Why “Get Out’s” historic box-office numbers are so important

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It doesn’t really matter how much money a movie makes. At least it shouldn’t to those who judge art on aesthetic and conceptual merits. When Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” surpassed the $150 million mark though, it mattered. The film became the highest-grossing debut from a writer-director with an original screenplay, breaking a record previously held by “The Blair Witch Project.”

“Get Out” beating “Blair Witch” is kind of cool. It was made on an even smaller budget ($4.5 million in 2017 compared to $5 million in 1999). It has a black protagonist and a black director. It’s more of an “underdog” horror film. From a “level the playing field” perspective, it’s symbolic. It’s important that black filmmakers can make movies with black stars about the black experience and make money in Hollywood.

But, again, it isn’t really about the money. What matters is credibility and perception. “Get Out” could be seen as a flavor of the month thing, a well-made horror movie with an absurd, hilarious or disturbing twist, depending on your inclination (for those who have not seen it, no spoilers here). It is a good horror genre film. An impressive, commendable effort from a sketch comic trying his hand in a higher art form. A nice tale on microaggressions and white liberalism. 

It’s so much more than a morality tale, though. And while those who hold the keys to a film’s legacy—reviewers and analysts in all forms of media and academia—certainly fancy themselves people who can discern greatness from goodness, they seem to need a nudging in this case. Away from making it clear that they “get” the film’s surface-level message and towards its merits as a truly great piece of art.

Peele takes the 1967 comedy-drama “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” about a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s parents, mixes it with equal parts Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino, and creates a psychological thriller/traditional horror/revenge/satire that, despite its ambitious genre blending, feels cohesive and concise.

“Get Out” doesn’t have Kubrick-ian cinematography throughout, but it does in enough key moments to assert the variation in shots is a stylistic choice. It doesn’t have the consistent, seat-gripping dialogue of “Inglourious Basterds,” but an equally-potent script, albeit delivered in a different fashion.

Peele’s music choices, set design and pacing are all ingenious, creating a foundation of cinematic greatness on which his ambitious film can stand. We experience the unconventional, profound story and themes to the fullest because there is no conventional filmmaking flaw stopping us from doing so.

Some will see “Get Out” and appreciate it solely as a good horror film. Others will give it credit for being unexpected and original. Others will prescribe its value to the tropes that it plays with and breaks. These have been the common critical reactions. All positive, none overwhelming.

But this film is overwhelming. It’s canonical. Maybe it will be nominated for an Oscar, maybe not. That doesn’t matter; “The Shining” wasn’t nominated for anything, but is now seen as perhaps the greatest psychological horror film of all-time, a masterpiece of directorial brilliance on every metaphysical level. That’s exactly what “Get Out” is, and that’s why the $150 million matters. It will hopefully serve as a clue to critics, who have been giving Peele the “my man!” pat on the back, that something greater is on their hands.