Despite rave reviews, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” has not gained momentum with box office audiences.
In its first three weeks in theaters, the adaptation of the Tony Award winning musical by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim earned just $ 36.6 million in worldwide ticket sales. The production budget was around $ 100 million, excluding marketing costs.
“Sounds like a write-off to me,” says Eric Handler, media and entertainment analyst at MKM Partners. “The markets that did best were New York and LA. The film failed to hit Central America and it didn’t seem to penetrate the Latino community as much.”
“West Side Story” tells the story of teenagers from two different social classes in love in New York City in the 1950s. Tony, a young white boy with ties to a gang called Jets; and Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl with ties to the Sharks gang. The Sharks and the Jets find themselves in the middle of a battle for control of the city’s Upper West Side, which forbids Tony and Maria’s love.
The musical kicked off on Broadway in 1957 and has been revived a dozen times in the decades since.
Spielberg’s new iteration, distributed by Disney’s 20th Century Studios, generated mostly positive reviews from critics and received a 93% certified “Fresh” rating for Rotten Tomatoes. The film was recognized for its choreography and vocal performances. However, this was not enough to get moviegoers into theaters.
“[‘West Side Story’] was largely a victim of timing and the inability to attract younger moviegoers, “said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.” Women over 35 are the driving force behind most musicals. Not only were these audiences the most cautious about returning to public social spaces such as the cinema during the pandemic, but renewed concern generated by Omicron headlines seems to have played an important role in doubling that hesitation for the time being.
Box office analysts said West Side Story likely suffered from the lack of a major Hollywood star and because its release was so close to that of Spider-Man: No Way Home. The latest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie has dominated the box office for the past two weeks.
On the opening weekend, West Side Story grossed $ 10.5 million, but by the second weekend, when the film was only $ 3 million, the number was more than halved.
“West Side Story should bounce back this week,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “You can’t rebound if you’ve never been to the box office.”
Many had hoped that heavy word of mouth would help kickstart the film, much like what happened in 2017 with The Greatest Showman. But “West Side Story” only took in $ 2.8 million over the Christmas weekend.
The box office is a diminishing income industry, which means that one movie is bringing in smaller and smaller amounts of money each week. At this rate, no profit is expected from “West Side Story”.
“And if you spend $ 100 million on it, the studios will surely result in the song and dance numbers being re-evaluated in the future,” Bock said.
Film musicals have been struggling at the box office in recent years. During the pandemic, “Dear Evan Hansen” grossed less than $ 20 million in its worldwide box office, and “In the Heights,” which has twice released in theaters and on HBO Max, raked in just $ 43.8 million worldwide .
2019’s “Cats,” which replaced iconic Broadway costumes with digital fur, was bombed at the box office, grossing just $ 72.4 million worldwide on a production budget of around $ 95 million, excluding marketing costs.
In fact, the top-grossing music films over the past five years were Frozen II from 2019, which exceeded $ 1.4 billion worldwide, and the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast from the 2017 that reached $ 1.2 billion. The only other film in the music category to top $ 500 million worldwide, according to Comscore data, was Illumination’s animated film called “Sing”.
“The music genre seems to have fallen out of favor with modern audiences, at least for now,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes and distributes Sing, Cats and Dear Evan Hansen.