Musicals that were huge hits on stage and flops on screen

The Producers and Rent both come immediately to mind: both shows were box office record shattering phenoms on stage and on tour, both were made into movies, and neither movie made back it’s relatively middle range budget in the theaters. (They may have in the back end.) Phantom of the Opera generated billions of dollars onstage and its film made a profit, but wasn’t anywhere near the Titanic sized hit the studio was anticipating.

Can you think of any others that fit in this category?

And what do you attribute the audience not following it from stage to screen (where the tickets are much cheaper)?
(Les Miserables was a big hit, which was unfortunate because it’s nowhere near as good as the play.*)

Rock of Ages was supposedly this huge stage show (I only heard of it second-hand), I got free tickets to the movie showing and still feel like I was ripped off. A big, huge, stinking pile of…

A Chorus Line: $27M budget, $4.8M domestic gross.

And … I’m quitting.

It’s a long, sad list. Stage shows of any type usually don’t translate well to film. Musicals especially. The RT ratings of many of these are in the 30% range or lower. So, it’s not just that people don’t want to go see film musicals.

Almost all the “big” musicals made into films since 1980 or so have done so-so at best at the box office.

One key mistake: waiting years and years to make the movie to milk money from the live performances. By the time the movie gets made, interest is lost, less effort is made in updating it for film, etc.

At one time A Chorus Line was the longest running show in Broadway history. I believe it’s still in the all-time Top 10. The movie crashed and burned with a mere $14 million box office, which even in 1985 was pretty weak.

Looking at Box Office Mojo, Rock of Ages, Nine, and Jersey Boys are other ones that were movie flops after being big Broadway hits.

I think part of the problem is how things translate. Something can seem magical on stage when the audience is seeing it more from a distance but cheesy on screen with the actor up close. There’s a different suspension of disbelief.

Also it might be an issue with casting. The Producers and Rent stuck with some of the original cast members, but someone can be big on Broadway but not a big star that will bring in movie patrons. Or for Rock of Ages or Nine some regular movie stars who aren’t known for their singing were brought in, and people were skeptical of how good they’d be, or it seemed weird for them to be in a musical.

Also, even if the audience follows a show from the theater to the movie screen, it still won’t be a hit unless other people come. Broadway theaters have at least 500 seats, and I believe most of them have 8 shows a week. So if there was an audience of 1000 people at all 8 shows a week for a year, that would be 416,000 people. This article says the average movie ticket price in the US is $8.70, which seems low, but with that price and the 416,000 people who saw a Broadway show in the first year, the profit would be $3,619,200. Or if you do 1000 people per show for 2 years, and movie ticket price of $10, then that would be $8,320,000. Still not a good amount for a movie to make.

I was wondering about the 1967 version of “Camelot”. It grossed about $31 million on a $13 million budget. But considering how ballyhooed the stage version was and how the Kennedy administration gets tagged as “Camelot”, it seems it should have been bigger. Perhaps 1967 was too late, although I remember my mother said it had the wrong Richard (Harris instead of Burton). And Vanessa Redgrave was not a singer. Boorman’s “Excalibur” 15 years later is a far better Arthurian movie.

“Paint Your Wagon”…Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood singing. Enough said.

I think it’s a major mistake in “serious” musicals when they try to make it too realistic. On stage it’s understood that this is a universe much like are on except where everybody sings, and it’s not unusual that the butler in this scene was the teacher in the last and a chorus member before that and that the Eiffel Tower just came down from the rafters and went away again- it’s all part of the magic. However, when they’re standing on the real Eiffel Tower and it’s a 30 foot tall singing head and you can see every pore in his/her skin, it- to me, anyway- makes it seem a bit ridiculous that it’s so real except for the fact everybody is bursting into song and dance every two minutes. Les Mis particularly had this problem for me, though as I mentioned it was a huge hit.

One scene from the movie Rent, a musical I already had problems with on stage (“Get a job you damned hippies!”) was when they apparently didn’t pay much attention to what was being sung and what the character was doing. Mark carrying on a musical one-sided conversation with his boss, who isn’t there, while leaning over the top of his apartment building (in the play he was on the phone) just seems weird. Also, I prefer to imagine their loft instead of see it, and keep thinking “it wouldn’t be as dumpy if you’d spring for some paint, which you should be able to afford since pretty much every city has places where you can buy leftover paint really cheap and you’re certainly not paying rent or other bills”.

What really pissed me off about The Producers was that they cut King of Broadway from the theatrical release. (They filmed it, it’s good even, they just cut it.) It sets the tone of the show and gives you a perfect intro to Max Bialystok.

And is one of the worst musicals ever made. About the best thing you can say for is that it isn’t Man of La Mancha.

Now that TV live musicals are popular I keep hoping they’ll fix a musical that had a terrible movie version- like the two above, or Nine (which deserved to bomb- Fergie was the only really great moment in it) or some that were good but are extremely dated (My Fair Lady, The King & I). Weirdly, the next one they are doing is Hairspray, which is only a few years old (though admittedly could stand a lot of improvement).

Mamma Mia

“Man of La Mancha”. I finally saw that for the first time last year and now I know why it is seldom broadcast. It is terrible.

I wonder if the Broadway unions make a mistake by refusing to allow filming of plays. Things like Julie Andrews and Richard Burton in “Camelot” doing a song only exist because they did it on Ed Sullivan’s rilly big shew. Couldn’t you film it and get some money when it is done on Broadway…giving everyone a cut of the money. You can get tv packages for lots of sports and they do alright at the gate.

Yeah, I wish they’d do live theater presentations of Broadway musicals like they do of operas.

Shows are loath to broadcast the stage show, not because of unions, but because they don’t want to hurt the box office. Broadway shows draw people from out of town and they may not be willing to pay Broadway prices of they’ve seen it before.*

There have been a couple recently. Contact was shown on *Great Performances * a few years ago and Spike Lee filmed *Passing Strange * (also for GP). But in both cases they recorded the final performance and aired it after the show had closed.

*Don’t point to *The Lion King *. Disney’s seating policies don’t allow volunteer ushers to sit in unsold seats on tours. They aren’t going to give it away for free.

Actually, “Mamma Mia” did very well, partly because it was released the same day as “The Dark Knight.” Counter programming at its best!

Does the play have to come first? The movie **Kinky Boots **made less than 10 million, but the Broadway adaptation is doing well, taking in more than double that as of three years ago, and it’s still a popular show.

There was a brief moment in the 1970s when producer Ely Landau created the “American Film Theatre,” which used high-speed directors and actors to film classic plays, and select movie theaters who contracted with AFT would show one film a month, but only on two days (consecutive Tuesdays) between their regular film schedules. The next month, they would show the next film in the series. The films included Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” with Katharine Hepburn, Paul Scofield and Lee Remick; “Lost in the Stars,” the Maxwell Anderson-Kurt Weill musical based on “Cry, the Beloved Country”; Eugene Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder; and Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” directed by Laurence Olivier. The best was probably “The Iceman Cometh” by John Frankenheimer with Lee Marvin, in one of the best performances of his career

Not all were that well done, and it was difficult for a film that only ran two days a month to generate the revenue to continue funding the project. It ran two seasons, from 1972-1973 and 1974 to 1975. I remember seeing most of the productions. They are next to impossible to find now due to legal issues involving AFT’s liabilities and the rights of actors, authors, and their estates.

The movie wasn’t really a musical, was it? It’s been a couple of years since I watched it*, but while I remember the drag queen character singing a song or two it’s not my recollection that musical numbers were a major part of the movie.

*It must have been in 2013, because I saw it shortly after seeing 12 Years a Slave in the theater and didn’t realize until he appeared onscreen that Chiwetel Ejiofor was in both.

That’s the one that I was thinking of. I saw the movie years ago. Way before I ever heard of the musical (I think). I remember it being kind of a yawn, but I’ve heard nothing but good things (or at least nothing bad) about the stage show.

@ftg, as a counter example, take Chicago. The most recent movie (from 2002) has taken in over $300m (on a $45m budget).
While it was originally a play from 1926, then a movie in 1927, I believe the movie is based on the still running musical from 1975.

That is an interesting insight. I came in to mention Jersey Boys which I saw in the theatre and on the screen. Although the screen staging stole much from the stage show I didn’t find it anywhere near as effective or compelling. Some of the clever storytelling devices from the play seemed pointless in a movie account.

I don’t know what happened in this case, but the 1969 musical 1776 was a big hit and won the Tony Award for Best Musical while the 1972 film adaptation with the same director and much of the same cast was another story… Wikipedia says $6 million budget and $2.8 million box office.

I’ve yet to see the musical, but I found the film to be sweet and charming (and, Lamia’s correct, the movie isn’t really a musical).

Nerd that I am, I recognized Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative in “Serenity”.