How The Greatest Showman defied the critics to become an enduring smash

From BBC - March 13, 2018

Being panned by some critics has not stopped Hugh Jackman's infectious movie musical The Greatest Showman from becoming the most enduring film hit for a decade.

While Black Panther continues to dominate the box office rankings, raking in more than $1bn worldwide in four weeks, another movie phenomenon has been slowly unfolding.

Last weekend, The Greatest Showman posted a huge 26% upturn in its takings in the UK and Ireland compared with the previous weekend.

That's in its 11th weekend on release, taking its total to 37.3m - and giving it a longevity that's virtually unheard of in the normally fast-moving world of here today, gone tomorrow popcorn fodder.

The musical extravaganza was met with mediocre reviews when it was released just before Christmas.

The Telegraph declared it "completely and utterly bibbly bibbly quack-quack insane", while the Evening Standard called it "a load of big top baloney".

Its opening weekend saw the film take 4.75m in the UK, putting it in a respectable third spot behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

But over the course of three months, Jackman & co have sung and danced their way into our hearts - and our wallets.

It's now in second position in the UK box office chart - a "remarkable" performance, according to Tom Grater at movie trade publication Screen International.

"Normally a film is expected to see the numbers of cinemagoers drop off by as much as 50% after its opening weekend," says Grater.

But The Greatest Showman only fell by 7% in week two and has not suffered the usual weekly major drop-offs. "It has even had an uptick," Grater says. "That basically never happens.

"Last weekend, it went up by a massive 26% - which is huge. No film since Avatar [in 2009] has been posting these kinds of numbers beyond week nine - and Avatar was a massive draw because everyone wanted to see the new 3D technology.

"It's just been incredibly consistent over its 11-week run."

How The Greatest Showman compares with last year's biggest film hits

UK & Ireland box office. Source: BFI/Comscore

Another surprising fact is how widely the film is still showing.

"Of the 766 cinemas in the UK, The Greatest Showman was still being shown in 579 as of last Friday. That's enormous." says Grater.

For comparison, Black Panther - which was released just a month ago - is playing at 594 sites.

"It's cinema programmers reacting to what people want - they put films on that run and run."

So did the film critics get it wrong?

Anna Smith is the president of the Critics' Circle Film Section. "I thought it was an efficient mainstream musical," she says.

But the film "whitewashes some of the darker aspects" of the personality of circus promoter PT Barnum, played by Jackman, she explains. "That is the problem I had with it - and perhaps why some of the critics were not so keen on it.

'Nice, comfortable viewing'

"Obviously Hugh Jackman is a big draw - so it did not particularly surprise me it's done well. What's surprising is just HOW well its done."

Smith puts the success down to word of mouth recommendations and people making multiple trips to the cinema to see it.

How The Greatest Showman compares with other hits of the last 20 years


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