plus press billing the film as an "alternate history," have led fans to develop a theory that Tarantino will continue his tradition of toying with our expectations about what really happened in our own history. The film is set in 1969 Hollywood, but Tarantino didn't necessarily have to set his film in our 1969 Hollywood. This is, conceivably, a world in which Sharon Tate could survive the night she was supposed to be murdered, in which Manson could get his comeuppance, and in which Hollywood could move forward into some different version of the future. We just have to watch and find out.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was almost a novel

Quentin Tarantino has long flirted with the idea of writing things other than screenplays, and he's also been public about letting his stories evolve and take their time. Inglourious Basterds, for example, went through numerous iterations before it became the film we finally saw. When Tarantino declared back in the days of The Hateful Eight that he planned to retire from filmmaking after ten movies (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is his ninth feature), he also announced that among his various post-film ambitions were plans to write novels.

Just because Tarantino said he'd write novels after he finished directing films doesn't mean he hasn't already tried his hand at prose, though. In fact, he's revealed that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which he describes as a "memory piece" about the Los Angeles of his childhood, actually began its life as a novel. For a long time — five years — Tarantino was determined to keep writing the story in prose before his brain ultimately evolved it into a screenplay.

"I let it become what it wanted to become," he said. "For a long time, I didn't want to accept it. Then I did."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Cannes controversy

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019, and like many Tarantino films, it quickly ignited a degree of controversy. At a press conference to promote the film, New York Times journalist Farah Nayeri asked Tarantino why Robbie, nominated for an Oscar for her work in I, Tonya, didn't get more dialogue in the film as Sharon Tate.

The director was brief and dismissive with his reply, saying only "Well, I just reject your hypotheses."

Robbie then stepped into offer her own answer to the question, offering up the idea that she was able to express numerous facets of Tate in a nonverbal way.

"The tragedy, ultimately, was the loss of innocence, and to really show those wonderful sides of her, I think, could be adequately done without speaking," she said. "I did feel like I got a lot of time to explore the character, even without dialogue specifically, which is an interesting thing. Rarely do I get an opportunity to spend so much time on my own as a character, going through a day-to-day existence."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood starts Tarantino's post-Weinstein era

When news of the film that would become Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was announced in the summer of 2017, brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein were expected to be involved in the film. Tarantino had spent his entire Hollywood career working with the Weinsteins, first at Miramax and then at the Weinstein Company, and while Tarantino was looking to split costs with another studio, he wasn't expected to leave his longtime partners.

That all changed when numerous accusations against Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and abuse rocked Hollywood, and even Tarantino admitted that he should have done more to speak out about what Weinstein had done over the years.

So, as the Weinstein empire imploded, Tarantino walked away, despite loyalty to the various staff members within the Weinstein Company who he'd worked with over the years. In response to this departure, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — or "#9" as it was then known — went out to every major studio except Disney, as one of the most acclaimed directors in Hollywood began looking for a new home.

"Extraordinary creative controls"

Numerous studios rolled out the red carpet in an effort to court Quentin Tarantino and get him to join them to make his ninth feature film. Virtually every major player tried to get Once Upon a Time in Hollywood under their banner, but in November 2017 Sony Pictures announced that it was the studio that won out, beating major contenders Warner Bros. and Paramount.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sony won the right to be Tarantino's new directing home after an impressive presentation, and also after agreeing to a lengthy list of demands from the filmmaker. Among the things Sony agreed to were a $95 million production budget for the film, as well as "extraordinary creative controls" for Tarantino, including final cut on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino also demanded 25% of the first dollar grosses on the film (meaning his cut will come right off the top of the earnings, not after expenses), though he may not have gotten the full amount on that after "tough negotiations," and also asked that the rights to the film would revert back to him in 10-20 years. That's a lot to ask for, but Tarantino has the clout to demand it.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood features frequent Tarantino collaborators

Over his nearly three decades of filmmaking, Quentin Tarantino has developed — like many other great directors before him — a kind of stock company of frequent collaborators, and many of them returned to work with him again for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While Margot Robbie is a first-timer, both DiCaprio and Pitt have worked with Tarantino before, Pitt in Inglourious Basterds and DiCaprio in Django Unchained. They're far from the only returning Tarantino stars, though. Once Upon will mark Kurt Russell's third time working with Tarantino, Bruce Dern's third, Michael Madsen's fourth, and stuntwoman and actress Zoe Bell's sixth.

Tarantino also brought together some frequent collaborators behind the camera, including cinematographer Robert Richardson (five films since Kill Bill), and editor Fred Raskin (three films including Django Unchained). Sadly, one frequent Tarantino collaborator apparently ended up on the cutting room floor: Tim Roth, who's appeared in three Tarantino features (including Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) and the anthology film Four Rooms, was cast in the film but did not appear in the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood cut shown at Cannes.