Grindhouse, a big double-feature from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino complete with fake trailers from Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth, arrived in 2007, and promptly bombed. Despite the hype, and the prospect of seeing to rebel auteurs like Rodriguez and Tarantino join forces, audiences just didn’t seem to give a damn, and the release only took in $25.4 million against a reported $53–67 million budget. So what happened? Looking back on the experience now, Quentin Tarantino says he and Rodriguez misjudged the movie-going public’s interest in such an experiment.
I can distinctly remember seeing Grindhouse opening weekend in 2007. It was a huge deal to me and some of my film-loving friends – Tarantino and Rodriguez, who were both indie movie legends at that point, teaming up to pay tribute to grindhouse-style cinema. Sign me the hell up! But I also remember that the theater was pretty much empty that opening weekend, and that was a sign of things to come – the film (or rather, films) flopped.
Empire asked Tarantino for his opinion on why the movie failed, and the director was honest in saying he and Rodriguez probably misjudged how much audiences might give a shit about their little experience:
“With Grindhouse, I think me and Robert just felt that people had a little more of a concept of the history of double features and exploitation movies…No, they didn’t. At all. They had no idea what the fuck they were watching. It meant nothing to them, alright, what we were doing. So that was a case of being a little too cool for school.”
Grindhouse didn’t open in its full form in the UK – there, Tarantino’s Death Proof was released as its own movie. And the filmmaker revealed that he and some famous friends went out to catch the movie in a UK cinema, and got a bit of a rude awakening at first glance:
“I’m in London doing press on the film before opening weekend. And I go to Edgar Wright, “Hey, let’s you and me and your friends go see it on Friday night in Piccadilly.” So Nira [Park], his producer, and Joe Cornish and the whole Edgar group, we head into the heart of Piccadilly Circus to go see Death Proof on opening day. And we walk in the theatre and there’s about 13 people in there. On the opening 8.30 show, alright? [Laughs] That was a rather humbling experience. But we sat down and watched it and had a good time. Edgar was like [launches into Edgar Wright impression that sounds more like Jason Statham], “That was very impressive. I think I would have turned around and walked out of there. The fact you said, ‘Fuck it,’ and sat down, I admired that.’”
I think time has been kind to the Grindhouse experience, especially Death Proof, which has gone on to be a kind of cult classic for Tarantino. I’ll admit that I didn’t love Death Proof when I saw it at first, but having revisited the film in recent years, I think it holds up exceptionally well. And while Grindhouse may have failed, it was still a neat experiment – the likes of which I can’t imagine a studio taking a risk on again these days.
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