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Are People Getting Tricked into Watching Musicals?

Stacey Addo | Arts & Entertainment Editor

Broadway Direct/ 2020

The past month has been pretty big for movie musicals. With the releases of “Mean Girls,” “The Color Purple,” and “Wonka” all coming out within a few weeks of each other, there has seemed to be a common complaint that many people (who aren’t musical fans) had with these movies. They went into the movies not knowing that they were musicals. 

I went to watch “Mean Girls” and “The Color Purple” which are both based on their Broadway productions and personally enjoyed both of them, but was shocked to hear so many people saying they felt tricked into watching a musical. I went into both movies fully aware that they were musicals and personally have never gone into a movie surprised by their genre. In the advertisements of these movies, there were brief moments of music or dancing that I thought were clear indications of the movie being musicals. Still, recently I’ve wondered if this is because I am very familiar with musical theater and if movie studios have been purposefully hiding the fact that their movies were a musical.

During the Superbowl, the highly anticipated movie “Wicked” finally released its first trailer. As a fan of the musical, I was immediately aware that this movie would be a musical but when watching the trailer, the only indication of the fact is portions of “Defying Gravity” in the trailer, and wondered whether there were people unfamiliar with wicked that they wouldn’t be able to pick up on the fact that its a musical. So that begs the question, are these studios hiding the fact their movies are musicals, and if they are, then why?

Going back to 2021, when two big musical movies, “West Side Story” and “In the Heights,” were released their major selling point being about the fact they were musical. “West Side Story” was a remake of the classic beloved film through the eyes of director Steven Speilberg. “In the Heights” leaned into Lin Manuel Miranda who created the show and who has created and been involved in various other huge musicals, being directly involved with the once-stage production. Before the movie was available in theaters, they even released the opening number of the movie making it abundantly clear what the audience can expect. While both movies did well with critics and audiences, the movies didn’t sell well at the box office. “West Side Story” grossed only $76 million against a $100 million production budget while In the Heights grossed just $45 million against its $55 million production budget. 

Comparing this to the recent movies that “hid” that they were musicals we do see a difference. “Mean Girls” which didn't directly advertise as an adaption of the Broadway musical but instead as a “new twist” on the original movie has so far grossed $97.8 million with a $36 million budget. “Wonka” which focused on it being an origin story about Willy Wonka, made $588.1 million at the box office with a $125 million budget. And “The Color Purple” advertised itself as “a bold new twist on a beloved classic” having a budget of $100 million and making $66 million at the box office. 

While there seems to be some success for the most part, both “In the Heights” and “West Side Story” were released right after COVID when movie theaters had just reopened and many were still uncomfortable going into those spaces. So as of right now, it does seem like hiding the musical aspects of these movies has had some success but it will only be a matter of time before the strategy proves whether or not it's successful.


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