7 Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies

Lucy Durack meet and greet Australian Premiere of the musical Legally Blonde Monday 13th August 2012
Eva Rinaldi

Hello, you beautiful Hollywood fans! Last week, I brought you down the slippery rabbit hole of movies that were adapted from Broadway shows, and today we’re going to turn things upside down and explore hit Broadway shows that are based on Hollywood films!

While I love movies, Broadway will always be my first true love. I like to study the trends in Broadway’s new releases, and have noticed over the years that there is 1 fad that never goes out of fashion: adapting movies into musicals! Since there are *so* many different genres of movies that have been adapted for the stage, we’re going to focus specifically on female-led films that became Broadway musicals.

Aaaaand a 5, 6, 7, 8!

Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies: 9 to 5 (1980)

This comedy is the ultimate workplace female empowerment flick! It is truly ahead of its time and since its release in 1980, it’s aged with class and longevity. If you’ve never seen it,  it’s about 3 women who fantasize about giving their boss a piece of their mind. And the cast? Talk about a power team: Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. These 3 legends play a trio of corporate secretaries who hatch a plan to get revenge on their dreadful, chauvinistic boss (Dabney Coleman). When their boss ends up unconscious in his office the following morning, the women fear they may have accidentally put their plan in motion. As 1 might imagine, hijinks ensue as Dolly, Lily, and Jane do their best to get themselves out of a series of sticky situations with an almost farcical plot line. And when we say farcical, we mean that in the best way possible!

9 to 5 was a commercial success, grossing over $103 million at the box office, and launched Dolly Parton, already an established singer/songwriter, into the heart of American pop culture (where she so rightfully deserves to be!). If you guessed that Dolly wrote her hit single “9 to 5” for the film, then you are correct!

The musical stage adaptation of 9 to 5 premiered on Broadway in April of 2009, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, herself. Notably, the musical’s book was written by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay. Following the show’s premiere, it received 4 Tony nominations and a whopping 15 Drama Desk Awards, the most received by a production in a single year. While the show’s run on Broadway concluded a mere 5 months after its premiere, the 9 to 5 musical has been mounted in the West End (2019) and has toured across the US (2010), UK (2012, 2019), and even Australia (2020).

Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies: The Color Purple (1985)

What’s better: the book, the movie, or the musical? Trick question! All 3! For fans of the 1985 Steven Spielberg film The Color Purple, its musical stage adaptation, which premiered on Broadway in 2005, was a soothing balm of novelist Alice Walker’s original narrative, steeped in deep Southern gospel with flash, dazzle, and heartbreak.

The film starred EGOT-winner Whoopi Goldberg in her breakthrough role as Celie Harris, along with Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Margaret Avery. The Color Purple is a coming-of-age drama that spans over 4 decades and documents life in rural Georgia during the early 1900s. Celie’s early life is tragically full of abuse and mistreatment. Her only salvation is her younger sister, Nettie (Akosua Busia). Celie suffers under the treatment of her abusive husband, “Mister” (Danny Glover) and when Nettie is expelled from Mister’s home, the 2 sisters begin corresponding via letter, not knowing when, or if, they will ever be reunited.

The Color Purple was a knockout blockbuster, grossing $98 million in theaters worldwide with a budget of $15 million. The film cemented Whoopi’s career in dramatic screen acting and was nominated for 11 Oscars (including Whoopi for Best Actress and Oprah for Best Supporting Actress.)

Naturally, it was an excellent blockbuster contender to be transformed into a musical! Coincidentally, when The Color Purple premiered on Broadway in 2005, it was nominated for 11!! Tony Awards. In 2015, the show was revived on Broadway with Cynthia Erivo starring in the role of Celie alongside Hollywood stars Jennifer Hudson and Danielle Brooks. While Cynthia had starred as Celie in the West End Production, the 2015 revival production marked her Broadway debut. In addition to its Broadway and West End runs, The Color Purple has been staged around the United States and globally, including productions in Brazil (2018), the Netherlands (2019), and South Africa (2018.)

Warner Brothers is currently producing a film adaptation of the musical, set to release in December of 2023. 

Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies: Moulin Rouge (2001)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this 2001 Baz Luhrmann spectacle of romance and bohemia set in Belle Epoque 1900’s Paris, please do yourself a favor and go watch it immediately. The 2001 jukebox musical dramedy starring Nicole Kidman as the young courtezan Fantine and Ewan McGregor as the romantically penniless writer and composer Christian.

The 2 meet at the nightclub where Satine is the star showgirl and tumble into a hopelessly romantic and illicit love affair, all while Christian is penning a musical, in which Satine will star. Although, the production is being funded by the evil Duke, who has been promised Satine all to himself. Songs are sung in perfect harmony, sweeping dance numbers are staged against a turn-of-the-century Montmartre cabaret, and a love story is set against a musical tapestry of crowd-pleasing pop and rock anthems. What more is there to say? In the opinion of this writer (who has seen Moulin Rouge more times than she would care to admit), it is a near-perfect film.

Moulin Rouge earned nearly $180 million worldwide with a $50 million budget, and received 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The film was widely praised by audiences and critics alike. According to Roger Ebert’s 2001 review, “The movie is all color and music, sound and motion, kinetic energy, broad strokes, operatic excess.” Ewan and Nicole were widely lauded for their performances.

Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann began the process of adapting Moulin Rouge into a musical in 2002, just a year after the film’s blockbuster success. The musical stage adaptation finally premiered on Broadway in July of 2019, with Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo in the starring roles.

“[Moulin Rouge can hold your wonderment without abate from start to finish. … This is a show to make the young feel mature, and the old blissfully young again,” wrote Rolling Stone of the Broadway production, shortly after its premiere. Moulin Rouge earned 14(!!!) Tony Nominations, although any wins are still TBD. The 74th Annual Tony Awards have been postponed until September 26th (less than a month away! Who’s excited? Me, me!).

If you’re like me, and still regularly losing sleep over the fact that you have yet to see this production live on Broadway, fear not! Much to this writer’s delight, Moulin Rouge will be returning to the Great White Way later this month. The show will be re-opening at the Al Hirschfield Theater on September 24th.

Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies: Legally Blonde (2001)

2001 was a great year for female-led movies, evidenced by the fact that both Moulin Rouge and Legally Blonde premiered within 2 months of each other. And like Moulin Rouge, Legally Blonde lent itself *fabulously* to becoming a musical.

Legally Blonde stars Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods (1 of her finest performances IMHO, and yes, I do mean borderline genius). Jennifer Coolidge’s performance as Paulette Bonafonté always really stands out for me upon watching this film. She’s the ultimate “I got your back girl, go conquer the world” bestie-adjacent supporting character. Also in the film: a brooding, academic-hot Luke Wilson, a frumpy, New-England-cold Selma Blair, THE ultimate silver-fox-in-a-male-authority-figure actor Victor Garber, and a really cute Chihuahua named Bruiser. (Turns out, Bruiser was played by a dog actor named Moonie. He died in 2016 at the age of 18 and rightfully received a ton of press about his passing. RIP Moonie. Thanks for your masterful contribution to modern pop culture.)

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Legally Blonde was initially a sleeper hit at the box office. However, with a $20 million production budget, its total global earnings of $141.7 million cemented the film as a Blockbuster smash hit. Not to mention the cultural impact of this film. As a pre-teen girl in 2001 I can attest to the fact that “bend and snap” was a phrase that was exhaustingly cited at theater camp that summer.

Reese Witherspoon’s performance cemented her as an A-list celebrity and launched the rest of her career. Variety put it aptly: “Beaming star wattage out of every pore, not to mention her hair, Witherspoon once again proves herself a comedienne worthy of comparison to such golden era greats as Carole Lombard and Ginger Rogers.”

Legally Blonde: The Musical premiered on Broadway in 2007, 6 years after the film’s release. Starring Broadway baby Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods, the musical successfully distilled all of the major aspects that fans loved about the movie in the first place (the empowerment, the costumes, the catchphrases!) and distilled them into a near-perfect musical comedy.

The production earned 7 Tony award nominations that year, although its low ticket sales caused the show to close in October 2008 and Legally Blonde: The Musical was deemed a flop. Many Broadway stans would beg to differ, as the show has become a cult favorite for many a musical theater nerd. However, this is 1 of the movies on our list that was far more of a hit in Hollywood than as a musical.

Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies: Mean Girls (2004)

Continuing to another cinematic highlight of my adolescence, Mean Girls is an early ‘00s hit that has gone on to become a keystone of pop culture for the era and a staple in modern digital culture. Mean Girls has also been frequently ranked as 1 of the most quotable films of all time.

The movie, written by Tina Fey in her feature screenwriting debut, is based on the 2002 non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman. In the film, Cady Heron, played by Lindsay Lohan during her indisputable “golden era,” moves to a normal American suburb and begins attending a public high school, after spending her entire life being homeschooled in Africa. In an effort to fit in and make friends, Cady observes the high school social hierarchy from a curious outsider’s perspective until she is completely sucked in by the ‘queen bee’ of the school, Regina George, played by Rachel McAdams. 

Notably, in March of this year, The New Yorker ranked Linday Lohan’s performance in Mean Girls as the eleventh-best of the 21st century. In addition to the film’s long-lasting cultural impact, it was a huge commercial success in theaters, earning over $130 million at the box office worldwide with a $17 million production budget.

Perhaps the coolest part about Mean Girls: The Musical, which opened on Broadway in August 2018, was the fact that Tina Fey wrote the actual book for the show. Not only that, her husband, composer Jeff Richmond, wrote the music, and lyrics were penned by Nell Benjamin, co-writer of Legally Blonde: The Musical. 

Entertainment Weekly wrote of the production, “Propelled by dazzling sets and several stand-out performances, the musical… gives fans everything they want while bringing the saga of Regina George and the Plastics into the social media age.”

Mean Girls: The Musical was nominated for 12 Tony Awards in 2018 (including Best Book of A Musical for Tina Fey), and controversy erupted within the Broadway world when it was “shut out” from receiving a single win that year. In March of 2020, along with the rest of Broadway (and the world), Mean Girls: The Musical was forced to close due to the pandemic. Good and bad news came In January of this year. Bad news first: Mean Girls’ producers announced that it would not be returning to Broadway upon its reopening this month. The good news? Tina Fey announced that a film version of Mean Girls: The Musical was in development. We are HERE. FOR. IT.

Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies: Once (2007)

This film is a standout among the others on this list for 1 significant reason: Unlike the big-budget blockbuster hits, Once was produced on a shoestring budget, and is the least “Hollywood” movie on this list of Hollywood movies. In fact, Once was created an ocean away from tinseltown. The 2007 Irish romantic musical drama was produced and shot for €112,000 ($132,000) most of which was donated by the Irish Film Board.

The film centers around a romance between a down-on-his-luck busker in Dublin (Glen Hansard) and a young Czech flower seller (Markéta Irglová), also a musician. The 2 write an album of beautiful songs together and fall hopelessly in love, only for the busker to learn that she is married, with a husband back in the Czech Republic. Before parting ways for good, they record the songs that they’d written together, with a (literal) merry band of their fellow street performers in Dublin. The hit single from the film’s soundtrack “Falling Slowly,” penned by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, won an Oscar in 2008 for Best Original Song. The single and the film’s soundtrack both received a Grammy nomination.

Once earned over $23 million at the box office and was met with widely positive critical attention. It holds an eye-widening 97% on Rotten Tomatoes (That’s damn near perfection!) and the film has become a cult favorite. Needless to say: While this movie was made for the price of a luxury car in America, people absolutely loved it! Carl Roper called the film “more inspirational and uplifting than almost any number of Dreamgirls or Chicago or any of those multi-zillion dollar musical show stopping films. In its own way, it will blow you away.” Once appeared on dozens of top-10 film lists in 2007 and, considering its inherently musical nature and low budget costs, it was an apt choice for the film to be adapted for Broadway.

Once: The Musical is an authentic adaptation through-and-through, with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová writing the music and lyrics for the show, which premiered on Broadway in March of 2012. That year, Once earned 11 Tony Award nominations and won a formidable 8, including Best Musical. Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote in his review of the musical, “The songs soar with rough-edged, sweet-and-sad ambivalence that is seldom visited in contemporary American musicals.”

The show closed in January 2015, after nearly 1,200 performances. Since its premiere on Broadway in 2012, the production has received formidable attention from audiences worldwide. In addition to an obvious Dublin/West End production (2013-2015), Once: The Musical has mounted 3 US national tours, multiple UK and European tours, as well as productions in Canada (2015), Australia (2014, 2019), South Korea (2019), and Argentina (2019).

Broadway Shows Inspired By Hollywood Movies: Waitress (2007)

There’s 1 more Broadway adaptation we have for you, and this one might just be our favorite.

Broadway’s Waitress is a hit musical with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. The contemporary musical was adapted from the 2007 movie with the same title, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly. The show centers around Jenna Hunterson, a kind yet undervalued waitress at a roadside diner (and a devoted baker), who finds out that she is pregnant with her abusive husband’s child. When Jenna arrives for an initial check-up with her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, sparks fly and the 2 quickly fall into an illicit affair. Jenna hatches a plan to enter a baking contest with the hopes of winning a generous cash prize that would allow her to leave her life behind and start fresh, with a new baby and baking expertise in tow.

Waitress was Sara Bareilles’s Broadway debut as a composer and lyricist, and the musical quickly became well-loved by critics, audiences, Sara Bareilles stans, and musical theater nerds everywhere. The show earned over $137 million during its Broadway run from 2016 to early 2020. While Waitress closed 2 months before Broadway was forced to shut its doors, Sara was performing in the lead role of Jenna in the show’s West End production at the start of the pandemic and had to leave the role, and the country, due to travel restrictions.

But we shall end this article on a victorious final note, Hollywooders: Sara Bareilles is reprising her starring role in Waitress and it’s opening on Broadway this Thursday, September 2nd!

“I couldn’t miss the opportunity to be there when Broadway welcomes audiences back into theaters that have been sitting dark for over a year,” Sara said in a statement.

Twitter is rife with anticipation for Sara Bareilles to take center stage again when Waitress re-opens. And for Broadway fans who have been without the Great White Way since last March, this seems like a natural choice for “the first show to see now that Broadway is open again.” Tickets are already beginning to sell out.

Three other musicals based on films will also be re-opening on Broadway this fall: Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Not only is Broadway raising its curtain once again, but the spirit of Hollywood is alive and well on its stages.


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