‘West Side Story’ Is Back On The Silver Screen
Despite a strong Thanksgiving weekend at the box office, last weekend suffered from a lack of new content and had the weakest box office performance since the doldrums of September. The post-Thanksgiving slump will soon come to an end, though, and the year should end on a high note with titles such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Matrix Resurrections, Sing 2, Nightmare Alley, and The King's Man. Next weekend will likely break pandemic-era box office records, but this weekend is looking more modest with only one major new release, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Broadway and film classic West Side Story.

The 20th Century/Disney film is finally hitting screens in 2,800 locations after a year’s delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The film opens in roughly 40% of its markets this weekend, including France, Germany, and Brazil. The release coincides with the 60th anniversary of the previous film version, which was the top grossing film of 1961 and went on to win 10 Oscars including Best Picture. The revival of the iconic musical, which features the classic tunes by Leonard Bernstein and the late Stephen Sondheim, stars Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler (who has been cast in Disney’s upcoming live-action Snow White film as the titular princess) as the star-crossed lovers whose romance transcends the rivalry of the ethnic gangs the Sharks and the Jets. The supporting cast includes Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, and Rita Moreno (who famously played the role Zegler plays in this version, Anita, in the 1961 West Side Story). Tony Kushner wrote the script, following up his collaborations with Spielberg on Munich and Lincoln (the collaboration continues on Spielberg’s upcoming film The Fabelmans, slated for December 2022).

West Side Story is opening with plenty of good buzz. It was just picked as one of the ten best films of the year by both NBR and AFI, and it is among the year’s best reviewed films (96% on Rotten Tomatoes) with most critics saying it lives up to or even surpasses the original. Our best pandemic-era comp for the opening weekend is House of Gucci, which saw a similar amount of pre-release traffic on IMDb. Gucci grossed $22 million over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend and $14.4 million for the three-day. For West Side Story, though, the subsequent weekends will be the real box-office story for the film.

It has been a poor year for musicals at the box office, with the Broadway adaptations Dear Evan Hansen and In the Heights both disappointing. However, West Side Story could buck that trend. The holiday season has seen the musicals thrive in recent years with films such asLa La Land and The Greatest Showman being driven to success by strong word of mouth. During the pandemic we have not seen the large multipliers that drove those films as well as recent adult-led Spielberg films War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and The Post. While we can’t expect a complete turnaround of trends, the combination of the upcoming holidays and likely award nominations for West Side Story in the coming months may give it longer legs than we have come to expect in the pandemic, though the 45 day release window may cut its run short.

Also opening wide this weekend is National Champions, debuting on 1100 screens. The sports drama from STX stars Stephan James as a star college football player who organizes a strike to demand payment for the players. J. K. Simmons co-stars as the head coach and the supporting cast includes Alexander Ludwig, Lil Rel Howery, Tim Blake Nelson, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan, David Koechner, Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, and Uzo Aduba. Ric Roman Waugh (Angel Has Fallen, Greenland) directs. Only a limited number of reviews are in thus far, but they are leaning positive with 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.

West Side Story isn’t the only new release pushing nostalgia buttons. Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos takes us back to the time when I Love Lucy was in production, with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz being played by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem respectively. J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, and Clark Gregg co-star. The reviews are positive (68% on Rotten Tomatoes) but aren’t up to the high standard typically set by Aaron Sorkin’s work. The Amazon film is in limited release before its Prime debut on December 21.

Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, which played in competition at Cannes, is getting a theatrical exclusive limited release from A24. The dramedy tells the story of an adult film actor (played by Simon Rex) who receives a chilly welcome when he goes back to his home town in Texas. Baker’s last film The Florida Project, which was also distributed by A24, grossed $5.9 million. That’s a high number for today’s still recovering specialty box office, but Red Rocket has strong reviews (87% on Rotten Tomatoes), awards buzz (the film made NBR’s top ten), and a unique concept that could make it stand out.

Netflix is also releasing Don’t Look Up in limited two weeks ahead of its premiere on the streamer. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star in Adam McKay’s climate change satire about two astronomers trying to warn people of an impending comet that will destroy earth. The large supporting cast includes Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep. Reviews are mixed (56% on Rotten Tomatoes).