Universal’s “Nope” fell short of pre-release hopes for a $50 million opening, and audience approval has been mild instead of wild, but Jordan Peele’s third No. 1 release is still a victory for original films at the box office.
With a $44 million opening this weekend, “Nope” has earned the best launch for a film with an original screenplay since Peele’s last film, “Us,” earned a $71 million opening in April 2019. That also makes it the best launch for any original film since the pandemic began.
The numbers for “Nope” are truly a half-filled glass outcome. The half-empty perspective would be that “Nope” will not be as profitable as Peele’s past two films. While the modern classic “Get Out” was made with just a $4.5 million budget and “Us” was made for $20 million, the CGI work and more expansive set pieces filmed in the Santa Clarita Valley sent the budget for “Nope” up to $68 million.
“Nope” should be able to make its money back and exceed $100 million domestic, but with a B on CinemaScore and a 79% positive score on PostTrak, it is not showing the signs of a film with the audience buzz needed to leg out the way “Get Out” did five years ago.
But when the scope is expanded beyond Peele’s track record to look at original films — horror or otherwise — “Nope” is a step forward. Last year, when only the strongest franchises were consistently moving the needle for theaters, 20th Century Studios’ “Free Guy” was a rare exception opening to $28.3 million and then using strong buzz to leg out to a $121.6 million domestic run. It grossed another $209 million overseas.
It’s unlikely that “Nope” will match the overseas number of “Free Guy” given its R rating and Peele’s focus on narratives that resonate more with American audiences, but it may be able to come close to that film’s $121 million domestic run given that Sony’s “Bullet Train” will be the only direct competitor to adult audiences in August.
Another data point that “Nope” will be compared to in the coming weeks is Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which was also an original film from a popular filmmaker that got a late July release in 2019. “Nope” has opened consistent with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which nabbed a $41 million opening. In its second weekend, it dropped 51% to $20 million and finished with $141 million domestic.
Both films, from different genres, share one major trait: The director was the main draw. Insiders at Universal tell TheWrap that in a PostTrak poll of opening night audiences, 56% of those surveyed said that the main reason why they bought a ticket for “Nope” was because Jordan Peele was the director. Even though “Us” and “Nope” haven’t been as widely acclaimed among moviegoers as “Get Out,” Peele still has a lot of clout with mainstream audiences that is getting his work a lot of attention.
It’s fitting that Universal decided to debut the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s next film, “Oppenheimer,” exclusively before Imax screenings of “Nope.” Though the biopic of the atomic bomb inventor isn’t an original film like “Nope” or “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” it is still a major studio release with no franchise attached that, like Peele and Tarantino’s films, will largely be marketed on the director’s reputation.
Though several major summer blockbusters have performed at pre-pandemic levels, studios are still experimenting with certain genres of films that have gotten little or no testing at the post-shutdown box office. This is why Blumhouse CEO Jason Blum told TheWrap that he was watching the performance of “The Black Phone” closely to see if a horror film without a recognizable IP could still do well theatrically.
With “The Black Phone” making $130 million worldwide against an $18 million budget and “Nope” looking to beat that with a much higher price tag, there’s more hopeful signs that a film with the right premise can build an audience, especially if you’ve got a popular director as a selling point.