“In The Heights” Struggles to Make the Cut During its Debut on HBO Max


Alysha Izquierdo, Head Photographer

The new film “In The Heights,” an admired adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show, didn’t hit all the right steps in its box office debut. Just when a party was assured to break out in movie theaters, the below-expectation debut dampened Hollywood’s hopes of an unnoticed or smooth recovery at the summer box office. 


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 only took in $11.4 million at the domestic box office this weekend. Surprisingly, the Warner Brothers had earlier expected the four day total to reach about $20 million. But now, with the film bringing in only $4.9 million on Friday from 3,456 theaters, its 3-day estimate has fallen to just under $13 million.


Once released, the film had just missed the Number 1 spot at the weekend Box Office, coming in a close second behind Paramounts “A Quiet Place Part II”. With $11.7 million in its third weekend of release, “A Quiet Place” was able to climb back to number one at the box office after opening over Memorial Day weekend. To date, the sequel has collected $108.9 million, making it the first blockbuster since the onset of COVID-19 to cross the $100 million mark in the U.S. The disappointing start for a major musical that was created by the person who brought us “Hamilton” was highly unexpected since it was praised globally by critics. Unlike “A Quiet Place”, though, “In the Heights” is also available to stream through HBO Max, so it could be that more moviegoers than expected simply opted to watch the film at home rather than venturing back out to theaters amid the pandemic.


HBO Max couldn’t be blamed for any disappointing results, Goldstein says. “Our experience, which is backed up on ‘In the Heights,’ is that if the movie hits a high level in theaters, it hits a high level on the service,” says Goldstein. If it hits a low level in theaters, it hits a low level on HBO Max. They’re really very comparable.” This suggests that “In the Heights” failed to draw a big audience on HBO Max in addition to striking out with ticket buyers. This is a major problem.


“In The Heights” was world renowned for its representation of Latinos on screen and was predicted to closely relate to the effect given to us by the rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians” to fume an underprivileged movie loving audience. The portrayal of Latinos in this film is nowhere near enough if the audience is unaware of the plot of the film. The story is not so easy to summarize, while “In the Heights” is not as plot-averse as the infamous musical bomb “Cats.” This film, which is about a bodega owner contemplating whether to leave his constructed neighborhood to return to his father’s homeland of the Dominican Republic, is mostly communicated and advanced through song, as are the rest of the film’s subplots. This can make it troublesome to convey the overall plot to the audience through trailers and marketing.


Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops in advertising the film as an event release, emphasizing the film’s vibrant dance scenes and feel-good tone. However, a lack of understanding of what the film is actually about may have caused that marketing to fail to reach audiences, even Latino ones, that weren’t already hardcore Lin-Manuel fans thanks to “Hamilton.” “Warner Bros. promoted the movie very heavily, to their credit,” says Robbins. “They promoted it as an event movie despite its hybrid release. But, really, this wasn’t like ‘The Greatest Showman’ in that this new musical take on ‘In The Heights’ didn’t have a major star to attract audiences.”


“Ultimately, this is not the first musical to be hyped by the industry and fall a little short of expectations,” box office analyst Shawn Robbins told CNN. “Maybe the timing wasn’t quite right, or it simply wasn’t fair to expect such big things, even pre-pandemic, from a relatively original title with mostly unknown actors.”