After Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton” opened in New York in 2015, getting your hands on tickets became a near-impossible feat. It went on to gross $500 million, won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, and was staged for three US tours, a production in London’s West End, and one in Chicago. Then there were the albums, remixed songs featuring the likes of Barack Obama, and the endless media coverage.
The modern retelling of founding father Alexander Hamilton’s life is a full-blown cultural phenomenon, one that has rolled out like a well-planned military campaign. The target? The hearts and minds of America, and the world, as part of that thing every studio executive wants: hilariously lucrative branded IP.
And that’s why Disney, perhaps the most skillful tactician of milking cultural touchstones for profit, would pay such an enormous sum for the worldwide rights of a filmed version of the stage production. While the reported $75 million winning bid may have been the largest-ever price paid for a single film acquisition, Disney is not in the one-offs business; it signals a deal that could mean much more.
Disney plans a fall 2021 release, five years after cameras captured the musical’s cast (and two weeks before the end of its run with the original cast). The long wait between filming and acquisition suggests a strategic move on the part of Miranda and the show’s producers — it was hot in 2016, and grew even hotter as the musical and Miranda became further embedded in pop culture. There was the book “Hamilton: The Revolution,” the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America,” both released that year, and later Miranda had a prominent role in the long-awaited ninth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and voiced a character on “BoJack Horseman.” Just last month, he was involved in two documentaries that premiered at Sundance: “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,” about the hip-hop improv group of which he was once a member, and “Siempre, Luis,” about his father, political consultant Luis A. Miranda Jr.
“We filmed the production with the original cast and Tommy (director Thomas Kail) has made a great movie out of it. It has been sitting in a vault,” Lin-Manuel Miranda told IndieWire at Sundance. “We’re close to finding the right time to release it.”
And at 40, Miranda is just getting started. A film adaptation of his debut musical, “In The Heights,” will be released by Warner Bros. June 26. The film had been set up at the Weinstein Company in 2016, but Warners won the rights for the film for a cool $50 million two years later.
Miranda has not aligned himself with any one studio, but the “Hamilton” acquisition marks Disney’s move to bring him under the same corporate umbrella as Marvel and “Star Wars.” Unlike those franchises, Miranda remains a free agent and Disney will have to continue to woo him if they want to profit off his creative sensibilities.
And like “Star Wars,” there’s theme park opportunities. Disneyland could extend the “Hamilton” franchise to its own Hall of Presidents, the animatronic exhibit at Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom inside the Walt Disney World Resort, in Orlando, Fla.
Finally, there’s the full-fledged film adaptation of “Hamilton,” which is still up for grabs. That could be years down the line — long enough to build up a sense of nostalgia for the original musical. Fans will be able to get their “Hamilton” fix on Disney+ until then, once the filmed version is released there alongside other Disney hits like “Beauty and the Beast.” By the time a new version of “Hamilton” is produced and released, it could scratch a similar itch as the 2017 version “Beauty and the Beast,” a live-action version of the cartoon musical that grossed a record-breaking $1.2 billion worldwide — the kind of money only a Disney franchise can hope for.