Why ‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Stumbled at Box Office

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody. (Credit: Tristar Pictures)

The long-awaited big screen biopic, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, debuted over the weekend — to limited interest among moviegoers and lukewarm reviews from critics.

The Sony/TriStar film opened in 3,625 locations across North America. From Friday to Sunday, it earned an estimated $5.3 million and landed in third place at the box office — behind Avatar: The Way of Water and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, according to box office tracking company Comscore.

The drama rang up $2.0 million in ticket sales on Friday, $825K on Saturday, and about $2.5 million on Sunday — for a per location average of $1,462. Those are definitely disappointing numbers for a movie with a reported production budget of $45 million dollars.

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Despite the film’s slow start, Comscore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian believes it may still find its footing.

“Once the holiday festivities have come to a close and the weather eases up, the film will hopefully find favor with audiences looking for a brand new film to enjoy and one about this an incredible icon,” Dergarabedian told Urban Hollywood 411.

But Shawn Edwards, film critic for Fox 4 News in Kansas City, Missouri and executive producer of the Critics Choice Association’s “Celebration of Black Cinema & TV,” isn’t so sure.

Edwards believes it would be difficult for the film to recover after a series of missteps, including opening two days before Christmas, when many of Houston’s fans were focused on holiday shopping or staying indoors as a deadly winter storm pounded much of the U.S.

“Whitney Houston fans love Christmas. They weren’t running out of the house to see this movie during the holidays,” said Edwards. “The release date is terrible. Why didn’t Sony release this in October and capitalize on the popularity of their film The Woman King, which they released in September.”

Related Story: ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Reviews – Critics Split on ‘Uneven’ Whitney Houston Biopic

I Wanna Dance With Somebody is directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou and Harriet) from a script written by Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody). The film stars BAFTA Award-winning actress Naomi Ackie as the late singer, alongside Ashton Sanders as Bobby Brown, Tamara Tunie as Cissy Houston, Nafessa Williams as Robyn Crawford, and Clarke Peters as John Houston.

Legendary record executive Clive Davis and Houston’s sister-in-law Pat Houston produced the authorized film.

Back in August 2020, Davis told Variety’s “Strictly Business “podcast the movie would offer a “no-holds-barred” look at the Grammy-winning singer’s life and reveal more about her character “than we have seen to date.”

But after a string of documentaries on Houston, the Lifetime movie Whitney and BET’s The Bobby Brown Story, Edwards said many fans felt like there was nothing new to say.

“Every time somebody talked to me about [the film], that’s not a part of the industry, they were like, ‘We’ve already seen this. What’s new? We already know everything. She used to be a model. She started singing. Clive Davis signed her. She had a bunch of hits. She married Bobby Brown. We all knew Robyn was her girlfriend. She was on drugs. She died in the bathtub in the Beverly Hilton. We already knew that,’” Edwards explained, adding, “That’s what people on the streets said, that’s not me.”

Related Story: Whitney Houston Had Secret ‘Affair’ With Robyn Crawford, Clive Davis Says

The film was originally called I Wanna Dance With Somebody, after Houston’s 1987 hit song, but some people found the title confusing.

“When you do a biopic on somebody, put their name in the title. And even Sony recognized they made a mistake, because they sent out an email saying they changed the title to Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody. So even they knew the title was bad,” Edwards said.

While he personally liked the film, and saw it twice, other critics weren’t so kind.

The movie has a 45 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes,with reviewers branding it “uneven,” and “trite.” Critics generally praised Naomi Ackie’s performance, although Edwards questioned the casting.

“Naomi’s great, but she’s not a star. This movie had no stars. When Universal did Ray, Ray Charles was who? Jamie Foxx. When they did What’s Love Got to Do With It? Tina Turner was Angela Bassett. When they did Respect, Aretha Franklin was Jennifer Hudson. Like nobody in the world knows who Naomi is. She’s not a star,” Edwards said. “Look, Naomi Ackie could land in Kansas City right now and walk into the busiest grocery store in the city and nothing would change.”

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is currently playing in theaters nationwide.