After a year’s delay due to the pandemic, Steven Spielberg’s remake of the Broadway classic and 10x Oscar-winning 1961 movie, West Side Story, finally tunes up this weekend as the sole wide major studio theatrical release in 2,800 U.S./Canada theaters and offshore debuts in France, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and UK. All in, the global outlook is $22M-$31M, with $12M-$17M coming from domestic and $10M-$14M from abroad. The 20th Century Studios-Amblin production is being released by Disney.
While MGM/UAR’s House of Gucci provided a ray of hope for older films, particularly long-running ones eyeing awards, during the pandemic with $14.4M over three days and $22M over five, that boost had plenty to do with the availability of moviegoers over the Thanksgiving stretch. Any movie, even in pre-pandemic, opening in this pre-Christmas corridor is typically looking at the long game through the holidays and MLK weekend. There’s typically too many distractions given the holidays, but one of West Side Story‘s hurdles, which hopefully it can overcome in the long run, is the cautious adult audience, especially at a time when the Omicron variant is making news. On the plus side, Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that the new strain is less severe than Delta.
Comparisons to In the Heights are certainly being made in regards to West Side Story‘s draw, both musicals featuring a Puerto Rican NYC denizen storyline. However, In the Heights, which debuted to $11.5M under $20M expectations, and ended its run just under $30M stateside was no doubt crimped by its 31-day availability on HBO Max at the same time as its run in theaters. Also that Tony-winning musical did not carry the brand popularity like Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. West Side Story carries the Spielberg brand name, not to mention it’s based off a legacy piece of IP that’s been re-framed for a new generation.
Spielberg’s non-event, award contending titles are typically sleepers at the box office, making the majority of their domestic box office after opening weekend, i.e. War Horse (91%), Lincoln (88% after wide break), Bridge of Spies (79%) and The Post (76%). Hence, look for the year-end holidays to give West Side Story its lift in the long run.
West Side Story is currently tracking with older audiences, particularly those who flock to musicals. Research also showed that Latina females saw the strongest gains in the latest round of tracking and led the “definite interest” measures.
Also working in West Side Story‘s favor is that critics love it at 95% certified fresh, and the movie has already planted a flag during awards season being named one of the top ten movies by NBR with Rachel Zegler (who plays Maria) lauded Best Actress by the org. The New York Film Critics Circle named Spielberg’s longtime DP Janusz Kaminski as Best Cinematographer.
The remake of the Jerome Robbins-Robert Wise directed film will start previews on Thursday at 5PM and will have some extra spice from 320 Imax screens and 740 premium large format screens.
West Side Story‘s foreign footprint reps 46% of the international marketplace. France opens today, and that country along with the UK are expected to be the biggest plays this session.
Spielberg as a brand unto himself is clearly a draw abroad, and the original musical itself is a well-known property offshore. It’s difficult to comp Covid-era titles, but in terms of overseas multipliers think Into The Woods, A Star Is Born and Mary Poppins Returns.
In terms of more recent Hollywood adult releases overseas, House Of Gucci is worth a look. We’ve seen that the over-50s are turning up when the right movie is on offer. Covid concerns remain, and some markets are tightening restrictions, so, as ever during the pandemic era, that remains a factor.
In the UK and France this week, coverage of West Side Story is reaching beyond film-focused outlets. For example, one of the main classical radio stations in France today devoted airtime to a song from the original film and also to the new version of “Tonight” as sung by Zegler and Ansel Elgort. The latter could capitalize on his The Fault In Our Stars popularity in Brazil to entice a younger crowd.
There are many markets to come, including the musical-loving Korea and Japan. As we recently reported, the film ran up against censors in several Middle East markets which would have been due to release this weekend, but the region overall wouldn’t have been expected to contribute much as it leans more heavily to animation and action.