Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s 10 Biggest Unanswered Questions
Warning: SPOILERS for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Here are Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s biggest unanswered questions. Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film immerses fans in the director’s vision of Hollywood circa 1969 as seen through the eyes of struggling leading man Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his best friend and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).
While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a fictional story centering on Rick Dalton’s career troubles, the film’s events are melded with the backdrop of a real-life tragedy: the Sharon Tate murders committed by members of the Charles Manson family. However, as he did with the conclusion of Inglourious Basterds where Hitler’s death in a fiery Paris movie theater instantly ended World War II, Tarantino again rewrites history so that the Tate murders never happened. Instead, Dalton and Booth inadvertently make themselves the target of the Manson Family and kill the hippies in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s ending.
Tarantino weaves numerous real-life films, TV series, and notable figures of 1960s Hollywood into the story of his movie’s characters so that Rick Dalton’s filmography tuns into a fascinating blend of both. The film also drops major questions about Cliff Booth that it never answers, and Tarantino’s happy ending unabashedly leaves the audience wondering what happens next? With all of this in mind, here are the 10 biggest questions we have about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
10. Did Rick Dalton Get Fired From The Great Escape?
On the set of the new TV pilot Lancer, the series lead James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant) asks Rick if it’s true that he lost the lead role in 1963’s The Great Escape to Steve McQueen (who is played by Damian Lewis in the film). Clearly uncomfortable by the question, Rick says that he never auditioned for the role or even had a meeting about it. In any case, McQueen got the part, the film was a big hit, and the rest was history.
But what really happened? As James and Rick talk, the film flashes to clips of The Great Escape but with Rick in the starring role as Hilts ‘The Cooler King’. It is never made clear whether this is a flashback, footage that was shot but was tossed out when the role was recast with McQueen, or if it’s just Rick’s fanciful dream of what The Great Escape would have looked like with him in the lead. Was Rick lying about being fired from The Great Escape to protect his fragile ego and reputation? Perhaps, because otherwise, how would a rumor that he lost the part to McQueen have circulated around town in the first place?
9. Did Cliff Booth Really Beat Bruce Lee In A Fight?
While Rick is shooting Lancer, Cliff follows Rick’s instructions to fix the TV antennae on the roof of Dalton’s house. While Cliff is on the roof, he flashes back to being on the set of The Green Hornet in 1967. Rick went to bat for Cliff and got him a gig as his stunt double but Cliff couldn’t keep his mouth shut and got in a ‘friendly contest’ with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), who played Kato in The Green Hornet. Cliff goes toe-to-toe with Lee and even throws him into the side of a car, making a sizable dent.
It’s likely this altercation happened and Cliff was fired from the job for fighting with the series lead and denting the car belonging to Janet (Zoe Bell), the wife of stunt coordinator Randy (Kurt Russell). But could Cliff really manhandle Bruce Lee, who was, in real-life, one of the world’s most renowned martial artists? Cliff may be a war hero and a tough-guy stuntman, but it’s not quite believable he was Lee’s equal in a fight. However, since it’s framed as Cliff’s memory, the scene can be read as the rose-colored way Booth saw that fight go down – but not necessarily the truth.
8. Did Cliff Kill His Wife?
Cliff Booth is a likable guy and a loyal friend to Rick Dalton but he has a dark cloud over him: the people in the industry believe “he killed his wife and got away with it”. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood fleetingly delves into this event in Cliff’s past: we are shown him on a boat with his wife (Rebecca Gayheart), who continually insults him. Cliff has a harpoon in his hand, which is casually pointed at his wife as she continues her tirade – but then the scene cuts and is never mentioned again. The moment has shades of the death of actress Natalie Wood, who is suspected to have been killed by her husband Robert Wagner, although Wood’s death wouldn’t happen until 1981.
So, did Cliff actually kill his wife? It’s never made clear. After he picked up Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), Cliff tells her “the law’s been trying to catch up to me all my life” – is this veiled comment referring to Cliff killing his wife? Regardless of what could be a dark chapter in his past, Cliff is presented as a good person in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, though the question of whether Cliff did kill his wife always remains in the back of the audience’s minds.
7. Why Did Charles Manson Go To Sharon Tate’s House To Begin With?
Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) only appears once in the film; he visits Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s house looking for “Terry”. In the film, Manson shows up at Tate’s home in February 1969; then, on August 8th, he sends four members of the Manson Family to the hilltop house at 10050 Cielo Drive to kill everyone inside “and make it look witchy”. In real life, a pregnant Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and her three friends were all murdered but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood rewrites this tragic history, thanks to the interference of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth.
But the film doesn’t fill in all of the blanks on who the mysterious “Terry” was, just that he rented the house before Polanski and Tate. In actuality, “Terry” was record producer Terry Melcher, who lived in the house on Cielo Drive with his girlfriend Candice Bergen and musician Mark Lindsay until January 1969. Manson was a would-be musician who was bitter that Melcher didn’t offer him a recording contract. Months later, Manson, who was a lunatic, targeted the current occupants of the house instead.
6. Is Antonio Margheriti The Same Filmmaker Referenced In Inglourious Basterds?
Tarantino references Inglourious Basterds in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but a subtle callback to that prior World War II-set film was the name Antonio Margheriti, who was the director of the Spaghetti Westerns Rick Dalton starred in when he moved to Rome for six months. However, Antonio Margheriti was also the cover identity used by Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz (Eli Roth) in Inglourious Basterds. Margheriti was supposed to be a famous Italian filmmaker in Basterds so are they, in fact, the same person? If so, this definitely means Inglourious Basterds is a prequel to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in the Quentin Tarantino shared universe – and it’s possible Cliff Booth became a war hero fighting in World War II.
5. What Is Randy The Stuntman’s Relation to Stuntman Mike In Death Proof?
Since they’re both portrayed by Kurt Russell, Randy, The Green Hornet‘s stunt coordinator in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, bears a striking resemblance to Stuntman Mike, the villain of Death Proof. Is Stuntman Mike actually related to Randy? For fans wondering if this is possible, it helps to recall the rules of Tarantino’s two movie universes: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood belongs to his main universe, which The Hateful Eight, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown are set in.
However, there’s a movie-within-the-movie universe as well; these are the films the characters in the main universe go to see, which includes Kill Bill and Death Proof. So, it’s possible Stuntman Mike is based on Randy or that the unnamed actor who plays Stuntman Mike is the son of Randy from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. However, Quentin Tarantino has yet to clarify if there’s any in-universe connection between the two stuntmen.
4. Do Cliff and Rick Remain Friends And Co-Workers After The Movie Ends?
Towards the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Rick and Cliff were at the end of their professional relationship. While they were in Rome, Rick had gotten married and his financial situation changed so that he was planning to sell his Hollywood Hills home. With a new wife to support, he could no longer afford to keep Cliff employed as his gofer. Before the Manson Family invaded Rick’s house, Booth and Dalton were in the midst of a drunken last night together that would mark their formal parting of ways.
So, does a drunken Rick and an acid-tripping Cliff fending off a home invasion and killing three murderous hippies lead to them changing their plans? Rick’s relationship to Cliff was “more than a brother but less than a wife” and his buddy (and his pitbull Brandy) literally saved Rick and his bride Francesca’s (Lorenza Izzo) lives. No doubt, Rick visited Cliff in the hospital (and brought bagels) the next day, and it’s hard to believe that they both went through with their intention to stop working together after that life-or-death experience.
3. Does Rick Ever Get To Work With Roman Polanski?
As Rick developed severe anxieties and a drinking problem over the state of his career, he yearned to work with Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), who moved into the house right above his in January 1969. Just the sight of Polanski and Sharon Tate arriving home briefly cured Rick of his depression at the start of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. By the end of the film, Rick and Cliff unwittingly saved Sharon’s life and this literally opened the gates to Rick meeting his next-door neighbor for the first time.
So what happens next to Rick’s career? Now that he’s met Sharon Tate, does that mean he also befriends Roman Polanski? The Polish director was in Europe on the fateful August 1969 night but when he returns, does he strike up a friendship with Rick and give him a part in one of his films? Does Rick’s movie career finally get launched thanks to him befriending his neighbors at last?
2. Does Charles Manson Send More People To Kill Sharon Tate?
The Sharon Tate murders didn’t occur in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but was it actually only postponed? By the end of the film, neither Rick nor Cliff realized that the hippies they killed were the Manson Family; further, one of the hippies (played by Maya Hawke) took the car they arrived in and abandoned the others. If she returned to Spahn Ranch and told Charles Manson what happened, what stops him from just sending more of his Manson family members to finish the job on Tate? Rick Dalton also could become a target and, if the story continued, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s happy ending could ultimately turn out to be tragic.
1. What Is The Story Behind The Batman Contest Heard During The Credits?
After Rick Dalton’s hilarious Red Apple commercial, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has a second end-credits tag: audio of Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin promoting a local radio contest. It’s a special treat, especially for fans of the classic 1966 Batman TV show, but was this contest real? Yes, it was!
In January 1966, not long after Batman premiered, L.A. radio station 93 KHJ Boss Radio held a Batphone Secret Number Contest. The prize was a tour of the 20th Century Fox lot with Adam West and Burt Ward in character as the Dynamic Duo, a ride in the Batmobile, and a 25-inch console color TV set. With Batman and Robin offering daily clues about the Batphone’s number, thousands of postcard entries were mailed in until the contest was won by Fred Jones of Reseda, CA. Adding this fun Batman Easter egg cements Quentin Tarantino’s love for the camp classic TV series in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.