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Why Universal Should Give a Serious Awards Push to ‘Get Out’

Get Out is a critical and box office smash and deserves a real awards push
Get Out is a critical and box office smash and deserves a real awards push

The ink has barely dried on the last awards season, but only two months into the new year and we already have a potential contender for next year’s awards season. Currently, there’s a heavy emphasis on that “potential,” because in many ways the film doesn’t resemble your standard awards contender. It’s a February wide release. It belongs to a genre that almost never receives awards recognition. Only two people on the entire production – one of the producers and one of the actors – have ever received any Oscar nominations. And its distributor has only managed one Best Picture nomination in the last eight years.

However, we are coming out of an awards season where a film with even less in its favor managed to win the top prize at the Oscars, so precedents are made to be broken. And if Universal can play its cards right, Get Out could defy the odds and make a major awards play at the end of the year. That is, assuming they realize the potential and make a push, and sometimes studios don’t immediately realize the potential of an unconventional awards player. Two years ago Warner Brothers almost didn’t push Mad Max: Fury Road for serious Oscar consideration, until precursors made it clear that it had potential. Is Get Out in a similar scenario? It could be. Here are some reasons why Universal should remember to give Get Out a serious push come December…

1) It’s becoming a word-of-mouth box office smash

As of this writing, Get Out stands at $75.9 million at the North American box office. If that was the final total for a horror-comedy from a first-time director with no major stars, it would already be a success story. However, that is only the 10-day total, and it coming off a $26.1 million second weekend, a drop of only 20% from its opening weekend. That kind of second-weekend hold is completely unheard of in this age of frontloading and indicates that it is experiencing some of the best word of mouth for a horror movie in recent memory.

Projecting a final total for a WOM hit like this is usually difficult because one doesn’t want to overestimate it and be disappointed by the final outcome. But with a second-weekend hold that strong, the best guess would probably be somewhere north of $150 million. That kind of total is unheard of for a film like Get Out in this day and age – the only other R-rated horror-thrillers to cross that mark are Fatal Attraction ($156.6 million), Hannibal ($165.1 million), and The Exorcist ($193 million in its first release). Two of those films received Best Picture nominations, and the other was the follow-up to a Best Picture winner. Not bad company to share. Its final total will also probably be higher than all of this year’s Picture nominees, save Hidden Figures. Coming off of their least-watched telecast in almost a decade, it might be good to nominate a blockbuster next year.

2) Its reviews are fantastic

One of the big talking points for Get Out as it was opening was how it managed to maintain a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, an unheard of feat for a new release with over 100 reviews, and continued to maintain it until Armond White “ruined” it with a pan. It also has an 83 on Metacritic, an impressively high number for a horror-thriller.

Combine that level of acclaim with its current success, and it’s in a rather elite group of films. Since the Academy expanded the Best Picture lineup eight years ago, 25 films with an 80 or higher on Metacritic have made over $100 million at the box office. All 25 of those films went on to receive at least one Oscar nominations, and 17 of them made the Best Picture lineup. And of the 13 live-action, non-franchise films to achieve both feats, all of them made the Best Picture lineup.

3) The horror genre is having a moment, and deserves recognition

Now, while Get Out is a live-action, non-franchise film, it does belong to a genre that rarely gets awards recognition. Get Out has been classified by most outlets as a horror film or a straight thriller, and while those classifications can be slippery, even films adjacent to that genre can have awards difficulty. Like Get Out, The Silence of the Lambs straddles the line between those two classifications, but it is often cited as the only horror film to win Best Picture, showing how hard a time these kinds of films have during awards season. The only other horror-adjacent film to even be nominated for Best Picture since Lambs have been The Sixth Sense and Black Swan. It doesn’t help that horror/thrillers rarely reach the critical acclaim level necessary for awards attention, but Get Out has easily reached the needed threshold for consideration (its score on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are above Black Swan and The Sixth Sense, by the way).

And besides, after years of minimal mainstream recognition, the horror/thriller genre has had a rather impressive twelve months. At the beginning of last year, The Witch opened to incredible acclaim (its 83 on Metacritic is Get Out’s closest horror rival) and became second biggest hit ever for its studio, A24. 10 Cloverfield Lane was, ending aside, almost entirely a one-setting chamber thriller, and managed a DGA nomination for First-Time Feature Film Director, while John Goodman managed multiple nominations from lower-tier critics groups. Don’t Breathe broke out at the box office while pulling critical acclaim. And before Get Out opened, Universal already had a horror success story with Split (which, like Get Out, is a Blumhouse production), which became M. Night Shyamalan’s biggest critical and commercial success since Signs almost 15 years ago. An awards run for Get Out, the most acclaimed and successful of them all, could be played as a validation of the commercial and artistic success of all of these films.

4) It’s become a zeitgeist-tapping conversation-starter

Although the film has been primarily labeled a thriller or horror (sometimes with “comedy” added in), the director Jordan Peele has self-labeled the film a “social thriller,” a label that accurately captures the conversations the film has been starting. The film has already inspired some strong, spoiler-y deep dives from Esquire and The New Yorker, and in general, has inspired a great deal of conversation about race in a post-Obama/post-Trump world.

And that kind of buzz can be key in getting a film taken seriously in the awards race. Mad Max: Fury Road was not only an incredibly thrilling action flick, it was also a film rich in feminist subtext that was the subject of multiple think pieces. Fatal Attraction became a leggy hit and awards contender nearly 30 years ago by starting a conversation about infidelity, and the film’s debated misogyny towards career women. If Universal can remind Hollywood at the end of the year about the buzz surrounding Get Out, it can take that a long way in the awards race.

5) It is deserving of consideration in multiple categories

If you’ve read all of this and “gone “that’s fine and dandy, but what could it actually get nominated for?”, well, there are a number of categories that it can gain traction in. Here are six, ranked from most likely to vaguely possible pipe dreams:

Original Screenplay: If there’s any one category that Get Out should be able to slip into with only a minimal push, it’s probably this one. The writers have been kind to acclaimed blockbusters in the past, even when the rest of the Academy ignored the film, like Straight Outta Compton last year, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding 14 years ago. The film is also brilliantly written, mixing humor, thrills, and social commentary without breaking a sweat.

Supporting Actress: Get Out also has a well-stacked ensemble, and while plenty of performers in the film would be worthy of attention, the best bet awards-wise would probably be the one actor in the ensemble to be recognized by the Academy before. Catherine Keener has been nominated twice before, and she has one of the creepiest, most memorable scenes in the movie, where she first hypnotizes Chris. One could also pull a comparison between Keener’s crucial role and that of Ruth Gordon’s role in another “social thriller,” Rosemary’s Baby, a role that netted the veteran actress an Oscar nearly 50 years ago.

Picture: In the expanded Picture lineup era, acting and writing nominations are sometimes all it takes to push a film into the top lineup – it’s all that was needed for Hidden Figures and Brooklyn in the last two years. If Get Out can make Keener and Peele’s screenplay into contenders, enough other elements can fall into place to push the film towards a Best Picture nomination.

Director: Here we get a bit pipe-dreamy, but it’s not impossible! Jordan Peele is a first-time director, but as an actor-turned-director, he already has name recognition, and the fact that he chose to depart from straight comedy to direct a film outside his wheelhouse – and was wildly successful – could catch the branch’s attention. And most horror-classified films that make Best Picture also tend to make the Director lineup as well, since mood is such a key to the film’s success.

Actor: Outside of an episode of cult hit series Black Mirror, and a significant supporting role in Sicario, Daniel Kaluuya was mostly an unknown actor before Get Out, but the film would never work without a strong central presence. As Mike D’Angelo notes in his otherwise-mixed write-up on the film, Kaluuya turns in an “expressively reactive performance,” capturing our sympathy both through socially awkward situations and through the film’s more intense moments. The terrorized protagonists in a horror film sometimes have a hard time getting awards attention (Gordon winning for Rosemary’s Baby when Mia Farrow wasn’t even nominated is one such confounding case), but Kaluuya would be a worthy Actor contender.

Tech Categories: As far as I could find, none of the tech people on the film have received serious awards recognition before, but the film is well-constructed in every sense – excellently paced by editor Gregory Plotkin (working on his first major release outside the Paranormal Activity series), creepily shot by cinematographer Toby Oliver, and has a memorable, mood-setting score by first-time film composer Michael Abels. It would need to be a serious contender in multiple major categories to make a serious run for any of these categories, but they would all be worthy nominees.

So, the pieces are all there for Universal to give the film a major awards push. They have not been a particularly strong awards studio since the lineup expansion, with Les Misérables their only Picture nominee in the last eight years. But they have managed to make an unlikely blockbuster into an even more unlikely awards contender: five years ago, raunchy breakout comedy Bridesmaids defied the odds to score an Original Screenplay nomination (the first for a major studio comedy since Bulworth) and a Supporting Actress nomination for Melissa McCarthy. With a box office run looking very similar to Bridesmaids – which had a similarly insane 20.4% second-weekend drop in the face of a blockbuster opener – and even stronger reviews, Get Out could repeat that movie’s feat – and possibly more.

About Jonathan Boehle

Jonathan Boehle is a contributor to AwardWatch and a moderator of the AW forums.

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