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The Greatest Showman: What a Sleeper Box Office Run Means

The Greatest Showman has stealthily become a sleeper hit and a box office Cinderella story. We consider why and what it means for musicals.

Right now many in Hollywood are still marveling at the runaway success of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. As a standalone semi-sequel / semi-reboot, this old-fashioned adventure yarn exceeded all expectations and has dominated the U.S. box office for a month, toppling even Star Wars: The Last Jedi for three straight weeks. But just staring at Dwayne Johnson’s million-dollar smile might cause some to miss another big boffo story: Hugh Jackman’s The Greatest Showman is a stealthy box office hit.

Currently sitting at a global intake of more than $200 million, The Greatest Showman’s even showier fortunes are all the more impressive when so many wrote the picture off as a box office failure upon its opening weekend. Like Jumanji, this slickly produced musical was released on Dec. 20 and in the shadow of Star Wars’ wide reach. But unlike Jumanji, the movie’s appeal to audiences was less than clear. Grossing a meager $8.8 million while debuting in fourth place, the $84 million-budgeted toe-tapper was dismissed as a dud for 20th Century Fox that failed to get anyone to sing-along, especially critics who were less than warmhearted about the movie—including in our own review.

Indeed, the movie’s saccharine and overly sentimental affectation might seem unearned to some—especially those who compared it to last year’s lauded La La Land. However, a funny thing happened. Moviegoers who are fond of musicals ignored the critics, a few at a time, and responded to The Greatest Showman with almost as much enthusiasm as La La Land. For like that picture, here is another all-original song-and-dance picture that week after week, and weekend after weekend, played exceedingly well with audiences who have a song in their heart.

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