West Side Story Takes Less Than $1 Million In Thursday Previews

Movie musicals, like westerns, once ruled the box office, but that was decades ago and things are very different now. In 2021 alone, "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" and "tick, tick... BOOM!" went straight to streaming, "In the Heights" bombed financially despite an excellent critical response (colorism criticisms aside), and "Dear Evan Hansen" was pretty much DOA, with its scathing reviews discouraging those who weren't already turned off by its depressing premise. There was also "Annette," but I don't think anyone expected a film musical directed by Leos Carax to catch on with mainstream U.S. audiences.

Will Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" remake buck that trend? Early signs point to "no," with Deadline reporting the film only earned $800,000 in Thursday night previews at 2,820 locations. It is now projected to gross $12-17 million in its first weekend of release in the face of limited competition outside of Disney's animated movie musical "Encanto" (which led all other releases on Thursday heading into its third week in theaters).

Like all Covid-era movies, though, those numbers need an asterisk. Box office returns are still down from where they were pre-pandemic across the board, despite having improved dramatically since a vaccine and, more recently, booster shots were made widely available in the U.S. Still, "Dear Evan Hansen" similarly made $800K in Thursday previews on its way to a $7.5 million three-day opening, so it's not an ideal start for Spielberg's first-ever big screen musical.

Something's Coming?

There are a handful of reasons why "West Side Story" failed to light up the box office on Thursday. Even with terrific reviews and Spielberg's name behind it, "West Side Story" is still a remake of a famous 1960s musical and not really the kind of film that younger people (who, broadly speaking, are most likely to catch a movie's Thursday preview screenings) are likely to rush out to see. And while "West Side Story" should appeal more to families than Spielberg's recent older-skewing historical dramas like "Bridge of Spies" and "The Post," we won't know if that's the case until the weeks ahead.

Indeed, it's too early to say if "West Side Story" is in serious trouble. True, the $100 million production has a way to go before it covers its expenses, but family friendly musicals — those not titled "Cats," anyway — have often had long legs at the box office around the winter and New Year holidays. "The Greatest Showman" famously became a crowd-pleasing hit after a slow start in December 2017, while "Into the Woods" (another movie based on a musical co-written by Stephen Sondheim) likewise made a healthy profit after a modest launch in late December 2014.

Once again, though, Covid makes it harder to predict how these things will go for "West Side Story" this weekend, much less by the time 2022 gets underway. Best to revisit this conversation in a week then, when "Spider-Man: No Way Home" storms its way into theaters.