Top 10 Best Musical Movies
Don't you just love a good musical?
The combination of words, music and on screen action is enough to keep you in your seat for at least 90 minutes and whether your tastes run to the golden age of cinema or to more recent movies, I am sure you will find something on this Top 10 Musical Movies list to keep you happy.
If not, put your favourite in your comment and it will get an honourable mention. The movies on the list are the ten musical movies that I consider the best - just my opinion. I look forward to seeing which other ones you prefer.
I also make apologies for the lack of Bollywood movies here - I have only seen one and that was a pastiche of one called 'Bride and Prejudice' (it didn't make the list). I cannot include one because I have never seen the real thing!
Oklahoma was Rodgers and Hammerstein's first musical together and came to the screen after being a smash hit on Broadway with over 2,000 performances.
Oklahoma, like Show Boat before it was best known for its book - the back story and the songs all knit together tightly, allowing audiences to not just enjoy some amazing songs but also enjoy some good storylines and dialogues. This was still a new approach to a musical and lent itself well to the cinema where there could be a lighter approach to the 'Acts' of a play with scenes merging and some freedom with the script allowing for a more entertaining cinema experience.
Oklahoma still looks amazing in cinemascope - the scenery and colours are gorgeous, a real feast for the eyes and the musical has some wonderful performances from its leads, Gordon McRae, Rod Steiger, Shirley Jones and Gloria Graham.
The storyline is very simple - girl has to pick from 2 guys to take her to a town function - enter Gordon MacRae and Rod Steiger as Curley and Jud.
The audence get to find out about both through the girl talk and we get to see both Jud and Curley is action trying to get the gal.
It is its simplicity which makes Oklahoma such a pleasure to watch.
Its best songs include 'Oh, What A Beautiful Morning', 'The Surry with the Fringe On Top' and 'I Cain't Say No'.
Carousel is a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical based on their Broadway play but originally from a French play by Molnar called Liliom.
It was Rodgers and Hammerstein's second stage musical as a writing partnership and is unusual in that the love story is at the beginning of the play and then the 'hero' (anti-hero in this musical), Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) makes a mistake and spends the rest of this musical trying to make up for it.
Shirley Jones is mill worker, Julie Jordan. Billy Bigelow, the carousel barker falls for the factory girl in spite of being from the wrong side of the tracks and not really looking for love. They both lose their jobs and with Julie expecting their first baby, Billy is desperate to make up for failing his girl. He gets involved in a robbery and .....this is where the movie gets really interesting. A man trying to make up for lost time with the help of a higher power.
Carousel is unlike anything else ever seen in a musical before because the storyline, based on Liliom was so different. At its core is regret and sadness in Billy and Julie's story but Rodgers and Hammerstein cleverly had a parallel love story between Carrie and Mr Snow running alongside the other story and this keeps Carousel a musical movie which had a delightful flow, taking audiences through a maelstrom of emotions. It was a very brave musical but it worked and had 890 performances on the stage. At the movies, it did well and was one of the most successful movies in 1956.
Songs from the movie include 'June Is Bustin' Out All Over', 'You'll Never Walk Alone', 'If I Loved You' and 'When The Children Are Asleep'.
Later in his life when asked which of his musicals was his favourite, Richard Rodgers chose Carousel.
It was probably because of its offbeat subject matter and storyline and its amazing songs.
Two of the best female musical roles go to Renee Zellwegger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Roxie Hart and Vema Kelly, two gals on the wrong side of the law.
Roxie is married to a sweet, simple guy, Amos (played brilliantly by John C Reilly) but is also having an elicit affair with smooth talking Fred Casley (Dominic West). When she finds out there's another woman on the scene, she murders him and is locked in the women's prison awaiting trial.
There she meets Velma (Zeta-Jones) who is all over the papers, gaining lots of notoriety but also lots of free publicity thanks to her lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).
Also in the prison is the head guard, Mama Morton (Queen Latifa) also out to make a buck thanks to Billy's wheeling and dealing with the top newspapers.
Roxie soon gets wise to Velma's logic in getting good publicity out of a bad situation and tries to get Flynn in her corner.
Chicago is a real spectacle for the eyes, full of colour and amazing song and dance routines. It was written and staged originally by Bob Fosse, also famous for Cabaret and it has that same seedy quality to it with a rich undercurrent of black humour.
Zeta-Jones is astounding as Velma Kelly and is both an amazing singer and dancer. She also acts her socks off and is well matched by Zellwegger as Roxie.
A movie about two 'anti-heroines' skips along at a fast pace and is entertaining from start ot finish. It won the Best Movie Oscar in 2002, the first musical to win that honour since Oliver in 1969.
Some songs from the movie include 'All That Jazz', 'When You're Good To Mama' the amazing 'Cellblock Tango' and John C Reilly's wonderful 'Mister Cellophane'.
This could have been higher up the chart because I have seen it so many times but I have placed it at #7 which is still a respectable slot for a movie starring actors who were far too old for the characters they played.
That said, this simple story of Danny and Sandy and Rizzo and Kenickie in the search for love is one of the best movies to watch again and again, preferably with friends because it has amazing songs and some fun storylines.
Great performances from Stockard Channing as Rizzo, John Travolta as Danny and Olivia Newton-John as Sandy carry this movie along and it sparkles with summertime magic.
It is set during high school recess in summer and has fairgrounds, friends, fast car building and racing cars galore. It has gangs and gals and funny school principals.
You have to just go to see Grease and let yourself become part of the fun - it still enjoys theatre success around the world now, with audiences dressing up for the fun - that's the joy of Grease. It doesn't take itself too seriously but the songs are great anyway.
Songs include, 'Summer Nights', 'You're The One That I Want', 'Beauty School Drop Out', 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do' and of course, 'Greased Lightning' and 'Hopelessly Devoted To You'.
The movie is, of course, based on Charles Dickens 'Oliver Twist and was created after Lionel Bart's success with it on the West End stage.
It is a movie so full of wonderful songs that even owning the soundtrack album is a treat, not a bad song on it.
Performances from Ron Moody as Fagin and Mark Lester as the golden boy, Oliver were wonderful and complemented by great performances by Jack Wild, Oliver Reed and Shani Wallace.
Add to that an enormous cast of young boys who sang and danced up a storm and this really was a movie that could not fail.
Bart stayed true to Dicken's novel and also made the most of the movie's Victorian London setting. The direction by Carol Reed is perfect; it could not have been an easy job given the number of children performing but it is carried off very well.
The movie won the Best Picture Oscar in 1969.
Songs include 'Food, Glorious Food', 'Who Will Buy' and the wonderful 'As Long As He Needs Me' (much covered later by the likes of Shirley Bassey).
5. Singin' In The Rain
A movie with a history lesson included, all delivered with song and dance by its amazing leads, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagan.
Singin' in the Rain is set in 1927 during the transition from silent movies to talking and has Gene Kelly and his usual leading lady getting ready to be in their first talking film; fine for him, not so fine for her - she just doesn't have the voice for talkies!
Enter Debbie Reynolds as a wannabe actress. Gene Kelly wants to trade up and get rid of the scary voiced Hagan in favour of his new find, Reynolds.
As a musical, it has everything - great songs, amazing dance routines and star performances from its leads. The plot is like a farce with music and dancing and it has some amazing set pieces including Kelly's 'Singin' in The Rain' umbrella in hand. The direction by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly is exciting and well paced. It is a richly colourful movie too.
Cabaret is another feast for the eyes and the movie is seeing for Liza Minnelli's amazing performance as Sally Bowles, jazz club chanteuse and dancer.
Cabaret marked a distinct change in thematic musicals because it was overtly political but with a strong emphasis on the struggles of human beings caught up in circumstances not of their own making.
The setting of Cabaret is the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy cabaret club with a rather weird master of ceremonies, played brilliantly by Joel Grey. Onto its stage move the underbelly of German entertainment - Sally Bowles is the starring act, all skimpy outfits, stockings and of course, bowler hat.
The movie is based on the stage play of the same name written by Bob Fosse but that in turn was based on Christopher Isherwood's play 'I Am A Camera', basically the story of Berlin's transformation from decadent international hot spot to centre for Nazism.
Brian Roberts (Michael York) has come to Berlin to teach but is experiencing the wild and wonderful Berlin social scene as well.
The movie is a dark world the songs and dances are 'bright' flashes of light into its seedier recesses.
Apart from Oliver in 1969, set in London's dark Victorian alleyways, Cabaret went where other musicals had never dared to go. Even Oliver had its fair share of happy tunes and smiling dance numbers.
Cabaret did not give you the sunny side of pre-war Berlin. What you see is what you got - Hitler exerting his influence over Germany, leather boots, leather coats, weapons, uniforms, out and out nationalism and this counter-culture of sexual ambiguity, song and dance.
An amazing musical which was rewarded at the Oscars but lost out in the Best Picture category to The Godfather.
3. West Side Story
I have already discussed the wonders of West Side Story in another hub so I will keep this description short and sweet.
West Side Story melds classical music with choreography and is based on William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'
Ambitious? Yes, in a way never seen before because it was a project that could have failed completely but does the opposite - its success is still talked about today and it has enjoyed stage success even in recent years.
Bringing West Side Story to the cinema screen was perhaps the most difficult step; it is a movie of musical set pieces but it still works on the big screen because the sets are so good and the whole gang dynamic works perfectly.
Songs include 'America' and 'Maria'
2. Sound of Music
Based on a true story, The Sound of Music is one of the most entertaining musicals ever made.
It has a love story involving a nun (yes, really!), a Captain, his many children, beautiful mountain scenery in Austria and amazing songs.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein do it again with the Sound of Music in writing a selection of songs which are flawless.
The two lead actors, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer play their roles well. Andrews had already shown her flair for comedy and her comedic talents are used extensively at the start of this movie as she tames the rather unruly Von Trapp children.
The interweaving of the love stories between Maria and the Captain, his daughter, Leisl and Rolf, the delivery boy and the impending ascent of Nazi Germany in the region is done really well
The start of the movie concentrates on the rather goofy character of Maria, who is quite the hoot at the convent but spends far too much time singing out on the mountainside!
The Captain is a bit of an old stiff at the beginning of the movie but in time, Maria wins his heart and he softens with his children too.
You have to just sit down and let it work its magic. It is a movie to be enjoyed over and over again, perferably in good company and maybe in fancy dress!
Songs include 'Eidelweis', 'Maria', 'The Sound of Music', 'Do Re Mi' and 'My Favourite Things'.
It was Rodgers and Hammerstein's last musical together, Oscar Hammerstein died of cancer nine months after the movie's premiere.
1. Wizard of Oz
Still shown in the UK every Christmas, this musical movie stands above all others in its ability to resonate with all age groups and audiences generations apart.
Directed by Victor Fleming who also directed Gone With The Wind, the movie begins in black and white and then converts to glorious Technicolor when Dorothy wakes up in Oz.
It begins in Kansas during a tornado with Dorothy saving the life of her dog, Toto from Miss Gulch. Dorothy is returning home during the tornado and does not get into the shelter in time.
What ensues is her journey to find the Wizard of Oz along the Yellow Brick Road to enable her to return home to Kansas.
It is of course your typical hero's journey with Dorothy being aided along the way by the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion- all shapeshifters!
The baddies are provided by Gulch's alter-ego in Oz, The Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys.
In 1939 when it was made, it was the MGM's most expensive movie costing $2,000,000. It was only a moderate box office success. However, it was re-released regularly thanks to popular demand and has of course made a lot of money over the intervening period.
It was nominated for Oscars but lost out to Gone With The Wind.
It has engaging characters, great scenery, a fantasy fiction storyline and features one of the best singers of all time, Judy Garland.
Songs include 'If I Only Had A Brain', 'Follow the Yellow Brick Road' and of course the wonderful, timeless 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'.
I make no apologies for placing it first, I have seen it about thirty times and I still look forward to watching it. It was made during Hollywood's Golden Age and was created to entertain, pure and simple - job done!
I watched a lot of movies when I was a kid and I could have happily made this a Top 50 Musicals but people would have stopped reading after the first ten or eleven so I need to mention some in this section which did not make my list mainly because my own tastes have changed.
'Top Hat' starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, also 'The Gay Divorcee', loved 'em both. You can't really NOT enjoy a Fred and Ginger movie, they're great.
Anything with a Ziegfield's Follies storyline, so 'Ziegfield's Follies' starring William Powell and Judy Garland gets a nod here.
I quite liked 'My Fair Lady' starring Audrey Hepburn and also 'Funny Girl' starring Barbra Streisand. 'On The Town' and 'An American In Paris' both got consideration.
'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' nearly made this list as did 'Calamity Jane'. Of more recent musicals, Mama Mia' gets a nod but as it does not include 'original songs' I did not include it...and of course, it is too cheesy for this list :o)
Many thanks for reading.
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