‘Inglourious Basterds’ defies summer wisdom

Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009

During a season when studios have become all but convinced that audiences are losing interest in big-name movie stars and R-rated adult fare, perhaps it was appropriate that the end of summer would offer a surprise hit that embodied both those qualities.

“Inglourious Basterds,” featuring Brad Pitt among an ensemble cast, earned $38 million at the box office this weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to domestic distributor Weinstein Co., far exceeding expectations by drawing a fairly diverse audience without alienating director Quentin Tarantino’s core fan base of men in their 20s and early 30s.

The same occurred overseas, where Universal Pictures opened the film in 22 territories, including Germany, France, Britain and Australia, to a strong $27.5 million.

It’s not the only movie this summer to open significantly stronger than pre-release polling had indicated. That list includes Warner Bros.’ June release “The Hangover” and last weekend’s “District 9” from Sony Pictures. But “Inglourious Basterds” certainly had the most at stake — around $70 million in production spending split between Weinstein Co., which hasn’t had a major release since December’s “The Reader,” and Universal, which has had a string of box-office underperformers this summer, including “Land of the Lost” and “Funny People.”

The opening weekend numbers provided an unexpected ending to a months-long marketing campaign. Since the movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May to a mixed response, speculation has run rampant in Hollywood as to whether the movie would resemble Tarantino’s 1994 breakout hit “Pulp Fiction,” which earned $108 million domestically, or his 1997 follow-up “Jackie Brown,” which grossed under $40 million.

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