From Broadway To The Big Screen: Why Stage-To-Film Movies Fall Flat

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC From Broadway To The Big Screen: Why Stage-To-Film Movies Fall Flat

The allure of Broadway and the profitability of Hollywood seem like a match made in drama heaven. A successful Broadway show can earn up to $1 million a week, reports the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and a popular film can earn $50-90 million dollars in a single day, according to the-numbers.com. Studios often bet and lose big on this potential, yet they keep trying to strike the right chord. Although musicals like “Annie” and “Into the Woods” (ETA 2014) hope to achieve “Les Miserables”-scale success, a glance at the some Broadway-to-Hollywood history is enough to give any studio exec stage fright.

‘Nine’ (2009) – Costs $40 Million, Grosses $31 Million

Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruze, Nicole Kidman, Judy Dench and Marion Cotillard should be a slam dunk, right? Wrong. The Broadway smash worked because Antonio Banderas (who played the title role on stage) fits the mold of the sexy Italian lead, whereas Day-Lewis is more method than charisma.

The movie’s set direction and composition also missed the mark. Director Rob Marshall could have made the film set larger-than-life, yet he chose to make it look like a dull New York stage. Unlike the stage version of “Nine,” the film banked on big names and forgot about overall composition. “Nine” ended up flopping to the tune of Nine (million dollars in the hole).



‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (2004) – Costs $70 Million, Grosses $51 Million

“Phantom” seemed like a sure thing. The film features an electric young cast performing Broadway’s longest-running hit show. The sexy weird/fetish vibe and the ethereal background of a Victorian French theater should have attracted steampunk youth and grandparents alike, but the only phantom in that opera was the money they didn’t make.

Director Joel Schumacher’s sets were ethereal and his cast was white-hot, but the storyline and character development was melodramatic and weak. The stage version of “Phantom” puts the power of the music front and center, not the sad, aching hearts of unrelatable characters.

‘Rent’ (2005) – Costs $80 Million, Grosses $16 Million

“Rent” rose to fame on stage in 1996, mostly because it was provocative and relevant to a burgeoning generation. The music is poetic and the style broke barriers. Unfortunately, by the time the film adaptation was set into motion, director Chris Columbus failed to make any millennial updates. The original cast was in their 30s at the time, the sets were bland and there weren’t any personal touches. New York Observer columnist Rex Reed called it “so slick that the grime comes from a spray can.”

‘Les Miserables’ (2012) – Costs $60 Million, Grosses $148 Million

“Les Miserables” is one of the few stage-to-film adaptations that hit the profit nail on the head. The stage version is propelled by the strength and beauty of the music and a plot that speaks to anyone with a soul, and the film turns that strength into sob stories. The all-star cast and majestic sets helped bolster the numbers, but the real crowd draw came from the authenticity of the voices. Director Tom Hooper may have been obsessed with 20-minute closeups of sad faces and unending sorrow, but it created the perfect, miserable storm.

What’s Next on The Horizon?

Lucky for music lovers, Hooper’s “Les Mis” helped open the door for the hottest tickets on Broadway to ignite the silver screen. Sneak peaks for upcoming shows and stories on various blog posts have fueled wild speculation about future adaptations, and “Annie” and “Into The Woods” are both set to be released in 2014. Both upcoming films feature A-list actors and marketable production teams. Although past stage-to-film productions gambled and lost, “Les Miserables” proved it can be done. Only time will tell if it’s a lasting trend.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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