Before the year’s biggest tentpole Spider-Man: No Way Home hits the big screen, Disney launched a film of a very different flavor this weekend. Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story aimed to fill the calm before the storm – leveraging the director’s pedigree, positive reviews, a beloved narrative, and growing Oscar buzz to get moviegoers out of their homes. This is the second time the Broadway stage musical has been re-imagined for cinema, but that legacy only translated to a $10.5M debut this weekend. Exclusive to theaters, West Side Story played to the same tune of another recent musical, In the Heights (which also played on HBO Max).
Time will tell if West Side Story will find its groove as the awards season develops. There is precedent of movie musicals opening low and still making a decent box-office – most recently 2017’s The Greatest Showman. That film opened to just $8.8M, but soared over $100M by day 28 and went on to total more than $174M. West Side Story benefits from a long holiday window and strong word-of-mouth that can help drive a good run. The positive reviews can help convince the older adult audience – who don’t typically show up to these films opening weekend – to make the trip to the theater. That being said, younger audiences – unfamiliar with the original West Side Story – may pick the upcoming Sing 2 over the Broadway film, starting Dec 22.
In the meantime, families have been keeping Disney’s Encanto top-of-mind: the animated title eased just -28% this weekend, adding another $9.4M to its now $71.3M box-office total. Also a musical, featuring the voice of Stephanie Beatriz and songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda – the animated feature will be going to Disney Plus when its 30-day exclusivity window closes near the end of this month.
With the two musicals in the lead this weekend, the rest of the top five is what you’d expect: Ghostbusters: Afterlife placed in third with $7.1M, House of Gucciin fourth with $4.0M, and Eternals in fifth with $3.1M. Kept afloat by these top titles, the overall weekend posted $45.6M.
Opening outside the top ten was STX’s new release National Champions, which unsurprisingly opened to a quiet $300K (from 1,197 locations). The film was not officially put on the calendar until late this summer, and only moved from a limited release to a wide release a few weeks ago. The marketing campaign for the college-football drama was not exactly robust – reflective of the studio’s all-in bet on PVOD sales when the National Championship college football game takes place in January.
It’s almost here! In just a few days, Spider-Man: No Way Home promises to be the biggest debut we’ve had since the pandemic, with a strong possibility of entering the top five December openings of all-time. The next entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to theaters on Friday 12/17, but has already made headlines for having the biggest presales since Avengers: Endgame. Having the first “pandemic-film” to open over $100M is guaranteed – having that opening weekend figure jump past $200M+ is not out of the question.