Movie Reviews

It's Criminal How Much Steven Spielberg's $76 Million Box Office Bomb Was Overlooked


  • Spielberg’s West Side Story remake grossed $76 million on a $100 million budget, making it one of his biggest box office bombs.
  • The movie’s underperformance could be due to the musical genre’s decline in popularity, the pandemic’s impact on theater attendance, and the film’s high production budget.
  • Despite the box office failure, Spielberg’s West Side Story is considered one of his best movies of the 21st century and might even surpass the original in terms of quality.

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake bombed at the box office when it arrived in theaters in 2021 – but it arguably surpassed the 1961 original, so it deserved so much more. The movie was a passion project for Spielberg, who’d wanted to direct a musical ever since he saw Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ original West Side Story at a young age. This gangland retelling of Romeo and Juliet revolves around star-crossed lovers from two sides of a gang war between the Jets and the Sharks: Tony, a reformed former Jet, and Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader.

After being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Spielberg’s reimagining of West Side Story finally hit theaters on December 10, 2021. Although it was universally acclaimed by critics and earned a boatload of Oscar nods (including a Best Picture nomination and a Best Supporting Actress win for Ariana DeBose), West Side Story bombed at the box office. It didn’t even make back its production budget, let alone its marketing budget. But it deserved so much more, because it’s one of Spielberg’s best recent movies and even, arguably, an improvement over the O.G. West Side Story.

West Side Story Is One Of Steven Spielberg’s Biggest Box Office Bombs

It grossed just $76 million on a $100 million budget

When it was released in 2021, Spielberg’s West Side Story grossed just $76 million at the worldwide box office against its budget of $100 million. $76 million isn’t nothing, and other Spielberg movies have made a lot less, but in the case of West Side Story, there’s a huge disparity between the cost and the box office returns. If West Side Story had been made for a more modest budget of $30-40 million, then $76 million wouldn’t seem so bad and might even be considered a success. But West Side Story was hurt by its mega-sized $100 million budget.

The usual rule of thumb would suggest that, on a blockbuster budget of $100 million, West Side Story would need to gross around $200 million to break even. That would mean that, with a measly $76 million gross, it’s already $124 million in the red. But according to Variety, it’s even worse than that. Likely due to the costs of delaying the release by a year, Variety reported that West Side Story had a break-even point of $300 million. So, it’s actually $224 million in the red, making it one of Spielberg’s biggest bombs.

What Went Wrong With West Side Story’s Box Office?

There were a few reasons for West Side Story’s underperformance

Rachel Zegler as Maria at the dance in West Side Story

There were a few reasons for the box office failure of Spielberg’s West Side Story. The source material might have been a little too old-fashioned to appeal to younger audiences. The musical genre in general has struggled at the box office since its heyday in the 1960s (when the original West Side Story enjoyed plenty of success). In the Heights and Dear Evan Hansen both bombed in the same year. It’s gotten to the point where movies like Wonka and Mean Girls have hidden the fact they’re musicals in their marketing – but West Side Story didn’t have that option.

A big part of it was just bad timing. If it had gotten out before the pandemic, it might’ve been a hit. The release date was delayed by a year to accommodate the pandemic, but the effects of COVID were still being felt at the box office when theaters reopened in 2021. Most audiences had gotten used to watching movies at home, and even fervent filmgoers were still reluctant to return to the enclosed space of a theater. Snake Eyes, The Last Duel, and The Suicide Squad all featured big movie stars and all bombed at the box office.

West Side Story
grossed $44.1 million on a budget of $6.75 million.

West Side Story Is One Of Spielberg’s Best Movies This Century

Spielberg’s West Side Story might even outshine the original

Spielberg’s West Side Story remake deserved to do so much better, because it’s easily one of his best movies of the 21st century. The director’s output on this side of 2000 has been a little hit-and-miss. The Terminal was too saccharin to make a real emotional connection, Ready Player One is a superficial hodgepodge of pop culture references, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s alien storyline was a bitter disappointment. West Side Story is easily one of Spielberg’s finest 21st-century efforts, along with Catch Me If You Can, Bridge of Spies, and The Fabelmans.

Not only is Spielberg’s West Side Story remake a great movie; it might even be better than the original. The original movie’s musical numbers are shot with mostly stationary cameras, but Spielberg’s camera swoops through each number and joins the dancers on the dancefloor. Plus, the performances are stronger in Spielberg’s West Side Story, the themes are explored in more depth, and the visuals are beautifully expressionistic. West Side Story didn’t deserve to be a flop; it should’ve been a hit.

Source: Variety

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