Modern Hollywood Blockbusters Inspired By Broadway Shows

Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY.
Niko Tavernise/© 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Okay, Hollywooders. Today we’re going to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart: movie musicals. Specifically, Hollywood movies that were adapted from Broadway shows.

Whether you love them or love to hate them, there is no denying that a Broadway adaptation draws A-list stars to the screen and musical theater lovers to the cinemas to see how their favorite stage productions hold up on film. However, while some musical adaptations knock it out of the park, earning Oscar nominations and grossing hundreds of millions, some movie musicals based on famous (and successful) Broadway favorites are just… not good (and sometimes they’re really not good…).

Today we’re exploring 7 modern films that were adapted from Broadway shows… and we’re scoring them (in a completely non-objective, opinion-based manner, judged only by the writer of this piece and nobody else). Let’s get into it!

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Rent

Okay. I saw the midnight premiere of this film adaptation in theaters, which is to say I had incredibly high expectations. I was a teenage disciple of Jonathan Larson’s famous 1996 Broadway show, so when the film came out in 2005, with 6 of the original cast members from the original Broadway cast (Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia, in case you were wondering), I was *ready.*

Upon reflection, I’d say it was a decent, albeit big-budget and sell-out-worthy adaptation which, in and of itself, contradicted the very spirit of la vie bohème which Jonathan Larson so innately captured in Rent (itself an adaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème) in the first place. In this writer’s humble opinion, it would’ve been far better suited as a single-cam documentary-esque film, a la the aesthetic of the story’s narrator, Mark Cohen. But instead, Sony Pictures hired Chris Columbus (of Goonies, Home Alone, and the first 2 Harry Potter movies fame) to direct and brought on screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being A Wallflower, Wonder, Beauty and the Beast) to write the screenplay  (which… honestly could’ve been better, IMHO.)

With a $40 million budget, the film failed to break even, only netting $31.6 million at the box office. Rotten Tomatoes gave Rent a 46%, although Rosario Dawson’s performance as Mimi brought the film positive attention from critics. Roger Ebert may have put it best in his review when he said, “It is not a bad film… The film left me in a curious state: I felt more respect than affection.”

Unofficial Score: A solid 7/10. 

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Sweeney Todd

Okay, full disclosure: this is the first film I ever walked out of in a theater, way back in 2007. Needless to say, not a fan! So forgive this whiny description you’re about to receive:

First of all… Johnny Depp. Hardly his best work, even under the direction of his long-time director BFF, Tim Burton. He just… doesn’t do it for me when he sings. It’s like a labored task, and I can just never get into it. I’m a longtime Stephen Sondheim fanatic and spent many a car ride home from theater camp singing along to the OBC soundtrack (that’s ‘Original Broadway Cast’ recording, for you non-musical nerds), so I can’t say I didn’t like the content. But I can say that the film adaptation was certainly not for me.

With that being said, despite my strong opinion to the contrary, this film did really well and received critical acclaim along with financial success. It grossed over $150 worldwide (3 times its budget of $50 million) and Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 86%. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were lauded for their performances by critics, and the film was nominated for 4 Golden Globes and 3 Oscars that year, winning 2 Globes for Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy and Best Actor for Johnny’s performance. Sweeney Todd also nabbed the Oscar for Best Art Direction. Although Johnny Depp was nominated for Best Actor that year at the Academy Awards, the Oscar went to Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood.

Unofficial Score: N/A 

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Mamma Mia!

Okay, let’s all agree: a jukebox musical is either hit or miss. And honestly, this Broadway adaptation was right on the money for me. The 2005 movie, based on the 1999 Broadway musical of the same name, starred Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, and Pierce Brosnan, among a slew of other A-list stars who performed well-choreographed ABBA numbers in exotic locations around Greece.

I’ve had an affinity for the original production, and I love to see Meryl Streep in a musical role, but I was initially skeptical of how well Amanda Seyfried could hold her own in the role of Sophie, the film’s protagonist. After seeing the film a few times since its release in 2005, along with its sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018), Amanda’s performance definitely holds up, not only among the likes of Meryl, but also co-stars Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård.

It’s one of those musical films that doesn’t go out of its way to reinvent the wheel, but rather takes the essence of the musical, dresses it up, films it on Grecian islands with everyone’s favorite movie stars, and dishes it up to viewers in the most razzle-dazzle, delicious way possible. Empire called it “cute, clean, camp fun, full of sunshine and toe-tappers,” which is actually a perfect articulation of my own feelings about the film.

It turns out, I am not alone in my indulgence for this ABBA-brand comfort food.

In the case of this film, critics and fans agreed. Mamma Mia! was the 5th highest-grossing film of 2008. It made yacht-loads of money! Seriously, this movie was a cash cow for Universal Pictures, although it’s only 55% fresh according to Rotten Tomatoes. A few performances among the ensemble received particularly harsh tomato-flinging from critics, notably Pierce Brosnan. (The terms “water buffalo,” “wounded raccoon,” and “donkey braying” were used to describe his performance, which is to say… you didn’t nail it, Pierce.)
Despite this, it’s still the type of movie that I would watch on a plane as I dozed off to sleep. Which is to say, it is very good at what I want it to be good at: mind-soothing musical amusement and pretty things.

Unofficial Score: a smooth 7/10

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Les Misérables

Like Rent, I had very high expectations for this film upon even hearing it was being made. The Tom Hooper-directed 2012 movie showcased a lofty ensemble cast with Hugh Jackman at the helm as Jean Valjean, along with Hollywood A-listers Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, and Amanda Seyfried in principal roles. (Notably, bouncing back to Sweeney Todd, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were reunited as the comedic and conniving Thénardiers in the movie).

When the film was released on Christmas Day in 2012, I was there the next afternoon to give it a serious viewing. I love the 1987 musical Les Misérables so much that I was worried it would go the way of other Broadway musical adaptations I had seen that took the musical and made it something different, something that sang a little less in tune, cinematically speaking.

Les Misérables left me impressed and ready to watch it again. It was one of those films that required a second viewing to formulate a full opinion, after all, it is nearly 3 hours. Considering that all of the actors had performed live vocals, rather than the industry-standard lip-syncing while filming, the bar was set even higher for the star-studded cast. Hugh Jackman shined in his performance, in which he portrayed Valjean over the course of 15 years. Anne Hathaway’s performance as the tragic Fantine was lauded by critics and she even won an Oscar in 2013 for Best Supporting Actress. To this day, fans continue to stan Anne’s performance:

The film was nominated for 8 Academy Award nominations and won Oscars for Best Makeup/Hairstyling and Best Sound Mixing.

However, there is one performance that I do not applaud in this movie and that is Russell Crowe as Detective Javert, Jean Valjean’s persistent captor and nemesis. Like Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd, Russell Crowe’s performance as Javert never allowed me to forget that he was Russell Crowe laboriously performing in a French tri-corner hat (which received negative press of its own). I think BroadwayTour put it best with this review: “[Crowe’s] performance in the smash hit film adaptation of Broadway’s Les Mirables seems to be one performance that left a bad taste in the mouths of many diehard theatre goers. Why? Well simply put, Russell Crowe can’t sing.”

Despite the flatness of Russell Crowe, the musical adaptation lived up to its blockbuster expectations at the box office, breaking the existing record for the highest-grossing musical film at the time and earning over $27 million its opening weekend. Ultimately, Les Mirables grossed over $440 million in box offices worldwide, with a production budget of over $60 million.

The film scored 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and was met with polarizing reviews from the film world. Although, this one from Rolling Stone resonated the most with me: “Besides being a feast for the eyes and ears, Les Misérables overflows with humor, heartbreak, rousing action, and ravishing romance. Damn the imperfections, it’s perfectly marvelous.”

Les Misérables

Unofficial score: 8.5/10
(Docking a point for Russell Crowe & .5 point for often dizzying single-cam shots.)

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Into the Woods

So, I wanted to love this film. I really did. And guess what? It totally delivered! (A Christmas miracle!)

As I previously mentioned, I’m a huge Stephen Sondheim fan, and depending on the day, Into the Woods can sometimes be my favorite of his musicals. Premiering on Broadway in 1986, the stage version starred Bernadette Peters as the Witch, in one of her most iconic Broadway roles. The film version, which premiered in theaters on Christmas Day in 2014, was adapted for the screen by James Lapine who wrote the book and directed the original Broadway production. Hollywood director Rob Marshall, who previously directed the movie musicals Chicago (2002) and Nine (2009) signed on to the project, which made me all the more interested to see the final product.

Not to mention the cast! Meryl Streep as the Witch as well as Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine! Lest I go on? Then again, there was also Johnny Depp’s labored and creepy performance as the Wolf which really put a sour damper on the film’s first act. (But by now you’re aware of my feelings regarding Johnny Depp singing and acting at the same time.)

Into the Woods grossed $31 million in its opening weekend, making it, in 2014, “the highest-grossing opening of a Broadway-based movie musical in history” according to BroadwayWorld.com. Although the film only received a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Into the Woods ended up grossing over $213 million worldwide, with a $50 million budget. It also received 3 Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Meryl Streep.

Unofficial Score: between 6 and 7 depending on my mood/10

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Annie

Annie was one of those films that had everything going for it and just… oof, wasn’t that good. But it had such potential! Based on the 1977 Broadway musical, which had already been adapted into a musical film in 1982 (with Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, and Tim Curry), the most recent adaptation of Annie from 2014 is set in Harlem and stars Quvenzhané Wallis in the titular role, with a singing Jamie Foxx as Daddy Warbucks. The film also featured A-listers such as Bobby Canavale, Rose Byrne, and Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan, in her final role before retiring from acting.

Like others in its genre, I already loved the original version of this film and did not think it required a remake. Although, upon learning that this film would cast the first Black Annie and Daddy Warbucks, I was intrigued to see if this film would give Black Hollywood the spotlight it deserved.

The big-budget Sony film, which had a rumored budget of upwards of nearly $80 million, had big names attached since its pre-production. Producers included Will and Jada Pinkett Smith along with Jay-Z. Popstar Sia and record producer Greg Kurstin executive produced the soundtrack, putting a new spin on the musical’s classics and even penning 3 new songs for the film. Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends With Benefits) directed, co-produced, and co-wrote Annie’s adapted screenplay.

Ultimately, the film was widely panned by critics and viewers alike. This Annie remake is definitely one of those movie musicals that you either love or love to hate, not just because of the Broadway show, but also because of how beloved and classic the original Annie film from 1982 remains to this day. “Annie goes out of its way to make viewing it a hard-knock life… for us,” wrote Jason Clark for Entertainment Weekly in 2014. The Annie remake received a dismal 28% on Rotten Tomatoes although it did nab 2 Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song and Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (Quvenzhané Wallis). With that being said, the film was also nominated for 2 Golden Raspberry Awards (which honors the worst cinematic achievements of the year): Worst Supporting Actress (Cameron Diaz) and Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off, or Sequel, which it won!

Cameron Diaz’s performance in Annie is a whole new level of camp that honestly, if it were extracted entirely from the rest of the movie and projected onto a black screen of an art-house cinema in an ironic, pretentious kind of way, could potentially be seen as its own form of brilliant. However, since that is decidedly not the case, Cameron’s portrayal of Miss Hannigan is alarming, at best. “A painfully hammy Diaz seems to be in another movie altogether,” wrote Elizabeth Weitzman for the NY Daily News. As this was Cameron’s final film role before quitting acting, her performance continues to echo throughout the annals of pop culture, with people still digitally scratching their heads about it.

With a budget of $65 million, Annie made just under $16 million its opening weekend and grossed a total of 85.9 million in North America and nearly $134 million worldwide. Ultimately, another film I don’t mind falling asleep to on a plane. Though I wouldn’t choose to watch it again otherwise anytime soon.

Unofficial Score: 4/10 (6/10 if I’ve been drinking)

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Cats

Okay, Hollywooders. I would never lie to you. I didn’t even bother seeing this one.

Upon watching the trailer exactly 2 times (just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it the first time), I thought, “No thanks, I can do so many things in 118 minutes. And if I see Cats, that is precious time from my 1 short life that I can never get back.: So instead of actually watching the film, I decided I could instead listen to the full soundtrack of the original Cats musical from 1982 while deep-cleaning my kitchen or doing my taxes or playing with actual cats.

Although I didn’t see this movie, I certainly did indulge when it came to hearing what other people had to say about the 2019 screen adaptation (people that actually took the time to watch it). Turns out, there was a lot to be said. 

Cats notoriously bombed in theaters, earning a dismal $6.5 million its opening weekend. The Tom Hooper-directed, CGI catastrophe (critics’ words, not mine), netted just over $75 million in profits. It is a pre-Covid catastrophe/masterpiece that I have somehow managed to continue living my life without seeing. But, it felt worth including in this list for its magnitude within the recent online discourse of musical film adaptations.
Unofficial Score: N/A
(It would be unfair for me to score this film seeing as I’ve never actually seen it.)

Hollywood Movies Inspired By Broadway Shows: Dear Evan Hansen and West Side Story

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the hits and misses of the existing movie musical landscape, it’s time to set our sights on the horizon of upcoming Broadway adaptations set to premiere this year. I’ve got 2 movies that I’m really looking forward to seeing before the end of 2021. The first (chronologically speaking) is Dear Evan Hansen, set to be released on September 24.

Starring Ben Platt, who originated the leading role on Broadway, the film also stars Kaitlyn Dever, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Amandla Stenberg, and more. Stephen Chbosky (who, you’ll remember, wrote the film adaptation of Rent in 2005) is in the director’s chair, and I can’t wait to see how the film adaptation sizes up to the original production.

Second on my list is Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story, slated to hit theaters on December 10th. With a screenplay by Tony and Academy Award winner Tony Kushner, and starring Ansel Elgort and newcomer, Rachel Zegler, in the leading roles, this adaptation is going to be big!

See also: Cinderella (starring Camila Cabello in the title role) coming to Amazon Prime Video September 3rd and Tick, Tick…Boom! (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial screen debut starring Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson!) coming to Netflix and select theaters this November.

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