Editor’s Note: The original story included erroneous characterization of the Puerto Rican characters in West Side Story as immigrants, which has been removed. We regret the error.
Sunday AM Update: After Saturday update, refresh for more analysis, updated weekend chart The opening weekend of Disney/20th Century Studios/Amblin’s West Side Story, the first feature musical from Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg, isn’t anything to shout from the rooftops about. It had a $4.1M Friday, including previews, a $3.8M Saturday, and a weekend that’s at $10.5M. Imax and PLFs repped 33% of the weekend’s ticket sales.
West Side Story is being released with a theatrical window, and its results are under that of another Broadway Hispanic and Latino feature musical released earlier this year. That being Warner Bros. In the Heights, which fizzled with a $11.5M start off a theatrical and HBO Max day-and-date debut.
Now, it’s par for the course for the mainstream box office media to feasibly write that a Spielberg film with a $100M+ production cost (before P&A) is a bomb. But there’s a few breaths we need to take, and know that even after we poke some holes here, the end game for West Side Story is a marathon, not a sprint. This isn’t necessarily a repeat of Cats, which tanked over the 2019 holiday with a $95M production cost, $6.6M opening, a C+ CinemaScore, and disastrous reviews at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s feline uncanny valley.
West Side Story has an “A” CinemaScore out of the gate, an 88% positive and 4 1/2 stars on Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak, and a huge 70% definite recommend, along with 93% certified fresh, on Rotten Tomatoes.
If there’s any ‘WTF, why did they do this?’ assessments to be made about West Side Story and its opening weekend, it’s definitely in Disney’s decision to release the movie this weekend. West Side Story is a movie squarely aimed at older females (it pulled in 57% females, 52% over 35) and that demo is just not coming out right now because of the holiday season, and they’re even slower to come out because of the pandemic. Broken down on PostTrak, 40% of West Side Story‘s were females over 25 (89% grade), 33% were men over 25 (88% grade), with 16% females under 25 (90% grade) and guys under 25 at 10% (83% grade). Those over 45 repped 40% of all ticket buyers.
So, yes, Disney, why didn’t you release the movie much closer to Christmas (when audiences truly do come out) like you did with Mary Poppins Returns, which debuted on a Wednesday, earned $15.5M over 5 days, and went on to $172M? This pre-Christmas weekend is best reserved for fanboy or event films, as the younger demos have proven to show up.
One insider close to the film tells me that the reason why Disney executed this distribution strategy was because they looked at the sleeper trajectories of Spielberg’s adult films and figured their plan off that. A rival studio boss remarks that West Side Story will be fine in the long run, that it’s just having two weeks of paid previews in the run-up to Christmas before it really takes off.
More specific from another studio insider is that Disney chose this date for West Side Story so they could smartly get the PLF and Imax auditoriums, which they’ll lose for Spider-Man: No Way Home next weekend, and get out ahead and build momentum, versus getting buried among the MCU movie, Matrix Resurrections, Sing 2, etc.
With previous Q4 Spielberg releases, Lincoln and The Post, Disney and 20th Century Fox, respectively, made the smart decision to give those movies a limited release for a bit before going wide. A limited buzz launch for West Side Story before a big blast over Christmas might have been a better course for the remake of the Jerome Robbins-Robert Wise film.
Disney did evaluate this option, but the feeling was that the limited marketplace is a bit wonky right now, despite successes such as UAR/MGM’s Licorice Pizza, which cleared $1M in its third weekend.
Disney/Searchlight even switched up the release plans for Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, and instead of having that movie go limited on Dec. 3, they opted for wide next weekend, again because of the iffy adult specialty cinema space.
But there are other studio marketing sources who have their doubts about West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s first stab at a major musical, and that being…why West Side Story? I get that conceit. I’m there. I’m sitting upfront, and I loved it. But there are some who ask, even by pre-pandemic standards, who is this movie for? Who wants to see a remake of a multi-Oscar winning classic film? Do mainstream moviegoers really care that Spielberg is making it? And why aren’t there any stars in the film? Moviegoers want to see their stars on screen, and these last three feature musicals —West Side Story, In the Heights, and Dear Evan Hansen– didn’t have megawatt stars on screen.
Interestingly enough, the opening day of West Side Story isn’t that far off from that of Mary Poppins Returns ($4.7M, granted it was a Wednesday), In the Heights ($5M), and it’s higher than Greatest Showman‘s $2.45M Wednesday. I keep wanting to comp West Side Story to Greatest Showman, but I’m cautioned: That Hugh Jackman original musical, despite being panned and widely loved by audiences, had a soundtrack with radio play.
West Side Story, despite it’s hummable, classic, show-stopping tunes, doesn’t have any new radio-play tunes; and that’s a big marketing tool that can carry a musical. What’s the difference between West Side Story and Sony’s remake of Annie, which opened in mid December 2015 to $15.5M? Annie had its classic soundtrack tricked up by Jay-Z. By the way that movie had a first Friday of $5.3M, and legged out to just under $86M stateside.
Also, many industry executives were telling me before the start of the weekend that West Side Story would face the same dilemma as In the Heights, and that just because it’s a Latino and Hispanic musical doesn’t mean it appeals to the overall demographic.
West Side Story and In the Heights are, respectively, Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic and islanders’ stories, tales which don’t necessarily resonate with Mexican Americans. For West Side Story, Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak shows an audience that was 30% Latino/Hispanic, 52% Caucasian, 6% Black and 12% Asian/other. Latino and Hispanic audiences gave West Side Story an 88% grade on PostTrak to Caucasians’ 90%. In the Heights had a 40% turnout for the Latino and Hispanic demographic. In the Heights also leaned heavy female (63%) and older (49% over 35).
Similar to In the Heights, West Side Story is seeing most of its business in the Broadway capital, New York City, with AMC Lincoln Square and Regal Empire on 42nd Street top performing locations. Box office analytics firm EntTelligence is reporting that NYC has double the occupancy rate of this weekend’s moviegoing national average. Eight hundred thousand have bought tickets to West Side Story so far, and 88% of the movie’s ticketholders are watching this two-hour and 36 minute running movie before 8PM. In the Upper West Side of Manhattan, tickets for West Side Story, per EntTelligence, ranged from over $12 to a high of $28 for those seeking a more immersive premium experience. So far, the average national ticket price offered has been $12.68, while NY movie lovers are paying an average of $16.87.
Others argue that West Side Story is an IP that’s just too old for the 18-34 moviegoing crowd. Cynics about this weekend’s performance tell me that even if Disney tries to dynamite the young crowd out there for this film in the next few weeks, they’re going to ram right up against some big competition as far as musicals go: Illumination/Universal’s Sing 2 on Wednesday, Dec. 22. I’m told Disney has theaters booked for the next three weeks, and they plan to screen up heading into the holidays.
Despite West Side Story being out of tune, it’s not like no one is going to the movies: The projections I’m hearing for Spider-Man: No Way Home next weekend are enormous, some comping it to the domestic starts of recent Star Wars movies ($150M+). iSpot reports that close to $10M in TV ads have been spent on No Way Home so far that started in late November, this compared to Disney shelling out $21M for West Side Story, which began dropping ads in mid-November. Disney ran ads for West Side Story on Hallmark, ABC, NBC, Freeform and Fox, across such shows as NFL games, Good Morning America, The Voice, Today, and college football.
But in sizing up these adult movies, we can’t forget: These films were greenlit during a different time, for a different audience, and these films are coming out much later in a marketplace still rattled by a pandemic.
At the end of the day, a streaming release of West Side Story would have been the more prudent financial choice, right? In a war between cinematic aesthetics and economics, uhh, no: West Side Story was meant for the big screen, and you have to see it to live it; the dance numbers have a visual immersion on par with Avatar.
And on that note, as studios become intoxicated on streaming, it’s clear they’re working off of some business model whereby the value of content and how it’s monetized isn’t necessarily under the old rules of a first-run theatrical window. It’s an algorithm based on catalog size and subscribers.
But before declaring West Side Story a bomb, what’s the loss for Netflix on a $200M gamble like Red Notice? That’s the streamer’s most-watched movie of all-time at 354M hours worldwide. For the time being, we’re in a different era in regards to the slide rule for profit and loss.
STX, which successfully divorced itself from the financial mess which is Eros earlier this week, has the Ric Roman Waugh-directed football movie National Champions, which follows a star quarterback who ignites a players strike hours before the biggest game of the year in order to fight for fair compensation, equality, and respect for the student-athletes.
STX is releasing their movies under a different means than they did pre-pandemic, with PVOD and the sale of streaming ancillary windows bailing them out on each pic. National Champions cost $8M before P&A and is released here in 1,197 theaters in what is a tee-up before its PVOD release.
The pic made $120K on Friday, $107K on Saturday, and is seeing $74K today for a $300K first weekend. Theatrically, it’s nothing to brag about, with most of the pic’s money coming from South, South Central, and the West. But it’s all about getting this movie out so its home release is tied with the National Championship game in January, which is the peak of the NFL and the on-demand holiday season.
PostTrak showed a low 63% grade from moviegoers, and 45% recommend from ticket-buyers leaning 68% guys, with 47% of the movie’s audience over 45 years old. Diversity demos were 49% Caucasian, 15% Latino and Hispanic, 22% Black, & 14% Asian/other.
Viva Entertainment has the Hindi language love story Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui from filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor booked in 220 locations. The movie made $84K on Friday, on its way to a $257,5K opening. Decent runs in Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco, and NYC, but not resonating elsewhere.
A24’s Red Rocket from Sean Baker, about a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, has six runs booked in NYC and LA, with respectable results being an estimated $40K Friday, $96,6K weekend, for a theater average of $25,6K.
Streamers with theatrical titles that are hiding their grosses in Comscore, include Netflix with the Adam McKay-directed big star ensemble Don’t Look Up, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, etc. at 500 locations, including Alamo, Cinemark, and Harkins among the notables, with a $260K Friday, $700K opening weekend. Pic hits Netflix on Dec. 24. Top locations were Netflix’s Paris NY, Alamo Brooklyn, Alamo San Francisco, and the Landmark.
Amazon’s Aaron Sorkin-directed Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz feature Being the Ricardos, is looking like an estimated $150K on Friday and $450K for the weekend at 400 runs. AMC has close to half of that location count, with Cinemark and Harkins also playing the film. The movie debuts on Amazon Prime on Dec. 21. Top theaters were AMC Grove, AMC Lincoln Square, AMC Burbank, AMC Universal Citywalk, and iPic Houston. I’m told by sources that numbers for both Don’t Look Up and Being the Ricardos were soft throughout.
Chart is updated with Sunday AM numbers:
1.) West Side Story (20th/Dis) 2,820 theaters, Fri $4.1M/Saturday $3.8M/ Sunday $2.6M/3-day $10.5M/Wk 1
2.) Encanto (Dis) 3,750 (-230) theaters, Fri $2.2M (-28%)/ Saturday $4.4M/Sunday $2.82M/3-day $9.42M (-28%), Total $71.3M/Wk 3
3.) Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Sony) 3,815 (-244) theaters, Fri $1.7M (-37%)/Sat $3.38M/Sun $2M/3-day $7.1M (-38%) Total: $112M/Wk 4
4.) House of Gucci (UAR/MGM) 3,407 (-70) theaters, /Fri $1.27M (-42%)/Sat $1.69M/Sun $1.099M/3-day $4.06M (-42%)/Total: $41M/Wk 3
5.) Eternals (Dis) 3,030 (-200) theaters, Fri $800K (-27%)/Saturday $1.4M/Sun $900K/ 3-day $3.1M (-26%)/Total $161.2M/Wk 6
6.)Resident Evil: Raccoon City (Sony) 2,572 (-231) theaters, Fri $455K (-40%)/ Sat $735K/Sun $460K/ 3-day $1.65M (-39%) Total $15.85M/Wk 3
7.) Clifford the Big Red Dog (Par) 2,840 (-421) theaters, Fri $265K (-38%)/Sat $630K/Sun $430K/3-day $1.325M (-30%)/Total $47.7M/Wk 5
8.) Christmas With the Chosen… (Fath) 1,600 (-100) theaters, Fri $465K /Sat $425K/Sun $392K/3-day $1.28M (-62%)/Total $13.8M /Wk 2
9.)Dune (WB/Leg) 948 (-269) theaters, Fri $220K/Sat $375K/Sun $262K/3-day $857K (-54%)/ Total $106.2M/Wk 8
10.) Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Sony) 1,003 (-231) theaters, Fri $215K/Sat $375K/Sun $260K/ 3-day: $850K (-15%)/Total $212.05M/Wk 11
Friday AM Update: 20th Century Studios/Amblin/Disney’s West Side Story grossed $800K last night in Thursday night previews that began at 5PM at 2,820 locations. Industry projections for Steven Spielberg’s first feature musical are between $12M-$17M.
West Side Story‘s Thursday night matches that of Universal’s Dear Evan Hansen which also made $800K from 2,700 theaters from showtimes that started at 7PM. Warner Bros. didn’t report previews for its Lin-Manuel Miranda musical In the Heights back in June, but I’m informed that the Jon M. Chu directed Broadway adaptation did an estimated $1.7M. In the Heights’ opening weekend of $11.5M was largely fueled by the NYC marketplace (that movie also debuting day-and-date on HBO Max). While not technically an exact comp, West Side Story‘s Thursday night bests the pre-pandemic 2015 previews of Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies which posted $500K before turning in a $15.3M opening.
True, Dear Evan Hansen did tank at the box office with a $7.4M opening and $15M final domestic. But that was a different song altogether despite also being 2 hours-plus long like West Side Story: Dear Evan Hansen was too depressing for a pandemic audience looking for escapism and crushed by critics with a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. West Side Story is big a dance number for the big screen, with a lot of toe-tapping songs to keep you humming as you leave the theater. It’s already armed with awards season buzz and 93% certified fresh from critics. Aside from opening in a marketplace where adults are still cautious because of Covid, West Side Story‘s biggest hurdle as of this minute are holiday season distractions, i.e. shopping, parties. Typically the only movies showing any signs of life before Christmas are event titles like Jumanji: The Next Level and Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse. One can’t exactly expect big grosses for an adult-demo musical which is a remake of a Hollywood classic before Christmas, even pre-pandemic. I hear Disney plans to spend on West Side Story throughout the holiday and make this a sleeper. Who knew The Greatest Showman, which also opened before Christmas and put up a $13.5M 5-day, deflated awards season buzz and bad reviews at 57% Rotten would get to $174.3M and $435M WW? And the movie wasn’t even based off of any Broadway IP.
I was told by a rival distribution boss yesterday that it’s hard to get screens for the holiday season this year, and again, this is likely Disney’s way of getting out ahead before Spider-Man: No Way Home takes over the world next weekend, I’m now hearing well over $150M for that Sony/Disney/Marvel team-up.
Disney’s Encanto lead all regular titles in release yesterday with an estimated $794K at 3,980 theaters for a two week running total of $61.9M. Fathom Events’ Christmas With the Chosen was popping second with $767K for a week’s take of $7.5M and running total of $12.3M. MGM/UAR’s House of Gucci was third on Thursday with $692K, a second week of $10.1M, and a running total of $36.97M before its third weekend. Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife ends its third week with $13M after a near $600K Thursday for a running total of $104.9M.
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