Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ Hits A Flat Note With Lackluster $10.5 Million Debut
Steven Spielberg’s razzle-dazzle reinterpretation of the classic Broadway musical-turned-Best Picture winner, West Side Story, hit a flat note with ticket-buyers, pulling in a lackluster $10.5 million at North American box office over its opening weekend despite being one of the best-reviewed films of the year. As older moviegoers continue to steer clear of multiplexes during what is shaping up to be another long COVID winter, the 20th Century Studios title’s dismal debut is an ominous sign for titles aimed at grown-ups heading into Oscar season. Meanwhile, the frame’s only other rookie wide release, STX Entertainment’s National Champions, was dead on arrival, entering the charts well below the Top 10.

The beloved tale of about young love blossoming amidst the strife between two rival New York street gangs, the white Sharks and the Puerto Rican Jets, West Side Story originated as a hit Broadway musical in 1957. In 1961, it was adapted by Hollywood into in a song-and-dance Oscar winner. But the story was a creature of its era and its depictions of ethnicity became outdated. Spielberg’s new update was intended to keep what worked in the story and modernize its more problematic elements. Considering its source, it instantly became one of the most anticipated films of 2021. But while critics swooned at the film, giving it a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, that simpy wasn’t enough to lure its older target demo back to theaters.

In its debut frame, the PG-13 rated film starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler pulled in just $10.5 million domestically in 2,820 locations—which translates to an anemic $3,723 per-screen average. It fared even worse overseas, where it scraped up just $4.4 million in 37 foreign markets, bringing its first-week global total to $14.9 million. No matter how you look at it, these numbers are dispiriting news for a movie from a hand-over-fist box-office Midas such as Spielberg (and one with a budget in the neighborhood of $100 million). However, there is still hope if you squint hard enough. For example, the film received a straight-A grade from CinemaScore. And while it came up short compared to another recent musical, In the Heights (which bowed to $11.5 million despite also airing on HBO Max), there is a history of movie musicals opening softly only to later find their groove: 2002’s Chicago bowed to weaker numbers than the new West Side Story and wound up making $170.7 million domestically (and winning Best Picture), and more recently there was 2017’s The Greatest Showman, which opened to $8.8 million and eventually racked up $174.3 million domestically. But let’s not sugarcoat it, Spielberg’s movie has an uphill road ahead of it. And it certainly doesn’t help that a new superhero tentpole is hitting theaters next weekend—Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Elsewhere, the rest of the top five remained largely unchanged from last weekend. After two consecutive weekends at No. 1, Disney’s Encanto got knocked down a peg to second place, where it pulled in $9.4 million. The PG-rated animated movie fell -28.3% from the previous frame. Unspooling in 3,750 theaters, Encanto scored a $2,513 per-screen average. After three weeks, the film about a family living in a magical mountain village in Colombia featuring the voice of Stephanie Beatriz and songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda has a domestic total of $71.3 million. Overseas, the film has tacked on $80.5 million, bringing its cumulative worldwide total to $151.8 million. Encanto will arrive on Disney Plus after its 30-day theatrical-exclusive window closes before the end of the month.

Finishing in third place was Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife with $7.1 million. The fourth and latest entry in the specter-hunting franchise starring Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Carrie Coon, slipped -31.5% from the prior weekend and earned a $1,861 per-screen average in 3,815 locations. After four weeks, the PG-13-rated title has scared up $112 million domestically and another $52.7 million from abroad. Its global box-office cume now stands at $164.7 million.

In fourth place was United Artists’ House of Gucci, which took in just under $4.1 million in its third session. The R-rated dysfunctional family drama tracing the downfall of the renowned Italian fashion dynasty and starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, and Jeremy Irons, fell -42% from the previous weekend. Gucci snagged a $1,191 per-screen average in 3,407 theaters. To date, the Ridley Scott-directed film has pulled in $41 million domestically and a more robust $52 million from overseas, putting its worldwide cume at $93 million.

Rounding out the top five was Disney’s Eternals with $3.1 million. The PG-13-rated Marvel tentpole, which stars Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, and Richard Madden, fell -24.3% from last weekend, playing in 3,030 theaters and scoring a $1,023 per-screen average. After six weeks, Eternals has piled up $161.2 million in North America and another $234.1 million from foreign markets, bringing its current worldwide gross to $395.3 million.

There were two other newcomers in theaters this weekend…with two very different results. STX Entertainment’s football-labor drama National Champions, starring J.K. Simmons, was sacked on arrival. The R-rated indie opened in thirteenth place, earning just $300,000 in 1,197 theaters—a woeful $250 per-screen average. Meanwhile, A24’s downbeat-but-buzzy specialty title about an aimless and manipulative former porn star, Red Rocket, starring Simon Rex, did well in art houses. The-rated festival favorite bowed in eighteenth place, earning $96,593 in just 6 theaters—an impressive $16,098 per-screen average.