clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Us’ Is Proof That Original Films Can Still Scare Up Box Office Numbers

After a record-breaking first weekend, Jordan Peele has firmly established himself as a bastion for commercially viable creativity

Universal Pictures/Ringer illustration

The most shocking thing about Jordan Peele’s new horror movie, Us, didn’t have anything to do with what transpired on screen: It’s how the movie wreaked havoc on the box office. The auteur’s sophomore effort ran away with the weekend box office, according to Box Office Mojo, earning over $70 million, the highest weekend opening for an original horror movie ever (a title previously owned by A Quiet Place, which made just north of $50 million last year).

The Us numbers are ridiculously impressive when contextualized in other ways too. It’s the second-best domestic opening for a live-action, original film ever. The only original movie to make more in a debut weekend was James Cameron’s Avatar—you know, just the highest grossing worldwide movie of all time. Us’s first weekend is also the largest opening for an original, R-rated film of any genre, breezing past the unintentional CGI terror of Seth MacFarlane’s Ted ($54.4 million). The only original feature films that Us fell short of were animated—Inside Out ($90.4 million), Zootopia ($75 million), The Incredibles ($70.5 million), and Finding Nemo ($70.3 million)—which have the advantage of catering to a much wider, more family-friendly audience.

Us’s debut more than doubled the initial weekend gross of Peele’s first feature film, Get Out, which opened to $33.3 million in 2017. Those comparatively tepid numbers make sense. At the time, Peele was best known as one half of a sketch comedy duo, and terms like the Sunken Place hadn’t yet been thrust into the cultural conversation. But Get Out, with overwhelmingly favorable reviews and strong word-of-mouth, did go on to make $176 million in the United States—making it the third-highest grossing domestic R-rated horror film of all-time. And again: Us debuted with more than double that initial intake.

Because its opening numbers have far outpaced Get Out, it’s hard to say just how much Us will go on to make—there’s just not a lot to compare the movie to. Us’s Cinemascore was a “B,” which isn’t terrible—for comparison, Get Out had an A-; Captain Marvel had an A—but perhaps speaks to the fact that the movie’s surprising third act reveals might not sit well with everyone. That said, it’s also the type of ending that encourages multiple viewings, so maybe Us’s totals will be helped by that frustration. But even if its box office totals were capped after its opening weekend, this would be a huge win for Universal Pictures. Us had a total production budget of $20 million, and with the additional money Us made overseas (nearly $17 million across 47 international markets), Peele’s film has already quadrupled its production cost. That is [extremely Captain Obvious voice] really good business.

The great Us numbers also seem like a net positive for everyone involved. Universal continues a strong start to the calendar year, after making respectable numbers from How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Glass, which also won their debut domestic weekends. And it’s always great for moviegoers when a major studio’s release is a critically acclaimed film: Us has an impressive 81 on Metacritic. Perhaps the most encouraging designation of all is the “original” tag: It’s so rare to see a film with an original conceit rake in so much money. Of the top 20 highest grossing domestic movies of 2018, only two weren’t tied to an existing property: A Quiet Place and Bohemian Rhapsody, the latter being a biopic of one of the most famous bands on the planet. That’s not to suggest that all projects based on well-known IP are inherently bad; it’s just nice to see, in 2019, original movies being sought out by mainstream audiences. If Us’s success can encourage a couple more original projects from studios, it’s only a good thing.

Of course, it’s important to understand just why Us is such a historical moneymaker, and it all comes back to Peele. With just two feature projects on his résumé, Peele has become one of the buzziest filmmakers in Hollywood: the kind of auteur who can get a plethora of people to pack into theaters with just name recognition alone. The directors with that kind of clout are an increasingly rare breed: That list includes Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, and, maybe to a lesser extent, Quentin Tarantino and [sets off explosion] Michael Bay. And if Peele is using this impressive platform to conceive of twisty, original pieces of horror, well, he may well be this generation’s Hitchcock.

One final stat of note for Us: The film made nearly double its original opening weekend projection, as analysts were expecting something in the $35 million to $40 million range. It’s almost like double the amount of people showed up, after some of them emerged from, say, the abandoned tunnels of America. I’ve heard rumors that some of the post-screening surveyors were attacked with golden scissors by people in red jumpsuits, but they remain unconfirmed.