Despite rave reviews, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” has failed to gain traction with audiences at the box office.
In its first three weeks in cinemas, the adaption of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical, has captured just $36.6 million in global ticket sales. Its production budget was around $100 million, not including marketing costs.
“Sounds like a write-off to me,” said Eric Handler, media and entertainment analyst at MKM Partners. “The markets that have done the best have been New York and L.A. The film wasn’t able to grab middle America, and it didn’t seem to have that great of a penetration into the Latino community.”
“West Side Story” tells the tale of love-struck teenagers from two different social classes in New York City during the 1950s. Tony, a young white boy with ties to a gang called the Jets, and Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl with ties to the Sharks gang. The Sharks and the Jets are in the midst of a struggle for control of the Upper West Side of the city, making Tony and Maria’s love forbidden.
The musical launched 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 largely positive reviews from critics, earning a 93% Certified “Fresh” Rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was praised for its choreography and singing performances. However, this wasn’t enough to bring moviegoers to cinemas.
“[‘West Side Story’] was largely a victim of timing and an inability to attract younger moviegoers,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Women over 35 are the drivers of most musicals. Not only has that audience been the most cautious to return to public social spaces like the movie theater during the pandemic, but renewed concern created by omicron headlines seems to have played a major role in doubling down on that hesitance for the time being.”
Box office analysts said “West Side Story” also likely suffered from not having a big Hollywood star attached and because its release was so close to that of “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” The latest Marvel Cinematic Universe Film has dominated at the box office over the last two weeks.
In its opening weekend, “West Side Story” garnered $10.5 million, but the figure was more than halved during its second weekend when the film tallied just $3 million.
“‘West Side Story’ was supposed to rebound this week,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “You can’t rebound when you were never in the box office game to begin with.”
Many had hoped that strong word of mouth would help boost the film, similar to what happened with 2017’s “The Greatest Showman.” But “West Side Story” took in only $2.8 million over the Christmas weekend.
The box office is an industry of diminishing returns, meaning each week a film will make smaller and smaller amounts. At this pace, “West Side Story” is not expected to turn a profit.
“And when you spend $100 million to do that, it will certainly cause studios to reevaluate song and dance numbers going forward,” Bock said.
Movie musicals have struggled at the box office in recent years. During the pandemic, “Dear Evan Hansen” scored less than $20 million during its global theatrical run and “In the Heights,” which had a dual release in theaters and on HBO Max, secured just $43.8 million worldwide.
2019’s “Cats,” which replaced the iconic Broadway costumes with digital fur, bombed at the box office, pulling in just $72.4 million globally on a production budget of around $95 million, not including marketing costs.
In fact, the highest-grossing musical films in the last five years were 2019’s “Frozen II,” which topped $1.4 billion globally and 2017’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” which reached $1.2 billion. The only other film in the musical category to top $500 million globally was the animated feature from Illumination called “Sing,” according to Comscore data.
“The musical genre, at least for now, seems to have fallen out of favor for modern audiences,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes and distributed “Sing,” “Cats” and “Dear Evan Hansen.”