June would have—in a different world—seen the theatrical release of director Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights, based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical from future Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. But we live in the times of Covid-19, when In the Heights has been pushed to next summer and a filmed version of Hamilton, originally bound for theaters, instead found its way to Disney+. With big screens currently devoid of any toe-tappers, Boxoffice Pro takes the time to look back at the highest-grossing movie musicals of the 20th century.
Some notes of order: Only live-action musicals were considered for this list. The ranking has been tabulated based on worldwide cumes. And biopics of musical figures, whether real or fictional—namely, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born—have been omitted.
#1 and #2 – Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Aladdin (2019)
Worldwide: $1.26 billion (Beauty and the Beast), $1.05 billion (Aladdin)
Domestic: $504 million (Beauty and the Beast), $355.6 million (Aladdin)
In terms of box office, Disney’s animated musicals tend to run roughshod over output from other studios. It’s no surprise that their live-action musicals would do the same. The top two highest-grossing live-action musicals, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s Aladdin, both hail from the Mouse House, which ever since the billion-dollar success of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland has been in high gear remaking their animated classics. One of those remakes, 2019’s CGI-animated The Lion King, is the highest-grossing musical of all time. Two other Disney musicals—Frozen and Frozen II—have crossed the billion-dollar mark.
Beauty in particular was such a massive success that it broke the all-time March opening record in North America with $174.8 million, in line with our breakout forecasts ahead of release. That figure remains best among all March openers to date, having topped Batman v Superman‘s previous record of $166 million in 2016.
Aladdin, meanwhile, overcame negative pre-release buzz (driven primarily by online reactions to the computer-generated appearance of Will Smith’s Genie character) and developed strong word of mouth throughout its run. The remake proved to become one of the stickiest films of summer 2019—remaining in the domestic top ten for eleven weeks during a notably competitive summer.
#3 – Mamma Mia! (2008)
Worldwide: $609.9 million
Domestic: $144.2 million
For over a decade, Mamma Mia! held two key records: highest-grossing live-action musical, and highest-grossing movie directed by a woman (Phyllida Lloyd). Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came along and took that first record in 2017; that same year, the second record went to Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins. Despite being the third highest-grossing live-action musical of all time, Mamma Mia! never managed to top the box office in the United States. That has to do with a little film called The Dark Knight, which shared Mamma Mia!’s July 2008 release date and held onto the top spot for four weeks.
#4 – La La Land (2016)
Worldwide: $446.5 million
Domestic: $151.1 million
Like Mamma Mia!, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land never made it to the top box office spot. Distributor Liosngate gave the film a platform release, debuting it in five theaters in mid-December before expanding its reach throughout awards season. The highest ranking it ever got was number two, in its sixth week of release, trailing fellow Oscar hopeful Hidden Figures. In terms of theater count, La La Land got up to 3,236 theaters in early February, two weeks before the closing of Oscar voting that year. We all remember how that went.
#5 – Les Misérables (2012)
Worldwide: $441.8 million
Domestic: $148.8 million
Les Misérables stands behind Mamma Mia! as the second highest-grossing movie musical based on a stage play. (The original Disney versions of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin were turned into stage musicals, but neither of the subsequent live-action remakes pulled from those shows in any significant way.) Director Tom Hooper would return to the movie musical well in 2019 with the critically derided Cats, which you will not find anywhere on this list. Les Misérables won three Oscars, but it lost out on Best Original Song—“Suddenly,” written by the creators of the original stage musical—to the title song from James Bond film Skyfall.
#6 – The Greatest Showman (2017)
Worldwide: $435 million
Domestic: $174.3 million
20th Century Fox
One of the biggest box office stories of 2018 belonged to The Greatest Showman. The musical—a directorial debut from music video director Michael Gracey—had a “healthy,” if not exceptional, opening over the Christmas holiday, debuting in the number four spot with $8.8 million. And then it just… kept…. going. The film’s stellar hold kept it in theaters for just shy of six months and in the top ten for 11 weeks, though it never climbed above number four. For some perspective: The Greatest Showman shared a release date with Pitch Perfect 3, which out-earned its fellow musical by approximately $11 million on opening weekend. By the time the dust settled, The Greatest Showman exceeded Pitch Perfect 3’s domestic cume by nearly $70 million. Worldwide, The Greatest Showman out-earned Pitch Perfect 3 by nearly $250 million.
#7 – Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Worldwide: $395 million
Domestic: $120.6 million
Here we go again, indeed—another Abba musical in the top ten. Our forecasting predicted that Here We Go Again would top the box office upon its release in summer July 2018, though that didn’t end up happening due to the surprise success of Denzel Washington-starrer Equalizer 2. Here We Go Again’s $34.95 million domestic opening put it 25.9 percent above Mamma Mia!’s opening in 2008. The sequel’s hold, however, proved less strong than that of its predecessor. The two films are close domestically ($144.1 million for Mamma Mia! vs $120.6 million for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), but Here We Go Again didn’t do as well internationally, bringing in only $274.4 million compared to the first film’s $465.7.
#8 – Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Worldwide: $349.5 million
Domestic: $172 million
We return to Disney—another remake of a classic Disney film, though unlike Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin the film Mary Poppins Returns is based on was only partially animated. Mary Poppins Returns’ Christmastime 2017 debut was on the low end of our expectations, and the film never grabbed the number one spot, hanging around in the top five for three weeks before slipping quietly down the charts. Once out of the top five, Mary Poppins Returns had relatively strong legs, holding on at the box office for an eventual domestic multiplier of 7.3.
#9 – Enchanted (2007)
Worldwide: $340.5 million
Domestic: $127.8 million
Disney got meta with 2007’s Enchanted, in which Amy Adams plays an animated fairy tale princess who goes through a magical portal and finds herself in live-action New York City. The film bowed at the number one spot over Thanksgiving weekend, debuting with $34.4 million (three-day) before being overtaken by The Golden Compass the following weekend. Neither time nor critics have been kind to that film, which wasn’t helped along by religious boycotts. Domestically, The Golden Compass was eventually out-earned by Enchanted to the tune of $57.7 million. Internationally, the story is different, with The Golden Compass earning $302.1 million to Enchanted’s $212.7 million.
#10 – Chicago
Worldwide: $306.8 million
Domestic: $170.7 million
Rob Marshall did the box office tango in 2002 with Chicago. Domestically, the film earned $170.7 million, enough to make it the eighth highest-grossing film of 2003. (The film was released in late December ’02 and took in only $3.1 million in its release year.) The film would go on to win six Oscars, including the statuette for Best Picture. Marshall would go on to direct Mary Poppins Returns, which is on this list; Into the Woods, which barely missed being on this list; and Nine, which despite a star-studded cast (Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson) couldn’t manage to crack $20 million domestically against a reported $80 million budget and is thus nowhere near this list.