13 December 2021 601 Views

Why did WEST SIDE STORY underperform?

by James Murphy

Because it DIDN’T!

I know. Oxymoronic headline/sub line. Do go with it, though. Consider the following:

1: 

 The fact that ANYONE turned out to see the film is itself, a minor miracle. We are still in a precariously post pandemic world with restrictions lifted, then brought back, then relaxed, then tightened. Do we ever know if it’s ok to go to the movies? No!

2:

The polarity of narrative in film criticism is harming the artform. As soon as Spielberg said ‘no English subtitles’ ? His entire work was trashed as ‘woke’ and it is, alas, THAT kind of tagline that went ‘viral’ rather than clips, interviews or genuinely informed criticism/praise.

3:

WEST SIDE STORY cost a LOT to make and market. Prima facie, therefore, it might always have been deemed a ‘flop’. In so far as it cost too much to turn a quick profit? Which would be FINE. But for..

..4:

The fact that Steven Spielberg stopped making ‘fun’ movies. READY PLAYER ONE does not count. It was a lazy, boring, bloated mess imho, in retrospect.

See, we, as audiences, supported the likes of SCHINDLER’S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in part because Steven rewarded us with a JURASSIC PARK / INDIANA JONES.

It was a pay off, a cinematic balanced diet. We wanted him to win, to keep making big budget blockbusting childlike crowd pleasers so we went along for his history lessons and morality plays. Same way Shakespeare would give his adoring fans /Court a tragedy but then a romance /adventure spectacle (with comedy dog).

By association? Had Spielberg agreed to give us INDIANA JONES 5 or JURASSIC PARK 10? There would have been a kind of implicit association between the products with maybe, even, a cynical trailer for one attached to the other? My theory is of course unprovable and a bit of a stretch. But I am right.

5: Economics and Market Forces: 

It simply takes a LOT more in initial and final takings to now make a ‘hit’. 10-40 million estimated opening would never have been huge in any market /era. But it is not THAT bad, either. WEST SIDE STORY is not a franchise episode, comic book movie, reboot or sequel and features no ‘big’ name lead, save Spielberg himself as director.

So the odds were ALWAYS stacked against it. Despite Steven being among the greatest directors of all time and a genuinely new visual take on beloved source material. Indeed, he’d been wanting to make a musical for YEARS and you see that DNA in TEMPLE OF DOOM and HOOK.

But that’s just not enough to ‘open’ a movie. Let alone in a market that is not quite ‘Christmas’ (see SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME for that slot) or that post Christmas lull /pre Oscar buzz that does bring in the revenue and praise.

In short? WEST SIDE STORY may well win Oscar nominations, become a much appreciated classic and yes, even make its money back once streaming etc is tallied up. But its opening was ALWAYS going to be a tough one.

‘It would be lovely if everyone just made movies like Boyz n the Hood or Driving Miss Daisy. But eventually, people will want Batman 5‘ (Steven Spielberg; 1992/3/paraphrased). 

HAVE A GREAT WEEK!



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