Weekend Box Office Forecast: West Side Story and National Champions

Photo Credits: Disney & 20th Century Studios ("West Side Story"); STXfilms & Khalid Mohtaseb ("National Champions")

December’s second weekend presents something of a “calm before the storm” scenario as Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and STX films’ National Champions hit domestic cinemas one week before the juggernaut-in-waiting, Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Our most recent forecast update on the highly anticipated Sony and Marvel Studios sequel can be found here, but in the mean time, theater owners are looking to the immediate question regarding how much of the adult audience will turn out for Spielberg’s remake this weekend — and, perhaps more importantly, in the weeks ahead.

The Oscar-winning 1961 adaptation turned 60 this year, and it’s proven to be a pop culture favorite handed down through multiple generations. Spielberg’s take is connecting strongly with critics, boasting a 95 percent score from 109 Rotten Tomatoes reviews, and is poised to be an award season player like its cinematic and Broadway predecessors.

Musicals have traditionally been hit or miss at the box office, though — particularly over the last few years. While The Greatest Showman and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again earned robust ticket sales in 2017 and 2018, the box office misfires of 2019’s Cats alongside the pandemic era releases of In the Heights and Dear Evan Hansen this year have shown just how challenging it is to capture the zeitgeist and break out beyond die hard Broadway adaptation fans.

West Side Story has double brand recognition via stage play and film history as well as Spielberg himself, but the lingering element unique to the pandemic is a question about how much of the target older audience will turn out to cinemas.

The film’s theatrical exclusivity and diverse ethnic appeal will be important, as will the traditionally long holiday corridor that benefits movies of this nature and doesn’t necessitate a big opening weekend. Spielberg’s own recent history has shown as much, with films like The Post and Bridge of Spies earning strong multiples in their chase weekends at the box office.

Why isn’t a big opening needed? The December-January window provides for plenty of opportunities to capture audiences. Take Cats, for example, which despite its poor $6.6 million opening weekend two years ago still “legged” out to $27.2 million domestically. With a similar or better multiple (to be expected, given likely stronger word of mouth and award season attention), West Side Story could easily still land north of $50 million or even higher toward the $70 million-plus realm.

This isn’t the middle of summer, when In the Heights — with its hybrid release — mustered a near identical $29.9 million domestic finish despite opening to nearly twice as much ($11.5 million) as Cats.

Nevertheless, Story will be courting women over 35 as its primary patrons this weekend, the most cautious to return to movie theaters so far during the pandemic, with hopes of word of mouth spreading throughout other demographics in what will be a crowded holiday market starting next week and through New Year’s.

Social media and forecast modelling are generating trends well ahead of Cats, stronger than those of Respect before its August debut, and indicators not far behind House of Gucci (although the latter had the benefit of a strong young female draw thanks to Lady Gaga’s presence).

Previews begin Thursday evening at 5pm. A presence at 320 domestic IMAX screens and 740 Premium Large Format locations will also aid box office sales during the first week of play.

Also bowing this weekend in wide release is STXfilms’ National Champions, a business-focused drama set in the world of college football and based on a true story. The film carries a cast of known names and recognizable faces while its release is timed with the heart of real world football season.

Unfortunately, marketing has left much to be desired with ad impressions and social media traction significantly below those of pre-pandemic sports films. Among recent releases, metrics are most comparable to fellow male-riven films Copshop and The Protégé. This is somewhat intentional by the studio, which notes that their long-term play after the theatrical launch is to capture interest via PVOD as the college National Championship game takes place in January. The film only cost $8 million to produce.

National Champions will be released in fewer theaters than we once expected in long range projections, reaching 1,197 theaters domestically this weekend. Interest tracking markers suggest the film will be greatly challenged by next week’s release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Matrix Resurrections, and — most directly — fellow football drama American Underdog come the second half of December.

On the holdover front, some films could see stabilizing holds with minimal direct competition, but the Christmas party and shopping season is peaking now while moviegoers are also looking ahead to the aforementioned bevy of theatrical releases in the coming weeks. As such, we expect another relatively quiet weekend all around. Encanto and Ghostbusters: Afterlife will lose their premium screen footprints to West Side Story, so their drops will be somewhat skewed despite otherwise very positive word of mouth for each.

The good news for Hollywood and exhibition: recent headlines surrounding the Omicron are taking a tentatively positive turn with health officials reporting that it is appearing to be a less severe variant of COVID-19 than Delta as more research is performed.

Wide Release Forecast Ranges

West Side Story
Opening Weekend Range: $11 – 18 million

National Champions
Opening Weekend Range: $750K – $2.5 million

Weekend Forecast

Boxoffice projects a 6 to 16 percent decline for this weekend’s top ten films from last weekend’s $47.6 million top ten aggregate.

Film Distributor 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, December 12 Location Count % Change from Last Wknd
West Side Story (2021) Disney / 20th Century Studios $13,200,000 $13,200,000 2,820 NEW
Encanto Walt Disney Pictures $8,000,000 $69,800,000 3,750 -39%
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Sony Pictures / Columbia $5,900,000 $110,800,000 3,815 -43%
House of Gucci United Artists Releasing $3,800,000 $40,500,000 3,407 -46%
Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers Fathom Events / Angel Studios $3,200,000 $15,300,000 ~1,575 -25%
Eternals Disney / Marvel Studios $2,600,000 $160,700,000 3,030 -36%
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Sony Pictures / Columbia $1,600,000 $15,800,000 2,572 -41%
Clifford the Big Red Dog Paramount Pictures $1,100,000 $47,500,000 2,951 -41%
National Champions STXfilms $1,000,000 $1,000,000 1,197 NEW
King Richard Warner Bros. Pictures $600,000 $14,500,000 1,405 -51%

All forecasts are subject to revision before the first confirmation of Thursday previews or Friday estimates from studios or official sources.

Theater counts are updated as confirmed by studiosThe above table does not necessarily represent the top ten as some studios do not finalize weekend location counts and/or an intent to report box office returns prior to publishing.

Photo Credits: Disney & 20th Century Studios ("West Side Story"); STXfilms & Khalid Mohtaseb ("National Champions")