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‘West Side Story,’ Spider-Man and Hollywood’s older moviegoer problem

illustration of a movie-theater audience getting caught in a web
“Spider-Man: No Way Home,” is expected to capture a significant audience opening weekend.
(Photo illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times; Erik Witsoe / Unsplash)

This is the Dec. 14, 2021, edition of the Wide Shot newsletter about the business of entertainment. If this was forwarded to you, please sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Hollywood is in the middle of a two-week period that reveals pretty much every important thing there is to know about the box office in 2021 and the industry’s generation-gap problem.

This past week’s unraveling of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” — an update of the Leonard Bernstein musical that was itself an update of “Romeo and Juliet” — was another example of what simply doesn’t work in today’s market: movies for which the primary audience is well over 35 — and, relatedly, musicals that aren’t “Hamilton.”

“West Side Story,” despite stellar reviews, grossed a paltry $10.5 million Friday through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada. That’s a blow for Walt Disney Co., which inherited the ambitious project through its acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets.

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Older audiences, and especially older women, are the most hesitant demographic to return to multiplexes as COVID-19 continues to make its presence known.

Some of those moviegoers simply aren’t coming back, according to a recent study released by research firm the Quorum. The study profiled the typical filmgoer who is “likely lost” as a theatrical viewer. That audience member is more likely to be female, over 35 and nonwhite.

Of the group of former moviegoers who were the least likely to return to theaters, 63% were female in the survey. Among those in the study age 45 and over, 57% are considered “former filmgoers.”

That’s a disastrous trend for the movie musical genre, which has produced recent bombs such as “In the Heights” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” And if boomers, Gen Xers and elder millennials aren’t returning for Spielberg, good luck to anyone making rom-coms or adult dramas for theatrical release. Even older-skewing male-oriented action movies have struggled, relatively speaking (Hello, James Bond).

On the opposite end of the universe, there’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which is about to obliterate the record for the biggest opening weekend since the pandemic.

illustration of a web attaching to a bag of popcorn
“Spider-Man: No Way Home,” is expected to take the record for the biggest opening weekend since the pandemic.
(Photo illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times; Meg Boulden / Unsplash)

Estimates for the newest Sony Pictures Marvel feature are all over the place, but with pre-sales going strong, an opening weekend gross in the U.S. and Canada of more than $150 million is within reach, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys and advance sales data. Boxoffice Pro’s Shawn Robbins is projecting that the film could even hit $200 million. Sounds nuts, but … maybe? Other distributors are more cautious, predicting an opening of around $125 million.

Consider that the highest three-day opening since the pandemic began is “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” with $90 million. Stray thought: who would have thought that the two movies with the biggest openings of 2021 would be Marvel films not released by Disney? (“Shang-Chi,” which was released by Disney, will have the No. 3 opening of the year after “Spider-Man” debuts.)

There are a couple of takeaways, assuming all goes as expected.

First is that the Marvel audience, which is generally younger and more male than the movie musical crowd, is ready to go back to theaters. What’s more, they’ve been primed by “Black Widow” and “Eternals.” It helps that “Spider-Man: No Way Home” looks like it’s going to be very satisfying for fans, compared with those other two films, for which the reception was mixed.

Sony is in full-court press mode for everything related to Spider-Man. The Tom Rothman-led studio in Culver City in recent weeks has put out Spider-Man NFTs (non-fungible tokens) with AMC Theatres and released marketing materials for the next animated Spider-verse picture and the Spidey spinoff “Morbius.”

Sony’s long-running Spider-Man universe got a boost of adrenaline when Disney agreed to let Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige produce the Sony-owned Peter Parker movies alongside former Sony exec Amy Pascal in exchange for being able to use the popular character in the MCU. The deal was revised in 2019 after a dispute over financial terms.

I’ve been covering this business long enough to remember when Hollywood was worried about losing younger audiences to streaming and video games. Now it seems that Gen Z is watching everything. That includes TikTok influencers and video game gurus on Twitch, but it also includes Tom Holland and Zendaya on the big screen.

It’ll be a cruel irony if it turns out that the industry should’ve been more worried about losing that generation’s parents.

Stuff we wrote

The latest in Hollywood awards strife. The head of the Critics Choice Awards wants to replace the Golden Globes. But as my colleagues reported in a detailed piece, now Joey Berlin is facing scrutiny over how his organization operates. And yes, the Golden Globe nominations happened. But who is paying attention?

Lizard people, deadly orgies and JFK. Oh my! How QAnon hijacked Hollywood to spread conspiracies.

Mad about measurement. TV networks are upset at Nielsen over the way audiences are quantified. Can that company still count in the streaming age?

The latest in our Explaining Hollywood series: How to get a job as a TV director.

Illustration by Juliette Toma for The Times for a story about how to be a director.
(Juliette Toma for The Times)

Number of the week

45 to 120

Starting next year, Peacock’s paying subscribers will get access to most Universal Pictures movies 45 days after they hit theaters.

“Most” is a key word in this case, because certain blockbusters, including the next “Jurassic World,” will wait 120 days before heading to the streaming service’s paid tier.

But still ... This is a potentially important move by Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal to boost its year-and-a-half-old streamer, which is lagging its big competitors in terms of active users.

With this deal, NBCUniversal joins the ranks of other media companies that are following the “45 days, then streaming” model of releasing movies. Warner Bros. movies next year will get 45-day theatrical windows before landing on HBO Max. Paramount+ also has a 45-day wait for new movies.

Studios experimented with simultaneous releases in multiplexes and on streaming during the pandemic. No doubt, it worked for the HBO Maxes and Paramount Pluses of the world. But filmmakers hated it. The new 45-day plans seem to be the closest thing to a compromise in the movie business.

The Pitch: Product placement hell on wheels

The Pitch is the Wide Shot’s semi-regular segment highlighting Hollywood marketing stunts and other promotional mishaps.

Move over Peloton Girl. The reanimated corpse of Mr. Big is ready to ride.

Shares of exercise tech company Peloton plummeted 11% on Friday after HBO Max’s “Sex and the City” revival “And Just Like That...” killed off Carrie Bradshaw’s main love interest (played by Chris Noth) by having him overexert himself on one of Peloton’s bikes.

I don’t know who’s trading Peloton stock based on fictional TV storylines, but I’m not a financial advisor and this is the meme stock era, after all.

As one does, the company responded by hiring Ryan Reynolds’ branding firm to make an ad in which Mr. Big, alive and well, chats up real-life instructor Jessica King. The whole thing came together in 48 hours.

This isn’t the first time Reynolds’ company Maximum Effort crossed paths with Peloton. Reynolds previously featured Peloton’s internet-famous workout hostage Monica Ruiz in a funny ad for his Aviation Gin brand.

Peloton is probably not happy with how its product was used on the HBO Max show, though it’s now making the most of the situation. The New York Times asked whether the bike company can sue HBO over the damage to its brand and how Peloton allowed its product to be featured in such an unflattering way.

But in terms of exposure, it couldn’t be a better outcome for HBO Max.

Netflix cuts ‘Cowboy Bebop’

Daniella Pineda raises her hand in front of John Cho's face in a scene from "Cowboy Bebop."
Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) in “Cowboy Bebop.”
(Geoffrey Short / Netflix)

Not all reboots work. Netflix canceled its costly and heavily publicized live-action reboot of the classic anime “Cowboy Bebop” less than a month after its debut.

Netflix shows live and die by the numbers, and the Hollywood Reporter explains the decision thusly: “According to Netflix’s Top 10 site, the series has racked up almost 74 million viewing hours worldwide since its debut — so it got plenty of sampling out of the gate — but it plummeted 59 percent for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5.”

Reviving a show with a such an avid cult following must have seemed like a good idea at the time. But contrast this outcome with “Squid Game,” which wasn’t based on preexisting intellectual property and was comparatively cheap to produce. The South Korean show became Netflix’s most-watched program. Green light!

You should be reading ...

Deal time: Vox Media and Group Nine Media are in advanced talks to merge, the Wall Street Journal reports. The stock deal would unite two of the biggest digital-media companies; Vox Media would get 75% ownership.

This profile of “Succession” star Jeremy Strong has got a lot of people talking. (The New Yorker)

The sublime spectacle of Yoko Ono disrupting the Beatles. In Peter Jackson’s “The Beatles: Get Back,” Ono is a performance artist at the height of her powers, Amanda Hess writes. (The New York Times)

If you’ve ever wondered how luxe grocery chain Erewhon became the ultimate low-key hangout for celebrities and influencers, this is a must-read. (LAT)

Hollywood production

Shoot days in the three main categories were up 24% last week compared with the same period last year and down 1% compared with 2019. — Thomas Suh Lauder

on location film tracker

Finally...

I just finished listening to the audio version of Michael Pollan’s latest book, “This Is Your Mind On Plants,” which explores humanity’s complicated relationship with naturally occurring psychoactive drugs. The section on caffeine truly scared me.


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