Box Office: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Hits Wrong Notes as ‘Shang-Chi’ Stays No. 1

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Dear Evan Hansen,” the Universal Pictures adaptation of the smash Broadway musical, didn’t strike a chord with moviegoers.

Marred by negative reviews and COVID-19 concerns, the film fell short of expectations and collected a muted $7.5 million from 3,365 North American theaters in its debut. Industry experts predicted the movie musical would make at least $10 million between Friday and Sunday.

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Even though the film seems unlikely to turn a profit in theaters, the losses won’t be catastrophic. “Dear Evan Hansen” cost $28 million to produce, a modest budget for a musical. That puts Universal in a much better position compared to its last movie musical, “Cats,” which opened to $6.5 million in late 2019 and ultimately lost the studio nearly all of its $100 million budget.

The critical response to “Dear Evan Hansen” has been vastly different than the glowing reactions that greeted the 2016 stage version, which netted six Tony Awards and cemented Ben Platt as a star. It underscores the struggle to bring even commercially popular musicals to the big screen. Earlier in the summer, the well-reviewed Warner Bros. adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit show “In the Heights” struggled to draw crowds while debuting simultaneously on HBO Max. The splashy song-and-dance spectacle cost $55 million, almost double the amount that Universal spent on “Dear Evan Hansen,” and opened to $11.5 million. It ended its box office run with $29 million in the U.S. and Canada and $43 million globally, losing millions for the studio.

Platt reprised his role as Evan Hansen, an anxious high school student who finds himself tangled in a lie that spirals out of control. Many criticized the casting choice because Platt is 27 years old and doesn’t look like a teenager. Audiences, at least the few who bought a ticket on opening weekend, appeared to be less distracted by a high schooler with 5 o’clock shadow. Moviegoers awarded the film an “A-” CinemaScore, which is exponentially better than its 33% on Rotten Tomatoes. Around 62% of patrons were female, while 53% were, like Platt, over the age of 25.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is playing only in theaters, which could help ticket sales. Since Universal last year hammered out a rare agreement with movie theater chains to put its films online sooner than usual, the coming-of-age story will land on premium video-on-demand platforms on Oct. 14.

“We have very good audience reactions, especially with younger females,” says Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. “We hope it points to a good run from here.”

Given the underwhelming turnout for “Dear Evan Hansen,” reigning box office champion “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” had no trouble staying atop domestic charts, even in its fourth weekend of release. The Disney and Marvel superhero adventure added a solid $13.3 million in ticket sales, bringing its domestic tally to $196.5 million, a pandemic record.

After this weekend’s haul, “Shang-Chi” surpassed its fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe installment “Black Widow” ($183 million) as the highest-grossing movie of the year. Unlike “Shang-Chi,” Scarlett Johansson’s “Black Widow” wasn’t available exclusively in theaters. The film premiered simultaneously on Disney Plus (for a premium $30 fee), where it has generated at least $125 million. Weeks ago, Johansson sued Disney and alleged the movie’s hybrid release depressed box office ticket sales and cut into her compensation.

At the international box office, “Shang-Chi” has brought in $166.9 million and the studio hopes to secure a release date in China to boost revenues even higher. Globally, the film has made $363 million.

In third place, Disney’s sci-fi comedy “Free Guy” nabbed $4.1 million from 3,175 venues. After nearly two months in theaters, the Ryan Reynolds-led film has made $114 million at the domestic box office and $317.4 million globally. That’s an especially promising result because it’s an original property and not part of an existing film franchise. The studio has already hinted at plans for a sequel.

Universal’s slasher film “Candyman” landed at the No. 4 spot with $2.5 million from 2,556 locations in North America. So far, the movie has amassed $56.8 million in the U.S. and Canada and $73 million worldwide.

Clint Eastwood’s Western “Cry Macho” rounded out the top five. The Warner Bros. film, which premiered simultaneously on HBO Max, declined 52% from its opening and brought in $2.1 million from 4,022 venues. It has grossed an anemic $8.3 million since debuting last weekend.

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