The Lion King has overtaken The Phantom of the Opera to become the highest-grossing film or stage show of all time, according to a statement issued yesterday by the Walt Disney Company.
Ticket sales across 22 international productions of the show exceeded $6.2bn (£3.8bn) this summer, putting it in front of movie blockbusters including The Dark Knight, Star Wars, Titanic, and the highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar, which took $2.8bn at the box office.
Disney emphasised that the figures for The Lion King were for tickets only, and didn't include sales of the wide range of merchandise that has spun off from the show.
The producers also made it clear that high ticket prices weren't a factor in bumping up receipts, stating that The Lion King tickets are less expensive than tickets for The Book of Mormon and Wicked.
'It's the distance runner, it's the marathon runner,' David Schrader, Disney Theatrical Group's executive VP and managing director said. 'It's taken 17 years of legitimacy to get there. 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. 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 story of lion cub Simba and his fight to regain his rightful throne as King of the African Pridelands features music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice. Based on the $1bn-grossing 1994 Disney movie and designed and directed by Julie Taymor, the stage show premiered in 1997 on Broadway and was an immediate critical and popular hit. The London production of The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre followed suit and continues to enjoy its successful run there.
'It's difficult not to become emotional at this realisation of the show's impact,' said Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions.
'Our goal then was to tell the story purely and theatrically so that audiences could feel it in their heart,' he continued. '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.'