Can Struggling Hollywood Ride Broadway's Coattails?

Can Struggling Hollywood Ride Broadway's Coattails?

With the movie box office down and Broadway up, Hollywood is adapting franchises like “Rocky,” “Austin Powers” and “Ghost” for the stage

Broadway is enjoying a renaissance — and Hollywood is hoping to get a piece of the action.

With the motion picture box office in a slump, and Broadway on an upswing, an increasing number of film franchises are being transformed for the stage.

In fact, theatrical productions of feature films including "The Notebook," "Rocky," "Austin Powers," "Ghost," "Finding Neverland," "Once," "Diner" and "The Goonies" are all in the works. It's easy to see why.

Domestic box office attendance is at its lowest level in 16 years, and studios have struggled to fill seats throughout a sluggish 2011, during which ticket sales are down around 5 percent.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, attendance at Broadway shows was up 5.4 percent in the 2010-2011 season. And, at almost $1.1 billion in tickets sold, it was the Great White Way's highest-grossing year ever.

Even the troubled, hugely expensive, $75 million "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" has found traction with the tourist crowd, having grossed $71.6 million since the curtain raised on it last fall.

Also read: 'Spider-Man's' Troubled Road to Broadway

"Everybody's been trying to emulate 'The Lion King,'" Kevin McCormick, who is producing Sam Mendes' theatrical version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," told TheWrap. As of Dec. 18, "The Lion King" had grossed more than $827 million off a total of 5,883 Broadway performances.

A partial list of other movies that were previously transformed into stage shows includes "Sister Act," "Legally Blonde," "Billy Elliot," "Cry-Baby," "The Little Mermaid," "Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

Some attribute Broadway's recent boost in popularity to more varied ticket price points and dynamic pricing, through what ticket costs vary depending not only on their location in a theater but also on how much demand there is for a given show.

Broadway has also reaped the benefits of a record-breaking year in tourism in New York City. Live entertainment in general has had a strong year, perhaps thanks to the U.S. economy slowly rebounding. The concert industry, for example, had a 15 percent increase in ticket sales compared with 2010.

There's also increasingly diversified slate of productions on Broadway. In just eight months, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's adult-targeted "Book of Mormon" (left) recouped its $11.4 million investment. On the other end of the audience spectrum, the family-friendly rock musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is regularly selling out shows despite a rocky launch. 

A theatrical production based on the 2004 film "Finding Neverland" debuts at London's West End next year. Weinstein Company Production & Corporate Affairs VP Victoria Parker, who is helping develop the theatrical version, said the company is confident the stage show will appeal to a broad audience.

"The story is one that adults find very interesting and moving but also one that children find engaging," she told TheWrap. "It's an uplifting story that challenges the audience, and we think that is what the audience wants from a show these days."

Movies and theatrical productions "are such a huge financial commitment that you want as many guarantees as there can be," said Mark Johnson, producer of "The Notebook" and David Chase's upcoming, music-centric feature-film debut, "Twylight Zones." "So you go after TV shows, remakes [and] sequels."

Also read: 'Rock of Ages' Broadway Producer Sues Over Movie Version

Johnson, who isn't involved with the Broadway version of "The Notebook," said he wasn't sure how well it will translate to the stage. "That sounds like a difficult one to me," he said. "It's an intimate story, and you can't go in with close-ups and see someone's face."

Beyond Broadway, there is money to be made from touring. The Great White Way isn't the end-all be-all for theatrical productions, according to McCormick.

To date, the North American touring production of "The Lion King" has grossed more than $875 million, a Disney representative told TheWrap. Disney's 1994 animated movie has grossed $945.6 million worldwide.

And it's not just movie blockbusters that are hitting the road.

"Even if a show is not a huge success on Broadway, it still has life as a touring show," he said. For example, "9 to 5" has grossed only $15.2 million off 171 shows, and "The Addams Family" has grossed $84.6 million off 741 shows — but both productions have toured the U.S.

"Bring It On," the Kirsten Dunst movie that only grossed $68.4 million domestically, has a North American touring production that kicked off at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre in November.

Then, as has always been the case, Hollywood has its eye on Broadway hits, too. Feature-film versions of "Wicked" and "Jersey Boys" have been talked about in recent years, "War Horse" arrives in theaters Dec. 25, and "Rock of Ages" hits the screen June 1.

Also, "South Park" mavens Parker and Stone, creators of "The Book of Mormon," have said their production will eventually be made into a feature film. (A "Book of Mormon" tour starts in the U.S. in August, and an international tour will follow.)

"There are a lot of new shows and plays that have opened recently that [Hollywood has caught the eye of]," Parker told TheWrap.

While movie studios like Disney and Fox are scaling back the number of feature-film releases, Broadway is moving in the opposite direction. This year, 42 new productions — the second-most in 24 years — opened on Broadway.

"Broadway has never been broader," Neil Patrick Harris, who has performed on Broadway, memorably said while hosting this year's Tony Awards.