Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed West Side Story sang off-key in its domestic debut with a subdued $10.5 million from 2,800 theaters, but the closing song has yet to be written regarding the musical’s box office fate.
Heading into the weekend, 20th Century and Disney had hoped the big-budget event pic — which hits the big screen 64 years after the iconic Broadway stage and 60 years after the first movie adaptation — would clear at least $13 million domestically. Some tracking services had first-weekend estimates as high as $15 million more.
The good news: West Side Story was able to claim the No. 1 spot on the weekend chart ahead of Disney Animation holdover Encanto.
Overseas, West Side Story debuted to an even more disappointing $4.4 million from 37 material markets for a global start of $14.9 million, well behind the $25 million Disney was predicting.
While there are many major markets yet to open, including South Korea and China, the film so far isn’t resonating in Latin America or Asia, according to box office analysts. That puts pressure on Europe, where the omicron variant is slowing down the box office recovery in certain key markets such as Germany, where West Side Story debuted to a paltry $300,000. Outside of the U.S., the U.K. led with $1.7 million.
Musicals face a huge challenge in the pandemic era, since they rely on older adults, and particularly older females. Yet moviegoers over the age of 35 are the most leery in terms of returning to theaters. According to PostTrak, the largest quadrant of the West Side Story audience was ticket buyers over the age of 55 (26 percent), while more than half of the audience was over the age of 35. The film performed best in big cities.
The hope now is that stellar reviews — the film boasts a 94 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes — and glowing audience reviews, including an A CinemaScore, will help West Side Story build momentum throughout the year-end holidays and Oscar season. If not, Spielberg’s movie, which cost upwards of $90 million to make before marketing, could be facing major losses.
In late December 2017, musical The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman, was written off as a dud when opening to $8.8 million. The movie, however, quickly turned into a sleeper hit before topping out at $174 million domestically and $437 million globally.
In terms of recent musicals, West Side Story opened ahead of Dear Evan Hansen ($7.4 million) but slightly behind In the Heights ($11.5 million).
West Side Story was a huge draw in Imax and premium format screens, which turned in 33 percent of the gross.
Directed by Spielberg from a script by Tony Kushner, West Side Story was originally set to open in 2020. The film stars Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler as star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria. Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist and Rita Moreno — the first Latina to win an Oscar for her role as Anita in the 1961 film — also star in Spielberg’s film, which was a passion project for the filmmaker and is his first musical.
The weekend’s other new nationwide release, the college football drama National Champions, got sacked. The film, directed by Ric Roman Waugh, grossed $120,000 from 1,197 theaters on Friday for an estimated weekend opening of $300,000. STX, which is handling the film, is counting on a robust premium VOD run in January tied to the real-life national championship game.
Among holdovers, Encanto placed No. 2 with $9.4 million from 3,750 theaters for a domestic total of $71.3 million. Overseas, it took in $13.6 million from 47 markets for a foreign tally of $80.5 million and $151.8 million worldwide.
Sony’s family friendly Ghostbusters: Afterlife placed No. 3 in North America with $7.1 million from 7,815 locations to finish Sunday with a domestic cume of $112 million and $169.7 million globally.
MGM and United Artists’ House of Gucci — one of the few adult-skewing movies to prosper in COVID-19 times — earned another $4.1 million from 3,407 theaters to place No. 4 in its third outing for a domestic tally of $41 million. Overseas, it is also impressing, grossing another $10.1 million from 63 markets for a foreign total $52 million and $93 million worldwide.
As it prepares to clear the $400 million mark worldwide, Disney and Marvel’s Eternals rounded out the top five with $3.1 million for a domestic cume of $161.2 million and $395.3 million globally.
At the specialty box office, A24 opened Red Rocket in six locations, reporting a per location average of $16,158.
Among holdovers, MGM and United Artists’ Licorice Pizza continued to post impressive per screen averages in its third weekend, earning $176,349 from four locations in New York and Los Angeles for a theater average of $44,088, which is well above the norm in the pandemic era.
Focus Features’ Belfast, another awards hopeful, expanded into a total of 819 theaters for a cume through Sunday of $6.5 million.
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.