Do movie musicals boost box office? And by how much?

It has been almost a decade since the movie musical came back in fashion, thanks to Rob Marshall’s Oscar Winning Chicago in 2003.  We’ve finally shed our geek status with Hollywood Execs as they’ve realized that the right musical could make make a fantastic and profitable flick.

What’s interesting to me, of course, is the “Economic Impact”, if you will, of those films on our industry.  Broadway has pretty consistently had a banner year after year in the last ten, and without a doubt, I’d attribute a little bit of our swelling box office to the the plethora of movie musicals in the market.

And, of course, anecdotal evidence has been that a movie musical (even the not-so-good ones, which will remain nameless but rhyme with Schmantom) boost the numbers of its currently running sister show.

But is that really true?  And, by how much?

My new intern, Andres, and I, did some data diving over the weekend and analyzed the grosses of six musicals that had movies open while they were still running on Broadway.  We looked at their numbers six months prior to the movie opening, and six months after, to see if there was any kind of discernible difference.

Here’s what we found out:

Chicago 
Average gross 6 months prior to movie:  $463,921
Average gross 6 months after movie:  $536,366
Difference:  +$72,445 or +15.6%

Mamma Mia
Average gross 6 months prior to movie:  $843,472
Average gross 6 months after movie:  $996,379
Difference:  +$152,907 or +18.1%

Phantom of the Opera
Average gross 6 months prior to movie:  $629,255
Average gross 6 months after movie:  $729,316
Difference:  +$100,061 or +15.9%

Rent
Average gross 6 months prior to movie:  $378,019
Average gross 6 months after movie:  $529,353
Difference:  +$151,334 or +40%

Hairspray
Average gross 6 months prior to movie:  $620,845
Average gross 6 months after movie:  $735,373
Difference:  +$114,528 or +18.4%

The Producers
Average gross 6 months prior to movie:  $802,355
Average gross 6 months after movie:  $725,249
Difference:  -$77,106 or -9.6% (!)

Even with The Producers aberration, the trend is pretty clear, don’t you think?  We’re talking an overall average gain of 23.23% 16.4%.

Now, obviously, certain factors may skew these figures a bit, like new stars, increased advertising campaigns, etc.  But even with a margin of error of a few percent, the takeaway is more obvious than what mediocre movie musical I was talking about when I said it rhymed with Schmantom:  If you’ve got a long running musical, and you can get a movie made, it will extend the life of your show.

In fact, there’s a current musical out right now (rhymes with Rock of Schmages) whose weekly average gross six months prior to their movie was $422,615 and in the past four weeks has posted an average of $488,731, an increase of $66,116, or 15.6%.  Still early to tell the tale on that one, but it looks like the bet they took moving the show to the Helen Hayes and keeping it running is already paying off.

What does this mean for others?  Will Cameron bring the current successful tour of Les Miz back to Broadway next year when the movie comes out?   Just when will Universal pull the trigger on the movie version of Wicked (no doubt it will be timed when the show needs some sort of “spell” to lift its numbers)?  Will Broadway Producers start looking to produce more movies independently if they can’t get a studio to buy their show???  (That last question is what has me the most excited.)

The bridge from Broadway to Hollywood has been rebuilt.  And fortunately for us, the traffic is flowing both ways.  Dollars and bodies are coming in.  Audiences and investors are reaping the rewards.

And any Broadway Producer should now ask themselves how a movie could play into the strategy of their development of their new show.

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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Comments
  • Jeff Walsh says:

    Interesting stuff, although I don’t think a movie version of Wicked is just on hold until the Broadway show needs a box office boost. I don’t think the movie industry is that nimble, or that they take their cues from Broadway like that. They think their the main event, if anything.

  • Edwin Rojas says:

    Fascinating! I love your research and your comments and your insight. PLEASE, keep it coming. Great work!!!

  • Dear Ken (and Andres): it seems quantifying our knowledge of musicals is in the air, and this is an excellent addition to the canon. However, it does not make explicit why a movie boosts a running show, which is that with marketing campaigns of $50 to $100 million per movie, the name awareness of the show and the movie are being raised at the same time. So even when the films are not successful (such as ROCK OF AGES, RENT and PHANTOM), the marketing impact on the Broadway or touring productions is still significant. Additionally, while movies, even big hits, have a short shelf-life in theaters, shows have the ability to run on, continuing to exploit the benefit of the film’s promotional efforts which far exceed any Broadway ad campaign. As for the anomaly of THE PRODUCERS: since I’m not privy to your analysis, I’m wondering whether the “pre-movie” period included any of Matthew and Nathan’s brief return to the show, which disproportionately boosted the show’s trending grosses while they were in it. Just a theory that only you can answer.

  • It’d be interesting to see if there was any effect from LEGALLY BLONDE and MEMPHIS being taped. Anecdotally, my mom would never have wanted to see MEMPHIS without seeing the Blu-Ray first. I took her to the tour for her birthday this year.

  • Nick says:

    How are you doing your math? It’s an average gain of 16.4%. You can’t discount presented data from The Producers just because it doesn’t match your thesis.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    The average is 16.2% actually.

  • I think this data is really interesting, but one thing that is always true when looking at Broadway box office numbers is comparing it to the number of tickets sold.

    Did these shows capitalize on the movie marketing and raise ticket prices in the six months after the movie? Were people more willing to pay full price as opposed to waiting for discounts? Was the audience more excited to pay for the bigger bucks tickets, rather than settling for the nose-bleeds? I would love to see if these increases actually correlate with higher ticket sales, or just higher ticket prices.

  • Sue says:

    Does this mean the movie release is free advertising? I still hope you get the rights to Saturday Night Fever on Broadway, and bring me in as a production assistant!

  • Rob says:

    Actually,if we care about numbers(and not the actual point of the exercise, which is very good to know) then the percent increase is neither 16.4% nor 16.2%. This is a common error made by folks who don’t regularly do statistical calculations. The actual increase is 13.8%. The error comes from giving equal weight to the numbers. Suppose there was one more show included that grossed $10,000 before and $100,000 after, or an increase of 900%. Would you then say that the AVERAGE increase was over 142% by simply adding up each average and dividing by 7? In fact, given proper weights (by dollar gross), that additional show would step up the percentage increase to 16.1% from 13.8%, not up to 142%.

  • Tanya says:

    Well it’s not a musical, but I work at Woman in Black in London and as soon as the film came out, we were sold out for weeks… And it hasn’t really dropped much since then!

  • John says:

    I actually that Phantom was a fantastic movie, as did my kids, and we have seen the Broadway show twice…..not sure if you mean the movie sucked, or the numbers just werent good but I am quite a movie snob, but I thought the movie was fantastic…

  • Ilene says:

    Very interesting. It would be equally interesting to see if the new Broadway shows based on movies are more successful than those from new books or borrowed from other forms, such as novels. Are we doomed to nothing original?

    Also, how are the Fantom events playing into the mix? Does the money spent on them and movie musicals paying off when combined with the increased profits of the Broadway shows, or when you combine expense of filming/royalties with the cost of producing a Broadway show, do you end up with a wash, or, heaven forbid, a sinking financial hole?

  • Jason says:

    VERY INTERESTING! I also wonder how “Legally Blonde” and “Memphis” did after they were shown on TV and in theaters.

  • Laurent says:

    Ah, the correlation of Broadway show meets Hollywood movie. I’ve always loved that one. My favorite was always in 1997 when a little show opened on Broadway with the name Titanic. It was failing miserably when a little lady named Rosie started talking about it and having them on her show. THEN a movie based on the same material (but with different music) hit the screens and the world (and Broadway show grosses) went wild!

  • Kerry says:

    A very interesting post but I have a small quibble with your numbers. I don’t believe that 6 months before the film comes out is far enough out. At 6 months prior to a film release, audiences are already seeing previews, reading about casting and other spoilers, etc. The marketing for the film (which also promotes the play) has already begun. For example, the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby is due out in December but there is already a trailer that has been released and lots of buzz already going about the film.

    I think it is possible that you may even see more dramatic gains if you looked at the numbers from 1 year before the film. Just a thought.

  • Gary says:

    Your timing is amazing. Article just posted on BWW about Universal moving forward with “Wicked” film.

  • Robert says:

    I had actually posted the same questions when Godspell announced it was closing about Memphis and Legally Blonde. Like the post above I was not interested in seeing Memphis until I saw the show on Netflix. What about after a show closes? Is that not a way to increase profit? With all this technology and all the bootlegs that are out there, it still amazes me that as I leave the theater that there is not a recording of a replacement cast or a DVD of the show. As much as I like Sutton, Stephanie J. Block was a much better vocalist, at least compared to the CD and video clips I have seen. I would have a brought a CD of her in the lead as I left the theater, even at an overpriced $25. I wonder how the Jonas version of How To Succeed fared even as a mini EP. And how many versions of Les Mis do we all own? At least 3 I bet! This is 2012! Come on producers use the technology, others are and are making the profit you deserve!(bootleggers) Ken maybe you could explain why this is so hard. Why can’t we buy copies of all these shows that are taped for the archives? Why should only the privileged be able to see any Broadway show from the past 20+ years? I was in the audience when they taped “Smile”. Or the in-house people who have soundboard copies of shows and I bet DVDs? (My wife worked for a local theater where national tours played and I have copies of some shows on cassettes.) I have also brought bootlegs I am ashamed to say but that is the only way I have been able to see a show as they close so fast these days, or enjoyed it again and again like I can a favorite movie. I would be amazed if Ken you do not have a DVD of Godspell. Why can’t it be marketed and sold? I am sure I am not the only one who has thought of this. What is the problem? Why can a movie but not a play or musical, unless done by Mr. Sondheim or Sir Andrew, be released on DVD? Off my soap box. Bob who is still depressed he missed Godspell with a NYC trip planned this month.

  • Tracy Jordan says:

    You know, I’ve always thought that Altar Boyz would make a fun, fast-paced, kitschy movie musical…

  • A Contrarian says:

    Marshall was asked to direct “Rent” but said what he’d really like to do was a movie of “Chicago.” Wonder how things would stand if “Rent” came first. Really wonder how things would have worked out if Fosse made Chicago as planned with Liza and Goldie.

  • Are you working on the book for “Somewhere in Time?”

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