Box Office: West Side Story, Nightmare Alley Struggle

Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY.

For the second week in a row, an Oscar-winning filmmaker has seen their new film–a remake–struggle at the box office.

Names like Steven Spielberg or Guillermo del Toro should command your attention. Instead, their films are not making the money. It’s possible that the pandemic is affecting their box office revenue. However, this can’t entirely be the case because Spider-Man: No Way Home just ate up the box office with one of the biggest opening weekends of all-time at just over $253 million. That being said, I do think the pandemic is changing how audiences choose to watch movies. The mid-budget adult drama was struggling before the pandemic. There’s no reason to believe that these films wouldn’t struggle even as we’re trying to come out of the pandemic.

Both West Side Story and Nightmare Alley are remakes. In a world that is largely going after IP-driven content, both films should do well. However, one is based on a 1950s musical and the other is based on a 1940s novel. Perhaps they were doomed from the start. We’ve known for a few years that critical acclaim doesn’t always translate to box office success. Even this weekend, theaters have cancelled screenings of del Toro’s new film in order to make room for the web-slinger. Blockbusters taking up screens is not a new thing. A few years back, the 3D versions were getting a bigger push than the regular Digital 2D screenings. Because of this, I never saw The Hobbit on the big screen because the 2D screenings just never worked with my schedule!

There are some things that must be factored in whether people are reluctant to realize it or not: theaters cost an arm and a leg for entry these days. For parents to go out and leave their children at home, it’s an extra surcharge for paying the babysitter. It should come as no surprise that people are going after the blockbuster tentpoles. If a film has the right rating, they can also bring their children with them. Otherwise, they’ll continue to wait for films to hit a streaming service. The sooner people accept that the industry is changing, the better.

Could Spider-Man: No Way Home be the exception to this year’s box office? It is only one of three films to bring in over $200 million in 2021. Of the top ten films this year, five are Marvel properties although two are shared with Sony. Altogether, six of the ten films are sequels. Technically, seven since Black Widow takes place during Captain America: Civil War. The three non-sequels are Shang-Chi, Eternals., and the Ryan Reynolds-starring Free Guy. For what it’s worth, Black Widow probably would have grossed over $200 million had it not been offered simultaneously on Disney+. Jungle Cruise, Dune, and Godzilla vs. Kong are just sitting outside the top ten. They are the only other films to bring in $100 million or more. Encanto is close but unlikely to hit the milestone. We’ll see what happens before the new year.

We are not going back to the before times. Not at all! Even a filmmaker of Christopher Nolan’s caliber needs to accept this. While it is true that some films might go against the grain, others will not. We’ll have to see what Oppenheimer does upon theatrical release. The reality is that the exclusive 100-day theatrical window isn’t really possible anymore. Big blockbusters will continue to make the money but they’ll have to do so with a 45-day window. The 90-day window is over as we know it.

The pandemic is changing how we view movies. Trust me. If I cannot watch a film in a safe manner, I will not watch it. I am not alone in this situation because we’re still living during a pandemic. Anything that is not a blockbuster tentpole will continue to suffer at the box office. This is the new reality.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.