Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights could boost movie theaters’ recovery

The eagerly awaited Lin-Manuel Miranda movie In the Heights has arrived with enthusiastic fans headed to theaters and HBO Max on Thursday and through the weekend.

The film, which centers on a group of Latino characters in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, has received largely positive reviews, and signs are that it is set to reel in big audiences, following a slew of other popular releases such as A Quiet Place Part 2 and Godzilla vs Kong hoping to draw people back to theaters this summer.

In a poll van 1,300 moviegoers by the ticketing company Fandango, 96% of responders said In the Heights, which follows Miranda’s successful Broadway musical, would be the first film they go to post-pandemic, while the Jon M Chu-directed film is the top-selling show for this Friday and Saturday.

If the film can turn out viewers, it will be a boost for an industry hit hard by the pandemic. Movie theaters were among the last places to reopen from lockdown in most states, and in New York, to take one example, most are still limited to about one-third capacity.

In an interview with NBC, Miranda, who co-wrote the film with Quiara Alegría Hudes, the pair wanted to highlight Latino characters and culture, which are both frequently overlooked in Hollywood output.

“We’re making up for lost time,” Miranda said.

The film is based on Miranda’s 2008 musical of the same name, which preceded his global hit, Hamilton. He told NBC he and Hudes wanted to create non-stereotypical Latino characters: “Quiara and I stuck to our guns and stuck to what we felt was important in the storytelling of the show.”

The first quarter of 2021 saw a decline of 90% in movie theater ticket sales, CNBC reported, but with 75% of North American theaters now open, the last two weekends have set pandemic-era records for tickets sold.

Over the four-day Memorial Day weekend North America theaters brought in $100m in ticket sales – less than half the $232m over the same period in 2019, but an encouraging sign for studio executives.

The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw gave In the Heights three stars, describing it as “a sweet-natured film with Sunny-D optimism and a no-place-like-home ethic”, with “a pretty quaint image of street life, whose unrealities probably worked better on stage”.

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