The ‘Wonka-ing’ Trend: The Sneaky Rise of Musicals Disguised as Movies 

It seems like 2024 is the year of musicals. Mean Girls, Wonka, and The Color Purple are all recent musicals gracing the big screen – but that’s not all they have in common. For reasons beyond my (or any sane human’s) comprehension, all of these have been marketed as regular, plain, no-singing-only-talking movies. This has led to an outcry by unassuming spectators, who went to the cinemas for an average movie about a weird little man making chocolate, and instead got a fever dream with Timothee Chalamet singing about a “Hatful of Dreams”.  

So, why would marketing execs make this executive decision to hoodwink people into cinemas? Sure, more butts in seats equals more profit. But at what expense? Less than a week after its release, the new Mean Girls musical is being torn to shreds on TikTok, with cinema audiences audibly groaning as they realise another song is beginning. The only hint that their ticket was to a bop-filled 112 minutes? A small musical note in the “A” on the poster for the movie. The trailers didn’t even include any songs from the Broadway hit – apparently Olivia Rodrigo suits the vibe better. 

Wonka wasn’t exempt from this phenomenon either. Initial responses on X included phrases like “false advertising”, “stupid and tone-deaf mentality”, and “shame they didn’t market it as a musical”. And it is a shame. 

It’s not as if there’s no audience for musicals. The Greatest Showman was one of the biggest box office hits of all time, grossing $435 million worldwide. La La Land won so many awards that you have to press “see more” on Google to grasp the magnitude. Same with Tick, Tick… Boom!. 

And yet this so-called “wonka-ing” trend continues, as studios make the decision to hide the essence of the movies they’re making – risking bad reviews for a chance to get more profit. Any press is good press, right? 

According to marketing analysts, studios are wary of using the word “musical” in their marketing due to recent box office flops – namely West Side Story and In the Heights. But, as BoxOffice Pro chief analyst Shawn Robbins told The Hollywood Reporter, there were contributing factors to those failures. West Side Story was released in the aftermath of COVID-19, where people barely had money for groceries, let alone entertainment. In the Heights was released on streaming services the same day as its theatrical premiere – who was going to pay to sit in a room of potentially life-threateningly sick strangers when they could watch it in the comfort of their own home?  

“It’s become easy to oversimplify why musicals haven’t worked,” Robbins said. 

Sadly, despite an obvious appetite for blockbuster musicals, Hollywood just hasn’t recovered from that betrayal. And it perpetuates that trauma, betraying consumers by blatantly lying about the premise of each musical movie.  Instead of marketing musicals toward people who would actually want to see them, execs continue to bring in people who feel lied to and ripped off.

Maybe one day we’ll bounce back. But for now, we’ll have to settle for mediocre trailers for musicals that could’ve been the Greatest Show.  

Tione Zylstra
Tione Zylstra

Tione is one of the 2024 Glass editors. She's a final year Journalism and Justice (majoring in policy and politics) student who lives to write about everything going on in the world. If you're after more of her work, check out Urban List Brisbane, The Music, and Purple Sneakers. Concerts and food are her go-to, so hit her up for either of those and you'll have a winner.

Articles: 17

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