Years after the Civil War, bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren is transporting three dead bounties to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming. He hitches a ride on a stagecoach driven by O.B. Jackson. Aboard is John Ruth, a bounty hunter known for bringing in outlaws alive to see them hang; handcuffed to him is fugitive Daisy Domergue, whom Ruth is escorting to Red Rock. Ruth is suspicious of anyone who might steal his claim to the bounty. Ruth and Warren bond over Warren's personal letter from Abraham Lincoln.
Former Lost-Causer militiaman Chris Mannix, who claims he is traveling to Red Rock as the town's new sheriff, persuades Ruth and Warren to let him on the stagecoach. Warren and Ruth form an alliance to protect each other's bounties. Mannix and Warren almost come to blows over their controversial war records.
The group seeks refuge from a blizzard at Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge. They are greeted by Bob, a Mexican who says the owner, Minnie, is visiting her mother. The other lodgers are Oswaldo Mobray, a hangman; Joe Gage, a quiet cowboy traveling to visit his mother; and Sanford Smithers, a former Confederate general traveling to put his missing son to rest. Suspicious, Ruth disarms all but Warren. As the group eats, Mannix surmises that Warren's Lincoln letter is a forgery. Warren admits this, saying the letter buys him leeway with whites, outraging Ruth. Warren leaves a gun next to Smithers and provokes him into reaching for it by telling Smithers he tortured, raped, and killed Smithers' son. When Smithers pulls a gun, Warren shoots him as revenge for Smithers' execution of black soldiers at the Battle of Baton Rouge.
While everyone is distracted by the confrontation, someone seen only by Daisy poisons the brewing coffee. Ruth and O.B. drink it, causing them both to vomit blood, killing O.B. The dying Ruth attacks Daisy, but she kills him with his own gun. Warren disarms Daisy, holds the men at gunpoint and leaves her cuffed to Ruth's corpse. Warren is joined by Mannix, whom Warren trusts because he nearly drank the poisoned coffee. Warren executes Bob, deducing that he is an impostor who killed the lodge owners. When Warren threatens to execute Daisy, Gage admits that he poisoned the coffee. A man hiding in the cellar shoots Warren in the genitals. Mobray draws a concealed gun and shoots Mannix, who returns fire, wounding Mobray and forcing Gage against the wall.
Earlier that day, Bob, Mobray, Gage, and a fourth man, Jody, arrive at Minnie's Haberdashery and kill everyone but Smithers. Jody, Daisy's brother, tells Smithers they plan to ambush Ruth to rescue Daisy; his gang will spare Smithers if he keeps quiet, as they deduce that an extra lodger makes the setup more believable. The bandits dispose of the bodies, hide the evidence, and conceal guns around the lodge. As Ruth's stagecoach arrives, Jody hides in the cellar.
In the present, Mannix and Warren, both seriously wounded, hold Daisy, Gage, and the dying Mobray at gunpoint. They force Jody out of the cellar by threatening to kill Daisy. Jody surrenders, then Warren executes him. Daisy claims fifteen of her brother's men are waiting in Red Rock to kill Mannix and ransack the town; if Mannix kills Warren and allows her to escape, the gang will spare him and let him claim the bounties of the deceased except her brother.
As Daisy and Mobray taunt Warren, Warren shoots Daisy in the foot and Mobray in the leg; Mobray soon dies from his wounds. Gage draws a hidden revolver but is shot dead by Mannix and Warren. Warren tries to shoot Daisy but is out of bullets. Mannix calls Daisy's bluff and rejects her offer, but faints from blood loss. Daisy hacks off Ruth's handcuffed arm and frees herself. As she reaches for a gun, Mannix regains consciousness, shoots, and wounds her. Warren persuades Mannix to hang her from the rafters in honor of Ruth. Afterward, as the two men lie dying, Mannix reads aloud Warren's forged Lincoln letter.
In November 2013, writer-director Quentin Tarantino said he was working on a new film, another Western. He stated that it would not be a sequel to Django Unchained, though he later admitted that his first attempt at the story was as a sequel in novel form titled Django in White Hell, but he quickly realized that Django's character did not fit the story. On January 12, 2014, the film's title was announced as The Hateful Eight. The film was inspired by the 1960s Western TV series Bonanza, The Virginian and The High Chaparral. Tarantino said:
Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage. They would come to the Ponderosa and hold everybody hostage, or go to Judge Garth's place—Lee J. Cobb played him—in The Virginian and take hostages. There would be a guest star like David Carradine, Darren McGavin, Claude Akins, Robert Culp, Charles Bronson, or James Coburn. I don't like that storyline in a modern context, but I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. I thought, 'What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.
Production would most likely have begun in mid 2014, but after the script leaked online in January 2014, Tarantino considered publishing it as a novel instead. He said he had given the script to a few trusted colleagues, including Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. This version of the script featured a different ending in which Warren and Mannix attempt to kill Gage in revenge by forcing him to drink the poisoned coffee, sparking a firefight in which every character is killed. Tarantino described his vision for the character of Daisy Domergue as a "Susan Atkins of the Wild West".
On April 19, 2014, Tarantino directed a live reading of the leaked script at the United Artists Theater in the Ace Hotel Los Angeles. The event was organized by the Film Independent at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of the Live Read series and introduced by Elvis Mitchell. Tarantino explained that they would read the first draft of the script, and he added that he was writing two new drafts with a different ending. The actors who joined Tarantino included Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Amber Tamblyn, James Parks, Walton Goggins, Zoë Bell, James Remar, Dana Gourrier, Dern, Roth and Madsen.
On September 23, 2014, it was revealed that Viggo Mortensen was in discussion with Tarantino for a role in the film. On October 9, 2014, Jennifer Jason Leigh was added to the cast to play Daisy Domergue. On November 5, 2014, it was announced that Channing Tatum was eyeing a major role in the film. Later the same day, The Weinstein Company confirmed the cast in a press release, which would include Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Demián Bichir, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern. Tatum's casting was also confirmed.
Later on January 23, 2015, TWC announced an ensemble cast of supporting members, including James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoë Bell, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson, Lee Horsley, Craig Stark, and Belinda Owino.
In the earlier public reading of the first script, the role of Daisy Domergue had been read by Amber Tamblyn, and the role of Bob, a Frenchman rather than a Mexican, was read by Denis Ménochet; at the reading, the role of Jody was read by James Remar. Regarding the cast, Tarantino has said, "This is a movie where [bigger movie stars] wouldn't work. It needs to be an ensemble where nobody is more important than anybody else."
On September 26, 2014, the state of Colorado had signed to fund the film's production with $5 million, and the complete film would be shot in Southwest Colorado. A 900-acre ranch was issued to the production for the filming. There was a meeting on October 16, and the county's planning commission issued a permit for the construction of a temporary set. Principal photography began on December 8, 2014, in Colorado on the Schmid Ranch near Telluride. The film's special make-up effects were created by Greg Nicotero, known for his work on the AMC series The Walking Dead.
The guitar destroyed by Russell's character was not a prop but an antique 1870s Martin guitar loaned by the Martin Guitar Museum. According to sound producer Mark Ulano, the guitar was supposed to have been switched with a copy to be destroyed, but this was not communicated to Russell; everyone on the set was "pretty freaked out" at the guitar's destruction, and Leigh's reaction was genuine, though "Tarantino was in a corner of the room with a funny curl on his lips, because he got something out of it with the performance." Museum director Dick Boak said that the museum was not told that the script included a scene that called for a guitar being smashed, and determined that it was irreparable. The insurance remunerated the purchase value of the guitar. As a result of the incident, the museum no longer loans guitars to film productions.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson, who also worked with Tarantino on Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained, filmed The Hateful Eight on 70 mm film, using Ultra Panavision 70 and Kodak Vision 3 film stocks: 5219, 5207, 5213 and 5203. It is the widest release in 70 mm film since Ron Howard's Far and Away in 1992. The film uses Panavision anamorphic lenses with an aspect ratio of 2.76:1, a very widescreen image that was used on some films in the 1950s and 1960s. The filmmakers also avoided any use of a digital intermediate; the 70mm release was color-timed photochemically by FotoKem, and the dailies were screened in 70mm. The wide digital release and a handful of 35mm prints were struck from a digital intermediate, done by Yvan Lucas at Shed/Santa Monica.
Tarantino edited two versions of the film, one for the roadshow version and the other for general release. The roadshow version runs for three hours and two minutes, including six minutes of extra footage plus an overture and intermission, and has alternate takes of some scenes. Tarantino created two versions as he felt some of the footage he shot for 70mm would not play well on smaller screens. Classifications from the British Board of Film Classification confirm that the time difference between the Roadshow (187 minutes) and the DCP (167 minutes) releases is 20 minutes.
Tarantino announced at the 2015 Comic-Con that Ennio Morricone would compose the score for The Hateful Eight; it is the first Western scored by Morricone in 34 years, since Buddy Goes West, and Tarantino's first film to use an original score. Tarantino had previously used Morricone's music in Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained, and Morricone also wrote an original song, "Ancora Qui", for the latter. Morricone had previously made statements that he would "never work" with Tarantino after Django Unchained, but ultimately changed his mind and agreed to score The Hateful Eight. According to Variety, Morricone composed the score without even seeing the film.
The soundtrack was announced on November 19, 2015, for a December 18 release from Decca Records. Ennio Morricone composed 50 minutes of original music for The Hateful Eight. In addition to Morricone's original score, the soundtrack includes dialogue excerpts from the film, "Apple Blossom" by The White Stripes from their De Stijl album, "Now You're All Alone" by David Hess from The Last House on the Left and "There Won't Be Many Coming Home" by Roy Orbison from The Fastest Guitar Alive.
Tarantino confirmed that the film would use three unused tracks from Morricone's original soundtrack for the 1982 John Carpenter film The Thing—"Eternity", "Bestiality" and "Despair"—as Morricone was pressed for time while creating the score. The final film also uses Morricone's "Regan's Theme" from the 1977 John Boorman film Exorcist II: The Heretic.
Morricone's score won several awards including a special award from New York Film Critics Circle. The score won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score. It also took the 2015 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Score, Morricone's first after several career nominations.
The acoustic song played by Leigh's character Domergue on a Martin guitar is the traditional Australian folk ballad "Jim Jones at Botany Bay", which dates from the early 19th-century and was first published by Charles McAlister in 1907. The rendition in the film includes lines which were not in MacAlister's version. The film's trailer used Welshly Arms' cover of "Hold On, I'm Coming", although this is not used in the film itself.
The soundtrack was released under the Third Man Records label, which is operated by musician Jack White.
On September 3, 2014, The Weinstein Company (TWC) acquired the worldwide distribution rights to the film for a fall 2015 release. TWC would sell the film worldwide, but Tarantino asked to personally approve the global distributors for the film. In preparation for its release, Tarantino arranged for approximately 100 theaters worldwide to be retrofitted with anamorphic equipped 70 mm film projectors, in order to display the film as he intended. The film was released on December 25, 2015, as a roadshow presentation in 70 mm film format theaters. The film was initially scheduled to be released in digital theaters on January 8, 2016.
On December 14, The Hollywood Reporter announced that the film would see wide release on December 31, 2015, while still screening the 70 mm version. The release date was moved to December 30, 2015, to meet demand. On July 11, 2015, Tarantino and the cast of the film appeared at Comic-Con to promote the film. In the UK, where the film was distributed by Entertainment Film Distributors, the sole 70mm print in the country opened at the Odeon Leicester Square on January 8 in a roadshow presentation, with the digital general release version opening the same day at other cinemas, except Cineworld, who refused to book the film after failing to reach an agreement to show the 70mm print.
On March 15, 2016, The Hateful Eight was released in the United States on Digital HD, and on Blu-ray and DVD on March 29, 2016.
On December 20, 2015, screener copies of The Hateful Eight and numerous other Oscar contenders, including Carol, The Revenant, Brooklyn, Creed, and Straight Outta Compton, were uploaded to many websites. The FBI linked the case to co-CEO Andrew Kosove of Alcon Entertainment. Kosove responded that he had "never seen this DVD", and that "it never touched his hands."
The Hateful Eight grossed $54.1 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $101.6 million in other countries, for worldwide gross of $155.7 million against a budget of around $44 million.
The film opened in the US with a limited release on December 25, 2015, and over the weekend grossed $4.9 million from 100 theaters ($46,107 per screen), finishing 10th at the box office. It had its wide release on December 30, grossing $3.5 million on its first day. The film went on to gross $15.7 million in its opening weekend, finishing third at the box office behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($90.2 million) and Daddy's Home ($29.2 million).
The film critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 74% based on 282 reviews and an average rating of 7.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Hateful Eight offers another well-aimed round from Quentin Tarantino's signature blend of action, humor, and over-the-top violence—all while demonstrating an even stronger grip on his filmmaking craft." On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 51 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
James Berardinelli wrote that The Hateful Eight "is a high-wire thriller, full of masterfully executed twists, captivating dialogue, and a wildly entertaining narrative that gallops along at a pace to make three hours evaporate in an instant. Best film of the year? Yes." Telegraph critic Robbie Collin wrote: "The Hateful Eight is a parlour-room epic, an entire nation in a single room, a film steeped in its own filminess but at the same time vital, riveting and real. Only Tarantino can do this, and he’s done it again." Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw gave the film five out of five, and wrote that it was "intimate yet somehow weirdly colossal, once again releasing [Tarantino's] own kind of unwholesome crazy-funny-violent nitrous oxide into the cinema auditorium for us all to inhale ... "Thriller" is a generic label which has lost its force. But The Hateful Eight thrills." A.V. Club critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky gave the film a grade of A- and wrote that "with a script that could easily be a stage play, The Hateful Eight is about as close as this pastiche artist is likely to get to the classical tradition."
In contrast, Owen Gleiberman of the BBC said, "I'm not alone in thinking that it's Tarantino's worst film – a sluggish, unimaginative dud, brimming with venom but not much cleverness." Donald Clarke, writing in The Irish Times, wrote, "What a shame the piece is so lacking in character and narrative coherence. What a shame so much of it is so gosh-darn boring." A. O. Scott in The New York Times said, "Some of the film's ugliness...seems dumb and ill-considered, as if Mr. Tarantino's intellectual ambition and his storytelling discipline had failed him at the same time." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film's production design, idiosyncratic dialogue, and "lip-smackingly delicious" performances, but felt the film was overlong and that Morricone's score was put to too limited use.
In October 2015, Tarantino attended a Black Lives Matter rally and publicly commented on police brutality in the United States, saying, "When I see murders, I do not stand by... I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers the murderers." Tarantino's comments received national media attention and several police groups in the United States pledged to boycott The Hateful Eight and his other films. New York City Police Benevolent Association president Patrick J. Lynch said: "With nearly one million law enforcement officers in this country who have families and friends who support them, the impact that police have economically on a product or project is immense. The law enforcement boycott of cop-hater Quentin Tarantino's movie is one demonstration of that economic power." Tarantino responded that he was not a "cop hater" and would not be intimidated by the calls for a boycott.
Richard Johnson of the New York Post called The Hateful Eight a "box-office disaster, and the police officers who boycotted the movie are taking credit". However, Forbes rebutted this claim in an article titled "No, Police Boycotts Against Quentin Tarantino didn't cause Hateful Eight to Flop", writing that the film, while not as commercially successful as some of Tarantino's other films, was not a "box-office disaster" and cast doubt on claims that a boycott had a strong effect on sales.
Tarantino told GQ that race issues were part of his creative process and were inescapable, saying: "I wasn’t trying to bend over backwards in any way, shape, or form to make it socially relevant. But once I finished the script, that’s when all the social relevancy started." He told the Telegraph he wrote The Hateful Eight to reflect America's fraught racial history, with the splitting of the cabin into northern and southern sides and a speech about the perils of "frontier justice". A.O. Scott of The New York Times observed that the film rejects the Western genre's tradition of ignoring America's racial history, but felt its handling of race issues was "dumb and ill-considered", and wrote: "Tarantino doesn’t make films that are 'about race' so much as he tries to burrow into the bowels of American racism with his camera and his pen. There is no way to do that and stay clean."
Some critics expressed unease at the treatment of the Daisy Domergue character, who is the subject of repeated physical and verbal abuse and finally lynched in a sequence which, according to Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com, "lingers on Daisy's death with near-pornographic fascination". A.O. Scott felt the film "mutates from an exploration of racial animus into an orgy of elaborately justified misogyny". Laura Bogart regarded the treatment of Daisy as a "betrayal" of the positive female characters in previous Tarantino films such as Kill Bill. Juliette Peers wrote that "compared to the stunning twists and inversions of norms that Tarantino's other works offer when presenting female characters, The Hateful Eight's sexual politics seem bleakly conservative. Daisy is feisty and highly intelligent, yet the plotline is arbitrarily stacked against her."
Conversely, Courtney Bissonette of Bust praised Tarantino's history of female characters and wrote of Daisy's treatment: "This is equality, man, and it’s more feminist to think that a criminal is getting treated the same despite her gender. They don't treat her like a fairy princess because she is a woman, they treat her like a killer because she is a killer." Sophie Besl of Bitch Flicks argued that Daisy received no special treatment as a woman, is never sexually objectified, and has agency over her own actions (including killing her captor). She defended the hanging scene as in the filmic tradition of villains "getting what's coming to [them]", and that equivalent scenes with male villains in previous Tarantino films raised no objections. However, Matthew Stogdon felt that as Daisy's crimes are not explained, her status as a criminal deserving execution is not established, breaking the narrative rule of "show, don't tell".
Walton Goggins described the lynching as symbolic of a positive step to erase racism: "I see it as very uplifting, as very hopeful, and as a big step in the right direction, as a celebration, as a changing of one heart and one mind." However, Sasha Stone, writing for Awards Daily, felt it was implausible for Daisy to "represent, somehow, all of the evil of the South, all of the racism, all of the injustice. She's a tiny thing. There is no point in the film, or maybe one just barely, when Daisy inflicts any violence upon anyone – and by then it could be argued that she is only desperately trying to defend herself. She is handcuffed to Kurt Russell, needing his permission to speak and eat, and then punched brutally in the face whenever she says anything."
Tarantino intended the violence against Daisy to be shocking and wanted the audience's allegiances to shift during the story. He said: "Violence is hanging over every one of those characters like a cloak of night. So I'm not going to go, 'OK, that's the case for seven of the characters, but because one is a woman, I have to treat her differently.' I'm not going to do that." Producer Harvey Weinstein felt the allegations of sexism were "fishing for stupidity".