Right on schedule, Universal has dropped the second (and presumably final) trailer for Jordan Peele’s Nope. The preview is more of a brief “making-of” featurette than a trailer, and amusingly it’s even more cryptic than the CinemaCon footage or the recent television spot. By coincidence or design, it’s a trailer that won’t traumatize the youngest Jurassic World: Dominion viewers. That TV spot pretty much confirms that the movie is about aliens or flying saucers. Whether there’s more going on will be open for debate until the film screens for the press.
One effect of this whole “everything is a spoiler” marketing (encouraged by perpetually online folks who get mad on social media if you mention that Ryan Gosling is revealed in the first five minutes of Blade Runner 2049 to be a replicant), is that nuts and bolts storytelling is considered spoiler-y in terms of pre-release marketing. Conversely, the reveal of fundamental plot beats leads to the presumption that there’s more in store even if that’s not the case. Fair or not, the likes of Chris Nolan’s Interstellar and Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland were exactly as advertised.
Maybe Nope, starring Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott and Keith David, is “just” about a small town that gets attacked by ufos. Peele has hinted that there’s more to it than that, and I’m sure there are plenty of third-act twists and turns to be discovered in late July. However, the notion that we’re being hoodwinked in terms of what the movie is about could be an example of online discourse being mistaken for general audience sentiment.
First, Us was what its single trailer promised, a horror movie about a family being attacked by murderous doppelgangers. Second, it’s incredibly hard to get audiences to show up for an original picture, even with a marquee filmmaker like Jordan Peele at the helm. The last thing you want to do is essentially con your audience that took a chance on an original (or new-to-you) theatrical release.
That’s why I was so cranky about Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway’s Serenity. It’s hard enough to get folks to show up for an old-school erotic thriller in theaters, let alone when one of the few such films to exist in theaters turns out to be a mindbender whereby the entire film is a video game controlled by a traumatized child. Heck, one big reason M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable was so divisive in late 2000 was precisely because the marketing didn’t even hint at being a superhero origin story.
Everyone had their theory as to why Bruce Willis’ David Dunn survived that train crash. When Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price explains that he thinks Dunn is a real-life superhero, half the audience internally cheered and the other half internally booed. Imagine The Sixth Sense being sold as a drama about a kid with a mood disorder and then 50 minutes in Haley Joel Osment turns to Bruce Willis and whispers “I see dead people.” Half the audience would have rolled with it and the other half would have rebelled.
To be fair, this discussion is mostly academic. Get Out opened with $33 million and legged out to $176 million domestic and $255 million worldwide in early 2017. Us opened with $71 million (second only to Avatar’s $77 million launch among opening weekends for live-action originals) and earned $175 million/$255 million in early 2019. Get Out cost $5 million while Us cost $25 million. Even if Nope cost (speculative guess) $40 million (shooting with IMAX cameras is expensive), even a “disappointing” $160 million worldwide cume would be four times the budget in raw theatrical.
Can Nope open above Us and potentially swipe Avatar’s live-action opening weekend record? That seems unlikely (but not impossible), if only due to what still amounts to a slight Covid curve. I’m optimistic that it can still open high enough ($50 million) to get the film a 31-day theatrical window versus Comcast’s current 17-day exclusivity clause. Okay, so it probably won’t outgross Top Gun: Maverick in North America as I predicted in late April, but sometimes you gotta make a “Rocky beats Apollo” bet just to feel alive.