Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008:
#5: Mamma Mia! Indeed

By David Mumpower

January 13, 2009

Have they forgotten about my terrible singing yet? No?

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Most of the 2008 releases at the top of the box office chart were expected. There was another Indiana Jones movie, a Pixar movie, a couple of comic book movies featuring Batman and Iron Man and a Will Smith movie. There were also a trio of animated family films and a James Bond movie in the top ten as well. Falling just outside the top ten, however, was the biggest surprise of the year...and the number one movie of all-time in England.

Mamma Mia!, a play celebrating the music of Swedish super-group ABBA, debuted on London's prestigious West End in 1999. The rather unusual story involves a bride-to-be's attempt to deduce which of three men mentioned in her mother's diary is her father. She invites the trio to her wedding festivities in hope of immediately feeling a familial bond with the right one. It's like Three Men and a Baby: 20 Years Later set to the tunes of ABBA. Oddly, this premise appeals to a lot of people. The proof of this is the fact that over the past ten years since its introduction, Mamma Mia! the musical has become one of the most popular tours in the industry. In fact, the Las Vegas version of the play is considered the most successful Broadway show the city has ever known, playing over 1,000 shows over time. Clearly, people love ABBA more than you might think.

A cinematic adaptation of Mamma Mia! has been considered a foregone conclusion for the past several years, but even the kind people at Universal Pictures who championed the film are shocked by the results. Assembling a dream cast that includes Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and Meryl Streep, the distributor embarked upon a faithful adaptation of the story. They even went so far as to film on an actual Greek island, the setting of the play's story. And the results speak for themselves.


Mamma Mia! was released in North America on July 18, 2008. Early reviews for the film certainly gave no indication of what we were about to witness. Barely half of the critics at Rotten Tomatoes gave the musical a thumbs up and few of the good reviews were notably passionate about it. Fortunately for the producers, paying customers proved to be a different matter. Its opening weekend of $27,751,240 made it the biggest debut ever for a musical (although it was surpassed a couple of months later by High School Musical 3: Senior Year). Obviously, a $27.7 million result is nice, but it would not be anywhere near enough on its own to distinguish a title enough for a spot on the Top Film Industry Stories of 2008 list. What made Mamma Mia! special was the way that it kept going and going and going.

After the record-setting start, Mamma Mia! fell only 36% on its second weekend to $17,746,725. This drop, modest by any realistic industry standard these days, proved to be its WORST decline during its first two months in theaters. Mamma Mia! would not see a drop of even 40% until its tenth (!) weekend. By that time, the musical had gone from a $27 million novelty that featured some awful singing by Pierce Brosnan to a $141.2 million blockbuster.

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