The audience did not open their wallets to see the infamous competition between sharks and planes on the big screen.
West Side Story, the remake of Steven Spielberg’s classic musical, fell flat on its debut at the box office, collecting $10.5 million from 2,820 theaters. That’s cause for concern because Disney and 20th Century Studios spent $100 million reviving Shakespeare’s love story for the modern age and lost millions, unless West Side Story continues at the box office through the holidays and Oscar season.
It may be luring moviegoers between Christmas and New Year’s, but it’s a bad start for one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films – which opened exclusively in theaters. Although every new music movie struggles to entice audiences in times of COVID, it’s troubling for both traditional theater operators and studios that “West Side Story” – one of the most beloved stories in musical theater history and under the scrutiny of Hollywood’s most successful filmmaker Less tickets sold out for “In the Heights” ($11.5 million for the first time), a lesser-known song and dance estate that premiered simultaneously on HBO Max. “West Side Story” earned at least more than Universal’s recent “Dear Evan Hansen” adaptation, which debuted at $7.4 million, but that’s no big deal given that “Dear Evan Hansen” has marred critics. And the cost of creating “In the Heights” and “Dear Evan Hansen” is much lower than the cost of producing “West Side Story”.
“Chicago,” which opened with $10 million and eventually earned $170 million in North America, says David A. Gross, who runs film consultancy Franchise Entertainment Research, referring to “Chicago.” More recently, that’s been the case with the 2017 original musical film “The Greatest Showman,” which made a paltry $8.8 million start. But the audience fell in love with the music and returned to theaters several times for singing performances, eventually driving domestic ticket sales to $171 million. Although it features timeless numbers like “Somewhere” and “America,” the songs of “West Side Story” are unlikely to return to the top 10 of radio charts and inspire repeat viewers.
“But that was then and this is now. Conditions for going to the cinema are still poor,” Gross says.
Reception from ticket buyers was encouraging (it had a cinematic grade of “A”), but “West Side Story” would have a hard time repeating this genre of survival because older audiences – the film’s core demographic – weren’t eager to return to the movies. The West Side Story was a blockbuster blockbuster for excellent large format (PLF) format, with Imax contributing $1 million in domestic ticket sales. Unfortunately, he’ll lose most of his spot on PLF screens when “Spider-Man: No Way Home” begins next weekend.
“If the West Side Story is profitable, you’ll need to connect internationally and locally,” Gross says. So far, “West Side Story” has not been particularly receptive to international audiences. The film grossed $4.4 million from 37 overseas markets, bringing its worldwide credit to $14.9 million.
After October set pandemic box office records, thanks to “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and “No Time to Die,” movie attendance saw a dip. That will change next week when Sony’s comic book sequel “Spider-Man: No Way Home” hits cinemas. What remains clear, however, is that the adult crowds stayed home. Most of the films that were commercially successful were made to younger males.
“West Side Story” looks like a blockbuster compared to another new nationwide release this weekend, the STX sports drama “National Champions,” which was almost never seen in its entirety despite being played on more than 1,000 screens. The movie, which starred Stephen James and J.K. Simmons, failed to debut, grossing $300,000 from 1,197 theaters — an embarrassing result even by COVID-19 standards. “National Champions” opened at number 14 on the box office charts behind New Line’s Elf re-release, with the perennial holiday favorite bringing in $343,000 from 630 theaters. After an exclusive show in theaters, STX is positioning its “National Champions” to land on premium video-on-demand platforms to coincide with the college football championship game in January.
After two weekends at the top of the domestic box office, Disney’s “Encanto” slipped to second place with $9.4 million from 3,750 sites. Since opening around Thanksgiving, the animated musical tale has raised $71 million in North America and $150 million globally.
Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” came in third with $7.1 million from 3,815 screens. Four weeks after release, the comedy and sci-fi reboot brought in a respectable $112 million in revenue. At number four, MGM’s crime drama “House of Gucci” grossed $4 million over the weekend, bringing its domestic total to $41 million. Disney and Marvel’s “Eternals” ranked in the top five, taking in $3.1 million. The superhero saga, which opened in early November, has raised $161 million so far.
More is coming…