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'West Side Story' Bombs at the Box Office; What That Means for Theaters

The Steven Spielberg film 'West Side Story' has taken in under $40 million globally.

When a movie lacks a superhero or, at the very least, a well-known action franchise, it has very little chance of succeeding in the current box office climate.

"Spider-Man: No Way Home" broke $1 billion at the box office because it drew in younger moviegoers who likely worry less about Covid than older lapsed theatergoers.

That's a pandemic problem, but it's also a trend that has been happening for years. With the rise of streaming and people having bigger, better televisions sets in their living rooms, paying $20 to $30 for two movie tickets, buying expensive snacks, and maybe even paying for parking creates a pretty high bar for seeing a film in a theater.

Shorter theatrical windows also mean that skipping a film when it plays at your local AMC (AMC) - Get AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Class A Report or Cinemark (CNK) - Get Cinemark Holdings, Inc. Report isn't as big a deal as it once was. 

Some movies stay exclusively in theaters for a few weeks -- instead of the many months it used to be -- before they play on streaming services people already pay for.

So, instead of consumers waiting months to watch Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" at home, the film is likely to appear on Walt Disney's (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report Disney+ and HBO Max  (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report 45 days (if not sooner) from when it hit theaters. That's not very long to wait for a film that has a plot the audience already knows.

How Big a Bomb Was "West Side Story?"

The adaptation of the 1957 musical (and 1961 film) opened with $12 million domestically on its way to a $24 million U.S. total and a $36 million global take, according to data from Box Office Mojo

That's a massive flop for a film with a nearly A-list cast, brand-name director, and a $100 million budget before marketing expenses.

″[‘West Side Story’] was largely a victim of timing and an inability to attract younger moviegoers,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com, told CNBC

“Women over 35 are the drivers of most musicals. Not only has that audience been the most cautious to return to public social spaces like the movie theater during the pandemic, but renewed concern created by omicron headlines seems to have played a major role in doubling down on that hesitance for the time being.”

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It's also important to note that a remake does not have the same "see it now" factor as a new superhero film or a sequel to a popular franchise. There's no threat of spoilers when you have a film with a well-established plot and a known ending.

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Some Movies May Make Sense for Streaming

Early in the pandemic, when most movie theaters were closed, Disney took its filmed version of the musical "Hamilton" and released it at no extra charge on Disney+. That completely gave up any box-office returns in exchange for driving people to subscribe to its streaming service.

"We've already demonstrated an aggressive approach to our content creation pipeline, accelerating the Disney+ debuts of 'Frozen 2,' Pixar's 'Onward,' and 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,'" Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek explained during the company's Q3 earnings call

"Fast-tracking the debut of Broadway's 'Hamilton' to Disney+ [has] been a huge success. By combining the best elements of live theater, film, and streaming, we have given millions of viewers a whole new way to experience this iconic cultural phenomenon."

Moviegoers do remain concerned about going to theaters. Only 51% of adults say they feel comfortable doing so, according to data from Morning Consult. There hasn't been that much movement from people who haven't been going to theaters.

"One in 5 adults said they would feel OK heading back to the movies within the next month, a figure that has not shifted since Aug. 3," Morning Consult reported.

"The share of consumers that said they are already going to the movies increased to 18%, up 3 points from the previous week." 

"West Side Story" has a 93% positive rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 94% positive audience score. 

Those numbers show that people like the movie but there's either a limited audience for the film or most of its audience is willing to simply wait for it to come to a streaming service so they can watch it at home.