Why 'In The Heights' Could Have Long Box Office Run — If Summer Blockbusters Don't Smother It

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Warner Bros.

Why ‘In The Heights’ Could Have Long Box Office Run — If Summer Blockbusters Don’t Smother It

Recent movie musicals have legged out for weeks in theaters, but Jon M. Chu’s film must hold on against “Fast & Furious” and Marvel competition

With critical acclaim, upbeat enthusiasm and a diverse cast, “In The Heights” seems to have the right formula to join the likes of “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” among recent movie musical hits. But unlike those films, it will have to contend with stiff summer blockbuster competition.

Because of the uncertainty of post-COVID tracking, analyst predictions for this opening weekend have ranged from $25 million to $45 million, with the higher end topping the $34.9 million made in summer 2018 by “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again.” But history shows that even if “In The Heights” doesn’t have a spectacular launch, that doesn’t mean its hopes for box office success are dashed.

“When ‘The Greatest Showman’ opened in 2017, it had a really bad start, and we all thought it was going to be a bust…and then it just kept going,” Boxoffice analyst Shawn Robbins said. “If a musical gets really strong word of mouth,it can leg out for well over a month in theaters.”

Indeed, “The Greatest Showman” made just $19 million in the U.S. during its first six days in December, but went on to gross $174 million domestically and $435 million worldwide. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” didn’t have as huge a multiple but still turned its modest opening into a $120.6 million domestic/$395.1 million global run.

As Robbins noted, a major reason for this is that most musicals don’t have the built-in pre-release buzz that established franchise films often have, instead relying on post-opening word-of-mouth from critics and audiences to fuel their long-lasting success. With a 97% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, “In The Heights” looks certain to have that momentum on its side.

Musicals have also been supported in their later weeks by older audiences, who typically see films later in their theatrical run. This too works in favor of “In The Heights,” as it will become counter-programming to the traditional summer blockbusters. One caveat: As with all Warner Bros. releases this year, “In The Heights” will have a simultaneous release on HBO Max, which could dampen box office.

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So far, the hybrid release strategy has not stopped well-received films like “Godzilla vs. Kong” or “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” from posting solid numbers theatrically, and a poll of 1,300 moviegoers by Fandango shows that 96% of those surveyed say they plan to make “In The Heights” their first trip to the theaters since the pandemic began.

Even as an alternative to bigger summer hits, “In The Heights” will see the mid-to-late stages of its run compete against “F9” and “Black Widow,” blockbusters from two of the most popular franchises in the world, “Fast & Furious” and Marvel. Both of those films will almost assuredly peel away moviegoers in the 18-35 age demographic, which could require greater reliance on older audiences for “In The Heights.”

Director Jon M. Chu has stressed that his musical is best enjoyed on the big screen, and Warner Bros. has marketed the film as an event release. Now we will see how audiences respond when presented with a home vs. theater choice for WB’s biggest release yet this year.

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