‘In the Heights’ Box Office Bust: Why It’s Not HBO Max’s Fault and 5 Other Takeaways

While word of mouth could help this musical endure at the box office, many Latino-heavy regions did not turn out this weekend in theaters — or on streaming

There was a lot of hope from theater owners and industry observers that Warner Bros.’ “In the Heights” would help maintain, or even grow, the recent box office momentum. Instead, the film opened to just $11.4 million and lost what was expected to be an easy No. 1 launch to the third weekend of Paramount’s “A Quiet Place — Part II.” .

With critical acclaim and early Oscar buzz, there had been hope that the Jon M. Chu musical would capture a section of the audience that isn’t interested in horror films like “A Quiet Place” but searching for a feel-good movie after the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the film has fallen short of even the most conservative of expectations. Even franchise tentpoles released during the worst stages of the pandemic — “Wonder Woman 1984” opened to $16.7 million on Christmas weekend — have outperformed “In the Heights.”

While there’s still time for the film to turn its fortunes around, there’s a lot of questions about what went wrong with this launch of a film from the director of the 2018 hit “Crazy Rich Asians” based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-“Hamilton” Broadway hit. But there’s one major element surrounding the film’s release that sources say isn’t to blame.

1. Don’t Blame HBO Max

Theaters have long been wary about the box office hit that Warner Bros. films might take this year as the studio is streaming its releases on HBO Max on the same day they open in theaters.

But individuals familiar with the streaming service’s metrics say that none of Warner’s 2021 films, including “In the Heights,” have shown huge differences in streaming vs. theatrical performance. If a film is doing well at the box office, it is also drawing strong viewership and new subscriptions on HBO Max. And studio insiders confirmed that “In the Heights” followed that pattern, showing far lower opening-weekend viewership on HBO Max than other recent titles like “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Tom & Jerry,” two films which Warner Bros.’ parent company AT&T touted as a major factor in HBO Max gaining 2.7 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2021.

That isn’t to say that defenders of theatrical exclusivity in the industry aren’t feeling emboldened by what they’ve seen over the last few weeks. “A Quiet Place — Part II,” which has an exclusive 45-day run in theaters before its Paramount+ release, just became the first pandemic-era film to top $100 million domestically after 15 days.

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • jeremy.fuster@thewrap.com • Twitter: @jeremyfuster