×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How ‘Mamma Mia!’ Has Remained a Money-Maker for 20 Years

“Mamma Mia!” is still going strong 20 years after its April 6, 1999, debut at London’s Prince Edward Theatre. The longevity is a testament to the band ABBA and to the persistence of producer Judy Craymer, director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Catherine Johnson. The stage musical opened with low expectations; in 1983, another tribute to the Swedish quartet, named “Abbacadabra,” closed eight weeks after its debut. Plus, “Mamma Mia!” had been in workshops for 18 months, with Johnson the third writer on the project (she did seven drafts). Eight months after the debut, Variety reported that the show was “a financial gusher,” making back its £3 million ($4.8 million) cost in 27 weeks, and boasting an advance of nearly $13 million. The stage musical has earned an estimated $4 billion, and that’s not counting income from the two films. When it opened, Lloyd said: “We hope to create pure pleasure. We’re not splitting the atom.”

That sense of self-mockery was part of the show’s appeal, along with the great pop songs and a finale that inevitably brings audiences to their feet.

On the 10th anniversary of the stage show, Variety declared it “a global phenomenon,” adding, “It’s the show that gives jukebox musicals a good name.” Others had tried the jukebox format with varying degrees of success. But “Mamma Mia!” not only brought in crowds, it brought in people for repeat viewings.

The plot overlaps with the 1968 comedy “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell.” That movie concerns a single mom (Gina Lollobrigida) who’s been lying to her grown daughter about the identity of the father — because the woman had three suitors and honestly doesn’t know which one is the actual parent.

Craymer, Lloyd and Johnson repeated their duties on the 2008 film, which was a gamble. None had any big-screen credits, and the box office had been underwhelming for film adaptations of stage hits like “Rent” and “The Producers.” But “Mamma Mia” earned more than $600 million, or roughly 10 times its budget. It was one of the biggest hits of Meryl Streep’s career.

Universal executive Donna Langley laughed, “I convinced myself we were making a Bollywood movie. That helped me sleep at night. Bollywood movies have a wonderful, celebratory, melodramatic feel to them.”

The 2018 sequel cost a little more to make and was still a big hit, with nearly $400 million at the box office.

Popular on Variety

More Vintage

  • James Wong Howe Asian Cinematographer

    Cinematographer James Wong Howe Put Diversity in the Picture in Early Hollywood

    Few Hollywood stories can match the career highs and heartbreaking lows of James Wong Howe, whom Variety recognized in its July 15, 1976, edition as “one of the world’s foremost cinematographers.” Born in China on Aug. 28, 1899, he was 5 when his family moved to the U.S. At 18, he was hired for $10 [...]

  • Crystal Gayle First Time in Variety

    Crystal Gayle on Building Her Music Career After Leaving Sister Loretta Lynn's Label

    With her self-titled debut album for United Artists Records in Nashville nearly 45 years ago, singer Crystal Gayle immediately established a winning sound that would take the 24-year-old younger sister of country music legend Loretta Lynn repeatedly to the top of the music charts. Hit records such as “Wrong Road Again,” “I’ll Get Over You,” [...]

  • Stanley Nelson

    'Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool' Filmmaker Stanley Nelson on What He Loves About Documentaries

    Stanley Nelson’s documentary “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” is playing in U.S. theaters after screening at Sundance. But for the past 30 years Nelson’s films, such as the features “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” and “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” have detailed lesser-known stories of [...]

  • Mickey Gilbert The Wold Bunch

    Meet Mickey Gilbert, Hollywood's Veteran Western Stuntman

    Among the true legends of Hollywood’s stunt profession, Mickey Gilbert has always performed a notch above the rest. The stunt double for Robert Redford from 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” through 2018’s “The Old Man & the Gun,” Gilbert has more than 100 film and TV credits as a stunt coordinator and a [...]

  • Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now BTS

    Why Everything About 'Apocalypse Now's' Production Was Unorthodox

    Lionsgate, myCinema and American Zoetrope are releasing “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” the third version of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic, to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. While multiple versions of any mainstream movie are unusual, everything about this movie was unorthodox. Related Universal Lands Romantic Comedy From Paul Feig and Meredith Dawson (EXCLUSIVE) Hollywood Execs [...]

  • 'Russian Doll' Star Natasha Lyonne on

    How Natasha Lyonne Talked Her Way Into a 1996 Movie Role as a Teen

    Two decades before her turn as the gruff-voiced, sardonic Nadia on the existential dramedy “Russian Doll,” a teenage Natasha Lyonne played DJ, the chirpy narrator in Woody Allen’s 1996 whimsical romantic-comedy musical “Everyone Says I Love You.” Lyonne’s name first appeared in Variety on Dec. 2, 1996, in a review of the Allen film.  Related [...]

  • When They See Us BTS Ava

    Ava DuVernay on Moving From PR to Filmmaking, Directing 'When They See Us'

    For the past 14 years, Ava DuVernay has used film as a way to tell the often untold stories of marginalized communities — but the Oscar-nominated filmmaker has more IMDb credits as a publicist than as a director. DuVernay rose through the ranks as a PR executive early in her career before starting her own [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content