“Could be, who knows?” That’s what we’ll forever say (or sing) when asked how much the anxiety over COVID-19’s omicron variant played into the disappointing box office returns for Steven Spielberg’s new adaptation of West Side Story.
The movie got a ton of press (some corporate synergy led to an enormous 20/20 special), and the reviews have been terrific, with a 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an 86 on Metacritic. It also won awards from early critics groups. The National Board of Review named Rachel Zegler best actress of the year, and the New York Film Critics Circle gave Janusz Kaminski the prize for best cinematography. Cinemascore, which polls exiting ticketing buyers, even declared that the musical earned an A based on their metrics.
Unfortunately, there were not that many people who went to theaters to see it.
Variety has reported a $10.5 million weekend for the film which, as someone who treasures this movie, feels like a giant “Krup you!” from an unjust world to Spielberg, Kaminski, screenwriter Tony Kushner, 90-year-old Rita Moreno, and her co-stars Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, and Mike Faist. (Not to mention the spirits of Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and Arthur Laurents.) Variety adds that the studio (Disney, via 20th Century) spent over $100 million on the project.
West Side Story is currently showing in theaters only. For a bit of anecdotal, non-scientific market research, my boomer parents, who used to go to the movies once a week if not more, were set on making West Side Story their big vaxxed, boosted, and masked return to the cinema. Then news of omicron hit (plus word that a vaccinated family friend contracted the virus), and they pivoted back to “well, we’ll see it on streaming.” Specific streaming availability dates have not been announced, but Decider, which has its eye on this sort of thing, suggests it may land on HBO Max and Disney + in mid-to-late January.
While tickets to Spider-Man: No Way Home may have sold out in record time (and they are going for ludicrous numbers on the resale market), West Side Story’s performance suggests that non-superhero, non-horror films may continue to face obstacles in our current dystopian landscape.
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