By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - After nine days in theaters, "Django Unchained" is on pace to be Quentin Tarantino's highest grossing movie ever.
That's right, if the trend holds, the blood-soaked slave-revenge fable will rack up more at the box office than "Pulp Fiction" ($213.9 million worldwide), "Kill Bill Vol. 1" ($180.9 million worldwide), "Kill Bill Vol. 2" ($152.1 million worldwide) and previous record holder, "Inglourious Basterds" ($321.4 million worldwide).
Even though "Django Unchained" has only debuted stateside, with $82.4 million through January 2, it is outstripping all of the previous Tarantino movie mash-ups. At a similar point in its rollout, "Inglourious Basterds" had netted $67.6 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo.
"It's the Quentin Tarantino brand," Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst with Boxoffice.com, told TheWrap. "People appreciate what he's doing. He makes these purely cinematic movies that allow even casual moviegoers to feel like they get to be a film snob and the great cast helps."
With a Cinemascore rating of A- (something of an imperfect arbiter of quality given that "Parental Guidance" has the same score) and a RottenTomatoes ranking of 89 percent "fresh," the film has been embraced by both audiences and critics, which bodes well for the proverbial "word of mouth" business.
"The exit polls are fantastic, the results have been outstanding and we're looking forward to a long run," Erik Lomis, head of theatrical distribution at The Weinstein Company, told TheWrap.
Not that "Django Unchained" has been immune to criticism. A fierce debate has erupted over Tarantino's proclivity for using a certain racial epithet that begins with "N," with directors like Spike Lee boycotting the film and decrying it for making light of slavery.
However, the red-hot controversy does not appear to have singed ticket sales.
And Fandango Chief Correspondent Dave Karger argues that the controversy may be helping the film. He notes that the plethora of opinion pieces on the subject as well as a viral video of star Samuel L. Jackson trying and failing to get an interviewer to use the racist term have kept "Django Unchained" in the public eye.
"This is the kind of movie that, as the best movies do, really inspires conversation and debate afterward and that only helps it," Karger said. "There are going to be people turned off by the use of the word, but they're going to just avoid the movie, and clearly it hasn't been a huge deterrent."
Indeed, as of 7 a.m. PT, "Django" was the number-one ticket seller on Fandango, ahead of other holiday hits like "Les Misérables" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." It currently accounts for 21 percent of the ticketer's sales and, based on studio tracking, it should add another $18.5 million to its haul over the weekend.
That will likely push it over the $100 million mark after two weeks in theaters.
In contrast, it took "Inglourious Basterds" 23 days to hit a similar figure domestically. Moreover, by that point in its release schedule, "Inglourious Basterds" was never showing in less than 3,165 theaters whereas "Django Unchained" has never unspooled across more than 3,010 since it debuted, giving the Nazi drama a major per-screen advantage.
Starting on January 16, "Django Unchained" will find out if its film grindhouse humor translates abroad when it opens in France and Belgium and then rolls out across Russia, most of Europe and much of Latin America later that week. Sony will handle the international launch, while The Weinstein Company is overseeing the movie's domestic release.
Of course, highest grossing doesn't mean most successful. Adjusted for inflation, "Pulp Fiction," which amassed its $200 million-plus nearly 20 years ago, would be the top earner among the Tarantino oeuvre. Moreover, it still ranks as the director's most successful film having been produced for a meager $8 million.
Operating under the principle you have to spend money to make it, the Weinstein Company shelled out $87 million to produce "Django Unchained." Still if foreign audiences embrace the picture and the film picks up Oscar nominations, the studio will ride out of the holiday season with an awful lot of green-backs in its saddlebags.