How Streaming Platforms Have Shifted The Burden Of Proof For Movies Like ‘In The Heights’

ANTHONY RAMOS as Usnavi and MELISSA BARRERA as Vanessa in IN THE HEIGHTS

In an era where streaming platforms are chasing inclusive films and TV shows, it’s up to Hollywood and the theatrical industry to “prove” that movies like In the Heights can still justify a theatrical release.

The Jon M. Chu-directed adaptation of Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manual Miranda’s Tony-winning Broadway play, with Hudes writing and Miranda producing, was supposed to open on June 26, 2020, right alongside the initial opening weekend for Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick. It was set to be a battle of the “old” versus the “new,” or a battle of “Morning in America” nostalgia versus “Hope and Change” nostalgia, but obviously it didn’t happen.

While Warner Bros. hemmed and hawed about Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, they were swift (April 21, 2020) to move In the Heights to June 18, 2021, where it is still scheduled to debut both in theaters and (for the first 30 days) on HBO Max. I don’t know if the seven teaser posters released this morning means we’re about to get a new trailer (update: trailer tomorrow), but three months-out seems reasonable.

The first teaser was released in mid-December of 2019, primed to play with Warner Bros.’ own Richard Jewell and Universal’s Cats over the holiday season. What I wrote back then still stands, even with the HBO Max wrinkle…

With streaming and related platforms throwing money and comparatively inclusive talents partially to use diversity and inclusivity as a selling point (and a shield from macro-criticism), it’s now on the major studios and the theaters themselves to “prove” that movies like In the Heights can be successful enough in theaters to justify the conventional release strategy.

Jon M. Chu and friends famously turned down a massive Netflix payday for Crazy Rich Asians because they wanted the splashy rom-com to get the global theatrical play, both as a matter of old-school prestige and to prove that mainstream movies featuring Asian casts could score big. Crazy Rich Asians earned $174 million domestic from a $35 million Wed-Sun debut and $238.5 million worldwide on a $30 million budget.

While less vocal than Chris Nolan, Jon M. Chu was then allegedly (and understandably) quite peeved when In the Heights became part of this year’s “in theaters and on streaming” plan, but there is still pressure (especially overseas) to “prove” that studios can justify conventional theatrical releases in a streaming era.

It is grimly ironic that what otherwise would have been a robust 2020 and 2021 for “not a white guy” movies has been disrupted by the pandemic. The likes of Mulan, Wonder Woman 1984, Soul, Tenet, In the Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Mortal Kombat, Raya and the Last Dragon and F9 were delayed and/or are being/were released under a different theatrical window structure which absolutely did or likely will limit their theatrical potential.

At least we can still expect In the Heights to break out on China, where “foreign” movies about family loyalty like Coco and The Fast Saga are still viable. I expected In the Heights to be summer 2020’s least surprising surprise hit. I’m hoping it can achieve the same benchmark in 2021. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights will continue to get made. The only question is whether they’ll end up in theaters or as streaming originals.

‘In The Heights’ poster

‘In The Heights’ poster

‘In The Heights’ poster

‘In The Heights’ poster

‘In The Heights’ poster

‘In The Heights’ poster

‘In The Heights’ poster

I’ve studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all

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