Spielberg ‘West Side Story’ starts weak with $ 10.5 million

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This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Ariana DeBose as Anita, foreground left, and David Alvarez as Bernardo in “West Side Story”. (Niko Tavernise / 20th Century Studios via AP)

20th Century Studios via AP

Despite critical praise and a two-year wait, Steven Spielberg’s lavish revival of “West Side Story” made little noise at the box office, debuting with $ 10.5 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates on Sunday – a worrying result for a struggling film industry. to find its rhythm of snapping fingers.

A dazzling big-screen adaptation and Spielberg’s first musical, “West Side Story” was one of the most anticipated titles of the year. With a screenplay by Tony Kushner and Rita Moreno returning to his groundbreaking film 60 years later, the $ 100 million “West Side Story” epitomizes a large-scale, prestige film that Hollywood rarely produces. It hit theaters on a wave of rave reviews and expectations he could star in the March Oscars.

But “West Side Story” faced a tough market for adult-directed releases and musicals. Audiences returned to multiplexes regularly in the second year of the pandemic, but older moviegoers, who made up the bulk of ticket buyers for the latest Spielberg, have been among the slowest to return.

Musicals have also struggled to be heard in movie theaters. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” launched with $ 11 million in June, but the release of Warner Bros. aired simultaneously on HBO Max. Universal’s “Dear Evan Hansen” debuted with $ 7.4 million in September.

But it was Spielberg. If anyone could revive the cinema, it was he. Certainly, one of the dazzling artisans of cinema, a director synonymous with box office, could spark a more complete revival in theaters. “West Side Story” is also one of the most popular musicals. The 1961 film, directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, grossed $ 43.7 million (or roughly $ 400 million adjusted for inflation) and won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture.

We can always expect “West Side Story” to play well in the lucrative vacation corridor, in which younger films like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (which is set to become the first pandemic release to open with $ 100 million or more nationwide) and “Sing 2” will likely be the main draws. Movie executives are hopeful that the omicron variant of COVID-19 won’t set back the box office as Hollywood nears its peak profitable period.

But the mixed reception of “West Side Story” will concern the industry. Hopes have long been on Spielberg, with his spectacular song and dance, to bring back some of the mojos from the movies. Instead, not much right now outside of Marvel’s versions is finding a mainstream audience. Many moviegoers just haven’t returned yet.

“Attracting moviegoers to adult drama in droves right now seems like a pretty daunting task,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. “It will decrease over time, but it is a concern for filmmakers and studios.”

“But I don’t think that’s the final act of ‘West Side Story’,” Dergarabedian added. “A lot of people have relied on ‘The Greatest Showman’.”

This 2017 release kicked off with a modest $ 8.8 million opening weekend before enjoying a rare and long run that made it, with $ 435 million worldwide, one top-grossing live musicals of all time. During the pandemic, however, movies faded quickly at the multiplex and often made their way faster to streaming or home release.

Starring newcomer Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort as Maria and Tony, “West Side Story” grossed $ 4.4 million in 37 overseas territories. Because the film features a transgender character, it has been banned in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait.

David A. Gross, who heads movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment, called the opening “sweet.”

“If ‘West Side Story’ is to be profitable, it will have to connect internationally as well as nationally,” Gross said in an email. “So far the first European openings have been good, but it’s going to be a challenge with shooting conditions as tough as they are.”

Spielberg’s film was a long time coming. Its release was delayed for a year by the pandemic. It was developed by 20th Century Fox, which was acquired by Walt Disney Co. shortly before production began. Days before its Lincoln Center premiere, the musical’s revered lyricist Stephen Sondheim died at the age of 91.

Second place for the weekend went to Disney animation “Encanto,” which held up well in its third week, losing just 27% from the previous weekend. It grossed $ 9.6 million from Friday to Sunday, bringing its cumulative total to $ 71.3 million domestically and $ 80.5 million internationally.

The weekend’s only other full-scale new release – STX Films’ college football drama “National Champions” – went largely unnoticed, grossing $ 300,000 in 1,197 theaters.

Estimated Friday-Sunday ticket sales at US and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final national figures will be released on Monday.

1. “West Side Story”, $ 10.5 million.

2. “Encanto”, $ 9.4 million.

3. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”, $ 7.1 million.

4. “House of Gucci”, $ 4.1 million.

5. “Eternals”, $ 3.1 million.

6. “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” $ 1.7 million.

7. “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” $ 1.3 million.

8. “Christmas with the Elected”, $ 1.3 million.

9. “Dune”, $ 857,000.

10. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”, $ 850,000.

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