Steven Spielberg's West Side Story Set To Bomb With $10.5 Million Opening Weekend

2022 continues to be a rough year for lavish Manhattan-set musicals, as Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" has grossed just $10.5 million in its opening weekend — a disastrous result when measured against the movie's $100 million production budget.

The first warning sign was the Thursday preview ticket sales for "West Side Story," which amounted to just $800,000. Friday brought the total to a still-meager $4.1 million. Now, per The Hollywood Reporter, "West Side Story" will round out the weekend with a $10.5 million weekend. It did at least manage to claim the top spot, though its biggest competition was Disney's "Encanto," currently in its third weekend of release.

Great Reviews, Bad Marketing

Genre-wise, "West Side Story" is comparable to this year's earlier movie musical "In the Heights," also set on Manhattan's Upper West Side and featuring a predominantly Hispanic cast. "In the Heights" performed slightly better than "West Side Story" in its opening weekend, but was nonetheless a box office bomb. It's worth noting that "In the Heights" was released considerably earlier in the pandemic, when people were still only hesitantly starting to return to theaters, which likely had a suppressing effect upon its box office.

A more apt comparison, however, is Ridley Scott's "The Last Duel" (also distributed by 20th Century Studios). Like "West Side Story," this was a prestige drama from a revered veteran director that was not part of an action or superhero franchise (two genres that have managed to thrive in spite of the ongoing pandemic). Both of these movies suffered from two core problems. The first was that their target audience skewed older, and while people are now returning to theaters in almost pre-pandemic numbers, that rush back to the big screen has been led by younger people who are less likely to experience severe cases of COVID-19. 

The second problem was the marketing. As La Donna Pietra wrote for /Film, critiquing the marketing of Scott's movie:

Rather than presenting the film as a thoughtful, innovative, and fine-grained analysis of the delusions men tell about themselves and the effects they have on the women they supposedly love, the trailers for the movie instead made it look like an overstuffed "Gladiator" redux smarmily focused on whether or not a man had committed rape.

"West Side Story," meanwhile, was seemingly marketed on the assumption that everyone in today's landscape of moviegoers already knows and loves "West Side Story," a musical that was last adapted to the screen in 1961 by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Wise and Robbins' "West Side Story" is one of the most beloved and critically-acclaimed movie musicals of all time, so it's not as though fans have been waiting for a good or even a great adaptation. Meanwhile, non-fans weren't given much reason to get excited for "West Side Story" besides Spielberg's name on the posters, and musicals are already a bit of a tough sell to general audiences.

Poor box office showings often lead to a short life in theaters, so if you feel safe doing so, get out and see "West Side Story" on the big screen while you still have the chance.