What is the success rate of movies-to-musicals anyway?

I’m going to admit it.

Not only do I read Michael Riedel’s twice-a-week Broadway gossip column in the NY Post, but I actually enjoy his stuff . . . even when he’s cracking on one of my shows, and he certainly has.  Deep down the guy loves theater, like all of us, and frankly, some of his columns have been a lot more enjoyable to read than a whole bunch of shows I’ve seen over the years.

In last week’s column, Michael wrote something that made me want to dig a bit deeper.  While slamming Sister Act before it has even gotten to our shores, he said . . .

This is yet another one of those screen retreads that, with few exceptions (“Hairspray,” “The Producers”), have been draining the joy out of musical comedy.

When I read it, I nodded in agreement.  I think all of us feel that movies-turned-musicals are a more miss than hit business, right?

But let’s go to the numbers.

By my count, I’ve got 21 movie-to-musicals in the last 10 years.

And I’m also counting that 7 of them made money.

That’s a 1 in 3 recoupment ratio, which easily trumps the anecdotal average of 1 in 5 that we all quote.

Not so bad, right?  All of a sudden a whole bunch of you when straight to your Netflix account to see what you could turn into a musical, didn’t you?

Well, it gets better.

When you look at the number of those shows that might not have recouped on Broadway, but ran over a year (thus increasing potential subsidiary life, etc.), the number jumps to 14 out of 21.

Now Michael wasn’t talking commercial success . . . he was talking about his own definition of joy.  And, frankly, I know exactly what he’s talking about.

But from an investor’s perspective (and an audience’s as well, since longer running shows means more folks are seeing them), there has been more joy than we may want to admit.

  • Rachel says:

    There is money, there is joy, and there is quality. These musicals may have the first two, but I definitely see a lack of the third.

  • Jon says:

    In the last 10 years, I counted 26 musicals based on movies, 6 revivals of musicals based on movies, and 3 plays based on movies. I didn’t check to see how many recouped, but it was clear that especially the revivals have become established and respected shows, like La Cage and A Little Night Music.

  • Is the relative success of musicals based on movies a function of the name recognition, or the fact that the film has already worked out the structure of telling the story to an audience in two hours of real time?

  • Leigh says:

    I’m all for movie-to-musical adaptations, in theory. There have been a few good ones, and even more that I’m convinced COULD have been good. I have no artistic qualm with the art of adaptation, and many movies have just the epic qualities and potential for spectacle that makes Broadway musicals great. Spiderman is a perfect example here. Most people in my theater circle have been slamming Spidey, mourning it as a sure sign of the demise of creativity, originality and artfulness on Broadway. But I disagreed. People swinging from giant spiderwebs? Epic hero/villain struggles? Julie Taymor? It could be a recipe for AMAZING.
    …That was, until I heard a preview song performed on Good Morning America. So boring, so staid, despite its edgy, “emo-rock” insistence. And herein lies the problem, I think, with the movie-to-musical epidemic. The mere concept makes it so much more solid as a commercial venture that things like artfulness get left in the dust. Why try? The name “Spiderman” is what will sell the tickets; artistic integrity just means more work.
    Which isn’t fair. Because Spiderman COULD be good.

  • Tim Donahue says:

    The one-in-five recoupment rate is often quoted, but our research in “Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater” shows that over a ten year period, the recoupment rate was 30 percent. It varied a lot, from a low of 20 percent in the 2003-2004 season to a high of 40 percent in the 2005-2006 season. This ten year period includes 2001, when one might expect that 9-11 depressed theater success rates.
    This says nothing about movie-to-musicals, just that one in three recouping is just about average for the commercial Broadway stage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *