The success of Jordan Peele’s new movie Us was no surprise to industry insiders and box office analysts, but what may be a surprise are the reasons behind the film’s success.
The socially conscious horror thriller from Universal Pictures and Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions scared up huge sales — $71 million at the weekend box office — scoring the best opening ever for a non-sequel horror film, and the highest-grossing debut for an original R-rated film, according to Universal.
The film centers on parents Gabe and Adelaide Wilson (Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o), who take their kids on vacation to Adelaide’s childhood home in Northern California. Just as they settle in to the picturesque environment, four doppelgängers of themselves appear outside the home, turning the Wilsons’ world upside down.
The modestly budgeted movie — which cost $20 million to make — set social media on fire and scored with moviegoers, cementing Peele’s status as a hitmaker.
So what’s his secret to success? Here are five key factors.
1. Jordan Peele’s Appeal
Us is Peele’s first feature since his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out. That film opened with $33.3 million, and went on to earn a staggering $255 million worldwide. It also won Peele a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
With that kind of pedigree, moviegoers couldn’t wait to see what the writer-producer-director would do next.
“We did an audience survey and 40 percent of the people went to see ‘Us’ because of Jordan Peele,” noted Comscore Senior Media Analyst Paul? Dergarabedian.
Comscore, a global media measurement company and the leading source for box office data, frequently asks ticket buyers the primary reason they watched a film — the lead actor, actress, director, or genre. This is the first time a director has scored such a high rating, said Dergarabedian who called the results “astounding.”
2. Social Media
Peele used social media to build buzz and drop mysterious clues. He tweeted the first poster, which showed two dark faces looking in opposite directions on a white background, in May 2018.
While the poster didn’t give much away, it teased the director’s next release would be a “new nightmare.” Peele continued to drop clues in the months leading up to the movie’s release, including cast details and more chilling posters.
The team behind the film also turned to a gallery at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas earlier this month to display curated ‘Us’ fan art from across the country. The film’s official Twitter feed shared some of the art — a move that got fans engaged and elevated the conversation surrounding the movie.
“The posters helped out a lot, they did a good job of getting fans involved,” said Wilson Morales, editor of Blackfilm.com. “When you allow fans to contribute, it helps out. Not only are you legitimizing them, but you’re acknowledging their worth.”
Thank you for sharing your #UsMovieArt. #FanArtFriday #WatchYourself
Artists: (1) Everett Aldrich, (2) Svenja Dembowski, (3) Theoplis Smith III. pic.twitter.com/KWPTylNFGK
— Us (@UsMovie) March 1, 2019
On the subject of marketing, Universal turned to Spotify for the first-ever movie takeover of the streaming service’s “Movies & TV” music hub. The partnership featured Peele discussing the important role music plays in Us and other tidbits about the movie. It was yet another strategic move that paid off.
“What he’s done is created an event,” Morales explained. “With today’s movies and different platforms, in order to get a lot of people to see a movie, you have to make it an event, like they do ‘Captain Marvel’ and the ‘Avengers’ films.”
Dergarabedian noted Us had next level marketing.
“It was incredibly effective,” he said. “The marketing was innovative. It was inclusive. It was proactive.”
Peele and the cast also took the movie to Howard University in Washington, DC for a private screening earlier this month. Anyone who’s seen Us knows there’s a Howard connection.
During a Q&A after the screening, Peele told students at the historically black college: “Howard is dope. Howard is iconic. It’s one of these things that pops and represents on film.” Duke’s character Gabe would agree.
4. Urban Audiences
Us performed best in urban markets, Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution told Urban Hollywood 411. He noted that the movie did particularly well in New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta and Baltimore, with the film “significantly exceeding the most robust forecasts.”
The opening weekend audience was evenly split between men and women, with Caucasians making up the biggest portion of the audience at 36 percent. African-Americans followed at 30 percent, Hispanics made up 21 percent and Asians were 7 percent of the ticket buyers.
The horror flick was a hit with critics, scoring a 94 percent rating on review aggregation site, Rotten Tomatoes.
Morales described the film in his review as a “terrifying, scary thriller filled with skilled acting, complexity, social comment, and a killer soundtrack.”
Still, he said it isn’t without flaws.
“It’s not a perfect film. You’re going to have debates after the movie is over,” he told Urban Hollywood 411, noting that the references to Jeremiah 11:11 and Hands Across America probably left some people perplexed.
“In the third act there’s a lot of things thrown in there that not everyone is going to get, and people are saying to themselves, ‘I’ve got to come back a second time to get it,’” he explained. “But sometimes movies are not meant to be seen a second time. Not everybody has the $15 to see a movie twice.”
Which brings the question, will Us maintain its momentum at the box office? Universal seems to thinks so.
“With a 94% Certified Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, outstanding buzz and repeat viewings, the studio anticipated ‘Us’ will have a healthy run and be an appealing option of audiences headed into a crowded release corridor,” Universal said in a statement.
Morales was more measured in his predictions.
“You look and see $70 million dollars, that says people have a heavy interest in this film,” he said. “The true test will come the second weekend to see whether or not it drops below or if it matches, say 50 percent, in terms of the receipts.”