Top 10 Worst Broadway Musicals That Still Made Money. Sometimes The Bottom Line Does Not Reflect The Bottom Of The Broadway Barrel. Just How Low Will Broadway Producers Go?
Top 10 Worst Broadway Musicals That Made Big Money At The Box Office
We all have our guilty pleasures. A few of the Broadway shows on this list have even crossed the billion dollar threshold in global gross receipts. But let’s be honest about it. Quantity does not always equal quality. They may not be "mockbusters" but the do know a thing or too about success at the box office.
These cash cows should’ve been put out to pasture, but when they were still playing on Broadway, audiences paid big money to see them, despite the critics panning them.
10. Mamma Mia! (2001, 5,773 performances)
The ninth longest running show in Broadway history, this jukebox musical anchored by the ABBA catalog has been seen by over 65 million people. But it’s pure kitsch, with a storyline that’s essentially an unauthorized rehashing of Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell. Audiences don’t seem to care. The over-the-top camp-fest has grossed over $4 billion worldwide! Dancing Queen? Financing Queen is more like it!
9. Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark (2010, 1,248 performances)
The story was a mess, the production was plagued by stunt fueled cast injuries, the reviews were brutal and the show closed at a massive financial loss. But Bono and Julie Taymor’s rock-and-roll circus drama only hemorrhaged so much money because it cost $75 million to mount, the highest price tag in Broadway history. The webbed superhero occupied the Foxwoods Theatre for almost 4 years, and in January of 2012 it took in almost $3 million for a 9-show week.
8. Cats (1982, 7,485 performances)
Probably one of the more polarizing musicals in Broadway history, this feline fever dream has grossed billions worldwide and remains one of the Rialto’s longest running shows. While there’s no accounting for taste, Cats certainly had a taste for accounting. It ran for a whopping 18 years and will likely hold its status as the Winter Garden Theatre’s lengthiest tenant. The show also made a major economic impact on New York City.
7. Jekyll & Hyde (1997, 1,543 performances)
Frank Wildhorn’s strongest asset as a composer is that he’s prolific. This loose adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella about a respectable doctor and his evil alter ego secured a big enough cult following to keep it afloat for quite a stretch. But the melodrama and the campiness were dismissed by critics and the theatre elite. Wildhorn has had quite the roster of theatrical ventures but they are never taken seriously.
6. Memphis (2009, 1,195 performances)
Somehow, this cringe musical, which unconvincingly told the story of one of the first white disc jockeys to play Black music (Memphis’s Dewey Phillips), took home the Tony Awards for Best Score, Best Book and Musical. Blame it on the lack of competition. The show was all kinds of mediocre and its nearly 4-year staying power and ability to recoup its $12 million investment remains a mystery. Schlockadoo!
5. Motown The Musical (2013, 775 performances)
Based on To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown (Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography), the various pieces of this jukebox musical did not coalesce. The show strangely went on on hiatus and returned to Broadway for an abbreviated run in 2016. The musical was popular with audiences but critics noted its lack of depth and complexity. With so many songs jammed in, there simply wasn’t any room for more than what played like a glorified concert.
4. The Addams Family (2010, 757 performances)
It’s hard to believe that Andrew Lippa’s fairly faithful adaptation of a beloved TV classic was only nominated for two Tony Awards (original score and featured actor). Not even Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth in pitch perfect performances could save this macabre mess. In spite of the largely scathing critical response, the show fared quite well financially during its run. The nostalgia factor and a strong marketing campaign kept butts in the seats.
3. The Color Purple (2005, 940 performances)
Title recognition as well as a pretty famous producer named Oprah can be attributed for the production’s recoupment of its $11 million investment within year one on Broadway, and $103 million total gross. Leading actress LaChanze won the Tony Award for her portrayal of protagonist Celie but the show was shut out otherwise, in spite of its 10 other nominations. The score was lackluster, the book was blah and the musical suffered from too many cooks not telling the same story. The movie was more moving.
2. Legally Blonde (2007, 625 performances)
Hard to believe Broadway only bent and snapped for a couple of years. The musical iteration of Elle Woods’ attorney journey tried very hard to achieve the same cult status as the original film but critics found the theatrical experience to be empty: Empty calories. Empty vessel. Empty-headed music. The show struck out at the Tony Awards as well and didn’t recoup its investment but still managed to have some staying power during its respectable run.
1. Rock of Ages (2009, 2,328 performances)
A head scratcher of a headbanger, this jukebox musical mashup featuring the well-worn songs of bands like Poison, Journey, Styx and Twisted Sister that was never meant to be high art. And boy was it never! Designed purely for the masses, tourists and locals hungry for 1980s comfort food kept this show running for 6 years. Well, when it comes to Broadway dreams, you know what they say: don’t stop believin’!