NEW YORK — Jordan Peele did it again. Two years after the filmmaker's "Get Out" became a box office sensation, his frightening follow-up, "Us," made its debut with $70.3 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The opening, which was well above forecasts, has few parallels. It was the largest debut for an original horror film (only the remake of "It" and last year's "Halloween" have surpassed it in the genre) and one of the biggest openings for a live-action original film since "Avatar" was released 10 years ago.
In today's franchise-driven movie world, seldom has a young director been such a draw. But moviegoers turned out in droves to see what kind of freak-out Peele could muster in his sophomore release.
"Peele has really crafted an extraordinary story that I think once again is going to capture the cultural zeitgeist," said Jim Orr, distribution chief for Universal. "He is recognized as just an amazing talent. He crafts films that make you think, that are extraordinarily well-acted, well-written and are amazingly entertaining."
(Universal is a division of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)
"Us" took over the top spot at the box office from "Captain Marvel," which had reigned for two weeks. The Marvel Studios superhero release slid to second place, with $35 million in its third week. In three weeks of release, it has made $910 million worldwide and will soon become the first $1 billion release of 2019.
Other holdovers — the animated amusement "Wonder Park" and the cystic fibrosis teen romance "Five Feet Apart"— trailed in third and fourth, with about $9 million each in their second weeks.
But the weekend belonged overwhelming to "Us," which more than doubled the $33.4 million domestic debut of 2017's Oscar-winning "Get Out," the first film written and directed by Peele. "Get Out" ultimately grossed $255.4 million on a $4.5 million budget.
"Us" cost $20 million to make, meaning it's already a huge hit for Peele and Universal Pictures, which notched its third No. 1 release of the year, following "Glass" and "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World."
It's also, as Peele has said, more thoroughly a horror film. While "Us" has drawn very good reviews (94 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Sunday), audiences gave it a middling 69, while it came in with a relatively low "B" CinemaScore. Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for Comscore, chalked that up mainly to moviegoers' feeling shell-shocked when they emerged from the theater.
"Us" stars Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke as vacationing parents whose family is faced with eerie doppelgängers of themselves.
While "Us" was propelled by a number of things, including Nyong'o and buzz out of its premiere at South by Southwest, the main selling point was Peele, 40, who already has an imprimatur matched only by veteran filmmakers like Clint Eastwood.
"It's really difficult for a director to become a superstar whose name gets people in theaters, and Jordan Peele has done just that," Dergarabedian said. "He's a superstar director with a brand all his own, and that's with two feature films under his belt. That's pretty astonishing. That just doesn't happen."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore; where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included:
- "Us," $70.3 million ($16.7 million international)
- "Captain Marvel," $35 million ($52.1 million international)
- "Wonder Park," $9 million ($5 million international)
- "Five Feet Apart," $8.8 million ($6.2 million international)
- "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World," $6.5 million ($6 million international)
- "A Madea Family Funeral," $4.5 million
- "Gloria Bell," $1.8 million
- "No Manches Frida," $1.8 million
- "Lego Movie 2: The Second Part," $1.1 million ($6.2 million international)
- "Alita: Battle Angel," $1 million ($1.6 million international)