Mamma Mia’s a hit, no matter what the critics say

By A. James Memmott

December 23, 2008 at 8:45am

Greeted by mixed reviews, Mamma Mia! The Movie is getting its revenge - at the box office.

Released in July, the cinematic version of the long-running musical did well in the U.S., grossing $143.8 million to be the year’s 12th biggest earner.

But strong sales in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom where it became the highest-grossing film of all time, have pushed the movie’s total revenue to more than $572 million. This makes it the 48th highest grossing movie in history.

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep

“No one writes about that,” Meryl Streep, the movie’s star, told David Carr of The New York Times, as reported in his The Carpetbagger blog.

“It doesn’t get the press, partly because it is perceived as a woman’s movie, but Mamma Mia! has buried, and I mean buried, all the conventional blockbusters,” she continued.

And most of those blockbusters cost much more to make than “Mamma Mia!,” which came in at $52 million.

“I mean, the budget for that musical would have fit into the props budget for any Matrix film, or you know, Hellboy,” Streep told reporters at a studio briefing, as reported on the website

When they do write about it, critics attribute the movie’s success to a variety of factors, including Streep’s ability to put people in the seats. “The Devil Wears Prada,” her 2006 summer movie, grossed $125 million and $327 million worldwide.

In addition to Streep, Mamma Mia!, now out in DVD, starred Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, two solid draws.

The movie also had a built-in audience, those millions of people worldwide who had seen the theatrical production.

The musical featuring ABBA songs debuted in England in 1999 and has since been performed in many countries and many languages.

Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the stage version in England also directed the film version, her first movie. In another case of the rich getting richer, actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, were two of several executive producers of the film.

Though it received some positive reviews, the movie was blasted by some critical big guns.

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times scolded Lloyd and writer Catherine Johnson for “rookie mistakes” such as cramming too many actors and singers into the film.

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote that the movie would make a “useful contribution” to the debate over the legal definition of torture.

Brosnan, especially, seemed to Lane to be someone who had been dragged to an island against his will (the movie is set in Greece) and then forced to sing.

“There is no delicate way of putting this,” Lane wrote, “but anyone watching Brosnan in mid-delivery will conclude that he has recently suffered from a series of complex digestive problems, and that the camera has, with unfortunate timing, caught him at the exact moment when he is finally working them out. What has he done to deserve this?”

Critics never have to eat crow, but they should get ready for Mamma Mia 2.

Asked about rumors of a sequel in the works, Streep responded, “Now! Now! Now!”

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