In a remarkably well-timed observation on sales relative to what people are searching for on the internet, Lee Seymore reports that Disney’s best-selling property, despite headlines, isn’t Star Wars. It’s The Lion King, which has grossed just under $8.1 billion in its 20-year run on Broadway.

That number makes it the highest-grossing entertainment property in history, by a significant margin. The next biggest is Phantom of The Opera, with $6 billion. The biggest film is Avatar, at just (just!) $2.8 billion.


In more Disney-centric terms: The Lion King has made more money than all of the new Star Wars films combined.


In fact, it’s made almost as much as every single Star Wars film combined. The unadjusted total gross for the Star Wars franchise currently sits at $8.2 billion. After another few months, Simba & Co will have officially eclipsed that.

The story goes on to clarify that in terms of merchandise, few properties in the world (or galaxy, to make the obvious joke) can compete with Star Wars. That has generated an estimated $37 billion over the life of the popular space opera, and therefore will likely bring plenty of joy to shareholders of the mouse corp. in the long run. But the economics of a successful musical (or any theatrical performance for that matter), are nothing to sneeze at.

It represents the best outcome of a low-cost, high-yield investment. The average Broadway musical costs between $10m and $20m to mount. From then on, it’s about $500k to $900k each week to run. This means the immediate profit margin is slim at first; there are only so many seats in a single theater.

But unlike films, musicals can run at capacity for years (or decades). You’re not going to turn a profit overnight – but you’re looking at a very, very long green tail. And with the Beyoncé-led reboot of The Lion King film planned, its value in Disney’s portfolio is only going to appreciate.

Given the fact that a reboot film (starring Beyonce among others) is in the works, it’s possible (even likely) that The Lion King will continue to charm audiences in New York and wherever else the production is staged for years to come.

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