A Night at the Opera was the first Marx Brothers film produced by the young Irving Thalberg at MGM. The Marx Brothers’ most recent movie, Duck Soup, made in 1933, was branded as high-gear Marxist anarchy. To some, this was what the Marx Brothers symbolized, and it delighted audiences. Unfortunately, Duck Soup didn’t do all that well at the box office.
There were others who didn’t appreciate the lunacy that the Marx Brothers portrayed. It was Thalberg who felt that the Marx Brothers could produce a comedy that had a carefully-written plot where the boys could stay true to their zany antics, while at the same time, come to the rescue of a couple in love. He felt this would generate sympathy for the boys as the storyline progressed – something that was not evident in their prior films.
The gamble paid off. After numerous tested drafts before live audiences and the genius of writer Al Boasberg, A Night at the Opera was eventually produced into the classic we now recognize today. On the basis of its initial release, A Night at the Opera brought in $3 million, which made it their most successful initial film release up to that time. It would be eclipsed only two years later when A Day at the Races was released. Based upon its initial release, A Day at the Races grossed $4 million at the box office.