With tentpoles setting new opening records in the pandemic, it’s hard not to initially see the more modest opening of Universal Pictures’ “Nope” over the weekend as a lackluster sign for auteur-driven films.
The third film from acclaimed writer and director Jordan Peele, “Nope” has been met with slightly less critical praise than his prior films “Get Out” and “Us,” per review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. While “Nope” opened this weekend to $44 million, “Us,” Peele’s second film, opened to an impressive $71 million in 2019.
However, “Nope” still represents a clear win for original films during the pandemic era.
When factoring out franchise fare and animated projects from major studios, “Nope” has actually set a new opening-weekend record for non-franchise fare releases after the COVID-related shutdowns of early 2020, in addition to beating the opening of “Get Out” in 2017. Prior to the July 22nd weekend, Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” represented the best opening for an original, auteur-helmed film by those criteria.
Per Comscore, “Nope” also opened to slightly more than Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Uncharted” (both $44 million) and “Morbius” ($39 million) as well as Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” ($42 million) and “Dune: Part One” ($41 million). The budgets of these films were far more than “Nope’s” mid-to-high $68 million production cost, though it’s worth noting that “Dune” also streamed on HBO Max in tandem with its theatrical release.
The theatrical appeal of Peele’s film also stands out among his peers with far more extensive filmographies.
Just one weekend for “Nope” brought in more than the entire cumulative domestic grosses for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” ($39 million) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” ($17 million), both of which released in December 2021 and had to contend with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” dominating the box office over the holiday, per Comscore. Likewise, “Nope” opened to more than Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” ($41 million), a 2019 release predating the pandemic.
One can certainly make the argument that “Nope” lucked out with a release date that had enough distance from sequels to “Thor” and “Minions” that bowed earlier in July, but as a busy 2022 summer gives way to a shortage of high-profile films in August, it’s clear “Nope” is poised to gross a cumulative total on par with “Free Guy.” The Ryan Reynolds-led film released in August 2021 after the first summer revival of theatrical films had toned down and tentpoles like “Jungle Cruise” and “The Suicide Squad” were available to stream upon release.
After deals were struck with exhibitors to shorten the theatrical window to just 45 days or three weeks in some cases, the tendency for theatrical films to hit SVOD sooner saw studios like Disney and Warner Bros. put a stop to hybrid releases. But not Universal.
After simultaneously releasing sequels to “The Boss Baby” and “Halloween” in theaters and on Peacock throughout 2021, Universal has continued this hybrid releases strategy with smaller films like romcom “Marry Me” and Stephen King adaptation “Firestarter.”
Likewise, Focus Features’ “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul,” a film from Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, is getting the same treatment over Labor Day weekend. It’s evident that Universal has placed a value on films directly helmed by Peele as it has its franchise fare, even if it’s become significantly harder for original films to stand out at the box office.
Even as it preps horror comedy “Bodies Bodies Bodies” for an August 5th release, A24 is already re-releasing “Everything Everywhere All at Once” with a new cut this weekend. While the film has stood out as a clear pandemic-era hit for the arthouse distributor, it received a very limited opening before expanding nationwide and becoming a mainstay of cinemas, a reminder that “Nope” also benefitted from access to a major studio’s marketing budget upon its first weekend.
The film-exhibition landscape may cater to tentpoles more than ever, but “Nope” offers hope for the chance of more original films to still fill the gaps between major releases and keep theaters afloat.