Jordan Peele’s “Us” more than fulfilled the advance excitement for the Oscar-winning “Get Out” director. Few filmmakers go from a breakout success and return with another original film that advances on his first. It’s impressive on multiple levels, and a very encouraging sign in a discouraging year.
Its $70 million total contributed to the third straight weekend that grossed ahead of the same one in 2018. That continues a turnaround; now the year-over-year slump is a bit over 17 percent, down from 25 percent a few weeks ago. Still, it leaves the raw number of ticket revenue down $450 million from last year, with this weekend cutting $10 million from the shortfall. That shows the challenge of getting anywhere close to parity. “Dumbo” next week and initial strong response to “Shazam!” two weeks after that suggest that number will be pared further ahead. However, we likely enter summer (in the film business, meaning May) a quarter billion or more behind.
With “Us,” Peele is in amazing company among the very top creators of original source films — not franchise-oriented, not sequels, not adapted from other material. Over the past decade, only three live-action originals scored better initial weekend grosses. James Cameron’s “Avatar,” Roland Emmerich’s “2012,” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” all scored smashes with domestic (adjusted) grosses over $600 million. And those films had budgets approaching $200 million or more, prime release dates, and the kind of top-flight marketing that befits a monster production.
“Get Out” was a success with domestic gross just under $180 million on a budget of less than $5 million, a Best Picture nomination and an original screenplay win, all while pushing genre boundaries and multi-racial themes. It hit a bullseye, becoming the rare film to reach the level of social-media attention usually possessed certain cable and streaming shows. In other words, not only a hit, but a hit that mattered.
“Us” defied the risks, with excellent reviews (81 Metacritic) and a massive opening for a horror film. And it happened despite some initial warning signs that suggested even after a sensational Thursday pre-opening total of $7.4 million (suggesting major interest) was followed by a B Cinemascore (compared to A- for “Get Out”).
That’s a mixed score on this scale, suggesting some resistance from early audiences. But despite a first-day plus boosted by advance interest and the usual overperformance of horror films on Friday, Saturday dropped less than expected (15 percent) and the $70 million gross is above even what was projected after the first full day.
Does that mean it will equal “Get Out”? It’s a bit early for that, and even if it reaches the same gross, it won’t have the extraordinary five-times multiple. But with a $20 million budget — tiny, compared to most films that open anywhere close to this level — Peele already has made himself a creative force.
Such is the respect other studios have for him already that they gave this week a wide berth with no other openings. That helps make big films bigger; it also has a negative impact, one that we are seeing more frequently, as studios release fewer titles overall. That’s a trend likely to continue with this week’s completed takeover of 20th Century Fox.
It left only Disney’s “Captain Marvel” as the only other significant grosser this weekend. Its third weekend, at $35 million, is fine, more so when it brings the domestic total to $321 million, worldwide total now $910 million. It should equal the domestic results for “Wonder Woman” two years ago, and substantially ahead when foreign is added.
That gross would nudge it into the top 10 Marvel releases (including adjusted numbers). That should put to rest any lingering thoughts that a female character might not reach the highest levels of the Marvel pantheon.
The most impressive performance among the rest came from CBS Films’ “Five Feet Apart.” The young -dult romance with two in-love teens restricted by health for close contact fell only one third, landing fourth and positioned to reach $50 million on a $7 million budget. It’s another original film; unlike many young-adult hits, it doesn’t have a best seller or other source boosting it.
Paramount’s animated “Wonder Park,” a $100 million effort, held on to third with a 43 percent drop (nothing special for the second stanza of a family release) but few signs of the interest needed withstand “Dumbo.”
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” a much more successful cartoon feature, held on to fifth with an under-30 percent drop. The film is at $145 million domestic, nearing $500 million total. That’s quite good, though a drop across the board from its predecessor, and likely third best domestically.
Nothing else grossed above $5 million. “A Madea Family Funeral” has done well, with a $75 million total likely. A24’s “Gloria Bell” managed to take seventh, even with a sub-$2 million gross. But though these titles may be fine on their own terms, their presence in the Top 10 is mainly a factor of the weak level of business.
The Top Ten
1. Us (Universal) – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 81; Est. budget: $20 million
$70,250,000 in 3,741 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $18,778; Cumulative: $70,250,000
2. Captain Marvel (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$35,021,000 (-48%) in 4,278 theaters (-32); PTA: $8,186; Cumulative: $321,499,000
3. Wonder Park (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$9,000,000 (-43%) in 3,838 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,345; Cumulative: $29,477,000
4. Five Feet Apart (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #3
$8,750,000 (-34%) in 2,866 theaters (+63); PTA: $3,053; Cumulative: $26,461,000
5. How to Treat Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #4
$6,533,000 (-30%) in 3,347 theaters (-380); PTA: $1,952; Cumulative: $145,753,000
6. A Madea Family Funeral (Lionsgate) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$4,500,000 (-43%) in 2,187 theaters (-163); PTA: $2,058; Cumulative: $65,881,000
7. Gloria Bell (A24) Week 3; Last weekend #18
$1,803,000 (+395%) in 654 theaters (+615); PTA: $2,756; Cumulative: $2,498,000
8. No Manches Frida 2 (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #6
$1,780,000 (-53%) in 472 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,771; Cumulative: $6,626,000
9. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Warner Bros.) Week 7; Last weekend #8
$1,125,000 (-48%) in 1,389 theaters (-657); PTA: $810; Cumulative: $103,829,000
10. Alita: The Final Battle (20th Century Fox) Week 6; Last weekend #9
$1,015,000 (-47%) in 1,439 theaters (-257); PTA: $705; Cumulative: $83,748,000