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Disney's 'Hamilton' movie could usher in new boom of musical movies

Daniel Roberts
·Editor-at-Large
·4 mins read

Lin-Manuel Miranda broke the news on Monday that Disney (DIS) will release a theatrical film version of the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton” in October 2021. And Deadline now reports that Disney paid $75 million for the rights, likely the most expensive acquisition of a finished film ever; the movie will be a recorded performance of the musical in New York City from two weeks before much of the original cast left.

That’s a big spend, but it’s almost surely a very smart spend by Disney, for a litany of reasons.

“Hamilton” has been a money-minting machine since 2015, when the average ticket price six months into its run topped $1,000 and made it the most expensive Broadway show in history. The show has since opened in other U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago, but Americans who can’t afford the notoriously pricey passes have had to sit out the phenomenon, with only scattered YouTube clips and the Broadway soundtrack on Spotify to fill them in.

Now, as Box Office Guru founder Gitesh Pandya says, Disney will get to serve all those people by “bringing it to all 50 states at one time, and at a much lower price point.” The film (2 hours, 40 minutes long) will get a global theatrical release.

And then it will hit Disney’s Disney+ streaming service, where it’s sure to have an extended shelf-life, another reason it’s a smart investment for Disney. (Disney reported 2020 Q1 earnings on Tuesday, its first earnings report since the Disney+ launch; “Hamilton” will surely get mentioned on the call.)

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of "Hamilton: An American Musical," acknowledges applause from the audience during the curtain call on the opening night of the Los Angeles run of the show at the Pantages Theatre on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, in in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of "Hamilton: An American Musical," acknowledges applause from the audience during the curtain call on the opening night of the Los Angeles run of the show at the Pantages Theatre on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, in in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

In a time when all the streaming services are starved for more content, “Hamilton” is another huge exclusive for Disney’s offering. It’s no surprise there was a bidding war for the rights, one that reportedly included Netflix. Last June, Netflix (NFLX) won the bidding war for a different Miranda musical movie, “Tick, Tick... Boom!” based on a musical written by Jonathan Larson, who wrote “Rent.”

“Rent” also got a theatrical film version in 2008, “Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway,” a recording of the original cast’s final performance. But the movie was only put in limited theatrical release without the fanfare “Hamilton” will get.

And if “Hamilton” is the mega hit for Disney it looks set to be, it could prompt a new boom of musicals turned movies, since streamers are in a spending frenzy. To cite a similar (though far less lucrative) example of live theater hitting the big screen, New York’s Metropolitan Opera launched “The Met: Live in HD” in 2006, which airs select live Met opera performances in a limited number of movie theaters and then makes them available on streaming.

“The Book of Mormon,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Come From Away,” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” all come to mind as candidates.

Of course, not all beloved musicals will work on the big screen. “Cats” was a bomb for NBCUniversal and parent company Comcast, losing at least $40 million, though that was a new film with a new star-studded cast, rather than a recorded Broadway performance.

“There are not too many Hamiltons out there,” cautions Pandya. “But I see potential for filming hot Broadway shows and bringing them to movie screens everywhere, as long as the property has substantial demand.”

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers media and the streaming wars. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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