By Scott Mendelson, Forbes
Jordan Peele’s Us opened this weekend with a remarkable $70.25 million debut weekend. How big is that? Well, it’s 3.5x its $20m budget in just the first three days, so it’ll already be making money by the end of this sentence. It is the third-biggest R-rated horror opening of all time, behind only Halloween ($76m in 2018) and It ($123m in 2017). It is the second-biggest opening ever for a live-action original flick (horror or otherwise), behind only James Cameron’s Avatar ($77m in 2009). Heck, even if you count animated originals, the grim, violent, thematically dense horror movie (with a mostly black cast, natch) is (sans inflation) behind only Finding Nemo ($70.251m in 2003), The Incredibles ($70.467m in 2004), Zootopia ($75m in 2016), Inside Out ($93m in 2015) and The Secret Life of Pets ($103m in 2016) among all wholly original theatrical releases.
Among all remotely scary movies (and I’m being intentionally generous with the term), the opening weekend for Monkey Paw Productions’ home invasion thriller is behind only The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($74 million in 1997), Halloween ($76m in 2018), I Am Legend ($77m in 2007), It ($123m in 2017), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($148m in 2018) and Jurassic World ($208m in 2015). So it just snagged the seventh-biggest debut for a “scary” movie in box office history (again, sans inflation), and three of those bigger openings are Jurassic Park/Jurassic World movies and one of them was a PG-13 star vehicle for Will Smith at the tail-end of his peak stardom period. So, yeah, without taking anything away from the notion of Jordan Peele being the “first Jordan Peele,” he is now officially the next M. Night Shyamalan/Steven Spielberg/Chris Nolan/etc. Lord knows we needed one.
Jordan Peele broke out with a massive smash, an entirely original genre concoction, and used the capital to make another wholly original (and arguably more challenging and less audience-friendly) genre flick. Heck, even Shyamalan faced a little resistance with his ahead-of-its-time superhero deconstruction Unbreakable, but Peele’s follow-up (which may be just as divisive among paying audiences… and that’s a compliment) roared out of the gate with an opening that was more than double Get Out’s already absurd $33 million launch. To the extent that Lupita Nyong’o is a “butts in the seats” movie star (violently shakes fist at everyone who ignored Queen of Katwe), this is definitive proof that Peele is a “movie star” in terms of his name above the title (like Tarantino or Burton, relatively speaking), with the huge caveat that he just pulled top-tier blockbuster numbers for a lower-budget, R-rated, adult-skewing original.
Where it goes from here is an open question. I’d say the worst-case scenario is a performance like the last Halloween (which earned $159 million domestic from a $77m launch), which would still leave Us with $146m. The film earned a B from Cinemascore, and it isn’t likely to play like Get Out (which legged it to $175m on a $33m launch) if only because it’s a lot darker, denser and intense than the last one. Get Out had its share of R-rated horror and violence, but it also played to folks who consider themselves squeamish. My sister-in-law enjoyed Get Out. I wouldn’t remotely recommend Us. Anything leggier than 2012 ($165m from a $65m launch in 2009), and remember Pet Semetary is opening in two weeks, and we may be looking at a $200m-plus domestic finish. It earned $16.7m overseas this weekend for an $86.9m global cume.
As for “why,” Us entered the marketplace with rave reviews, a beloved prior flick from the director, a lack of big horror in the marketplace and its existence as a demographically-specific event movie. It’s the Crazy Rich Asians of horror movies (on steroids, it would seem). It’s an event movie for folks who look like Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke (as opposed to Elisabeth Moss) and it’s an event movie for fans of this specific genre (especially as Us is bigger in scale and scope than a conventional single-location horror flick). No matter if it ends up with a bigger debut than Signs or a bigger debut than The Lost World, Us is a monumental achievement. Here’s another reason to be impressed by Us’s success: It just pulled off a $70.25 million opening weekend with a campaign that didn’t start until three months until opening day.
That’s not to say Universal didn’t sell the movie, because they absolutely did. But Us did its thing with a teaser poster (which dropped on December 21), one theatrical trailer (which dropped on Christmas day), a 60-second pre-game Super Bowl commercial, another poster that debuted on February 8 and pre-release TV spots that didn’t really kick into gear until mid-February (to capitalize on NBA and NCAA games). That was it. Yes, you had online gimmicks (Jordan Peele made up a Spotify playlist) and the usual round of pre-release media appearances and magazine profiles. And yes, it debuted at this year’s SXSW festival along with concurrent screenings for black journalists and influencers. But in terms of physical content (trailers, clips, posters, TV spots, etc.) designed to sell the movie, Us needed only the bare minimum and only three months to get the job done.
I talk a lot about how certain preordained blockbusters (think Avengers or Star Wars) don’t need the usual saturation-level marketing campaign, but this… this was a full-blown original movie. Universal and friends sold the concept, the director, the cast and then got the hell out of dodge and let the movie do the rest. Universal will end the weekend with the fourth (Glass‘s $40 million debut), third (How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World with $55m) and second-biggest openings of 2019. So, yeah, Jordan Peele is absolutely our next Steven Spielberg/Chris Nolan/M. Night Shyamalan/Quentin Tarantino/etc. Yes, he’s “the first Jordan Peele,” but it damn well matters in our branded/IP/nostalgia-driven era that he can pull a number this huge mostly on his name and his reputation. Mr. Peele, if you’re reading this, you should know that Wes Craven would be very, very proud.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.