Why Clint Eastwood’s ‘Jersey Boys’ Failed to Hit a High Note

The Broadway-to-big-screen musical drew a very mature crowd but that may help in the long run at box office

“Jersey Boys,” the Clint Eastwood-directed movie adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, was never going to be “Mamma Mia,” “Les Miserables” “or “Grease.”

But the soft $13.5 million that it made in its nationwide debut this weekend had to be disappointing for distributor Warner Bros.

Those successful Broadway-to-big-screen productions had Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and John Travolta hitting high notes, while the biggest name in Warner Bros.’ biopic about the 1960s pop group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was the director. “Jersey Boys” stars John Lloyd Young as the lead singer with a soaring falsetto voice, along with Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza and Christopher Walken.

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That put the focus on the film itself and the music. The Four Seasons had plenty of hits – “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Sherry” among them – but 50 years later, they appeal to an older crowd. And that’s who turned out for “Jersey Boys,” whose first-weekend audience was 71 percent over the age of 50, and 84 percent over the age of 35.

That shows how narrow a demographic target the film had, but also offers some hope. Mature moviegoers tend not to rush out to see films on their first weekend, so “Jersey Boys” might find its audience. Those who went to the film liked it – awarding it an “A-” CinemaScore – in contrast to the critics who were lukewarm (55 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes).

With a production budget of around $40 million, “Jersey Boys” wasn’t too pricey and may yet work its way into the black for producers Graham King, Robert Lorenz and Tim Headington. Brett Ratner and Tim Moore are executive producers.

Also read: ‘Jersey Boys’ Reviews: Does the Musical Drama Fall Flat With Critics?

“Word of mouth is going to make or break ‘Jersey Boys’ in the next few weeks,” Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. “The opening won’t be all that crucial if those who do see it spread the word. But they have to, because it doesn’t look like the critics are going to.”

The 84-year-old Eastwood, famed as a big-screen tough guy, may have seemed an unusual choice as director, but he has musical chops well beyond those he displayed as a singing cowpoke in “Paint Your Wagon” and on TV’s “Rawhide.” He’s an accomplished musician and previously directed 1982’s “Honkeytonk Man” and the acclaimed Charlie Bird documentary “Bird.”

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He’s hit a rough patch at the box office of late, however. The last film he directed that really connected was “Gran Torino,” which took in nearly $150 million in 2008. Since then, “Invictus,” “Hereafter” and “J. Edgar” have all underwhelmed. He last appeared on screen in the 2012 baseball movie “Trouble With the Curve,” which also disappointed.

“Jersey Boys” was a hit on Broadway, winning the Tony for Best Musical in 2006, and productions of it have played all over the world. But success on the stage is anything but a sure thing at the box office.

For every “Chicago,” which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2003 and grossed more than $300 million, there seems to be an “Evita,” “Rent” or “All That Jazz” on the list of Broadway hits adapted for film.