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The cast of Disney's The Lion King stage show in Dublin. Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Actual King

The Lion King show has now made more money than any Harry Potter or Star Wars movie

Are you one of the 75 million people who have seen it?

HERE’S SOMETHING THE folks at Disney can take real pride in: The Lion King is the top ticket of all time.

With a worldwide gross of over $6.2 billion, The Lion King stage musical has now achieved the most successful box office total of any work in any media in entertainment history, the Associated Press has learned.

The total makes The Lion King more valuable than any single Harry Potter film, the blockbuster Titanic, or any of the “Star Wars” movies. By way of comparison, the highest-grossing film in history is Avatar, with nearly $2.8 billion worldwide.

The show quietly took over the top spot from the $6 billion-earning The Phantom of the Opera late this summer, according to representatives from both shows.

Phantom producers Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Group congratulated The Lion King in a statement, calling their rival show The Pride of Broadway.

“It’s difficult not to become emotional at this realisation of the show’s impact,” said Thomas Schumacher, president and producer at Disney Theatrical Productions.

He recalled the long road the musical has taken from its beginning in four downtown rehearsal rooms in May 1997.

“Our goal then was to tell the story purely and theatrically so that audiences could feel it in their heart,” he added.

“And, to this day, that is the audience experience whether they see the show in Madrid; Appleton, Wisconsin; South Africa; Tokyo or Broadway. Of that, we are deeply proud.”

Lion King in Dublin Niall Carson Niall Carson

The figure only calculates box office receipts from the various worldwide stage productions, not sales of posters or CDs and other merchandise, revenue from the film, which grossed $423 million domestically, including its rereleased in 3D, or syndication and licensing fees.

Currently, there are 10 productions of The Lion King, including those in New York, London, in Hamburg, Germany, and on tour across North America.

There’s no need to cry for The Phantom of the Opera thought. It’s still the longest-running show in Broadway history and 140 million people worldwide have seen it. There are currently eight productions with new ones planned for Moscow, Hong Kong and Istanbul.

The Lion King, which features music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice and the vision of director Julie Taymor, was an adaption of an animated film when it hit the stage but has, in many ways, overshadowed the film. It tells the story of a young lion cub’s coming of age and uses puppetry and dance in ways that haven’t been replicated.

It was the highest grossing Broadway show last year and is the highest-grossing production so far this year, despite rival shows in five bigger theatres and musicals like The Book of Mormon often charging hundreds of dollars more per ticket.

Part of its longevity is due to its movie tie-in, simple-to-understand story, family friendly themes and the fact that it’s a spectacle not dependent on big-name stars. Twenty-two global productions have been seen by more than 75 million people.

Lion King in Dublin Niall Carson Niall Carson

The Lion King chased down the overall box office crown despite Phantom having a big head start: Disney’s show began on Broadway in 1997, while Phantom debuted on stage in 1986 in London.

“It’s the distance runner, it’s the marathon runner. It’s taken 17 years of legitimacy to get there,” said David Schrader, executive vice president and managing director at Disney Theatrical Group.

What makes the achievement all the more remarkable is that Disney executives haven’t gouged every last cent from the public. In fact, they’ve purposely left money on the table.

Last week, for example, the average ticket price at The Lion King was $128, while The Book of Mormon was $50 more. And while top premium tickets for The Book of Mormon were $477 and $300 for Wicked, the highest price at The Lion King was $197.50, illustrating a conscious attempt to keep even the best seats in the house under $200.

“We’re never going to be the top price. We’re never going to have the highest VIP price. We’re never going to have the highest orchestra price,” said Schrader

We’re not in this for tomorrow afternoon. We’re in it for however many years we’ve got. We’re trying to be moderate.

The other half of the equation — attendance — is also strong. It has increased four of the last five years on Broadway, the London production has seen a 6% increase in attendance over the last five years, and the latest North American tour has seen an 11% increase over the same period.

Both Phantom and The Lion King have benefited from the emergence of premium — or dynamic — pricing, although the Disney musical has obviously enjoyed more seasons using the tactic.

It involves increasing or decreasing prices for certain seats depending on demand and started with the 2001 musical The Producers, which set a precedent with $480 tickets.

At the mother ship in New York, Schrader said the Broadway audience is made up of four key groups in roughly equal proportions: Manhattan residents, commuters from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, domestic tourists and foreign tourists.

“There’s no way you get to 17 years without somehow holding all four,” he said.

Clever advertising — like using digital screens to show crisp images of brightly costumed characters at Pennsylvania Station and the city’s airports — and a scrupulous attempt to maintain its high quality onstage mean The Lion King hasn’t devolved into a kids’ show or a joke.

It still attracts a well-heeled crowd, routinely breaks $1 million a week at the 1,700-seat Minskoff Theatre and Disney has been loath to ever discount its tickets.

“If anything, the lack of change is what’s remarkable,” Schrader said. “Everything erodes, everything comes apart. So the fact that it hasn’t is curious.”

Schrader spends much of his days looking over audience data, figuring out demand patterns based on historical trends, school holidays and even weather forecasts.

He knows that 6% of a Broadway audience is from the Philadelphia metro area. He knows that daylight savings time will “inevitably” mess up schedules. He’ll add a ninth performance during a holiday week but balances that with a need to not overtax the cast.

“I love puzzles,” he says with a smile.

But of The Lion King’s remarkable longevity and continued potency, Schrader is modest about how much effect he has.

“I wish we could take credit, but it’s the audience and it’s the word-of-mouth that’s driving it.”

So, one more time, with feeling:

LionKingSongs / YouTube

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