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From Lady Gaga To 'Mary Poppins,' How Musicals Became Box Office Superheroes


Not only are musicals a «safe» genre, they are downright flourishing alongside the superhero tentpoles.
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in ‘A Star Is Born’ Warner Bros. and MGM
We got word yesterday courtesy of Variety that Universal/Comcast is developing an original musical feature based around the songs of Prince. Jokes about Prince discovering that Stellan Skarsgård is his real father notwithstanding, this is yet another sign that the live-action musical is not only a safe genre but is slowly becoming “hot” in terms of studios aggressively wanting to make them. Like the western, the musical (up until recently) was considered a risky or dead genre even though, whenever a major studio made and sufficiently marketed it, said theatrical musical did good-to-great in theatrical box office.
And with A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody performing like superhero movies and Mary Poppins Returns waiting in the wings, the live-action musical is getting its due respect again. As I’ve noted here and there over the last two years, we’ve had an almost uninterrupted stream whereby we had at least one major musical hit per year, be it a stage adaptation, an original or a musical biopic that banked big on the singer’s respective catalog, going back to 2001 with Moulin Rouge.
In terms of stage adaptations, we’ve had Chicago ($306 million worldwide), Paramount/Viacom’s Dreamgirls ($155m), New Line Cinema’s Hairspray ($202m), Paramount’s Sweeney Todd ($152m), Universal’s Mamma Mia! ($609m), Universal’s Les Misérables ($441m), Sony’s Annie ($133m), Walt Disney’s Into the Woods ($213m) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast ($1.263 billion).
And those are just the stage shows. In the realm of original (or not based on a stage show), we’ve had Moulin Rouge! ($179 million worldwide), Disney’s Enchanted ($340m), Disney’s High School Musical 3 ($252m), Sony’s Burlesque ($89m), Disney’s The Muppets ($155m), Lionsgate’s La Land ($446m) and Fox’s insanely leggy The Greatest Showman ($434m).
We can debate how to classify Universal’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ($392 million just this summer), since it’s an original sequel to a movie that was an adaptation of a hit stage show. But either way, it counts as a win. And yes, if you count musical biopics or musically-focused flicks, then you must throw on the likes of Ray ($124m), Walk the Line ($186m), the Pitch Perfect trilogy ($588m worldwide), Straight Outta Compton ($161m) and Bohemian Rhapsody ($540m and counting).
There are plenty of barely-released indies ( Stage Fright, The Last Five Years, Sing Street, Repo: The Genetic Opera, etc.) and biggies that didn’t quite click ( Across the Universe, Rock of Ages, Muppets Most Wanted, Jersey Boys, etc.

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