Musicals face problems at the box office against competitors

The downfall of musicals’ success in Hollywood
Cinemarks movie theaters in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania at the Stroud Mall
Cinemark’s movie theaters in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania at the Stroud Mall
Delaney Burke

Since movie musicals’ glory days in the 1930s, the second half of the 20th century saw a steep decline in the popularity and production of musicals in film.

According to Broadway World, “Musicals fell out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s as several high-profile box office failures made studios wary of investing in the genre. In the 1930s, around 10% of all films were musicals. Today, that number sits below 1%.”

In a time so stricken with stress and panic after the war, musicals were a way to unite all viewing audiences with messages of unity and harmony.

Britannica stated that popular musical genres differed from well-known Broadway musicals, like “The Wizard of Oz,” to stories about life post World War II, such as “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) or “Kiss Me, Kate” (1953).

While musical popularity was slowly dipping, there were still some musical hits in the 1970s and 1980s. “Saturday Night Fever” (1978) and “Grease” (1978) were successful box office hits, due to the more popular style of music that audiences could connect with.

Cinemark’s area where customers can buy concessions and meet to buy tickets from employees (Delaney Burke)

But in the modern world, filled with action movies and thrillers, musicals coming out face a hard time at the box office against their competitors. 

Colton Leeth, 11, stated, “Because of the unrealistic atmosphere and length of most musicals, people would rather watch something like Marvel movies in theaters.”

When “Mean Girls” (2024) was being promoted, producers were scared to advertise the movie as a musical. 

The Independent interviewed “Mean Girls” executive from Paramount, Marc Weinstock, “The decision to avoid marketing it as a musical was intentional. We didn’t want to run out and say it’s a musical because people tend to treat musicals differently. To start off saying musical, musical, musical, you have the potential to turn off audiences.”

Similarly to “Mean Girls”, the “Wonka” (2023) movie was a musical advertised differently to audiences. According to Variety, the remake of the iconic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) topped the box office quickly after coming out, receiving “a global haul of more than $270 million.”

The success of “Wonka” was partially caused by the misinformation of the movie’s advertisements. Screen Rant stated, “Although the trailer for Wonka included the iconic song ‘Pure Imagination,’ it was not entirely clear that Wonka was going to be a full musical. Ultimately, this probably helped the film more than it hurt it.”

The article went on to comment that frequently, musicals don’t perform as well as regular movies at the box office. The common trend of not emphasizing its musical status, “Wonka” made more audience members interested in seeing it.

In a survey asking Stroudsburg High School students if they would be likely to see a musical, 50% said they wouldn’t be interested, but the other half would. 57% of students said they would be disappointed if they went to see a movie and were surprised by the fact it was a musical. 

But some students see the appeal of musicals. Abby Kintz, 10, believes, “that musicals are very entertaining and they encourage students to participate in local theater.”

With Stroudsburg’s successful music program’s influence, it’s no surprise that students are divided by this topic throughout the school. Although there’s some drama surrounding musicals in Hollywood currently, these movies’ profits say otherwise.

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