The longest-running Broadway shows in history are widely known. In just the past six months, Broadway has celebrated the landmark 30th anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera and the 20th anniversary of Disney’s The Lion King. But most performances played does not necessarily translate to the highest grosses.
How does that happen? Different shows have different seating capacities, which means some shows have the potential to make more money per performance than others. Actual ticket sales are also a factor—a long-running show is not necessarily playing to sold-out crowds every night. But the most important factor in this list is inflation; a dollar in 1982 has the same buying power as about $2.64 today, and Broadway ticket prices have risen at a rate far steeper than that. This list reflects only actual grosses, with no adjustments for inflation.
All of this data is based on grosses released by The Broadway League, so it does not include any grosses from national tours or international productions.
Note: The gross for Cats is listed as it was reported by the production when it closed in 2000. (Cats opened in 1982, which places it opening before the online Broadway grosses data began in May 1985.)
Grosses and performances totals for currently running productions are all as of April 1, 2018.
1. The Lion King, $1,463,250,222 Total performances: 8,519 Currently running at the Minskoff Theatre
Broadway’s third-longest-running show is also its highest grossing, and by a fairly wide margin. Based on the hit 1994 Disney animated film, this musical has consistently pulled in sell-out crowds since opening in 1997 and grosses amongst the highest on Broadway week-to-week. The production also played the first nine years of its run at the New Amsterdam Theatre, which boasts one of Broadway’s highest seating capacities at 1,801 seats. The show continues its hit run at the Minskoff Theatre, and it doesn’t look like The Lion King has any chance of being dethroned anytime soon.
2. Wicked, $1,190,774,930 Total performances: 6,046 Currently running at the Gerswhin Theatre
Though The Lion King had a six-year head start, Wicked burst onto the Broadway scene as the mega-hit of 2003 and has continued its run since then at Broadway’s largest theatre, The Gershwin, which has a seating capacity of 1,935. The backstory of the witches of The Wizard of Oz, Wicked has become one of Broadway’s most iconic properties, known for its high-flying (and high-belting) star-making performances.
3. The Phantom of the Opera, $1,150,057,053 Total performances: 12,574 Currently running at the Majestic Theatre
The Phantom of the Opera is a true New York City landmark; the production celebrated its 30th anniversary at Broadway’s Majestic Theatre earlier this year, making it the longest-running Broadway show of all time by an incredible eight-year margin. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s soaring, romantic score and Maria Björnson’s gorgeous costume and production designs have made The Phantom of the Opera one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals.
4. Mamma Mia!, $624,391,693 Total performances: 5,772 Closed September 12, 2015
With a run of 5,773 performances, Mamma Mia! is currently the ninth longest-running show in Broadway history and the fourth highest-grossing. With a score of ABBA hits, Mamma Mia! was Broadway’s first true mega-hit jukebox musical, paving the way for such follow-up stunners as Jersey Boys and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
5. Chicago (1996 revival), $613,892,561 Total performances: 8,908 Currently running at the Ambassador Theatre
This Kander and Ebb classic went head-to-head with A Chorus Line when it originally opened on Broadway in 1975, running only two years and 936 performances. Its 1996 Broadway revival has far eclipsed A Chorus Line now with nearly 9,000 performances, making it the second longest-running show in Broadway history, the longest-running American musical, and by far the most-successful revival ever.
6. Jersey Boys, $558,416,084 Total performances: 4,680 Closed January 15, 2017
Unlike Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys drew from the real-life stories of The Four Seasons themselves for its plot rather than constructing an original story around their music. This true story—along with their chart-topping music catalog—resonated with audiences; Jersey Boys enjoyed a Broadway run at the August Wilson theatre of 12 years and 4,642 performances, and the production re-opened Off-Broadway last November.
7. The Book of Mormon, $546,598,332 Total performances: 2,966 Currently running at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre
When South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone announced they were writing a musical, few doubted their show would be funny. Still, few predicted what a massive success The Book of Mormon, which pokes fun at the Salt Lake City-based religion, would turn out to be. Together with Avenue Q and Frozen’s Robert Lopez, Parker and Stone constructed a hilarious satirical musical that continues to be one of Broadway’s top grossers. It’s only been running for seven years, and it’s already Broadway’s seventh highest-grossing show ever.
8. Beauty and the Beast, $429,158,458 Total performances: 5,507 Closed July 29, 2007
Disney’s second entry on this list is also the first musical they ever brought to Broadway. Writing about the original animated film, New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich famously described Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s work as “the best Broadway musical score of 1991,” even though it wasn’t on Broadway at that time. Lightbulbs illuminated at Disney, because three years later, a stage adaptation opened at the Palace Theatre. Thirteen years and over 5,000 performances later, and Beauty and the Beast was one of Broadway’s highest-grossing shows of all time.
9. Les Misérables, $406,258,901 Total performances: 6,691 Closed May 18, 2003
Another of the long-running British musicals, Les Misérables is clearly a Broadway favorite; the original production ran for over 6,000 performances (it’s currently the fifth longest-running Broadway show ever), and since its closing just 15 years ago, the show has already been revived twice on Broadway. Though both revivals enjoyed healthy runs, it’s the original juggernaut that ran at the Broadway Theatre that holds the record here as the ninth highest-grossing show in Broadway history.
10. Cats, $388,000,000 Total performances: 7,498 Closed September 10, 2000
In tenth place on the list is the original of the British long-running mega-musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Based on a book of T.S. Eliot poetry and largely plotless, Cats may have seemed an unlikely candidate to become Broadway’s longest-running show, but that was nevertheless a distinction it held for many years before being overtaken by another Lloyd Webber show, The Phantom of the Opera. Fun fact: Terrence Mann originated roles in the eighth-, ninth-, and tenth-highest grossing shows of all time as The Beast, Javert, and Rum Tum Tugger, respectively.
By the way, if you’re wondering where Hamilton ranks, it just barely misses making the top 10 with a current total gross of $340,332,025, putting it in 11th place. This staggering data point makes it clear just how big of a hit Hamilton truly is, especially considering the production has been running less than three years.
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