5 Ways to Prep - Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
By George Rose
July 24, 2018
The box office is a lot like a pendulum. It goes up and down, up and down, and it will only stop when Netflix knocks it off the table. For now, we are heading back into the upswing. A month ago we were rocking with movies like Incredibles 2 and Jurassic World 2 taking the world by storm. Then we had Sicario 2 knock it down a peg, Ant-Man and the Wasp was great but is proving to follow Thor 2’s mediocre footsteps, Hotel Transylvania 3 did… business, and Skyscraper is acting more like a Baywatch-level disappointment for the Rock instead of showcasing his San Andreas-level of bankability. This weekend, the pendulum swings up.
With the release of Mamma Mia 2 and Equalizer 2, we have a pair of sequels that should help the box office bounce back a bit. There’s talk of the possibility we may see both open above $30 million, which wouldn’t be any sort of record but certainly shows there’s interest in films outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although we don’t seem to have many breakout films beyond superheroes and dinosaurs, there’s plenty to see and a wide range of genres to choose from. We’re still pumping out sequels like their the only things selling but, then again, Skyscraper didn’t do anything to help the argument that original content is of any interest.
Another common thread I’m noticing is the lack of films that encourage joy from the audience. Again, I can look at the superhero genre to be the beacon of that call as Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2 and Ant-Man 2 all made sure the audience had a smile through the runtime. Jurassic World 2, Sicario 2, and Equalizer 2 are all a bit too dark for the middle of this sunny summer season. And Hotel Transylvania 3 is only good for an eye roll or two… hundred. This is the time of year to be joyous, to run around and frolic outside or see a movie that makes you want to dance in the aisles. We should be celebrating happiness, enjoying our vacations and spending time with friends. It is in that vein that I’m choosing Mamma Mia 2 this week instead of Equalizer 2 for 5 Ways to Prep. Will it be a good movie? Doesn’t matter. The trailer has smiles, the poster has smiles and the world could use a smile. Let’s prep for some smiles!
#1) MAMMA MIA! (2008)
I have to admit, I had zero interest in the first Mamma Mia. I’m no Broadway connoisseur but I do love a good musical. Disney musicals, Broadway adaptations and bumping soundtracks all get my feet tapping. Who doesn’t love music?! I don’t love ALL music and I’ve certainly never considered myself a fan of ABBA (because I’m still relatively young), but I’m a fan of Hollywood. When the classic music of ABBA was turned into a hit Broadway show, I didn’t think twice. When the creators of South Park won a bunch of Tony’s for Book of Mormon, I did take notice but I still didn’t buy tickets because New York is far and there’s a movie theater two miles away. It’s not that I don’t want to see Broadway shows; they’re just too expensive and inconvenient.
So when a hit musical finally makes it way to Hollywood and becomes a movie, THAT’S when I start to get interested. ABBA? Don’t care. Mamma Mia? Still don’t care. A musical about any Broadway show starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried? Ok, you have my attention. Put the action on an island of my native country, Greece? You really have my attention. Add that to the occasional rainy summer day in need of a smile, and you have yourself a purchased ticket.
The story is about a young girl (Seyfried) who is about to get married and travel the world with her love, but she’s afraid to leave her mom (Streep) behind to look after their tiny hotel of sorts on a small Island in Greece because… you know… that would be bad? I think? Anyway, the big problem is that Seyfried’s character doesn’t know who her father is and wants to know before her wedding. Because her mom was “friendly” in her youth, there are actually three possible men and they’re all invited to the wedding. Insert catchy songs from ABBA! After opening to a modest $28 million, the film kept the tune going all the way to a $144 million total and over $600 million worldwide. For a movie budgeted at about $50 million, that’s fantastic. For a live-action movie musical, that’s unheard of. So why wasn’t there a sequel sooner?
#2) GREASE 2 (1982)
If you look at the list of top live action movie musicals, you’ll see 2017’s Beauty and the Beast with $504 million. That doesn’t count because it’s a live-action update of a classic animated movie and because I don’t want it to count. So, that makes the big winner 1978’s Grease with about $189 million. It has been the biggest musical of all time for 40 freaking years. Four decades. Basically, forever. What does Hollywood do with a blockbuster? It turns it into a franchise. Except, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John didn’t return. Instead, we got Michelle Pfeiffer and nobody else we care about. $189 million quickly turned into only $15 million for the sequel and - POOF! - musical sequels die a horrible death, never to be seen again. This is probably why Mamma Mia 2 didn’t happen for a decade. I bet the “should we, shouldn’t we” game was played for a long time before Meryl was like, “Hey, guys, I’m getting old so this is your last chance.” This is the first musical sequel in a LONG time and it could be a game changer.
#3) HAIRSPRAY (2007)
In 2007, Hairspray became a surprise summer sensation after opening to $27 million and sticking around until it finished with $117 million. It was fun, colorful and all about the little fat girl inside all of us. When one little plumper dreams big to be on a dance show in the 1960’s, it stirs up the skinny white town around her and sets off a race war. The thing about musicals is that the happy tunes help distract from dark message that is often hidden beneath the surface. What looked like a fun movie about a chubby girl finding the beauty and the beat within later showed its true colors as a story about racial divide during America’s segregated history. Things wrap up nicely at a climactic dance battle, proving a catchy song can fix anything.
If there was ever another musical deserving of a sequel, this would be it. Fat girl + old black friends + new gay friends = comedy gold! The trouble would be in the casting. Hairspray starred some of the biggest stars in Tinsel Town with the likes of John Travolta (Grease), Michelle Pfeiffer (Grease 2), Zac Efron (High School Musical) and Queen Latifah (Chicago) all lending their prior experience to the roster. If all goes well with Mamma Mia 2, we might just get the chance to see it happen.
#4) THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017)
The thing about musical sequels is that I imagine the budget can get out of hand. Sure, it shouldn’t be that expensive to make a musical with most of the money probably going to the cast. The problem is that since nobody ever makes musical sequels, there’s a good chance the cast only signed off on one movie before filming of the first started. Actors that sign on to superhero movies have several films in their contract to help keep future raises regulated. I would love to know what the cast for Mamma Mia 2 is earning after the unexpected success of its predecessor or if their pay increases were kept small with possible backend benefits. What I imagine isn’t helping is the reinvigorated interest in the genre. The more success a genre has, the more expensive the movies within that genre start to get.
That brings us to Greatest Showman, last year’s monster success story. Starring Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Zac Efron (Hairspray), the movie is about the life of P.T. Barnum and how he came to create the world's most famous circus circuit. After bombing on opening weekend with only $9 million, word-of-mouth carried this new classic to $174 million. That makes it the second biggest musical of all time (yes, I’m still ignoring Beauty and the Beast). If the film was produced by the same people as Grease, we’d likely see a sequel. Maybe it could be about the creator of Cirque Du Soleil or, worse, about how animal rights groups ultimately contributed to the demise of circuses in general. For all the possibilities of what could be, what we do actually have here is a wonderful film full of love, loss, great music and JOY!
#5) LILY JAMES (2015 to present)
Since Hairspray has come out in 2007, eight of the top ten biggest musicals of all time have joined the list. We have Enchanted (2007), Mamma Mia (2008), Les Miserables (2012), Into the Woods (2014), La La Land (2016), Greatest Showman (2017) and, yes, Beauty and the Beast (2017). Musicals are back and they are doing just fine dollar-wise. Just as soon as they started to really hit their stride, Hollywood throws a wrench into everything and decides to do a sequel. Except, Mamma Mia 2 is part sequel and part prequel. Amanda Seyfried is past the big wedding and is now moving into pregnancy territory. To help aid this new plot line, we are also diving into the past of when her mom, Meryl Streep, was a young woman with a big belly.
Enter Lily James, one of my biggest lady crushes in Hollywood at the moment. After getting her break in TV’s Downton Abbey, Lily got her big screen break in 2015’s Cinderella. She’s gorgeous and talented, and everything I want in a princess and an A-list celebrity. She has since starred in 2016’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 2017’s Baby Driver and now in 2018’s Mamma Mia 2 as the young Meryl Streep. She can stand there looking pretty, she can act and now she can sing. You really should try to catch this triple-threat in the soon-to-be “biggest musical sequel ever” before next weekend when the box office pendulum completes its upward swing with Mission: Impossible 6. Early reviews peg it as the best in the series and I’ll definitely need some manly action to bring me back down to Earth after I get busted for singing my heart out in Mamma Mia 2.