December 17, 2021
West Side Story, Dear Evan Hansen and In the Heights have all been box office flops this year, which has led to a questioning of the genre’s place in Hollywood
Out of tune: why are audiences staying away from the movie musical?
In a very strange year for movies, the failure of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is perhaps the most head-scratching development of all. The remake of the beloved 1961 musical grossed just $10m on its opening weekend, and while the film could certainly improve upon its lackluster debut over the holidays, it caps a year of disappointments for fans of the movie musical. In the Heights kicked off the summer with poor ticket sales and accusations of colorism for failing to have enough Afro-Latino actors in its cast. Dear Evan Hansen created the rare consensus of the year, hated by critics and audiences alike, and endured prolonged mockery on Social Media for its casting of the crow’s-footed Ben Platt as its teenaged protagonist. The less said about Diana: The Musical, a filmed version of the Broadway bomb that made its way to Netflix, the better.
At least people seemed to like Tick, Tick… Boom!, the Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed adaptation of a work by the late Jonathan Larson, although we don’t really know how many – Netflix continues to be cagey about viewing numbers, and the film had only a nominal release in theaters. All in all, it was a catastrophic year for a genre that has been a mainstay of cinema since the advent of talkies. Historically, movie musicals have been an opportunity to highlight the best of the theatrical experience: these are films with big budgets, melodramatic plots that play well on the big screen, and expansive dance numbers, and they just don’t play as well at home, no matter how big your flatscreen or how expensive your sound system.
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