A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
n 1969 Los Angeles, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a popular action star, but after his hit TV show “Bounty Law” is canceled due to his alcoholism, he feels that his career is in decline. He is given an offer to fly to Rome with his best friend and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to shoot Spaghetti Westerns, but Rick thinks that this would be a career low for him. When he finds out that his new neighbors are Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Rick thinks he has a chance at reinvigorating his career.
While Rick is filming an episode of the series “Lancer”, Cliff meets a young hippie woman and brings her back to her home on Spahn Ranch, where the infamous Manson Family lives. At the same time, Sharon, a fairly new actress, watches her own movie, “The Wrecking Crew”, in a theater, and she is happy to hear the positive reception from the audience.
Rick and Cliff eventually fly to Rome for the Spaghetti Westerns, and Rick comes back married to an Italian film star named Francesca Capucci. He and Cliff feel that it is time they part ways. This happens on the night of August 8th, 1969. Manson Family members Tex Watson, Sadie (Susan Atkins), Katie (Patricia Krenwinkel), and Flowerchild (Linda Kasabian) show up to kill a pregnant Sharon and her friends, until Rick comes out to yell at them to leave. Sadie then suggests they kill Rick and his friends, but Flowerchild leaves them before they carry out their plan. The three find Cliff, who is high on acid, and he sics his dog on Tex and Sadie before stomping Tex’s face in and then smashing Katie’s face all across the house. Rick kills Sadie by burning her to death with a flamethrower.
Cliff goes to the hospital for injuries, and Rick ends up meeting Sharon and her friends.
In 1969 Los Angeles, actor Rick Dalton, the former star of the 1950s Western television series Bounty Law, finds his career faltering due to ongoing alcoholism issues. Rick laments to Cliff Booth, his best friend and stunt double, that his career is over. Cliff, a war veteran who lives in a derelict trailer next to a drive-in in Van Nuys, attempts to bolster Rick’s self-confidence. Meanwhile, actress Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski have just moved into the home next door to Rick’s. Rick hopes to befriend the couple and use Polanski to restore his leading man status.
During a day off, Cliff laments on his own failures as he fixes Rick’s TV antenna. He reminisces on how he hasn’t been able to get much work after being suspected of his wife’s murder surrounding her drowning while they were out on a boat and engaging Bruce Lee in a sparring match on the set of The Green Hornet, in which a car was damaged. Charles Manson confronts Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate at her house. As the day progresses, Cliff picks up a young hitchhiker in Rick’s car, driving her home to Spahn Ranch. She insists that he stay and meet Manson, but Cliff is suspicious of the large number of hippies squatting on the property, as he once worked on the lot with owner George Spahn. He insists on seeing the now-blind Spahn despite Squeaky Fromme’s objections; Spahn dismisses Cliff’s suspicion that he is being taken advantage of and asks him to leave. Returning to his car, Cliff discovers that Steve Grogan has slashed his front tire; he severely beats Grogan and forces him to change the tire. One of the women goes to fetch Tex Watson to handle the situation, but Cliff is already driving away by the time Watson arrives.
Having become a day player on several TV series, Rick, playing a black-hatted villain on a new series called Lancer, gets into a philosophical chat about acting with his eight-year-old method actress co-star. That same evening, after watching his performance as a guest star on an episode of F.B.I., casting agent Marvin Schwarzs offers Rick the opportunity to shoot a Spaghetti Western in Rome. The prospect fills Rick with despair; he thinks Spaghetti Westerns are the bottom rung of the entertainment totem pole. He takes Cliff to the six-month shoot in Rome, making several films while eventually marrying a young Italian actress, Francesca Cappucci.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Rick informs Cliff that he can no longer afford his services, and they agree to go their separate ways. After returning home from a night out drinking, Cliff smokes an acid-laced cigarette that he bought six months previously. Later that night, Rick confronts Watson, along with Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel, who have parked outside his home and are preparing to murder everyone in Tate’s house. They initially drive off. However, Atkins hatches a plan to kill Dalton, as a way of getting revenge on Hollywood, who she blames for turning her into a killer. A nervous Kasabian deserts the group, and drives off in their car. The remaining three proceed with the plan. Upon entering the house, Watson confronts Cliff, who is high on acid. Cliff recognizes the trio from the ranch, making them nervous. In the ensuing fight, Cliff and his pitbull manage to kill Krenwinkel and Watson while severely injuring Atkins, who stumbles outside into the pool. She alarms Rick, who had been floating there listening to music in his headphones, unaware of the commotion inside. He climbs out of the pool and retrieves a flamethrower he’d kept from a previous film shoot, burning Atkins to death. Cliff is taken to the hospital for his non-fatal injuries, while Rick strikes up a conversation with Jay Sebring next door, and is invited up to Tate’s house for drinks.
The film opens with a clip from an old Western TV series, “Bounty Law”. It features action star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the lead role as Jake Cahill, a renegade bounty hunter. Following the clip is an interview with Rick and his stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), both of whom describe Cliff’s role as essentially carrying Rick’s load.
Saturday, February 8th, 1969 – Rick and Cliff are in a restaurant where Rick is met by producer Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino). He is a fan of Rick’s work, having seen a double feature presentation of his where he plays an action star, including one where he is a GI that incinerates nazis with a flamethrower (which he kept). Marvin also brings up a cheesy music video Rick was featured in. “Bounty Law” has since been canceled because of Rick’s ongoing alcoholism (which is also why Cliff is his driver), and now Rick has booked a gig as a villain on the series “Lancer.” Marvin thinks Rick ought to fly to Rome and shoot Spaghetti Westerns. Rick complains to Cliff about how this means that his career is going downhill, and he is now a has-been.
Cliff drives Rick home, where they learn that Rick’s new neighbors are director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his wife, rising starlet Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Rick’s mood turns around since he thinks that a big time director like Polanski (hot off “Rosemary’s Baby”) can help reinvigorate his career. He goes to rehearse his lines for “Lancer” for the night. Cliff then drives home to his trailer where he lives alone with his dog Brandy.
Polanski brings Sharon to a party at the Playboy Mansion, where they meet with their friends Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), Steve McQueen (Damien Lewis), and Michelle Phillips (Rebecca Rittenhouse). Sharon goes to dance, while McQueen talks to Connie Stevens (Dreama Walker). He notes that Sharon is using Polanski to make Jay jealous, and Connie thinks that Sharon has a type – short men that “look like 12-year-old boys”.
Sunday, February 9th, 1969 – After Polanski leaves, Sharon hangs out with Jay at her house. Visiting them is Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), claiming that he is coming to see his friends, the previous owners of the house that Polanski and Sharon now live in. He apologizes for the error and leaves.
Cliff brings Rick to the set of “Lancer” for the day’s shoot. He goes back to Rick’s house after he asks Cliff to fix the antenna on his roof. He happens to spot Manson as he leaves, and he smiles and waves at Cliff. We then see a flashback to Rick talking to an old friend of his, Randy (Kurt Russell), into getting Cliff a gig. Randy shows reluctance, since it is rumored that Cliff murdered his wife Billie (Rebecca Gayheart) and got away with it. The alleged incident is shown on a boat where Billie was nagging Cliff endlessly, but it cuts away before we see if Cliff really did shoot Billie with the harpoon gun he was holding. Randy brings Cliff to the set, where he meets Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) talking about wanting to fight Muhammad Ali. When Lee catches Cliff laughing at what he’s saying, he challenges him to a fight to see who knocks who on the ground first. Lee gets Cliff down first, and he retaliates by grabbing Lee and slamming him into a car. The two then go hand-to-hand until Janet (Zoe Bell), Randy’s wife and fellow stunt coordinator comes in and is pissed to see Cliff and Lee fighting, and the huge dent that Cliff left in there, meaning he’s fired.
Sharon goes to the local movie theater and sees that a film she is featured in, “The Wrecking Crew”, is playing. She goes to the box office and asks for a ticket, but then asks if she gets any privilege for starring in the film. The manager comes out and recognizes Sharon from “Valley of the Dolls”, and he invites her in. Throughout the film, Sharon listens to the audience’s enthusiastic reactions to her performance, with laughter and cheering at the right moments.
Rick goes through his hair and make-up for “Lancer”. He then sits down next to his eight-year-old co-star Trudi (Julia Butters), who is a method actor. Rick smokes a cigarette near her as she reads her book. They have a conversation about the books they are reading, and Rick has a small breakdown over his perceived decline in stardom. Shooting begins, and Rick works with the series’ lead actor, James Stacey (Timothy Olyphant), who plays protagonist Johnny Madrid. During the take, Rick forgets his lines due to being drunk. He goes to his trailer and has a meltdown, but then vows to do better.
Cliff drives home from Rick’s place and sees a hitchhiker called Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), whom Cliff has noticed throughout the weekend. He picks her up and agrees to take her to the Spahn Ranch, where Cliff used to shoot films with Rick. When they get there, Cliff sees that the place has become some kind of commune for hippies, mostly consisting of women. Pussycat tells Cliff that he should stick around to meet Manson, but he wants to speak with the ranch’s owner, George Spahn (Bruce Dern). The women warn Cliff that Spahn is sleeping, but he goes over to his house anyway. He is met by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Dakota Fanning), who also reiterates that Spahn is asleep because she just had sex with him. Cliff goes to wake Spahn up, but he doesn’t recognize Cliff since he is blind. He asks Spahn if the women there are taking advantage of him, but Spahn denies it and tells Cliff to leave. Outside, Cliff sees one of the male hippie’s stuck a knife in his front tire. He gets his stuff out and orders the man to fix it, but is given a “fuck you”. Cliff responds by decking the guy hard in the face three times in front of the other women. They run to get Tex Watson (Austin Butler), but Cliff is already driving away by the time he gets out.
Back on the “Lancer” set, Rick shoots a scene where he has Trudi’s character hostage, and Scott Lancer, played by Wayne Maunder (Luke Perry), comes to intervene. Rick improvises his slimy villain character and has a moment where he throws Trudi off of him. After the take, he is praised by both the director and Trudi, who tells Rick that it was the best acting she has ever seen in her life. The comment even moves Rick to tears.
We then jump to six months later. A voiceover from Randy states that Rick and Cliff ended up flying to Rome to shoot the Spaghetti Western films. While there, Rick met and married Italian film actress Francesca Capucci (Lorenza Izzo).
August 8th, 1969 – Rick and Cliff have returned to Los Angeles, but now feel that it is time for them to go their separate ways. They spend one last night having drinks and hang out at Rick’s home with Francesca. Meanwhile, Sharon, now very pregnant, is having a small gathering with Jay, and their friends Wojciech Frykowski (Costa Ronin) and Abigail Folger (Samantha Robinson).
Cliff takes out a cigarette he bought from Pussycat that was dipped in acid, and he proceeds to smoke it to trip out. Outside, Tex drives in front of the houses with fellow “family” members Patricia Krenwinkel, AKA Katie (Madisen Beaty), Susan Atkins, AKA Sadie (Mikey Madison), and Linda Kasabian, AKA Flowerchild (Maya Hawke). They arrive with the intention of killing Sharon and her friends, but a drunk Rick comes out and angrily yells at them because their car’s busted muffler is making too much noise. He orders them to leave, even as Katie appears to be reaching for her gun, but Tex drives away. At the bottom of the hill, the four recognize Rick from TV, and Sadie suggests that they kill him and whoever else is in his house. The others agree, but as they start walking there, Flowerchild says she forgot her knife. Tex gives her the car keys to get it, but she ends up ditching them and driving away. The three then proceed to carry out their plan.
The trio walk up to Rick’s house. Tex and Katie break in through the front, while Sadie goes in through the side. Cliff sees them, but because he is tripping balls, he is neither frightened nor absolutely certain of what he is seeing. Even as Tex draws his gun on Cliff, he instead sics Brandy on Tex, who viciously chomps into Tex’s arm and groin. Sadie tries to run up to Cliff with her knife, but he chucks a can of dog food at her, which smashes into her face. Cliff stomps Tex’s face in before grabbing Sadie and brutally smashing her face against the hard furniture until she is dead. Brandy gets a few bites into Sadie as well, but she runs out flailing and shrieking into the pool, where Rick is lounging. He then comes out with his FLAMETHROWER and torches Sadie, who burns to death in his pool. In the chaos, Cliff gets shot, but non-fatally.
Paramedics and police arrive at the scene. Cliff is taken to the hospital for his injuries, while Francesca is freaked out by the ordeal. After Rick says bye to Cliff, he sees Jay calling to him from Sharon’s gate. Rick explains what happened, and Jay recognizes Rick from TV. Jay tells Sharon who her neighbor is, and they invite him to come over for a drink. Rick agrees, and he finally meets Sharon and her friends.