Once upon a time, there was a time when stories beginning with Once Upon A Time were fairytales and ensured a happy ending. Things took a turn, however, when fairytales turned to films and fell into the hands of directors with strange visions. Case in point: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, the latest addition to the many flicks that have captured audience’s imagination over the years.
But while you enjoy Tarantino’s latest offing, let’s take a look back at some of the most successful films having Once Upon A Time in their titles. Believe us when we say they’re no fairytales!
Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
Cast: Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards
Director: Sergio Leone
Analysis: Considered to be the daddy of modern-day Spaghetti Westerns, Once Upon A Time in the West gave the audience everything they had been missing. It was a revenge saga revolving around Charles Bronson’s unnamed character. With the introduction of a former prostitute Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale), the owner of a profitable piece of land and a hired gun Frank (Henry Fonda) who frames another bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards) for the murder of Mr. McBain, it took an interesting turn as the widow entered the scene after her husband’s death. It was a critical success in Europe, where it was released first but a shortened version a few months later in the United States didn’t yield the same result. Charles Bronson got the ‘Man With No Name’ role after Leone’s prodigy Clint Eastwood refused to return for the fourth time in the same role. The film was one of the inspirations behind Bollywood classic Sholay which even copied many scenes from the classic and went on to become one too.
Once Upon A Time In America (1984)
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Joe Pesci, Elizabeth McGovern
Director: Sergio Leone
Analysis: Sergio Leone returned to direct his second Once Upon A Time flick, this time featuring mobsters instead of bandits, using Robert De Niro and James Woods as two friends who turned against each other as the Jewish gangsters rose to prominence in New York in early 1900s. Not only did it explore themes of childhood friendships, betrayal, love, lust and greed but tackled loss, broken relationships and even death, all in the backdrop of the rise of mobsters in American society. It also brought us great performances from De Niro and James Woods, who have since become legends when it comes to American cinema. The film’s US version was a disaster because of its uneven editing (the final run time was close to 4 hours), and the one that went on to become a classic wasn’t touched by the Americans. So much for a film that has America in the title!
Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Analysis: The third film in the El Mariachi trilogy brought together Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp; even then it failed to do well at the box office. Not only was the film’s plot too far-fetched, it was also considered too violent, especially when you have an injured Johnny Depp wreaking havoc, when he can’t see, literally! It was compared to Desperado the most successful flick of the trilogy and also suffered because of that. There was less of Salma Hayek, which disappointed the audience who were expecting more of Carolina and El Mariachi, just like the previous film.
Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010) & Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai Dobaara! (2013)
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut (Part 1), Akshay Kumar, Imran Khan, Sonakshi Sinha (Part 2)
Director: Milan Luthria
Analysis: And then there was the Indian take on the Once Upon A Time saga, although they had done it long before others with Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India. In the Mumbaai branch of Once Upon A Time, there were two flicks – one revolving around Haji Mastan’s story and the other around his prodigy Dawood Ibrahim’s. The first one featuring Ajay Devgn, where Dawood Ibrahim was played by Emraan Hashmi, went on to become a blockbuster, whereas the second one starring Akshay Kumar as the latter couldn’t do well, despite having explosive dialogues and an impressive soundtrack. Although the names of both the lead characters and their love interests were changed, fans of Mumbai gangs got the idea and loved the director’s reimagining of stories that shaped the Gangster Capital of India.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Analysis: You can’t keep Quentin Tarantino from making off-beat films and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is his way of paying tribute to the classic Western TV series and stuntmen who kept their actors safe. Although the film borrows heavily from the real-life case of Roman Polanski’s deceased wife Sharon Tate’s murder, it revolves around the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, that of the star and his stuntman. Both the actors do a commendable job as does Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate and while their characters are based on real-life celebrities, the film shocks you by going in a different direction. It is doing well in the cinemas, so go out and catch the flick, before it goes off from a screen near you!
– Omair Alavi is a freelance broadcast journalist who can be contacted at [email protected]