Jordan Peele at the Box Office: What ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’ Say About ‘Nope’

The writer-director’s first two horror films made the same amount at the box office, but got there in very different ways

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“Nope,” releasing Friday, will be only the third film from Oscar winner Jordan Peele, but already the filmmaker has carved out a very interesting track record at the box office with “Get Out” and “Us,” two horror titles that made the same amount of money but in very different ways and in the process made Peele into the increasingly rare director that is the core draw of his movies.

In today’s franchise-driven industry, filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino who are dedicated to making original wide release films have gained devoted cinephile followings. In the absence of recognizable characters, those directors are heavily featured by studios in trailers and posters. But even with such directors, releasing a trailer that can clearly convey to the audience what the film is about has been key to the success of films like “Inception” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Peele, on the other hand, has built a reputation for working with Universal to ensure that the marketing for “Nope” is as light and cryptic on plot details as possible, and his fans have come to like it that way. This goes back to when the first trailer for “Get Out” was released in October 2016, which conveyed the basic story of a visit by a Black man to his white girlfriend’s parents going horribly wrong, but concealing exactly what this white family’s sinister secret is. That such a horror film rooted in race and class conflict was being directed by one-half of the comedy duo behind Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” just escalated the intrigue among hardcore horror fans.

Then, when “Get Out” came out in February 2017, it became the newest microbudget horror hit. From a $33 million opening weekend, the film became a slow-burning cultural phenomenon. As phrases like “The Sunken Place” entered the pop culture vernacular and the phrase “I would have voted for Obama a third term” became used to needle performative white liberalism, “Get Out” dropped just 15% in its second weekend and never dropped more than 40% until its ninth weekend in theaters.

In the face of major spring blockbuster competition like “Logan,” “Kong: Skull Island” and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” remake, “Get Out” legged out to a $176 million domestic total — just over five times its opening weekend — and $255 million worldwide, all against a paltry $4.5 million production budget. It made Peele the first Black writer-director to gross over $100 million in his feature debut and won him the Best Screenplay Oscar as well as nominations for Best Picture and Director.

With a winning formula in hand, Peele and Universal ran it back with “Us,” premiering a trailer with “Black Panther” star Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke playing both a well-off couple with kids and twisted, murderous copies of themselves. Again, details about the origins of these strange doppelgangers were kept under wraps ahead of its April 2019 release.

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • • Twitter: @jeremyfuster