WEST SIDE STORY stumbled out of the gate in what can only be described as a disappointing opening to the 2021 Christmas movie season. Receiving much fanfare and critical acclaim, Steven Spielberg’s take on the iconic 60’s love story took first place at the weekend box office but struggled to come in at $10.5M, below virtually all industry projections. Two weeks ago, we asked if WEST would turn out to resemble CATS or CHICAGO with its theatrical run. The film no longer has any chance of equaling the stellar performance of 2002’s CHICAGO, which delivered $171M in its theatrical run. On the other hand, WEST SIDE STORY did beat CATS’ 2019 opening of $7M which went on to secure $27 for its total box office take.
However, CATS’ premiered on the same weekend in 2019 as STAR WARS IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, which drew an astronomical $177M in its first three days. Therefore, CATS’ underperformance was overshadowed by STAR WARS’s bonanza. This time, WEST SIDE STORY was set up to carry the weekend. With the total box office coming in at only $44.6M, this weekend equaled a mere 38% of the same weekend in 2019 when JUMANJI 2 opened to $56M all by itself.
The best news for the exhibition came from the holdover titles. The number two picture ENCANTO dropped from last weekend by only 28%, earning $9.4M. GHOSTBUSTERS AFTERLIFE came in third place with $7.1M, a drop of only 31% from last weekend. NATIONAL CHAMPIONS was the only other new release this weekend to play at over 1,000 locations, but grossed a disappointing $251K and finished 13th.
Hopes have turned to next weekend’s opening of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. With a brisk business in advanced ticket sales for screenings which begin next Thursday night, a $100M opening is virtually assured. Tracking is also running at two-year highs, so it is not unreasonable to imagine SPIDEY reaching the heights of STAR WARS IX’s opening on the same weekend two years ago, which earned $177M in its first three days.
There is no way to overstate the importance of this picture to support the recovery of exhibitors. If SPIDER-MAN can hit $300M -$400M over its total run in theatres, it will prove that blockbusters can still break through the total max ceiling of $250M which has been set in over the last two years. Additional help should come from SING 2, THE MATRIX RESURRECTION, and THE KING’S MAN when they open on 12/22. Taken together, these strong titles could deliver a final two weeks of 2021 that is on par with the same weeks in 2019. What a way to end the year!!!