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Nope ending explained: who survives?

Daniel Kalyuus rides horse in Nope
Daniel Kaluuya in Nope (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

NOTE: This post has major SPOILERS for Nope from the outset. 

Like Jordan Peele’s first two movies, Get Out and Us, Nope is generating a lot of discussion among the moviegoers who have seen it. At its core, Nope is about a brother and sister, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, who attempt to capture the first indisputable proof of aliens, in what they call the "Oprah shot" — so good the famous talk show host will have to report on it.

However, if you’ve seen one of Peele’s movies before, you likely know that there is a lot more to it than that. The writer/director takes joy in subverting audiences' expectations and layering in some social commentary along the way. All of that certainly takes place as Nope plays out.

But if you’re left with questions surrounding what happened with the Nope ending — including who survived and if the pair finally get the "Oprah shot" — we'll help clear some of those things up.

What is the alien in Nope?

At first glance, the alien object in the sky that OJ (Kaluuya) and Em (Palmer) are trying to get footage of looks just like your basic idea of a flying saucer. However, as the siblings and their compatriots (Brandon Perea’s Angel and Michael Wincott’s Antlers Holst) soon discover, it isn’t a flying saucer transporting aliens, it’s actually an alien itself.

OJ makes the conclusion that the visitor from another planet is some kind of extraterrestrial animal. And like many wild animals, it has become territorial — picking the valley that the Haywoods call home for its own. Rather than abducting people/animals, the alien is eating what it "beams" up. OJ discovers that the best way to avoid being eaten is to not look at it.

As we see in the final act, the flying saucer shape of the alien isn’t its only look. We see it expand into different shapes, making itself bigger and more intimidating. Credit to whoever did the creature design for a truly unique alien creation.

Do they get the "Oprah shot"?

As OJ and Em learn more and more about the alien stalking them, they begin to wonder if it's truly worth risking their lives to try and capture it on film. OJ, determined to save the family ranch in any way possible, convinces them to stick it out, devising a plan to draw the alien out in a path where Holst can capture it on film.

However, they’re not the only ones that are trying to capitalize on the alien. Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun) is also aware of the alien and has crafted a new attraction based on it at his theme park, Jupiter’s Claim. The alien has other ideas, attacking Jupiter’s Claim during a show. This brings even more attention to the valley, as news crews and a TMZ reporter arrive to get a shot of what is going on.

OJ, Em and company have the advantage though and their plan appears to work, as Holst’s camera captures it all. The cinematographer isn’t satisfied though and he attempts to get an even better shot of the alien. This unfortunately leads to him being eaten.

The alien is on a rampage now. Em attempts to escape, but the alien is in pursuit. OJ, however, distracts the alien long enough for her to get away. She goes to the abandoned Jupiter’s Claim, but the alien follows her. There, she releases an inflatable character of "Jupe" Park to get the alien’s attention, then tries to use a wishing well photo machine to get the "Oprah shot." Not only does she get a clear shot, but the alien is not able to digest the inflatable and it explodes, killing the alien.

There’s just one potential hiccup. News crews arrive on the scene almost immediately, but we don’t know if they were also there to get proof of the alien. Em was successful in getting her shot — showing the undeniable proof of aliens — but the movie’s final moments leave viewers wondering if she is the only one to have got the shot and if it was worth what she had to give up to capture the spectacle.

This leads to the final question…

Is OJ dead at the end of Nope?

As we mention above, OJ stares down the alien allowing Em to escape. The siblings giving each other a knowing look before she rides off to Jupiter’s Claim. After the alien is killed, an exhausted Em looks off-screen and gives a faint smile. It cuts to OJ sitting on his horse in the mist. Did OJ escape the alien or is this just a vision that Em is having?

Honestly, OJ’s fate is probably up for interpretation. He’s a skilled rider, was able to evade the alien before and we never see him actually be sucked up to be eaten by the alien like we do with most of the other victims, so there is a possibility that he was able to survive.

On the flip side, there’s plenty of symbolism to suggest that OJ is indeed dead. The mist setting obscures him, giving him a ghostly feel. He is also framed by a sign that reads "Out Yonder," which could be an indication that OJ has gone to a different place.

Peele doesn’t definitively answer it either way, so this is likely to be one that fans of the movie debate for a while...

Nope is now playing in movie theaters in the US. It releases in the UK on August 12. 

Michael Balderston
Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun.