Money makes the world go around, and the Great White Way is no exception. As millions took their seats and skimmed their Playbills, Broadway shows earned a collective $14 billion over the past decade.
What goes into a hit? First, staying power. Generally, the more performances, the more money, and as expected, the top 10 features Broadway’s longest-running musical and five Broadway shows that had opened before the start of the decade. Second, ticket price. Broadway is, by design, a commercial industry, and a handful of in-demand shows have managed to play to full houses with minimal discounted seats. Third, capacity. Broadway theatres range in house size from around 600 to almost 2,000. Even if shows play the exact same number of performances, one can reach over 6 million more audience members over 10 years. The tenants of the three largest theatres on Broadway are each on this list. Find out which 10 shows—all musicals—trailblazed the box office boards in the 2010s in the list below.
Note: This list is pulled from all musicals that have played or continue to play Broadway this decade, regardless of when they opened and/or closed. These numbers do not include data from national tours or international productions, nor are they adjusted for inflation. All gross and attendance figures are gathered from reports provided by The Broadway League as of December 23, 2019.
10. Beautiful—The Carole King Musical (The Stephen Sondheim Theatre)
Opened: January 12, 2014
Closed: October 27, 2019
Total Gross: $270,623,922
The jukebox musical had a modest start at the box office, grossing under 90 percent of its potential until the rush of the spring 2014 season. An earth-moving Tony Awards performance (featuring King herself) and a win for title player Jessie Mueller turned one fine day into several fine weeks on the boards as the show grossed over $1 million every week from mid-April 2014 into 2015. Numbers subsequently steadied, but staying power kept the celebration of the beloved singer-songwriter among the decade’s frontrunners.
9. Chicago (The Ambassador Theatre)
Opened: November 14, 1996 (at the Richard Rodgers Theatre; later moved to the Shubert Theatre)
2010s Gross (as of December 23): $307,035,056
Unsurprisingly, all four Broadway shows to have played through the entire decade (The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Wicked, and Chicago) made the top 10 list, with this long-running revival of Chicago coming in at No. 9. The Tony-winning production has thrived on a revolving door of personalities from Broadway and beyond stepping in for limited engagements, finding new ways to attract various audiences. Among those who have taken the stage at the Ambassador Theatre in the past decade are Brandy Norwood, Jennifer Nettles, Cuba Gooding Jr., Rumer Willis, Usher, NeNe Leakes, and Wendy Williams.
A six-year run landed the Tony-winning Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein musical into the top-grossing shows. As awards season picked up in 2013, the musical strutted into the Millionaire’s Club, where it stayed for 94 nearly consecutive weeks (disrupted only by one four-performance week). Numbers cooled down mid-2015, but a handful of special limited engagement stars—most effectively Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie as Charlie Price—awarded the production consistent box office upticks.
Jersey Boys is the second of four shows to have opened before the decade began, though unlike the other three (Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Lion King), it said “Bye Bye Baby” to the boards before 2020 arrived. Having already played for five years, the Tony-winning musical gradually dipped into grossing around 50 percent of its potential. In September 2016, the show announced its January 2017 closing. Grosses rebounded for its final months, earning seven figures for seven consecutive weeks. Though the Four Seasons have left the Main Stem, they managed to stay (ahhh, just a little bit longer) in New York with an Off-Broadway run at New World Stages.
6. Aladdin (The New Amsterdam Theatre)
Opened: March 20, 2014
Gross (as of December 23): $457,356,461
Never underestimate the power of the Mouse. Throughout its 300+ weeks on Broadway, Aladdin played to under 90 percent capacity only two of those weeks. The stage adaptation of the beloved Disney title became an instant box office frontrunner since premiering, and with a national tour, a three-year West End stint, plus engagements in Japan, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, the magic carpet shows no signs of slowing down.
5. The Phantom of the Opera (The Majestic Theatre)
Opened: January 26, 1988
2010s Gross (as of December 23): $490,087,510
With over 30 years under its cloak, The Phantom of the Opera is a Main Stem machine of utmost caliber. The production’s figures routinely and consistently ebb and flow throughout the year, with reliable spikes during tourist heavy seasons—particularly around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. With its global recognition and language-transcending spectacle, the musical, which became the longest-running show in Broadway history in 2006, continues to serve thrills and trills to devoted “phans” and tourists alike.
The Lin-Manuel Miranda magnum opus was undoubtedly the buzziest show of the decade, and had it opened a couple years sooner, it would likely have run away as the top show. Still, Hamilton is show with the most recent opening date on this list, and still made its way into the top four. The show has consistently broken house records, and—in the final week of 2018—made Broadway history as the first show to ever gross more than $4 million in an eight-performance week. By all accounts, the show’s box office success is nonstop.
3. The Book of Mormon (The Eugene O’Neill Theatre)
Opened: March 24, 2011
Gross (as of December 23): $647,327,243
The irreverent musical marks the first runaway hit for producer Scott Rudin, before such frontrunners as Hello, Dolly! and To Kill a Mockingbird. Since its nearly nine-year run began, the musical has managed to regularly overshoot its gross potential, with the top ticket price reaching $477 by the 2011 Tonys and staying there since. In terms of press, the show has kept a low profile by Broadway standards in recent years, but that hasn’t stopped it from reaching full capacity (and then some) year after year.
2. Wicked (The Gershwin Theatre)
Opened: October 30, 2003
Gross (as of December 23): $914,430,541
Wicked celebrated both its 10th and 15th anniversaries this decade, ringing in the latter last year with a starry televised concert special featuring original stars Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, Wicked fan and pop superstar Ariana Grande, and more. Such an event suits a show that has boasted continued Broadway success and widespread international acclaim. Of its 520 weeks (so far) this decade, it grossed over $1 million 519 times (and the one week it missed that mark was a six-performance week). That’s a pretty swankified ratio.
1. The Lion King (The Minskoff Theatre)
Opened: November 13, 1997 (at the New Amsterdam Theatre)
Gross (as of December 23): $992,533,515
The great thing about the circle of life? It keeps revolving. Director Julie Taymor’s puppet-fueled vision for the Disney title celebrated myriad milestones over the past 10 years. Its worldwide grosses (not accounted for on this list, but notable nonetheless) exceed that of any show, film, or all entertainment property in history; over 90 million people have seen the show worldwide (with productions staged in about 20 countries). On Broadway alone, the show sold nearly 7 million seats this decade and looks ready to break through to a $1 billion sum. Clearly, audiences felt the love already, can feel it tonight, and will feel it for years (or decades) to come.