The Non-Expert

“Broadway: The Movie”

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we work over the inner workings of the movie industry, where art always prevails over profit.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: Why aren’t more films developed from plays instead of from TV shows and comics?

Answer: U.S. Gross (from

Spiderman: $403 million
Batman: $251 million
Mission Impossible II: $215 million
Batman Forever: $184 million
The Fugitive: $183 million
Mission Impossible: $180 million
Batman Returns: $162 million
X-Men: $157 million
Superman: $134 million
The Flintstones: $130 million

Driving Miss Daisy: $107 million
Amadeus: $52 million
Romeo + Juliet (2000): $46 million
A Soldier’s Story: $22 million
Hamlet (1990): $21 million
Brighton Beach Memoirs: $12 million
Glengarry Glen Ross: $10 million
Lost in Yonkers: $9 million
Six Degrees of Separation: $6 million
Torch Song Trilogy: $5 million

Why U.S. Gross and not International?

U.S. Gross was used because international earnings weren’t readily available—or were non-existent—for some of the plays-to-movies. Brighton Beach Memoirs was never released outside of the U.S., for example, despite longstanding pressure from the international community, U.N. Security Council Resolution 588B, and the infamous Neil Simon riots in Columbia and Chile during the spring and summer of 1986.

What about musicals? Didn’t Grease get re-released and make shitloads of money from the ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’/’Oh, What A Night’/’Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ crowd? From the college girls who drink 1-proof wine coolers and get totally giggly in their dorm rooms singing along with Stockard Channing? From their desperately dateless guyfriends?

Yes, it did. But we’re not talking about blockbuster movie musicals like Grease, Evita, and Moulin Rouge. The money-making musical is an exception to the box-office rule, as opposed to the money-making action movie, which is the rule. In essence, movie musicals weren’t considered because they’re volatile and weird and feature people breaking into song as if they’re all on drugs or crazy or forgetting that this is being filmed, people and every musical is, at heart, a wild gambling experiment for Hollywood studios. Nobody’s quite sure how to make them, how much to spend on them, how to market them, whether or not people will like them, or how to make Vin Diesel dance. Until they’ve got it all figured out, I’m not touching them either.

Is that a comprehensive list of movies that have been adapted from plays? Aren’t you forgetting a few?

Maybe. Though it was easy to determine the top-grossing movies based on TV or comic books using IMDB’s Top-Grossing Movies list, determining the top-grossing movies based on plays was decidedly tougher. It’s entirely possible I’ve forgotten some David Mamet play that grossed over $5 million, the absence of which would unfairly tilt the comparison, but it doesn’t finally matter. Driving Miss Daisy made $107 million. That doesn’t even make the Top 200. Miss Congeniality made more money.

What about final profit? Those comic-book movies make plenty of dough, but look at the initial cost!

Let’s compare the profits of two movies. Plays are cheap. Romeo + Juliet had a budget of $15 million, compared with X-Men at $75 million. Romeo + Juliet earned three times its cost, making its studio a respectable $30 million. In comparison, X-Men only doubled its cost, but in doing so earned its studio $75 million, thereby reinforcing Hollywood’s oft-enough-proven assumption that if you spend more, you make more. A sequel to X-Men was in the works the weekend of the first movie’s release. There isn’t even a screenplay for Romeo + Juliet 2.

So are movies really all about money?

Oh, you.