My, my, how can they resist you?
Most musicals don’t do well overseas, but Universal Pictures is ready to debunk that track record with “Mamma Mia!,” the bigscreen adaptation of the stage phenom.
For one thing, the title is presold: The stage version has grossed nearly $2 billion, having been seen by some 30 million since its debut on London’s West End nearly a decade ago.
Second, the studio carefully crafted an international lineup of thesps. When casting a musical, Stellan Skarsgard may not be the first name that pops into your head, but, like composers ABBA, he is Swedish, while the rest of the actors are American (Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski), Irish (Pierce Brosnan) and Brits (Colin Firth, Julie Walters) — and the U.K. creative team filmed it in Greece.
Greece also hosted the studio’s splashy international press junket last month, with the premieres continuing the international tone: Pic had its world bow in London June 30, followed by cast-attended events in Sweden, Australia and Greece, in advance of the July 16 New York preem. So this is clearly not a “Hollywood musical.”
“Even though we think it will do very domestically, we expect it to outperform that with international,” says Universal president of production Donna Langley, who has Abba’s disco ditty “Gimme Gimme Gimme” playing on her call-waiting service. “The show was a global phenomenon, which was one of the elements we looked at when greenlighting it.”
Even before its July 18 U.S. bow, the pic has posted strong numbers internationally, breaking the previous single-screen record in the U.K. (set by “Chicago”) with $240,000 at the Odeon Leicester Square and tying with “Asterix and Obelisk” for best opening of the year in Greece with $1.6 million.
“It’s projected to be in the top five grossing films of all time in Greece already,” says Universal Pictures Intl. prexy David Kosse. “The stage show has played just about everywhere, even where musicals aren’t traditionally strong. That element, along with the combination of the Abba and universal themes, make us hope it can transcend the musical genre. It’s good to have something this feel-good when the economic news has been so dire.”
The team of helmer Phyllida Lloyd, writer Catharine Johnson and producer Judy Craymer, all from the U.K., created the 1999 London stage show and are reprising these chores on the film.
“It’s not a traditional musical in the Rodgers and Hammerstein sense,” adds producer Judy Craymer. “We ended up with the best of both worlds, with the studio keeping their distance and bringing the stage show’s main creators on board to reprise their roles. It could have gone the other way, of course.”
The Abba tunes, which have already been used in such pics as “Muriel’s Wedding” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” are well known around the world, which gives the film a leg up over tuners with less-known scores.
The most successful tuner overseas in recent years was Miramax’s “Chicago,” with a $170.9 million U.S. gross and a boffo $136 million international haul.
Paramount’s “Dreamgirls,” grossed $51.7 million internationally, compared to $103.4 million in the U.S. And New Line’s “Hairspray” brought in $118.9 million Stateside, compared to $81.7 million overseas.
The last U musical was the 2005 version of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” which grossed a disappointing $19 million in the U.S. and $18 million internationally.