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How ‘Greatest Showman’ Is Crushing Conventional Wisdom

Movies live or die by their opening weekend grosses. Or so the not-so-old saw goes.

If a blockbuster wannabe doesn’t connect with audiences right away its chances of doing so over the long haul are limited.

And that’s being kind.

Why? The public typically rushes to see “event” films on opening weekend. The crush of media behind a given film is loudest right before its release date. And, most importantly, subsequent weekends feature shiny new releases clamoring for our attention.

“The Greatest Showman” isn’t playing by the usual rules.

The Hugh Jackman musical opened to a soft $8 million following its Dec. 20 release. That’s hardly encouraging to the studio’s bean counters. Given the tremendous competition during any given December film schedule, it seemed like “The Greatest Showman’s” box office hopes would deflate like a carnival balloon.

Only “The Greatest Showman” persevered.

Week after week the film’s box office results dropped modestly, compared to other films at the cineplex. Blockbuster films typically see their audiences dwindle by 50 percent (or more) from week to week.

“Showman” showed sturdy legs instead.

In fact, the film only dropped 14 percent over the current Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. More impressive? The film hauled in $11 million during that frame … more than its opening weekend.

It begs the question … why?

  • It’s that rare, PG-rated film that isn’t animated or directly aimed at the kiddies.
  • Word of mouth still matters, sparked by passionate social media conversations.
  • Jackman is not only a talented song and dance man but less divisive than most modern stars.
  • Oh, that irresistible music from the team behind “La La Land,” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

20th Century Fox shrewdly upped the ante this weekend. The studio released a special version of the film in 300 theaters flashing the songs’ lyrics on the screen. The sing-a-long format is a brilliant marketing ploy to play up the film’s undeniable strength.

Those songs.

There is a caveat to all the good news. The film’s budget, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, is $84 million. That means simply crossing the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, a given at this point, could be a minor victory, at best. Marketing and related costs suggest the film needs to make it least double that budget back before the studio can start breathing easier.

The overseas tally stands, at the moment, at $88 million. Not bad, but hardly a blockbuster.

What about the soundtrack sales?

The original soundtrack currently sits at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. It’s also atop the iTunes charts in more than 60 countries. Plus, the film’s signature song, “This Is Me” (performed by Keala Settle) took home the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture.

Could a golden statuette for Best Original Song be far behind?

That synergy can make up some of the budgetary costs. If the film eventually sparks a Broadway adaptation that changes everything.

The era of the movie musical is long gone. Yet whenever Hollywood dips its toe in the past the results are often startling. “La La Land” came thisclose to winning the Best Picture Oscar last year, but it earned near universal acclaim along with $151 million at the box office.

The 2012 version of “Les Miserables,” also with Jackman, netted $148 million. Two years later, “Into the Woods” earned $128 million.

“The Greatest Showman’s” remarkable journey wasn’t helped by film critics. The film earned a mild 55 percent “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com. That’s compared to a robust 90 percent “fresh” score from site readers.

The people are speaking, over and again. Will Hollywood listen?

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10 Comments

  1. I’m actually taking a class on film marketing at UCLA right now, and we talked about THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, and how its the movie that families go to see AFTER they see STAR WARS and JUMANJI. That happens sometimes. There are movies – often PG or PG-13 – that hang around for weeks, even if they’re never number one.
    I remember in 2003, there was a lot of talk about the ITALIAN JOB remake. It consistently stuck around in the top 5 for two months or so. And it’s because everybody would rush out to see X-MEN or THE MATRIX on opening weekend, but wanted something else to see after.
    It’s an odd phenomenon that doesn’t necessarily happen every year, but there is precedent for it in the past. And the timing of GREATEST SHOWMAN – released in the middle of December, when families are off from work and go to see more movies – contributed greatly to its success.

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    2. Given that you wrote your comment 2 weeks ago, I can see why you would think that, but I think you made some incorrect assumptions. Firstly, barely anybody went to see Greatest Showman in its first week and during its first weekend. If it was only successful due to this phenomena you mention, then people would have gone to see it right after Jumanji and Star Wars during that week too, but they weren’t because critics had trashed it. Secondly, no big movies (on the level of Jumanji or Star Wars) have come out since you posted your comment, and it is no longer a holiday, but guess what movie still got #4 at the box office this weekend? That’s right. The Greatest Showman did in its 6th weekend. Star Wars isn’t even playing in the cinemas where I live anymore, but Greatest Showman is still playing multiple times a day. I never saw Jumanji or Star Wars or Pitch Perfect. I did, however, see The Greatest Showman 7 times. I told all my friends and family how good it is. They all saw it and loved it and also saw it multiple times and told their friends and family to see it. Other people are saying they experienced something similar. The Greatest Showman’s “legs” at the box office are much greater than those other movies you mentioned. This film is now expected to pass La La Land’s total at the domestic box office and to become the “leggiest” film since Titanic. This is not because of the phenomena you mentioned, but rather because the word of mouth for The Greatest Showman is amazing! I got 40 of my friends and family to see this movie. There was applause in the theatre almost every time I’ve seen Greatest Showman! I never see this type of reaction for a movie.

      By the way, none of them have seen Jumanji either and only a couple of them saw Star Wars. What you’ll find is the people seeing Greatest Showman aren’t even really the same people seeing those other movies. This movie really catered to the older generation that missed Hollywood’s Golden Age. It is a clean, uplifting movie and so much fun. The soundtrack was #1 on the Billboard charts, beating out the likes of Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars, for two weeks and it has still been #2 for the past two weeks and might take the #1 spot again next week. Go look at the comments on Amazon. It is the most highly pre-ordered movie this holiday season out of all the movies that came out and it is rating extremely high by audiences despite critics trashing the movie … it got an “A” CinemaScore (higher than Jumanji’s and Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s), and audiences have also rated it very highly on imdb, Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon, itunes, on forums, on polls, etc. People LOVE this movie. It is a sleeper hit and I really think it will become thought of by many as a classic. I understand you are in film school, but I think your professor is wrong on this one. Just saying. I think part of the problem is that critics don’t always know what audiences want, and sometimes learning all the technical stuff about movies actually makes people forget the purpose of certain movies: to entertain the masses and make people happy. That was certainly the point of this movie, and wow did it succeed in that goal!

  2. As of this writing, “The Greatest Showman” is just south of $200,000,000.00. So, it’s sailed past the Break Even point and solidly in the “profitable” arena. Even better, it’s still number four on the box office and there’s nothing opening for the next three weeks to challenge the film for its audience. .

  3. I still have zero desire to spend money on this one, but I can report that my handful of friends who have seen it in the theater absolutely loved it.

  4. The soundtrack is horrifically overproduced autotuned garbage. Can’t see how anyone could listen without trying to pull their brain out of their ears.

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  5. This is the most beautiful, uplifting movie, no one should miss it. You can take your Children as it is filled with wonderful things, sans the usual filth. Everyone is raving about it, have been twice. Everyone loves it, leaves you in a great mood. A artistic triumph, in days when we’d almost given up wholesome entertainment. Thank you Hugh Jackman for this lovely film.

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