Despite critical acclaim and two years of anticipation, Steven Spielberg’s lavish “West Side Story” revival made little noise at the box office, opening with $10.5 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday — a worrying result for an industry struggling to reclaim its finger-snapping rhythm.
“West Side Story,” a stunning widescreen version and Spielberg’s first musical, was one of the year’s most anticipated films. The $100 million “West Side Story” represents a grand-scale prestige film that Hollywood rarely produces today, with a script by Tony Kushner and Rita Moreno returning to her breakout film 60 years later. It opened to rave reviews and hopes that it would be a major contender at the Academy Awards in March.
However, the market for both adult-oriented movies and musicals was difficult for “West Side Story.” In the second year of the pandemic, audiences have gradually returned to multiplexes, but senior moviegoers, who made up the majority of ticket purchases for Spielberg’s newest, have been among the slowest to return.
Musicals have had a hard time gaining traction in theaters as well. “In the Heights,” starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, opened to $11 million in June, but the Warner Bros. movie was simultaneously streamed on HBO Max. In September, Universal released the critically panned “Dear Evan Hanson,” which grossed $7.4 million in its first weekend.
But then again, this was Spielberg. It was thought that if anyone could revive moviegoing, it would be him. Surely, one of the films’ brilliant craftspeople, a director whose name is synonymous with box office, could ignite a more comprehensive resurgence in theaters. “West Side Story” is another of the most well-known musicals.
The 1961 film, directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, grossed $43.7 million (about $400 million now) and won ten Academy Awards, including best picture.
“West Side Story” is still projected to do well over the lucrative holiday season, when films geared toward a younger audience, such as “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Sing 2,” will likely be the main draws. The spreading omicron strain of COVID-19 is causing concern among Hollywood executives as the industry approaches its most profitable phase.
However, the industry will be concerned with the lukewarm response to “West Side Story.” Long had been hoped that Spielberg’s song-and-dance extravaganza would resurrect some of the films’ luster. Instead, little is now attracting large audiences outside of Marvel films. Many moviegoers have just not returned.
“West Side Story,” starring rookie Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort as Maria and Tony, grossed $4.4 million in 37 foreign regions. The film was prohibited in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait because it features a transsexual character.