What we call event films today are really boxoffice giants — nothing like Michael Todd’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, which was Hollywood’s biggest movie project ever when it premiered in New York on Oct. 17, 1956.
It cost what was then an event-sized $6M to produce. Filming was done in 13 countries on 112 locations with 146 sets. In Hollywood, shooting took place at Twentieth Century-Fox, RKO, Universal-International, Warner Brothers & Columbia Pictures.
Todd, a born showman and the definition of a controlling producer, insisted that 80 DAYS be released as a roadshow in his own 70mm widescreen process Todd-AO. He told exhibitors to market 80 DAYS just like a Broadway show — with reserved seats, playbills as people walked in, and soundtrack albums & souvenir programs for sale in lobbies. He also got exhibitors to remove theatre clocks and close concession stands so as to keep moviegoers seated until the 179-minute movie’s built-in 3:27 intermission began two-thirds of the way in.
After starting production with a $3M budget, Todd almost ran out of money. Fortunately, he showed his existing footage to United Artists and got an immediate thumbs-up for funding & distribution. 80 DAYS became a legendary event, playing from 1956 to ’59 at Broadway’s 2,092-seat Rivoli Theatre with full houses for 15 months. There were 1,564 performances with 2.2M moviegoers and $4.9M in ticket sales.
With the staggering success of the roadshow engagements in major markets, 80 DAYS didn’t go into general 35mm release until 1958. When Todd met an untimely death in a private plane crash on March 22, 1958, his masterpiece had already grossed $33M. It went on to do $42M.
Among 80 DAYS’ stars were David Niven, Cantinflas & Shirley MacLaine. There were more than 50 cameo appearances by such stars as Frank Sinatra, Sir John Gielgud, Marlene Dietrich & Buster Keaton. All told, the closing credits, designed by Saul Bass, ran 6:21. All the credits were shown after the movie, which was new & different then, and the title was the last credit, followed by 4:57 of exit music.
Niven, who played the lead character Phileas Fogg, said this was his all-time favorite movie role. Todd originally wanted Cary Grant as Fogg but cast Niven after six months of trying. A week into production, Todd fired director John Farrow because Todd realized only he could run a Michael Todd production. Farrow, who also was a co-screenwriter, later shared an Oscar win.
At the 1957 Oscars, 80 DAYS also won for best picture, film editing, cinematography & music scoring. Michael Anderson, Todd’s replacement for Farrow, was nominated but didn’t win. Neither did the art direction-set decoration nominees — one of whom, Ken Adam, would later make his mark as the production designer for many of the best James Bond films, including DR. NO, GOLDFINGER & THUNDERBALL.