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"The Greatest Showman" is Another Musical Hit. Is Hollywood Watching?

by Nathaniel R

The Greatest Showman is the second consecutive original movie musical to become a big hit. A sign of more to come?

The Greatest Showman will be crossing the $100 million mark today at the box office. It's become a hit with  little fanfare  if you think about it.  Oh sure it had the mainstream attention you get on opening weekend when you have big stars in your movie but beyond that did the media really take notice? It wasn't in most of the awards conversations that turn the volume way up on others movie this time of year. The only awards traction it received was for Best Original Song which is hardly a bankable business -- except, perhaps, in the case of soundtrack sales.) 

But long story short: it's a hit and showing legs in US theaters in that its percentage drop each week is way below the industry norms. The same was true of Moulin Rouge! which arguably kick-started the reemergence of the then-dead genre at the beginning of the century. The musical genre has, it should be evident to everyone, a loyal fanbase. But is Hollywood paying attention...?

Both La La Land and The Greatest Showman,  released a year apart, were pretty rare things: original written-for-the-screen movie musicals with non bankable directors.  They were big gambles and they both totally paid off. 

Why aren't they investing more resources and hiring better directors and taking chances on new creative teams? The time is now!

Sure there are occassional flops in this genre. What's more the often harsh reviews and easy dismissals from some corners suggest that the musical is not a "respectable" genre (which is so stupid that we can't even). But the fact is that musicals have performed pretty consistently with moviegoers since coming back into fashion. If they're promoted and aren't too niche they can expect to earn around $50-$100 million at the US box office. Those numbers can double or triple or quadruple IF the film crosses over with non-musical fanatics. If you keep your budget under, say, $40 million it's a good bet that you'll at least break even. 

Here are the English language musicals (included hybrids that are more "musical performance" films than traditional musicals) that have opened chronologically in the 21st century that weren't super indie or buried by the studio or niche enough to gross less than $1 million though there've been a handful of those like: Colma The Musical, Guy and Madeleine on a Park Bench, Love's Labour Lost, The Singing Detective, The Last Five Years. That sort of thing.

MOVIE MUSICALS (2000-2017)
And how well they've performed globally.
Best Picture Nominees are in Red

Dancer in the Dark Lars Von Trier ($40) - 1 Oscar nomination

Moulin Rouge! Baz Lurhmann ($179) - 8 Oscar nominations and 2 wins
Hedwig and the Angry Inch John Cameron Mitchell ($3)

Chicago Rob Marshall ($306) - 13 Oscar nominations and 6 wins


Phantom of the Opera Joel Schumacher ($154) - 3 Oscar nominations

Rent Chris Columbus ($31)
Walk the Line James Mangold ($186) - 5 Oscar nominations and 1 win
The Producers Susan Stroman ($36)

Idlewild Bryan Barber ($12)
Dreamgirls Bill Condon ($154) - 8 Oscar nominations and 2 wins

Once John Carney ($20) - 1 Oscar win
Hairspray Adam Shankman ($202)
Across the Universe Julie Taymor ($29) - 1 Oscar nomination
Enchanted Kevin Lima ($340) - 3 Oscar nominations
Sweeney Todd Tim Burton ($152) - 3 Oscar nominations and 1 win

Mamma Mia! Phyllida Lloyd ($609)
High School Musical 3 Kenny Ortega ($252)

The Princess and the Frog Ron Clements & John Musker ($267)
Nine Rob Marshall ($53) - 4 Oscar nominations

Burlesque Steven Antin ($89)
Tangled Nathan Greno & Byron Howard ($591) - 1 Oscar nomination

The Muppets James Bobin ($165) - 1 Oscar win

Rock of Ages Adam Shankman ($59)
Joyful Noise Todd Graff ($31)
Pitch Perfect Jason Moore ($115)
Les Miserables Tom Hooper ($441) - 8 Oscar nominations and 3 wins

Black Nativity Kasi Lemmons ($7)
Frozen Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee ($1.2 billion) - 2 Oscar wins

Muppets Most Wanted James Bobin ($80)
Begin Again John Carney ($63) - 1 Oscar nomination
Jersey Boys Clint Eastwood ($67)
Annie Will Gluck ($133)
Into the Woods Rob Marshall ($213) - 3 Oscar nominations

Pitch Perfect 2 Elizabeth Banks ($287)

Sing Street John Carney ($13)
Moana Ron Clements & John Musker ($643) - 2 Oscar nominations
La La Land Damien Chazelle ($446) -14 Oscar nominations and 6 wins 

Beauty and the Beast Bill Condon ($1.2 billion)
The Greatest Showman Michael Gracey ($200+)
Pitch Perfect 3 Trish Sie ($164+)

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (July 20th)
A Star is Born Bradley Cooper (October 5th)
Mary Poppins Returns (December 25th)

Wicked Stephen Daldry (December 20th)

We know that Hollywood is still interested (at least in theory) in adapting stage musical hits since film versions of a couple of them have been announced. Unfortunately those seem to move at an often glacial pace suggesting it's no one's priority or that they actually believe that a film version would dent the box office on Broadway but history has not AT ALL shown that to be the case (Chicago's stage box office was reenergized by the film version and it's STILL running 15 years later. Phantom of the Opera barely noticed its film version and the chandelier still falls 8 times a week to crowds of tourists after 30 years (in short: that one will never close as much as we'd like it to). 

Fact: movie musicals should be hitting us with greater regularity than 1-3 a year. There's so much that genre can do. Hollywood should be signing deals on adapting yet more stage musicals, and signing up composing teams for original musicals, and trying to make bigger crossover stars out of actors who become Broadway sensations. And how about Jamie Bell's offer to make a Fred Astaire biopic? Someone please take him up on it! There's just so much this genre of film could offer us...



In Hollywood's Golden Age musicals were as prolific a genre as any. We don't think it's crazy to ask for at least six musicals a year going forward.  

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Reader Comments (32)

here here! Especially when we're bombarded with superhero flicks.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Hopefully a really good one will finally come along! I want a "Follies" movie populated by Broadway divas!

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

That 2007 quintet is actually really fun. It's more interesting than many best picture line-ups.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Hopefully SUNSET BOULEVARD soon?

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

I just finished watching The Last 5 Years on Netflix before seeing this article. Really feel like it could have done better with an actual push (I mean, Anna Kendrick is this era's musical star, right?) but yeah, for some reason musicals are an afterthought despite being fairly bankable.

I mean, I've seen the majority of the films you listed, and I (sadly) am not a regular moviegoer by any stretch.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPoliVamp

I think Mamma Mia 2 is missing from this year’s list?

Otherwise, I saw The Greatest Showman last night and llllluuuuuuurrrrvvvveeeed it! It’s hokey, dramatically suspect and the less said about its fidelity to cultural and historical fact the better, BUT, I left the film tripping on air. As a musical, it’s a mess, but as a piece of entertainment, I thought it was dynamite

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIanO

Cash: In certain years, I'd be glad if 3 of the 2007 crop were in the BP field, even if they weren't "da best" of that year. In 2007, I'm basically none of them made it, give or take Michael Clayton. No, 2007, that one does NOT hold up.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I wouldn't mind if someone decided to write a Marilyn Monroe musical (a la Smash, but better) starring Megan Hilty.

Thank you for pushing this. We need more great screen musicals!

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Has been a couple of years since The Book of Mormon was announced, my guess is 2022, maybe?

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLuiserghio

How can Tangled and Frozen be included but not The Princess and the Frog?! That poor movie always gets sidelined for its (lesser) princess companions.


January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

As long as they don't revive Paint Your Wagon, I'll be happy.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

YES - the general theme of this post is right on. I mean, a non-franchise movie that opened 4 weeks ago and is still in the top 5? This should be a huge success story.

A minor quibble with your beginning reference to "hiring better directors", though; I know it wasn't your intent, but it implies that Damien Chazelle and Michael Gracey are lacking. I'd also add that, although Chazelle and Gracey themselves aren't major, their films featured recognizable and bankable stars which certainly helped.

But yeah... back to the real point, which was: more musicals please! (Particularly if they feature songs written by Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Benj Pasek, or Justin Paul.)

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGuestguestguest

I grew up in the golden age of the MGM musicals and to this day they are my favorite form. Today we have some of the best singers/dancers available and even edgier stories not to mention a host of Broadway fare that has never made it to the screen. Looking forward to Wicked (fingers crossed). Come From Away would be great with the movies ability to do wider visuals. Sunset Boulevard should have been done when we could have gotten Close and Jackman in the roles.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

<ryan> they're still pushing for "Smash" on Broadway....

The preview comments on this site that TGS would be awful were missing the point. The box office shows these can be hits, so more will now get made since some of us went to see it (me included.)

You want something, you gotta work for it. Didn't musical theater teach us all that in high school?

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Oh yea, the Marilyn Monroe musical starring Megan Hilty..that would be absolutely awesome..

BTW, just watched The Greatest Showman yesterday and what a piece of entertainment it is..and its showstopper, This Is Me? Well, I teared up watching that scene..

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJeff C.

It's so interesting how many good-on-paper, smash-on-Broadway musicals more or less tank at the box office (Jersey Boys, The Phantom of the Opera, The Producers, Rent, Rock of Ages, etc.), but then the original (or at least lesser zeitgeist-y) ones have a much better batting average. We want well-written, well-crafted, ORIGINAL movies (including musicals) Hollywood! Get that through your thick skull.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

EVITA in the 90's deserves some credit too!

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

More musicals! Indeed - I'd love it if it could happen. And I'm first in line for Jamie Bell's fred Astaire film.

Oh, and if Walk the Line is listed, shouldn't Ray be as well? After all, Walk the Line is, as Jon Stewart put it at the Oscars, "Ray for white people"!

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Yeah, it's absolutely baffling considering they usually do quite well. THE GREATEST SHOWMAN was kind of a flop on opening weekend, yet has hung around and broken box office records for week-to-week gains and drops, which is kind of phenomenal, but also makes a lot of sense because it's a crowdpleaser with people who don't give a flying fuck about whether it glorifies PT Barnum, rather people just want good songs with likable actors. If it was released 70 years ago it would have been even bigger and so many critics came to the film with the very wrong mindset. They did the same with BURLESQUE which was a 1930s musical made new, but they wouldn't deign to acknowledge it.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Then Mary Poppins Returns should be huge.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJack for Streep

They've got to get Toni Collette's voice captured in a movie musical!

And I agree completely with all of this. The movie musical audience is pretty loyal. Give them something even halfway decent and they'll show up.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

Glenn Dunks: Bull on the "wrong mindset" thing. It seems like it wanted to be a, basically, normal "Put on That Show, Chaps" musical, when it should have been aiming for The Music Man. Even as a "lighter" take on PT Barnum, The Greatest Showman still sounds TOO light.

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN got a lot of attention for its lower-than-expected box office on opening weekend but then hasn't got enough credit for turning into a word-of-mouth hit.

Oh, and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE earned an Oscar nomination too!

January 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

Any idea of who they are going to cast in Wicked? Anne Hathaway and Anna Kendrick?

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

The Princess and the Frog had 3 Oscar nominations.

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKirby

Edward L: Ray should definitely be on this list.

Also, it was announced last year that Jay-Z is coproducing the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In The Heights. But since it's a joint project with Harvey the Pervy Weinstein, will it still be moving forward?

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

I have FEVER DREAMS of a mixed race Next to Normal movie with Jake Gyllenhaal as Dan and Cynthia Erivo as Diana

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Would be great to see what they could do with Wicked. They had impressive (digital) backgrounds in OZ:The Great and Powerful.

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Band Aid from this year was a little gem that I wish more people have seen! They only have one song submitted for this year's Oscars, so I am cautiously optimistic.

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

What about Coco?

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCinepfile

I loved "The Sapphires", released 2012 in Australia and 2013 in the US. Gorgeous actresses we don't see enough of.

January 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I missed this thread but I want say on the record that with the stealth success of TGS, Hugh Jackman needs to get a movie version of The Boy from Oz up and running asap.

February 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

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