“In the Heights,” the acclaimed adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show, didn’t hit all the right notes in its box office debut.
The Warner Bros. musical generated a wane $11.4 million from 3,456 U.S. theaters in its first four days of release, below earlier expectations suggesting the feel-good film would reach $20 million. “In the Heights” also opened on HBO Max, the streaming service owned by the studio’s parent company WarnerMedia, though the company didn’t report its digital viewership.
In a surprise defeat, Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II” returned to the No. 1 spot in its third outing with $11.65 million from 3,800 screens. To date, the sequel has amassed $108.9 million, making it the first blockbuster since the onset of COVID-19 to cross the $100 million mark in the U.S. At the international box office, “A Quiet Place” had collected $75 million, bringing its global bounty to a strong $183 million.
The disappointing commercial reception for “In the Heights” is puzzling because critics embraced the joyous film, showering it with some of the best reviews of the pandemic era. Moreover, Warner Bros. put substantial marketing heft behind the picture, and director Jon M. Chu and Miranda devoted a great deal of energy into promoting the movie, which compensated for the fact that its cast was comprised of mostly unknown stars and emerging actors.
Though it’s impossible to know the full impact, the film’s hybrid release on HBO Max likely affected its box office business. However, that’s not the sole reason that inaugural ticket sales for “In the Heights” were underwhelming. Recent Warner Bros. releases like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat” and “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” still pulled in solid receipts despite being offered simultaneously on streaming. But, as audiences slowly make their way back to theaters, box office charts have indicated that people are more inclined to show up for properties with higher brand recognition. Though the Tony Award-winning “In the Heights” isn’t an original property like “La La Land” or “The Greatest Showman,” it’s not as well known as Miranda’s other musical sensation “Hamilton,” or even “Rent,” “Les Miserables” or “Cats.”
Box office prognosticators believe “In the Heights” can find an audience over the summer, similar to the box office sleeper hit that was the 2017 musical “The Greatest Showman.” The Fox movie debuted to a muted $8.8 million, but audiences fell in love with the soundtrack and Hugh Jackman’s charisma and returned to theaters over and over again. It tapped out with $174 million domestically and $438 million globally, a huge result. While “In the Heights” isn’t expected to reach those box office heights, it doesn’t have much competition on the horizon and could continue to play on the big screen.
“Musicals are crowd-pleasers,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “When they connect, they’re capable of playing for weeks, generating strong multiples.” He adds that reviews and audience ratings are “outstanding.” It cinched an “A” CinemaScore from moviegoers, who were mostly older females. Latinos represented 40% of ticket buyers, while 43% were Caucasian, 9% were Black and 4% were Asian.
Based on the 2008 Broadway show, “In the Heights” is set during a sweltering summer in Manhattan’s lively neighborhood of Washington Heights and centers on a bodega owner named Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who discovers that his mom-and-pop stop-and-shop has sold a winning lottery ticket. The ensemble cast also includes Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins and Olga Merediz. Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book of the musical, penned the screenplay. “In the Heights” carries a $55 million production budget.
Also new to theaters this weekend, Sony’s live-action/ animated adventure “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” arrived in third place with a middling $10.4 million from 3,346 venues. During the pandemic, films catered to family crowds, like Universal’s “The Croods: A New Age” and Warner Bros.’ “Tom and Jerry,” have been reliable theatrical draws, so the “Peter Rabbit” sequel could have a long life on movie theater marquees. Overseas, the $45 million-budgeted “Peter Rabbit 2” added another $10.7 million this weekend, taking its international total to $57.9 million.
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it,” currently in its second weekend in theaters, fell to No. 4 with $10 million from 3,237 venues. That brings its domestic tally to $43.7 million. Like Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate, the film is also playing on HBO Max for a month. Overseas, where HBO Max has yet to launch, the latest “Conjuring” entry has made $68 million for a worldwide haul of $11.8 million.
Rounding out the top five is Disney’s “Cruella.” The “101 Dalmatians” prequel, starring Emma Stone as the eventual puppy-snatching villain, nabbed another $6.7 million from 3,307 locations. After three weeks on the big screen, “Cruella” has pulled in $56 million in the U.S. and $73.3 million internationally. It’s currently available to Disney Plus subscribers for a $30 rental fee.
The domestic box office still faces many obstacles as it attempts to bounce back from COVID-19. Those speed bumps include hesitation among some consumers, the ongoing theater closures in Canada, capacity restrictions in U.S. venues that have reopened, and increased competition from Disney Plus, HBO Max and other streaming services. Still, there are several of would-be summer blockbusters on the horizon — “F9,” “Black Widow” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” to name a few — that should help to revitalize the movie theater industry.
“The recovery is going to come in waves,” says Gross. “It’s not going to be a straight line.”