"Mamma Mia!" opens on 3,000 screens this weekend, bringing the power of a theatrical blockbuster. The stage musical, which opened nine years ago has grossed over $2 billion and has been seen by over 30 million people.
Right now there are nine stage productions all around the world. Add the fact that Abba songs are insanely catchy, and that gives you a significant fan base and tons of free advertising for the Universal Pictures Musical.
And the movie has already performed well in its international release, already bringing in $24 million on just 1,368 screens.
This weekend "Mamma Mia!" is up against Warner Bros. "The Dark Knight" which is on track to break records. The Batman sequel's projected $130 million weekend gross in the U.S. would make it the third biggest opening weekend ever.
But this tough competition is actually a good thing. "Mamma Mia!" could grab all the spillover audience that can't get into the sold out "Dark Knight" showings. And then there's the fact that "Mamma Mia!" is perfect counter programming. It appeals much more to women and girls than The Dark Knight might. It's the upbeat alternative for those who want to skip the very dark, Dark Knight.
Now stage musicals have a spotty track record when it comes to making the transition to the big screen. Some have been huge hits. "Chicago" is the best recent example; starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger, the 2002 movie grossed over $300 million worldwide and won the Oscar for best picture. Back in 1978 "Grease" starring John Travolta has brought in nearly $400 million in worldwide ticket sales.
On the other hand, Broadway musicals have inspired some very overpriced movie theater disappointments. Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" had a $51 million domestic gross, $154 million overall; its production budget was $70 million which means Warner Bros. didn't quite make as much money on this as it'd have liked. And while "Rent" and "The Producers" were phenomenal hits on Broadway, with touring productions around the world, they did terribly in movie theaters.
For the most part, the rule has been that big stars help ensure theatrical musicals' success as they transition to the movie format. Zeta-Jones and Travolta certainly helped with "Chicago" and "Grease", while it seems "Phantom" would have done better with a big name. It seems studios sometimes have thought it's enough to rely on the star power of the musical alone, but when it comes down to it, moviegoers like stars. I haven't seen "Mamma Mia!" yet, but I hear that Meryl Streep is phenomenal, and with Pierce Brosnan singing, that should provide the star wattage to push this film into the winner category.