Is In the Heights Out of Oscar Contention?

Ten days ago, Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights went into its premiere weekend as the first bonafide Best Picture contender of 2021. Sporting a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96%, the musical (adapted from a play co-created by Lin-Manuel Miranda) was projected to gross around $20 million in its opening frame. And then reality happened.

The pic was a major box office disappointment and earned just $11.5 million out of the gate (landing at #2 behind the third weekend of A Quiet Place Part II). Even then not all hope was lost. With solid word-of-mouth and awards buzz, perhaps Heights would hold well in subsequent weekends.

And then reality happened again. Heights appears to have dropped to sixth place in its sophomore outing with a drop of over 60%. What a difference a week and a half can make. There’s really no positive spin for its box office performance. It’s simply very underwhelming. Furthermore, the bulk of publicity received for Heights in recent days was either for its disappointing numbers or controversy emerging from its casting choices (something for which Miranda issued an apology for).

At this juncture, it’s a legitimate question whether Heights is still a viable contender at the Oscars. Much of that could depend on if Warner Bros makes a robust effort to campaign for it. I would say its inclusion in the big categories is now iffy at best. This applies to Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Anthony Ramos in Actor (which was probably always a long shot), and Olga Merediz in Supporting Actress. Down the line categories such as Sound and Original Song are more questionable as well.

The studio could shift its focus to fall contenders including Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, and King Richard with Will Smith. Bottom line: Heights isn’t finished in the Oscar derby, but it is hard to say that it’s not wounded.

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