Jordan Peele, of all filmmakers, shouldn’t be surprised that the conversation around “Nope’s” box office performance has stirred up several hot takes.
The director’s cerebral science-fiction thriller took in $44 million in its box office debut, easily leading domestic charts and impressively landing one of the biggest opening weekends in years for a film that’s not based on existing IP.
And yet, there’s still debate about the film’s first weekend in theaters, with suggestions that initial numbers for “Nope” were “disappointing” or “lackluster.” Like any good Peele movie, there’s plenty to unpack about opening weekend revenues for “Nope.” And in fairness, the movie — starring Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as siblings who discover something spooky around their family’s ranch — had a lot to live up to at the box office.
“The bar has been raised so high,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior ComScore analyst.
Peele can thank his last film, 2019’s doppelgänger horror story “Us,” for those sky-high expectations. Because “Us” doubled projections with its unexpectedly huge $71 million debut, box office watchers were optimistic that “Nope” would similarly crush opening weekend estimates, which were around $45 million to $55 million. Although “Nope” did not come close to matching the initial results of “Us,” its $44 million debut marks a strong result for an original R-rated film.
When it comes to new ideas, you’d have to go back to early 2019 when “Us” hit theaters to find a movie with an original screenplay that secured a higher opening weekend. That means “Nope” scored a bigger start than new films from a number of time-tested directors, including Quentin Tarantino’s star-studded “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” ($41 million in July 2019), Rian Johnson’s murder mystery “Knives Out” ($26 million in November 2019), Christopher Nolan’s mind-bender “Tenet” ($9 million in August 2020, peak pandemic times), M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” ($16.8 million in July 2021) or Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” ($31 million in June 2022).
“‘Us’ is an outlier,” Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations, says of the film’s massive opening weekend. “It’s not fair to compare what came before ‘Nope’ just because it’s from the same creator.”
Anticipation for “Us” was uniquely stratospheric because it served as Peele’s follow-up feature to the Oscar-winning “Get Out,” which was a zeitgeist-y success that stayed in the cultural conversation for months. It’s no surprise that people came to theaters in droves for the director’s sophomore anxiety-inducing nightmare. By his third feature film, Peele has proven he has earned plenty of goodwill from audiences, but “Nope” brought box office expectations back down to Earth.
“The opening isn’t as big as ‘Us,’ but it’s still extremely impressive,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “The weekend figure is far above average for the genre.”
However, box office analysts aptly note that “Nope” is by far Peele’s most expensive film. The movie cost $68 million, which is significantly more than the $4.5 million price tag of “Get Out” and the $20 million budget of “Us.” For a horror movie, $68 million is sizable — and that doesn’t include marketing or other promotional costs — so “Nope” will require a long life at the box office to justify those expenses.
Peele’s first two films, “Get Out” and “Us,” took very different routes for each film to ultimately wind up with $175 million domestically and $255 million worldwide. “Get Out” had a smaller debut and stuck around in theaters for a while as social chatter spread like wildfire. On the other hand, “Us” earned the bulk of its money in its first weekend on the big screen. Since those movies carried smaller price tags, they were relatively low stakes in turning a profit.
Ticket sales for horror movies traditionally sink very quickly after opening weekend, though “Get Out” and, more recently, Blumhouse’s twisted thriller “The Black Phone” have been exceptions. In that respect, word-of-mouth will be crucial for “Nope,” which doesn’t open internationally until the middle of August. Critics were praiseworthy to “Nope,” while audiences gave the film a so-so “B” CinemaScore — the same grade as “Us.” (Peele likes to leave his audiences feeling unsettled, which could explain the less-than-euphoric exit polls.) Comparatively, “Get Out” landed an “A-” score.
It also helps that in the coming weeks, it only has to fend off B.J. Novak’s true-crime inspired “Vengeance” (July 29) and director David Leitch’s starry action-adventure “Bullet Train” (Aug. 5) at the box office.
“With Jordan Peele, it’s not about opening weekend. It’s about word of mouth and buzz,” Dergarabedian says. “It’s an original film so it’s going to take more time for people to come out.”
For Peele, “Nope” is confirmation that he’s a filmmaker who needs only his name to fill seats at the movies. He’s three for three in No. 1 box office opening weekends, and collectively his movies have generated $550 million and counting at the global box office. To Hollywood, he’s invaluable as a director who delivers on the scares while giving audiences something to think… and talk about. For every new film from Peele, there’s at least a dozen articles that pore over every detail to unpack the meaning behind the ending. Dialogue like that is rare in today’s age, where comic book movies and mindless action-heavy blockbusters regularly top box office charts.
Peele has become especially important because his movies appeal to all ages and ethnicities, according to exit polls. Around 35% of ticket buyers were Caucasian, 20% were Hispanic, 33% were African American and 8% were Asian, according to PostTrak. About 68% of audiences were between the ages of 18 and 32.
There’s also data to back up the notion that Peele’s brand is only growing in popularity. For “Get Out,” 22% of audiences cited the director as their reason behind going to theaters, per PostTrak. By the time “Us” opened on the big screen, that percentage grew to 40% and for “Nope,” a staggering 56% of people pointed to the director as their explanation for buying a ticket.
“Those are Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Steven Spielberg numbers,” Dergarabedian says, referring to the few directors who wield that power. “[He’s] made such an enormous splash.”