(Welcome to Tales from the Box Office, our column that examines box office miracles, disasters, and everything in between, as well as what we can learn from them.)
Many of the world's greatest directors didn't just burst onto the scene that way. It took time and patience for them to become the greats that we think of them as. Steven Spielberg didn't just make "Jaws;" he had a great deal of work (like a surprisingly good TV movie in "Duel") under his belt before he changed the world of blockbuster filmmaking as we know it.
But every once in a while, a filmmaker comes right out of the gate with something so profound that they assert themselves as a force to be reckoned with from the jump. Orson Welles debuted with one of the greatest films of all time in "Citizen Kane." Sam Raimi delivered an all-time genre classic with his first film, "The Evil Dead." It's not an overly long list but arguably the most recent addition to that list is Jordan Peele, who straight up shocked the movie-loving world with his feature directorial debut, "Get Out."
Just a touch over five years removed from the film's release,"Get Out" has been cemented as one of our true modern classics and, perhaps above all else, a curveball surprise that nobody saw coming. Peele was a man known for his comedy exploits in shows like "Key & Peele," and he up and delivers one of the best genre films in recent memory -- if not ever? So much so that Peele's name alone is now enough to sell the moviegoing masses on a film.
To that end, with the director's latest effort, "NOPE," in theaters, we're going to look back at "Get Out" -- how it became the perfect storm for an unexpected success story, how it made a boatload of cash, and what lessons we can learn from it five years later. Let's dig in, shall we?
The Movie: Get Out
Given Peele's image as one of our premier comedians largely thanks to his work with Keegan-Michael Key on "Key & Peele," the notion of him writing and directing a horror film was about as left field as it gets. While the business sometimes tries to pigeonhole creators, Peele found the perfect partners for the project: Blumhouse Productions, a studio that had been having a great deal of luck with low-budget horror films, which often became giant hits. ("Insidious," "Sinister," and "Paranormal Activity" serve as a few examples.) Jason Blum, the studio's founder, has a knack for looking in unique places for his films. Peele -- along with the unique, satirical script he had in hand -- was an excellent fit.
While many studios might have looked at "Get Out" as a gigantic risk, Blumhouse's business model took some of that risk out of the equation. With a mere $4.5 million budget, breaking even at the box office was a very achievable goal. As for the movie itself, it's truly the work of Peele's mind but, as has been well documented, one of the key elements of the crowd-pleasing social thriller is its satisfying ending. Peele originally had Daniel Kaluuya's Chris going to jail, ending the film on a down note. But while Peele had final cut on the film, Blum's instincts pushed against this in a big way.
A Big Change That Changed Everything
In the movie as it exists, Chris escapes the clutches of Rose's (Allison Williams) family and, as he's standing over his former girlfriend's dead body, we see what appears to be a cop car pulling up. To put it lightly, this isn't a good look for Chris. Yet to his delight), it's his TSA pal Rod (Lil Rel Howery) coming to save the day. The ending was still Peele's idea, but it was Blum who aggressively suggested that the filmmaker consider changing it from the original.
In an interview on the Nerdist podcast, Blum explained that a screening of the movie ahead of its release was what led to the ending as we know it. "We screened the movie and, at the end of the movie, the lead character winds up in jail," Blum said. "Everyone's loving the movie but then at the end, it's not the security guard, the cops pull up. They see a Black guy on a dead white girl, and they throw him in jail ... the audience is super bummed." The producer simply couldn't suppress his true feelings on the matter.
"I couldn't even hold myself back. I said, 'Jordan, you cannot put him in jail! You cannot do this!' All of these people around me looked at me like, 'What are you saying?' It just kind of bubbled out of me. Jordan, again, to his credit ... he was like, 'Let me think about it.' And he came up with a brilliant, inspired end to the movie.'"
To Blum's credit he further explained, "What I like to do is point out a problem I have and tell the filmmaker why I have the problem, but not try and solve it for them." And so, Peele still got to inject his cinematic genius into the film in a more crowd-pleasing fashion, paving the way for the cinematic surprise of the decade.
The Financial Journey
"Get Out" was released in theaters on February 2, 2017, and the movie opened with near-universal praise from critics. To this day the film holds a stellar 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That brought moviegoers out to the tune of $33.3 million on opening weekend. But it was really just the beginning, as audiences largely agreed with critics on this one and Peele's first foray into horror became a word-of-mouth, must-see event for not only genre fans, but a wide array of movie lovers. It was a perfect storm: The puzzling yet intriguing notion of Peele making a horror movie, the fact that the movie was met with such unexpected acclaim, and a stellar marketing campaign coupled with a lack of direct competition all equated to a breakout hit beyond anyone's even most optimistic expectations.
The film finished its run with a grand total of $255.4 million worldwide, an absolutely stellar figure considering that it was made for less than $5 million. It was pretty domestic-heavy, with $176 million of that total coming from North America -- though in some ways that's even more to its credit, as it didn't have to rely on robust international returns (not to mention the fact that the studio typically gets a bigger cut of domestic ticket sales, making them more valuable than foreign box office). Universal Pictures, who distributed "Get Out," did spend some dough marketing the film, but credit where credit is due, they seemed to know what they had and brought their A game in the marketing department. That proved to be money very well spent.
Not only did "Get Out" make a boatload of cash, it went on to score a handful of Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Ultimately, Peele won for Best Original Screenplay. The nominations were somewhat surprising given that the movie came out so early in 2017, but it was powerful enough to linger in the minds of Oscar voters come time to cast their ballots. That's impressive.
The Lessons Contained Within
I'm no filmmaker and I'm sure as heck not going to say anything about "Get Out" that hasn't been said already. Far more intelligent people than I have examined this film to death and, while perfection when it comes to art is subjective, this may be about as close as we're ever likely to get to a perfect film in mainstream cinema. One thing I will say is that bland marketing campaigns are deeply frustrating sometimes. Good movies with bad posters or trailers that seem bloated for no damn reason. One thing I think Universal did incredibly well was market the hell out of this movie. It all goes back to that teaser trailer which sold audiences on the unique nature of what Peele had cooked up while also making it look very commercial and not artsy to the point of being off putting.
Marketing is hard, I get it, but when a studio has a good movie good marketing is well worth it. In an era with so many streaming services putting out movies all of the time that run the risk of getting lost in the flow, a marketing campaign like this feels oddly special.
Aside from that, this whole thing rides or dies with Peele, a guy who seemed like the opposite of a safe bet in this department. And yet, because Blumhouse and Universal bet big on him, they got one of the best films of the decade and another huge hit in "Us" ($255.1 million worldwide / $20 million budget) just two years later. "NOPE" looks to keep the hot streak going. As a moviegoer, I would hate to think we miss out on the next Peele or the next "Get Out" simply because that person isn't known for horror or what have you. Take chances on talented individuals, Hollywood.
Read this next: The Highest Rated Horror Movies Of All Time
The post Tales From The Box Office: Get Out Made Jordan Peele A Superstar Filmmaker Overnight appeared first on /Film.