The rise of the movie musical

Here are some of the most recent musical theater films taking over the silver screen.

Renée Rapp and Megan Thee Stallion performed “Not My Fault” on “Saturday Night Live,” which plays during the credits scene of the new “Mean Girls” movie musical. (Will Heath / NBC)

As of late, musical theater appears to have reached unprecedented levels of popularity. From the use of viral musical soundtracks on TikTok to the genre’s recent takeover of the silver screen, musical theater may seem inescapable in 2024. Currently, over 10% of movies shown at Regal L.A. Live — the closest movie theater to USC — are movie musicals. For non-theater fans, this trend may elicit groans; however, the genre’s cultural influence is undeniable.

The recent rise of movie musicals parallels a complementary trend on Broadway: adapting blockbuster movies into live musicals. Some of the most popular shows on Broadway in recent years have been adapted from Hollywood box office hits, including “Beetlejuice” (2019), “Mean Girls” (2018) and “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” (2019). Aside from a handful of exceptions, such as  “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” (2019), most of these movies were not musicals to begin with.

Without further ado, let’s explore some of the trends found in modern movie musicals that have hit the big screen recently.

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“Mean Girls”

The existence of “Mean Girls” as a movie musical is particularly interesting, given that the 2004 movie was adapted for the stage in 2018 and “re-adapted” as a movie musical in January. The film received mixed-positive reviews, earning 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.2/10 on IMDb.

The movie adaptation cut nine songs from the original soundtrack while adding two new tracks — “What Ifs,” sung by Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) as she begins school at North Shore High, and “Not My Fault,” a collaboration between Mean Girl Reneé Rapp and Megan Thee Stallion that underscores the final credits. Rapp played Regina George on Broadway in the summer of 2019 and reprised the role in the film.

Critics have pointed to Rapp and musical theater veteran Auli’i Cravalho (Janice Ian) as examples of movie musicals getting casting right, with Deadline writing, “The film’s saving grace is the performances of Auil’i Cravalho and Reneé Rapp. Their exceptional singing talents are undeniable highlights.” Despite the attempts of movie executives to insert A-list celebs into musical adaptations — see “The Prom” (2020) — it seems that audiences prefer the casting of skilled musical theater performers, rather than celebrities getting stunt cast.

“Wonka” (2023)

“Wonka” is a prequel to the magical world of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, which was first introduced to movie audiences in 1971 in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.’’ Timothée Chalamet, who plays the namesake chocolatier, surprised many viewers when he broke into song at the beginning of the film. Chalamet opened the film by singing about the “twelve silver sovereigns” in his pocket and his titular “A Hatful of Dreams.”

“Wonka” achieved solid critical acclaim; the film earned 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.1/10 on IMDb — despite the fact that many viewers didn’t necessarily know they were sitting down to watch a musical. The trailer includes no footage of Chalamet singing and, aside from a handful of dance montages, notably refrains from alluding to the fact that it is indeed a movie musical.

It’s difficult to know whether this tactic helped or hurt the success of “Wonka.” On the one hand, by purposefully not advertising the film as a movie musical, “Wonka” was able to gain viewers who would have been otherwise deterred from watching the film. However, this marketing strategy also isolated a large group of “Wonka”’s target audience. Many theater fans who were unaware that “Wonka” was a movie musical likely would have watched the film, had they known.

“The Color Purple” (2023)

Like “Mean Girls,” “The Color Purple” is a readaptation of a stage musical that was originally adapted from a movie of the same name. The original movie reimagined Alice Walker’s 1982 novel. Like “Wonka,” “The Color Purple” earned 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.1/10 on IMDb. The film also had the second-best box office of any Christmas Day premiere.

Both Steven Spielberg — the director of the 1985 movie — and Oprah Winfrey — who played the role of Sofia in the original film — joined the creative team as producers. “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino plays Celie, the protagonist, after portraying the character on Broadway. Other outstanding performances include Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery, Halle Bailey as Young Nettie and H.E.R. as Squeak.

Despite positive reviews and a star-studded cast, “The Color Purple” went to streaming less than a month after its release. In total, “The Color Purple” has garnered $66 million at the box office, compared to “Mean Girls”’s $98 million or “Wonka”’s whopping $587 million.

Unlike the movies mentioned above, the plot of “The Color Purple” is extremely heavy, grappling with issues of racism and sexual abuse. Although this may play a role in the movie’s box office numbers, it doesn’t seem like a complete explanation for why the film has not been more successful.


Finally, we have potentially the most anticipated movie musical to date: “Wicked.” As one of the longest-running shows on Broadway, “Wicked” (2003)’s place in the musical theater canon is irrefutable.

The movie adaptation has been in the works for nearly a decade, with a movie adaptation first announced in 2012. Production didn’t begin until 2022, with delays in filming occurring due to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Filming finally wrapped on the movie in January.

Given the cultural legacy of the Broadway musical  “Wicked” and the hype surrounding the upcoming movie adaptation, many musical theater fans are eager to see how the show will translate to the big screen. The movie is slated to feature actors Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande as Elphaba and Glinda, respectively.

Only time will tell the future of the movie musical, but it doesn’t seem like the genre is going away any time soon. With over 20 confirmed projects in development, musical adaptations will continue to dominate movie theaters as long as audiences continue showing up. And if the above films are any indication, they will.

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