You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Can ‘Cats’ Find New Life at the Box Office?

Cats,” the big-screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash musical, has been the subject of much internet scrutiny since Universal first debuted footage over summer. Will curiosity for the art form now known in popular culture as “digital fur technology” translate into commercial success?

As anticipation for the cinematic spectacle heightens ahead of its Dec. 20 release, “Cats” is still on pace to make $15 million to $17 million in its inaugural outing. Universal positioned the film as counter-programming against “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and Disney’s final chapter in the Skywalker saga is projected to land one of the biggest opening weekends of the year.

Musicals are a polarizing genre, making it tricky when it comes to predicting box office fortunes. But “Cats,” in a way, is its own kind of four-quadrant movie: those genuinely excited (including fans of the property), those cautiously curious, those interested in a hate-watching and those who wouldn’t be caught dead buying a ticket.

It’ll take all kinds to fuel the lengthy theatrical run needed for “Cats” to turn a profit. Universal shelled out $100 million to produce the film, a figure that doesn’t include global marketing or distribution costs. Even if “Cats” is overshadowed by “Star Wars” on box office charts, industry prognosticators believe it could claw its way to a long life in theaters.

Popular on Variety

Box office watchers aren’t betting against “Cats,” and not just because the stage version has been a draw for decades. “The Greatest Showman” was essentially written off after bowing with a soft $8.8 million in 2017. However, the musical centered on ringleader P.T. Barnum (portrayed by the ever-charming Hugh Jackman) became a sleeper hit as singalong screenings and repeat viewings carried the movie to a mighty $434 million worldwide. Recent successes including “La La Land,” ($446 million), “Rocketman” ($195 million) and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” ($394 million) have helped the genre enjoy a kind of box office renaissance. “Cats” is hoping to find itself in that company rather than the ignominious group of popular musicals-turned-movies like “Rent” ($31 million) and “Rock of Ages” ($59 million) that were seen as derivative.

“If history is any guide, movies that are overshadowed by bigger films upon initial release can often find favor over time with audiences once the noise of whatever juggernauts wane a bit,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analysts at Comscore. He cautions: “Of course, [that is] if the reviews and audience reaction are strong.”

“Cats” will certainly be pitched for competition. Lionsgate’s “Bombshell,” a drama about the female Fox News anchors who went public with sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes, is launching nationwide the same weekend. Meanwhile, movie theaters will be crowded with everything from family films like “Jumanji: The Next Level” to awards hopefuls such as “Little Women” and “Bombshell.” However, holiday releases tend to have big multiples since people often visit their local multiplex more than once between Christmas and New Year’s.

Outside of Golden Globe voters (who didn’t show much love Monday save for a lone best song nomination for Taylor Swift and Webber), very few have seen “Cats” in its entirety, so it’s impossible to know what word of mouth looks like. Both reviews and social media reactions are embargoed until Dec. 18, potentially a move to control online chatter.

“Reviews and audience buzz will be crucial for ‘Cat’ [in terms of] long-term playability,” Dergarabedian emphasized.

Director Tom Hooper has proven his musical chops with “Les Miserables,” his 2012 movie adaptation starring Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried. That film sung its way to $441 million in ticket sales and a handful of Oscars nominations. “Cats” could also benefit from a high-wattage cast that includes Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen and Jason Derulo. Like the stage version, “Cats” centers on a tribe of cats called the Jellicles, one of which will be selected to receive a new life.

“Though opening against ‘Rise of Skywalker’ may not deliver immediate perceived dividends,” Dergarabedian predicts, “patience, time and audience enthusiasm could turn the film into a marathon-style hit that will play well into 2020.”

More Film

  • Zola Cast at Sundance

    How Janicza Bravo and the ‘Zola’ Cast Brought the Viral Twitter Thread to Life

    Five years after A’Ziah Wells King posted the Twitter thread known as #thestory — a tale of how a trip from Detroit to Tampa, Fla., to earn money stripping quickly devolved into a wild ride, featuring a kidnapping, a shooting, sex trafficking and a suicide attempt — the real-life “Zola” is celebrating the film adaptation’s [...]

  • Priyanka Chopra Bollywood

    Priyanka Chopra Jonas In Final Negotiations to Join 'Matrix 4' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Priyanka Chopra Jonas is taking the red pill. The actress and international beauty icon is in final talks to join the cast of the untitled fourth film in the Matrix saga, the Wachowski’s game-changing action franchise, insiders close to negotiations said. The Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow film is being directed by series co-creator Lana [...]

  • The Photograph Issa Rae Stella Meghie

    How ‘Love & Basketball’ Allowed Issa Rae to Dream

    Issa Rae says she had every reason to think she could be a filmmaker when she was growing up. “The ’90s had lots of black television and film … a lot of the shows were helmed by black people,” she recalls. “That’s what inspired me to at least try it.” She may have only been [...]

  • Little Women

    Writers Infuse Serious WGA Awards Contenders 'Parasite,' 'Little Women,' 'Jojo Rabbit' with Humor

    This year’s crop of WGA-nominated adapted and original screenplays appears on the surface to be a grim lot. There’s war (“1917,” “Jojo Rabbit”), insidious homewreckers (“Parasite”), a Civil War-era coming-of age (“Little Women”) and an arch murder investigation (“Knives Out”), to name just a few of the nominated scripts. But here’s a surprise: Every one [...]

  • Cathy Yan Birds of Prey Director

    'Birds of Prey' Director Cathy Yan Reveals the Crucial Advice Patty Jenkins Gave Her

    Just months after Cathy Yan’s feature directing debut, Shanghai-set ensemble comedy “Dead Pigs,” made a big splash at Sundance in 2018, the Chinese-born filmmaker landed a gig helming a giant studio franchise movie, the DC Comics adaptation “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” starring Margot Robbie. Going straight from indie buzz [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content