Get Out Movie
Courtesy of Universal

Get Out,” a trenchant horror film about race relations, rode critical raves to a smashing box office debut. The low-budget film was the weekend’s top-grossing domestic release, earning $30.5 million, and propelling its director and writer Jordan Peele atop Hollywood’s A-list. The film, which centers on a black man who discovers that his girlfriend’s liberal, lily-white hometown is guarding a sinister secret, marks a departure for Peele, best-known for his work on the Comedy Central series “Key & Peele.” It proves he can handle scares, as well as laughs, supplying sly social commentary in both genres.

“Get Out” also extends Blumhouse Productions’ hot hand. The film company scored earlier this year with “Split,” a thriller about a man with a personality disorder that racked up $130.8 million stateside on a $9 million budget. Universal distributed, marketed, and partnered on both movies.

“It’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s subversive,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution chief.  “I have seen [‘Get Out’] play with audiences. They enjoy themselves and they’re telling their friends.”

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It wasn’t just word-of-mouth that accounted for the robust opening. “Get Out” benefited from being embraced by reviewers, earning a rare 100% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the likes of the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern hailing its “explosive brilliance” and the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis praising it as “exhilaratingly smart.” The last horror film to receive that type of unanimous praise was Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” in 1965.

“Get Out’s” success comes as most of the movie business’ gaze is affixed on the Dolby Theater, where the Academy Awards will unfold on Sunday, with “La La Land” expected to be the night’s big winner.

Box office sages argue that Blumhouse is becoming synonymous with the horror genre in a way that is resonating with consumers. Its lineup of hits includes “Sinister,” “Insidious,” and “Paranormal Activity.” They also praise the company’s fiscal conservatism (most of its movies carry budgets that are less than $10 million), and its emphasis on storytelling.

“The best special effect is a great script,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “It proves a great movie and a well executed story doesn’t have to cost a ton of money.”

With “Get Out” galvanizing multiplexes, two other new releases, “Collide” and “Rock Dog,” collapsed. “Collide,” an action-thriller with Nicholas Hoult as a thief on the run from the mob, bombed, taking in a mere $1.5 million. Open Road distributed the movie for a fee. “Collide” was originally backed by Relativity Media, only to be rescued by financier IM Global when the studio fell into bankruptcy. It cost $21 million to produce.

“Rock Dog,” an animated film about a Tibetan mastiff with dreams of being a pop star, didn’t fare much better, only managing to make $3.7 million. Lionsgate distributed the $60 million film, which was fully financed by Mandoo Pictures and the Huayi Brothers, and was intended to appeal to audiences in both the U.S. and China. Clearly, that plan didn’t work out so well in the States.

As the newcomers stumbled, “The Lego Batman Movie” continued to show strength, racking up $19 million in its third week for a second place finish. That pushes the animated hit’s domestic gross to $133 million.

Lionsgate’s “John Wick: Chapter Two” came in third with $9 million, giving the action-thriller a domestic gross of $74.4 million. Universal rounded out the top five with “The Great Wall” and “Fifty Shades Darker,” which earned $8.7 million and $7.7 million, respectively. “The Great Wall,” a fantasy adventure, has made $34.4 million in the States, while “Fifty Shades Darker” has racked up $103.6 million.

Overall ticket sales were up more than 5% from the same period last year when “Deadpool” topped charts for the third weekend in a row. Year-to-date, revenues are down 2.7%, but next weekend brings “Logan,” a violent comic-book adaptation that is expected to do big business.

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