Director Duel #1: Jordan Peele vs Alex Garland

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This is my first installment of my new series of posts called Director Duel where a pit the movies from two directors against each other to see who has had the better projects. This is in no way, shape, or a form a way of putting down a director who may not have the better movies, but rather a way to highlight the work from two directors and to give an insight into who they are and what they’ve done. In the Direct Duels I will be looking at not only quality of the film through scores or awards consideration, but I will also be looking at the overall audience appeal, by checking into the box office numbers. Getting right down to the numbers is one portion of it, the other portion is my personal view of each directors works and giving my opinion about each director. In the end I will determine the winner of this duel by deciding who (in my opinion) has had the better career so far and where I see them going in the future. Again this is not in any way going to put down or bash any directors, but instead be a means of highlighting the work of two directors and comparing them. I hope you enjoy!

With our first Director Duel, I’m starting with a very interesting matchup of two directors who have both only released two feature films so far, but both have plenty of experience in the industry prior to their debuts. Both of them are known for writing prior while Peele is also known most notably for his acting. Now Garland was the first to make the jump to feature film directing starting in 2014 with his feature Ex Machina and then in 2018 with his follow up Annihilation while Peele debuted in 2017 with Get Out and followed up in 2019 with Us. I’ll say that I’m surprised there was such a big gap between Garland’s two films, but I guess maybe it could be that he just wasn’t ready for a follow up at the time. Going forward he has a TV series that he has worked heavily on called Devs that will be releasing soon and Peele has yet to announce his next directing project, but has been continuing his writing on many projects. Now let’s jump into the actual analytics.

Jordan Peele (Get out, Us)

Jordan Peele coming off a career mostly revolving around comedy gave us a heavy hitting surprise with the psychological horror thriller Get Out. Now this movie garnered universal appeal as soon as it was released and continued to stay in the mainstream mind for the majority of the year and through the very end of awards season. With a budget of $4,500,000 according to Box Office Mojo, this movie gave itself plenty of opportunity to profit which it did to an astounding and surprising number of $255,413,717 at the worldwide box office. It was a major hit that nobody was prepared for, but could be traced back to its quality. According to Rottentomatoes, it has a 98% critic rating and an 86% audience rating and it received an A- Cinemascore. With fantastic ratings, it rode the wave of quality and success into awards season where it earned praise from just about every awards show including Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture. It was a legitimate contender for running away with all of the categories it was nominated for, but ultimately was only able to come away with a Best Original Screenplay win for Peele. Everything about this movie was successful by no means a disappointment in any way.

His second film, Us which was released in 2019 was one of the most anticipated movies of the year going in. With the success of Get Out, we were all wondering if Jordan Peele could keep the incredible directing going and continue his success with his sophomore effort. A $20,000,000 budget was a significant increase from his previous film. It wasn’t a huge surprise given the success of his first film and it went on to gross $255,105,930 at the worldwide box office. I didn’t know the actual numbers till just now of these two films, but it’s very interesting how incredibly close these final totals were…I remember this movie not getting the same kind of buzz that Get Out received immediately following its release and it shows with the 59% audience score on RT, but it also has a 93% critic rating on the site and a B Cinemascore. It’s a pretty divided rating between critic and audience, so it clearly wasn’t as beloved as Get Out. Now I can’t say for sure what all of its final standings will be for the awards show since we haven’t had all of the awards for 2019 yet, but it doesn’t seem that it will have the same level of success as Peele’s first outing.

Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation)

Now we go into the lesser known Alex Garland and his sci-fi thriller Ex Machina. It is easily the lesser known movie of all four movies between these two directors that you could assume is because of its title and/or story. It’s not necessarily a universally appealing story for the average moviegoer so being given a $15,000,000 budget for a first time director and risky project may seem like a bit much and a little steeper in comparison to Peele’s first outing, but it’s really the $36,869,414 that it made at the worldwide box office that shows the difference between Peele’s films and this one. Given the cost of marketing, it seems unlikely that this movie made its money back and maybe cost the studio money. It did however receive a 92% critic rating and 86% audience rating on RT, so it was liked by those who saw it and was able to carry over in garnering some nominations at the Academy Awards. It received two nominations with Best Visual Effects and Best Original Screenplay. It was able to steal away the win for Best Visual Effects. You can see that it had some great success on the quality of the film, but failed at the box office.

His next film Annihilation was a movie hurt by streaming services when it was bought or picked up by Hulu. It ultimately bombed for the studio at the box office by only making $43,070,915 out of a $40,000,000 budget. This makes the first movie out of both directors that was an absolute bomb and lost the studio a lot of money when you account for marketing. It received an 88% and 66% on RT so there was a bit of a divide between critic and fans, but also a bit of a slide in both from his first film. It also received no major awards nominations and seemed to come and go with no real notice.

My Thoughts

Now for my personal thoughts on Peele. Get Out is easily my favorite movie of these directors and for many is likely to be their favorite too. I remember watching Peele mostly on Key & Peele and was very familiar with his comedic background going before watching his first film. I was excited to see it because the trailers really gave an interesting feel of something different and unexpected from the director, but for some reason I didn’t make it around to watching it when it was in theatres. I waited until it was out on digital and disc before finally making it around to watching it. I absolutely loved it the first time I saw it and continued to love it every time after that and tried to get anyone I could to sit down and give it a chance. It even made my top ten of the decade list, so it already has a big advantage over the rest of the movies. His second film Us, was actually a bit of a disappointment. I really enjoyed the movie including the story, soundtrack, and performances but overall it was definitely a step back for the quality that was put out by Peele the first time around. I actually haven’t had a chance to get around to watching it for a second time, so I can’t say for sure if it’s any better or worse than the last time I watched it, but it really is a movie that hurts in my thinking of it because of the disappointment I had after seeing it. I think it hurts by focusing too much on trying to send a message rather than focus on the fascinating story that he comes up with. Regardless, a sophomore slump being as good as Us was, is by no means a bad thing and Peele is on the right track for becoming a phenomenal director in the coming years. I’m more eager to see his 3rd film to see if he can take some of his mistakes and better them by giving another film as good or better than Get Out.

Alex Garland as I said before is lesser known than Jordan Peele and that could be simply because of how popular Key & Peele was so it’s no knock on Garland. It does raise the question of whether or not that played a factor in each of their movies, but I highly doubt it made that big of a difference. Ex Machina was a movie that I remember hearing about on several podcasts before it was released. My biggest reason for wanting to see it at the time was that it had Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson who were both about to star in The Force Awakens. At the time I was getting my hands and eyes on anything these actors were in before Star Wars because I wasn’t very familiar with their work and who they were as actors. I ended up loving the movie a lot and the way it was directed. Unfortunately, I’ve only fund myself rewatching it on a handful of occasions. Annihilation on the other hand, was a movie I was so excited about when it was announced because of Garland’s work on Ex Machina. There’s no genre I love more than original sci-fi and when the first trailer dropped, I was instantly hooked and Annihilation became one of my most anticipated movies of that year. I may be in the minority with how much I liked it, but it definitely hit every note for me except maybe the ending. The problem with this movie comes up with the ending and how over the top it is about trying to make a message. I won’t go into it too much here, but the ending was something I tried to understand the first time I watched but ended up having to go to Google to see exactly what I missed. Both of these movies are very good and enjoyable in my opinion, but also aren’t the easiest to watch over and over again and don’t seem as appealing to the mainstream audience which could be why they ultimately failed at the box office.

Final Thoughts

Both of these directors have given us absolute quality of movies over the last several years. I would say two of these movies may be included in some best of the decade lists with Ex Machina and Get Out. Now I picked these two directors to go up against each other because of how similar I saw their careers from a certain sense. I really do think that Peele may have had a slight edge with a lot of people knowing who he was prior to him switching to directing feature films, but I don’t think it was that big a factor. They both had incredible directorial debuts that garnered them an Oscar each. I would say that Get Out was definitely more successful in the end due to the amount of money it made and that it was nominated for more awards including Best Picture and Best Director. The comparison between each of their sophomore projects is a bit closer than you may think. I’m sure many people would pick Us over Annihilation, and I think that comes down to the actual appeal of the story being told. I think going based on quality, both of these films are on par with each other with Annihilation actually having the better audience rating. I do think that in the years to come, Us will be the more remembered film and may even get better as time goes on, but I believe Annihilation is the better film overall that only hurts from its not so easy to understand ending. This is such a close comparison that it’s incredibly hard to determine who had the better year.

I think Peele needs to really take a step back from trying to focus so much on sending a message, while also keeping what made Get Out so good. It’s about the subtleties of the message you’re trying to get across and his second film was not as subtle as his first. Any of these directors you could say you would love to see them direct a big franchise film, but I don’t think either one of these two should make that jump yet. I think Peele should stick with what he’s been doing because he’s proven he can win at the box office. Garland has had two excellent films that have been completely unique and standout from many of the other films that were released in the their respective years. The problem is just universal appeal and failure at the box office. I’m not saying that you can’t do something so different, but with his new show coming out that seems to be in line with his previous projects, it seems that TV might be the space for him and his wild ideas. I still want to see him do another feature film, but I’d like him to step out a little and do something a little more mainstream while still keeping that unique vibe and story that you got with his other two movies. In the end, the directors are both excellent directors who both have the potential to become true powerhouse names in the industry. They both have very good chances of becoming names that we see frequently during the Oscars, but it’s going to take just a little refocusing to get back to what they were able to give us with their first films. I’m very excited to see what they have in store for us going into the new decade.

Winner: Jordan Peele

I picked him to win by the slimmest of margins. It came down to box office success and how much more praise Get Out received. I also picked him because personally I think Get Out is overall the better movie of the bunch and easily the most rewatchable.

I hope you all enjoyed this first installment of Director Duel! If you have any suggestions or matchups you’d like to see, just let me know!

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