Features and Columns · Movies

Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Had the Best Opening for a Live-Action Original Movie in a Decade

The last movie of its kind to sell so many tickets was ‘Avatar’ in 2009.
Us Lupita
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on March 24th, 2019

It’s official: Jordan Peele is a brand-name box office draw. Interestingly enough, he wasn’t a movie star in front of the camera, but now behind the lens, he’s a bonafide headliner. Audiences flocked to see Peele’s Us over the weekend, and it made so much money that it’s clear moviegoers weren’t just interested in the genre or the actors (even if Lupita Nyong’o has an Oscar and has been a part of gigantic franchises like Star Wars). They were psyched for another eerie thriller from Jordan Peele.

Us drew an audience of 7.9 million people over the weekend, which is only the 204th best debut of all time but is still pretty significant for an original live-action release. If we look at titles that aren’t sequels, remakes, or based on any preexisting material, Us had the 14th best debut. If we take out Deep Impact since it began as an adaptation and 8 Mile because it’s loosely based on a life story, then it’s the 11th best. Here are the 10 live-action originals with better openings, attendance-wise:

1. Bruce Almighty (2003): 11.3 million
2. Signs (2002): 10.3 million
3. Avatar (2009): 10.1 million
4. Twister (1996): 9.3 million
5. Hancock (2008): 8.7 million
6. The Waterboy (1998): 8.4 million
7. Big Daddy (1999): 8.18 million
8. The Village (2004): 8.17 million
9. Inception (2010): 8.14 million
10. Air Force One (1997): 8.09 million

What you might notice there is that Us is the best live-action original debut since Avatar in 2009 (Us did beat that movie’s opening day attendance, by the way), meaning Us had the best debut for such a movie in the last 10 years. The next best within the decade was Valentine’s Day, which drew 7.1 million people in 2010. The best in the last half-decade until Us was San Andreas, which sold 6.3 million tickets in 2015.

Another thing you might notice is the few original live-action movies that are auteur works. Us is written solely and directed by Peele. It’s the fifth auteur feature on this chart, behind one solely written and directed by Christopher Nolan, one solely written and directed by James Cameron, and two solely written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Peele is among these three other filmmakers working right now who are an appeal to audiences by name alone.

Those two Shyamalan movies are part of the horror genre, so Us is very high in the original horror arena. The movie’s opening-weekend audience is, however, depending on everything that we might qualify as horror, the 19th best for the genre or lower. That’s with the Jurassic franchise and the Godzilla movies and action horror titles such as World War Z. Of course, if we narrow the scope to R-rated movies, its debut is fifth, behind last fall’s Halloween, IT, Hannibal, and Interview with the Vampire.

Not bad at all for a guy’s sophomore effort, an original one at that. Shyamalan didn’t do as well with his second movie or even his first follow-up to his breakout success. Yet while Peele’s latest debuted with an audience more than twice the size of his opening-weekend attendance for Get Out, there is reason to be concerned about its long-term success given the fact that its CinemaScore is only a ‘B,’ meaning many first-night viewers weren’t as into it as they were into Get Out. Word of mouth could be weaker, with Us already less of a pop culture phenomenon than Get Out was anyway.

Then again, we could be in for surprise legs if enough people pump up the twist ending as something that’s a need to see. As it is, Us arrived way ahead of expectations, looking at Box Office Pro’s long-range forecast (4.7 million tickets) and their more optimistic recent prediction (6 million tickets). Us has already turned a profit and hardly even needs to do well overseas. So who cares about records and where it goes from here? It’s already a hit, and Peele is on top of the world.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Us – 7.9 million (7.9 million)
2. Captain Marvel – 3.8 million (35.5 million)
3. Wonder Park – 0.97 million (3.2 million)
4. Five Feet Apart – 0.95 million (2.9 million)
5. How to Train Your Dragon 3 – 0.7 million (16.1 million)
6. A Madea Family Funeral – 0.5 million (7.3 million)
7. No Manches Frida 2 – 0.195 million (0.7 million)
8. Gloria Bell – 0.183 million (0.3 million)
9. The LEGO Movie 2 – 0.13 million (11.4 million)
10. Alita: Battle Angel – 0.12 million (9.3 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

Related Topics: , , , , , ,

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.