In a really unusual 12 months for films, the failure of Steven Spielberg’s West Facet Story is probably the most head-scratching growth of all. The remake of the beloved 1961 musical grossed simply $10m on its opening weekend, and whereas the movie may definitely enhance upon its lackluster debut over the holidays, it caps a 12 months of disappointments for followers of the movie musical. In the Heights kicked off the summer season with poor ticket gross sales and accusations of colorism for failing to have sufficient Afro-Latino actors in its solid. Pricey Evan Hansen created the uncommon consensus of the 12 months, hated by critics and audiences alike, and endured extended mockery on social media for its casting of the crow’s-footed Ben Platt as its teenaged protagonist. The much less mentioned about Diana: The Musical, a filmed model of the Broadway bomb that made its strategy to Netflix, the higher.
At the least folks appeared to love Tick, Tick… Growth!, the Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed adaptation of a piece by the late Jonathan Larson, though we don’t actually know what number of – Netflix continues to be cagey about viewing numbers, and the movie had solely a nominal launch in theaters. All in all, it was a catastrophic 12 months for a style that has been a mainstay of cinema since the introduction of talkies. Traditionally, movie musicals have been a chance to focus on the greatest of the theatrical expertise: these are movies with large budgets, melodramatic plots that play effectively on the large display screen, and expansive dance numbers, they usually simply don’t play as effectively at residence, irrespective of how large your flatscreen or how costly your sound system.
Studio executives and box-office pundits anticipated audiences to indicate up for In the Heights, Pricey Evan Hansen and West Facet Story, and never simply followers of the movie musical however basic audiences, as effectively. After a 12 months with out films, audiences would crave the spectacle. It didn’t occur. Viewers confirmed up for different films. They confirmed up for superhero films reminiscent of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Venom: Let There Be Carnage. They confirmed up for horror films like A Quiet Place Half II. And so they confirmed up for company bland-fests Free Man and Jungle Cruise, which are already on their strategy to being money-making franchises for Disney. The sample is damningly clear: every of the 12 months’s 10 highest-grossing films is both half of a long-running franchise or the starting of one.
It’s too early to say if the movie musical wants a health care provider or a coroner, however what is obvious is that studio executives wildly overestimate how well-liked this style is. Individuals who love musicals actually, actually love musicals, and each time one of them hits at the box-office, a collection of enthusiastic imitators tends to observe. When Chicago received greatest image at the 2001 Oscars, it opened the floodgates for the style’s revival (after principally being absent from theaters for 20 years). The outcomes have been spotty at greatest. For each The Biggest Showman or Les Misérables, each of which had been big hits, there have been a number of like 9, Rock of Ages, The Promenade, or, worst-case situation, Cats. The success price for the movie musical is solely not superb, and provided that they sometimes require giant budgets to help the spectacle, it’s a dangerous proposition.
The disappointing returns from this 12 months’s crop of movie musicals might also point out a Covid-led acceleration of a long-simmering dynamic. For an important many moviegoers, there are now two sorts of films: these you go to the theater for and people you are comfortable to observe at residence a number of weeks later. Plainly that theater is the place for big-budget serialized storytelling with main movie stars. Superhero films, sure, but additionally the Quick and Livid franchise and James Bond. Vin Diesel, The Rock and Daniel Craig nonetheless have faces that imply extra to us up on the large display screen. For all they needed to supply, neither In the Heights nor Pricey Evan Hansen and West Facet Story featured a serious movie star, and there’s some hubris in the assumption that audiences would prove for these casts stuffed with actors that they had by no means heard of earlier than. West Facet Story did have Ansel Elgort onboard as Tony, however after he was accused of sexual assault, the distributors had been pressured to downplay his presence in the movie’s advertising (Elgort has maintained that it was consensual).
There’s nonetheless time, nonetheless, for the style to make a comeback. Tick, Tick… Growth! could also be nominated for a number of Oscars, which might elevate its profile considerably, whereas West Facet Story remains to be thought of the frontrunner for greatest image. It would most likely keep in theaters no less than till the Academy Awards occur in March, which can give it a lot of time to extend its box-office haul. Nonetheless to be launched this 12 months is Cyrano, starring Peter Dinklage as the lovelorn poet, and that includes songs by the Nationwide. It’s unlikely to be successful, however like the others talked about, it may make an impression on awards voters.
Maybe that’s the place the musical has landed: as Oscar bait. With the hegemony of franchise film-making, any style of movie that offers with severe material or is designed with adults in thoughts has already been relegated to the previous few months of the 12 months. King Richard, Being the Ricardos and Belfast had been all made with Oscars in thoughts, and in the event that they miss out on nominations, they’ll most likely be thought of failures. Movie musicals had been as soon as aside from that. They received Oscars, however they had been additionally beloved by the basic moviegoing public. Until one thing adjustments dramatically in the subsequent two months, these days could also be over, and 2021 could also be remembered as the 12 months the movie musical took its final bow.