A horror film about a young black man who falls victim to his girlfriend’s white suburban family is now the number one movie in America.
Get Out, an over-the-top “social thriller,” as writer-director Jordan Peele described it, had a huge opening weekend at the US box office with $30.5 million in gross ticket sales, according to industry tracker Box Office Mojo. That’s 60% more than the next highest grossing movie of the weekend, The LEGO Batman Movie.
The film starts out like a classic comedy-drama, in the vain of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which a young African-American man meets his Caucasian girlfriend’s parents for the first time. But the boyfriend, Chris, notices something strange about all the black people he encounters in the idyllic community, and learns that the family has more sinister designs in mind for him.
The horror-film-turned-social-commentary-on-race was a big creative risk in post-Obama America. And Peele told the Los Angeles Times that he never expected the movie to get made. He once joked to a producer: “You want to hear a cool story? The caveat is: No-one will make this movie.”
But, for Jason Blum’s production house, Blumhouse, it was exactly the kind of off-beat, zeitgeist-hitting film that could be spun into a horror hit—provided it could be made cheaply. The company tends to keep budgets low by deferring compensation for talent as a percentage of profits, in exchange for smaller payments ahead of time. “With our model, they’re not working for money up front,” Blum says. “The most important part of the overall strategy is that people take bets on themselves and if it works out, they’re well compensated for it.”
With an eye, as ever, on the bottom line, Blumhouse reportedly spent $4.5 million to make Get Out, which has all but paid for itself already. It brought in more than six times its production cost during opening weekend, and is the eighth Blumhouse film to do so, Variety reported. How does Blum choose what films to make? He tells Variety:
Great stories and acting always win the day. If the story behind the scares is dramatic and the filmmaking is great, it works. If those things aren’t great and the scares are secondary, it doesn’t.
The film company, which launched the Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister franchises, reportedly caps budgets for new movies at $5 million ($10 million for established sequels). Yet it still manages to make horror flicks better than many of the major studios out there. Twentieth Century Fox, for example, just blew $40 million on a psychological thriller, A Cure for Wellness, that tanked at the box office.
Blumhouse’s low-financial-risk, high-reward model is fairly unique among Hollywood studios, which often appear to only be interested in superhero blockbusters. It means Blumhouse can make bigger bets creatively. Not all of its movies are winners, but it’s found success with unconventional, political horror titles like Get Out and The Purge: Election Year, which became the highest-grossing installment in the horror series when it was released last year.
“It’s not enough that you’re just seeing films that scare you,” Nick Carpou, head of domestic distribution at Universal Pictures, told Variety about Blumhouse’s films. “The most successful ones hit you from many levels,” said Carpou, whose company has a 10-year deal with Blumhouse—a rarity in Hollywood, where most production deals last less than five years.