Both the long Thanksgiving Day weekend and an immediate wide release — rather than a limited release followed by a gradual increase in screens, as has been the norm of late — worked in the film's favor. The Chris Columbus take on Rent opened on 2,433 screens across the country, drawing $4,398 per theatre in the first five days.
The musical theatre world's last stage-to-screen transfer, Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" (directed by Joel Schumacher), also opened on a holiday weekend (Christmas 2004), but on a limited basis. The big screen version of the long-running Broadway show grossed $4,001,890 over a five-day weekend on only 622 screens ($6,434 per theatre). Once it went to wide release (Jan. 21, 2005), it earned $4,555,434 on 1,511 screens ($3,015 per theatre). During the three weeks between (on 622 screens, then 907 the latter), it had amassed $11,851,687.
The Academy Award-winning film version of Chicago directed by Rob Marshall had also opened in limited release in late December of 2002. The John Kander and Fred Ebb classic stageshow began on a meager 77 screens but pulled in $2,074,929 (a whopping $26,947 per theatre). The movie would increasingly open in more theatres over the next five weeks (304; then 362; 557; 616; and 623) before jumping to 1,841 in weekend seven — taking in $10,786,533 that weekend ($5,859 per theatre). "Chicago" then rode its Oscar buzz and topped at 2,701 screens the weekend after winning the big prize.
Prior to "Rent," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Chicago," the Baz Luhrmann musical "Moulin Rouge" (featuring a score of popular songs) had shown film executives that the genre could still garner an audience. After two weekends on very limited release (two theatres), the film opened June 1, 2001, among other summer flicks ("Pearl Harbor," "Shrek" and "The Animal"), placing just behind them at the #4 slot with $13,718,306 (on 2,279 screens, at $6,019 per theatre).
Other movie musicals that hit the big screen in the recent past include Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita," which scored $8,381,055 in its wide release (following two limited weekends) on 704 screens, $11,905 per theatre. "Little Shop of Horrors" based on the popular Howard Ashman-Alan Menken Off-Broadway musical took in $3,659,884 in its first weekend (on 866 screens, $4,226 per theatre). "Rent" will actually compete on the big screen with the upcoming "The Producers" movie as both Broadway musicals still trod the boards. The new Susan Stroman-directed film of the Mel Brooks-Thomas Meehan musical (based on the original Mel Brooks film) will open Dec. 16 in limited release before moving to wide release on Dec. 26.