‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is Done Winning

The latest Broadway musical adaptation has been panned by critics, and its opening weekend box office failed to meet expectations. But moviegoers do seem to enjoy it.
Dear Evan Hansen true story

Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we look at the opening box office results for the movie adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen.

Between last night’s Tony Awards and the reopening of Broadway, fans of musicals have a lot to be excited about. But seeing another hit show bomb on the big screen is obviously not part of their celebration. The movie adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen, which four years ago won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, failed to win at the box office. While Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings secured its top spot for the fourth week in a row, Universal’s latest movie musical opened to a disappointing gross of just $7.4 million.

That dollar amount, only half of which will wind up at the studio, translates to around 810,000 tickets sold** for Dear Evan Hansen in its debut. For comparison, the recent Warner Bros. adaptation of In the Heights opened in June (interestingly enough, the week the Tonys were supposed to be held) with a crowd of 1.3 million. And despite all the context surrounding the In the Heights box office performance, it was also labeled a dud by many reports. For Universal, however, the good news is that Dear Even Hansen still outsold their previous Broadway musical adaptation, Cats, which sold only about 700,000 tickets in its debut in 2019.

Broadway Musical Adaptations at the Box Office

Here are the opening weekend attendance estimates for the last 10 wide-release movie musicals adapted from Broadway shows [plus total tickets sold, in brackets]:

Dear Evan Hansen (2021) –0.8 million [TBD]
In the Heights (2021) – 1.3 million [3.3 million]
Cats (2019) – 0.7 million [3 million]
Into the Woods (2014) – 3.8 million [15.7 million]
Annie (2014) – 1.9 million [10.5 million]
Jersey Boys (2014) – 1.6 million [5.8 million]
Black Nativity (2013) – 0.5 million [0.9 million]
Les Misérables (2012) – 3.4 million [18.7 million]
Rock of Ages (2012) – 1.8 million [4.8 million]
Nine (2009) – 0.7 million [2.6 million]

Attendance vs. Expectations

Given the lackluster box office for musicals over the last decade, the industry wasn’t expecting much out of Dear Evan Hansen, right? Well, nobody thought it would knock Shang-Chi from its throne, of course. Still, last week, Box Office Pro predicted the movie’s opening gross would be $9.6 million. That’d have been at least a million tickets sold. Their forecast also included a broader range of possibilities. They speculated the gross could fall anywhere between $8 million and $13 million. That’d be the equivalent of around 875,000 to 1.4 million tickets. The Broadway adaptation fell short of even the lowest expected figures.

Outside of Hollywood’s outlook, there had to be some anticipation from fans of the Broadway show. As well as from moviegoers curious about the musical given all its acclaim and accolades. There has certainly been some interest in the fact that Dear Evan Hansen was inspired by a true story. Perhaps there has been some intrigue in how its dark subject matter, focused on the exploitation of a teen’s suicide, ultimately makes for a crowd-pleasing production. Then again, the trailers for Dear Evan Hansen and the rest of its publicity haven’t exactly given mainstream audiences a lot to look forward to.

Dear Evan Hansen Reception

The most obvious explanation for the underperformance of Dear Evan Hansen at the box office is its negative buzz. Reviews for Dear Evan Hansen, including our own, have been mostly negative (34% on Rotten Tomatoes, 39 on Metacritic). Compare them to the near-unanimously positive reception for In the Heights a few months ago. It’s worth noting that a lot of the attention on Dear Evan Hansen has been on the aesthetic issue of its casting of late-twentysomething Ben Platt in the lead as a high schooler. That’s hardly the only problem critics have had with the adaptation, but it’s possibly dominating the conversation on social media and elsewhere.

Critical chatter outside of published reviews can have an adverse effect on a movie’s performance. In the Heights faced a late critical pile-on regarding its representation of the Latinx community, namely its failure to cast more dark-skinned performers. It didn’t impact its overall aggregate scores, yet it probably contributed to the movie’s continued disappointment at the box office. More similar to Dear Evan Hansen, the negative buzz around Cats began early with its trailers. Brief advertisements showcased the ridiculous visuals without the context of what made the musical such a beloved show on the stage for decades. The same went for Dear Evan Hansen.

The Silver Lining?

On the bright side, non-professional audience members are enjoying Dear Evan Hansen more than critics are. Unlike Cats, for which user ratings were also on the negative side, Dear Evan Hansen appears to have a lot of fans. It has a 90% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and a favorable 6.2 user score on Metacritic. Opening-night ticket buyers gave it a grade of A- according to Cinemascore polling. Other Broadway adaptations with an A- grade include Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys. While not as great as In the Heights (A), that movie’s word of mouth likely only helped with its viewership on HBO Max, where it was simultaneously available to stream.

Dear Evan Hansen, meanwhile, is exclusively showing on the big screen for at least a couple of weeks. Positive word of mouth could mean it’ll at least do steady business through mid-October. We’ll have to wait and see how much the movie’s attendance drops in its second weekend at the box office. Then, per Universal’s deal with theater owners, Dear Evan Hansen should become available on VOD as early as Tuesday, October 12th. Theatrical windows are already so short that interested parties may wait for the digital release anyway, however. And if they see how short this one will be, that could be more incentive to wait it out.

The Rest of the Weekend Box Office Results

In other box office news, the Indian romance film Love Story is the only other new release in the top 10 for the weekend. Sekhar Kammula’s Telugu-language feature grossed just under $1 million for estimated ticket sales of just over 100,000. And not only did it close out the top box office results but it had the second-best per-screen attendance of the weekend. Its success is The Eyes of Tammy Faye‘s misfortune, as the biopic expanded into wide release over the weekend but disappointed with just 68,000 moviegoers in attendance for 11th place. And Shang-Chi passed Black Widow‘s total and is about to pass the $200 million mark.

Box Office Attendance for September 24 - September 26, 2021

RankMovie TitleWeekend AttendancePer-Screen AttendanceTotal Domestic AttendanceStudio
1Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings1.4 million36021.4 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
2Dear Evan Hansen0.8 million2410.8 millionUniversal Pictures
3Free Guy0.5 million14112.5 million20th Century Studios
4Candyman0.3 million1096.2 millionUniversal Pictures
5Cry Macho0.22 million550.9 millionWarner Bros.
6Jungle Cruise0.19 million9112.5 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
7Malignant0.16 million651.3 millionWarner Bros.
8Copshop0.14 million460.5 millionOpen Road Films (II)
9PAW Patrol: The Movie0.13 million644.2 millionParamount Pictures
10Love Story0.11 million3530.1 millionSony Pictures Home Entertainment

*Initially box office grosses are estimated and then are later updated for actual figures.

** Ticket sales and attendance figures are determined with each year’s average ticket prices. Currently, for 2021, that average is $9.16.

All box office gross figures are sourced from Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, and Box Office Pro unless otherwise stated.

Christopher Campbell: Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.