Jan 20, 2024 - Business

Movie musicals make a comeback: "Mean Girls" is the latest hit

Data: Comscore; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Comscore; Chart: Axios Visuals

Movie musicals are getting their groove back.

State of play: Several musical films have delivered strong performances at the box office in recent weeks, suggesting moviegoers aren't altogether averse to the musical film genre.

  • "It just opens a whole new world of possibilities for filmmakers, especially if they're commercially viable," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told Axios.

Driving the news: The "Mean Girls" musical — a remake of the Broadway musical take on the original Lindsay Lohan film from 2004 — raked in $33 million over its opening weekend, per Comscore.

  • "Wonka," starring Timothée Chalamet, has topped half a billion dollars globally over this past weekend after a month in theaters.
  • "The Color Purple" has topped $58 million after three weeks.
  • "The Little Mermaid" has garnered over $298 million since hitting theaters.

Thanks to the music industry's popularity, culture appears to be trending "towards more music-centric movies, concerts, straight-up movie musicals and movies ... with biopics," Dergarabedian said.

A "Mean Girls" sign stands at a movie theater in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 9. Photo: Derek White/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Of note: "Newer musicals with a newer sound," are attracting younger moviegoers, theater and film historian John Kenrick told Axios.

  • Hollywood also may have "stumbled on how to do musicals in a new way," Kenrick added.

Yes, but: Musicals are "insanely expensive" to produce, Kenrick said.

  • Kenrick said the choice of material and the musical styles involved "make a genuine difference" toward the box office successes of films such as "Mean Girls" and "The Color Purple."
Taraji P. Henson attends the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards on Jan. 15 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Between the lines: Studio executives have downplayed the music element of "Mean Girls," "Wonka" and "The Color Purple" in their marketing out of fears that moviegoers would recoil at the idea of seeing musicals, the New York Times reported.

  • Those fears stemmed from a disappointing showing for recent flicks like the "West Side Story" remake, "Dear Evan Hansen" and "In the Heights."
(L-R) Timothée Chalamet and Hugh Grant attend the Los Angeles premiere of "Wonka" on Dec. 10, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Unique Nicole/FilmMagic

Meanwhile, recent box office successes come amid Hollywood's decades-long distrust in the genre, according to Kenrick.

  • The lesson for new generations of musical filmmakers: "relearn what past generations knew" on why the form works well on screens, Kenrick said.

Go deeper: Movie theater industry continues comeback in 2023

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