This year's Oscars were handed out just weeks ago, but if you're looking for an early contender for next year's best picture, "Us" looks like it has all the makings.
It attacks hot-button social issues. It stars an Oscar-winning actress. Its writer-director already has a few nominations under his belt, as well as an Academy Award for best original screenplay.
But it's a horror movie, and that will probably be enough to keep it out of the conversation for the top prize.
In the more than 90-year history of the Academy Awards, films delegated into the horror genre have struggled to prove to Academy voters that they are deserving of the nomination for the top award of the ceremony and, if they do find their name on the short list, rarely take that prize home.
Horror films have long been awarded prizes for their technical achievements in sound, make-up and production design and even for the performances of its actors. But only six have been nominated for the biggest honor of the ceremony, best picture. "Silence of the Lambs" is the only horror flick to ever hoist that golden trophy — and that was all the way back in 1992.
"In general, this has never been a form that the Academy has honored," said Rick Worland, professor at Southern Methodist University and author of "The Horror Film: An Introduction." "Horror and science fiction were stigmatized as these low budget films that played in drive-ins and that kids went to and people didn't really care or pay much attention."
While some films — "Sixth Sense," "Black Swan" and "Get Out," among them — have managed to crack into the best picture category, the stigma surrounding the prestige of a horror film has remained. And some horror movie experts would argue that some of horror films nominated for best picture aren't even "true horror" films, but rather thrillers with horror elements.
"Both 'Silence of the Lambs' and 'Get Out' did hedge their bets by distancing themselves from the horror label and choosing things like psychological thriller or social thriller as ways to describe how this not just a horror film," said Adam Lowenstein, professor at the University of Pittsburgh and author of "Shocking Representation."
At their most basic, horror films are made to elicit feelings of fear or dread in moviegoers. Some utilize ghosts or monsters, others a hatchet-wielding serial killer, but the intent is always the same — to stir up shock and suspense. Directors often use sound (creaky floorboards and high-pitched musical scores), slow, drawn out shots followed by quick cuts and dark, shadowy lighting to create these moments of terror.
With "Us," Peele is not shying away from the horror movie moniker. The writer, director and producer has said repeatedly that "Us" is a horror film.
Peele has gained clout with the Academy since "Get Out" was nominated for three awards in 2018. Peele earned himself an Oscar for best original screenplay that year. He was also a producer on Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman," which earned a best picture nomination this year, but lost to "Green Book."
"Jordan Peele is a one-man revolution in relation to the horror genre," Lowenstein said. "And I'm thrilled that he's taking on the mantle with such enthusiasm and with 'Us,' an unapologetic tie to the horror genre."
The Academy Award nominations for the 92nd annual ceremony won't be announced until 2020, but that doesn't mean critics aren't already speculating about "Us'" chance at scoring several nominations. Peele's "Get Out" hit theaters in February and was still nominated despite not being released during the typical Oscar bait release window of November and December.
"Us" is already tracking towards a $50 million opening weekend, a strong start for a horror film that doesn't have the benefit of a major franchise fueling ticket sales.
"It speaks to the impact of Jordan Peele," Shawn Robbins, senior analyst at BoxOffice, said, noting that this is only Peele's second directorial credit.