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My Top Ten Movie Musicals: From Past To Present

Updated on January 13, 2017

Movie Poster: Singin' in the Rain

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Singing in the Rain

Yes this one does top my list. Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds are a knock outcast. Their chemistry is spot on throughout the whole film, the dancing is phenomenal and the songs are memorable. This film was made in 1952 and is still one of the most well known movie musicals ever made. Even if someone has not seen the film, they are familiar with the main song and Gene Kelly's famous scene in the rain.

The film opens at a movie premiere in 1927 and has an immediate flashback to give the audience a point of reference. Gene Kelly's opening monologue of past events is absolutely hilarious. It is rather subtle humor at times, but the more you watch it, the more you will catch.

Once we are catapulted into the late 1920s, it becomes apparent that the perfect film duo, Lockwood (played by Gene Kelly) and Lamont have some challenges ahead of them. A man has invented the 'talkie,' a film with sound. The dynamic duo has to make the transition or forever lose their careers.

As the story unfolds, relationships are formed and continue to grow creating some very unique and funny situations. Jean Hagen (Lena Lamont) could not be more perfectly cast to further these relationships and create outlandish situations. Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor could not be a more perfect duo for the lead and his best friend. Their friendship is so real and Cosmo (O'Connor) keeps his friend grounded in reality.

As far as dance is concerned, the movie delivers a great variety. The majority is tap, but there is also a ballet scene and a jazz scene with dance master Cyd Charisse. Of course, Gene Kelly's tapping is phenomenal, but his scenes with Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds are truly amazing. They match each other's energy and their excitement and talent simply radiate off of the screen.

There are so many great dance scenes it is hard to narrow it down to a favorite, but I think mine would have to be Donald O'Connor's "Make Them Laugh" solo. It combines verbal humor with slapstick comedy intertwined brilliantly with dance. In close second would be the scene with Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds singing and tapping to "Good Morning." (I believe I am partial to this scene because this is a song my mother would occasionally use to get me out of bed)

It is 103 minutes, so not terribly long by today's standards. Gene Kelly also directed along with Stanley Donen who also make a great team.

With a stellar cast, great upbeat music and phenomenal choreography Singin' in the Rain will undoubtedly stand the test of time in my book and remain one of my favorite movie musicals! I would certainly recommend it if you have not seen it. It is a great family movie too!

Official 1952 Trailer

Movie Poster: High Society

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High Society

A lesser known movie musical, this film starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong is extremely entertaining. The content may be over a child's head, but the singing and dancing makes it a good family movie. There is only one scene you may want to fast forward through as Frank Sinatra sings "Mind if I make love to you" if you are watching with children.

The main characters of the film, C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby) and Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly) are a divorced couple who still lives next to each other in their beautiful mansions. Dexter is back for the Jazz Festival and Grace Kelly is preparing for her wedding to George Kittredge. However, Dexter has an ulterior motive: to stop Tracy from marrying again and win her back. Classic right?

To beef up the plot, Mike Conner and Liz Imbrie are sent to stay with Tracy and her family to cover the wedding for their employer Spy Magazine. Caroline, Tracy's younger sister adds an additional comedic element that keeps the movie rolling.

The music is just wonderful as you can imagine since the majority is performed by Louis Armstrong. The amazing cast of vocalists bring the songs to life. The dancing revolves more around ballroom, but there is a terrific scene with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby that is brilliant. Obviously neither of these talented men are dancers, but they perform with such high energy that it can certainly be classified as choreography.

I originally borrowed the VHS (yes VHS!) from the library and was hooked. I absolutely recommend if you love humor and some truly amazing vocal performances.

Official 1956 Trailer

Movie Poster: Hello Dolly

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Hello Dolly

Yet another classic, this movie musical stars Barbara Streisand, Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford. The dancing in this one never slows and each song is a higher energy than the first. The tunes are really catchy and quite easy to catch yourself singing if you aren't careful.

Mrs. Dolly Levi is a widow who is a marriage broker for Mr. Horace Vandegeldar in Yonkers, New York. Horace is the guardian of his niece, Irmengard who is determined to marry a penniless painter named Ambrose. He also owns Vandegelder's Hay and Feed and employs two young men in his store, Cornelius Hackle and Barnaby Tucker. Mrs. Levi has set Horace up with a lovely young lady named Irene Malloy who owns a hat shop in New York City. Her assistant Miss Minnie Faye has some serious reservations regarding her friend's possible nuptials.

All of these characters have their day shaped by Mrs. Levi who has a plan of her own. This leads to truly comedic results that continue to become more tangled as they unfold. The acting is superb, but the high point is certainly the dancing.

Directed by Gene Kelly and choreographed by Michael Kidd the dance scenes in this movie are unforgettable! They are extremely high energy and make you want to jump up and dance with them. One dancer in particular stands apart from all the rest. This is Barnaby Tucker played by Danny Lockin. His talents are truly utilized and extremely well executed. All of the partnering scenes between Barnaby and Minnie (E.J. Peaker) are incredible.

All of the background dancers and very talented as well and though you can't always see everything, you can tell that Michael Kidd choreographed everything to always be moving. This means that no matter where Gene Kelly decided to shoot, there would be choreography. To do 360 degree staging for a movie is extremely difficult but Kidd pulls it off flawlessly.

This is a great one for the family. The actors will have you laughing from beginning to end and the dance scenes will leave you on the edge of your seat wanting more.

Official 1969 Trailer

Movie Poster: 7 Brides for 7 Brothers

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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

This is another great adaptation from the stage to the screen. Howard Keel, MGM's leading musical man in the 1950s stars alongside Jane Powell in this goofy, twisted comedy. One of MGMs' more successful films in my opinion, it balances humor with love and anger with positivity.

Adam Pontipee is the eldest of seven brothers living in the backwoods in the 1850s. He rides into town with a purpose: to bring home a wife who will take care of all seven men. He is told that no woman in her right mind would agree to that, but Adam will not be dissuaded. He comes across Millie, a young woman who is known in the town for her wonderful cooking and spunky personality. Amazingly enough, he does convince Millie to marry him and takes her back with him to his home. Little does she know what she is about to encounter.

Upon stepping out of the wagon, Millie meets Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank and Gideon. All her thoughts of a loving home she could call her own melt away as she is faced with reality.

Being the tough, scrappy young woman she is, Millie decides to whip the brothers into shape. They then decide that they too want to marry. This gives Adam a rather unscrupulous idea to restore his brothers' happiness which has hilarious consequences.

Jane Powell plays the strong willed Millie brilliantly. It is very clear as soon as she arrives that she will put up with no nonsense and will not live with seven misbehaved, dirty men. Her task of reformation is funny as is the brothers' reactions.

This is a great one to watch with the family. There is one fight scene, but it is clearly choreographed and they do more dancing than fighting. The music is excellent and there are very little adaptations from the stage to the screen.

Official 1954 Trailer

Movie Poster: Annie Get Your Gun

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Annie Get Your Gun

Annie get your gun is Howard Keel's breakout film in 1950. Keel is joined by Betty Hutton as Annie. This is where "Anything you can do I can do better" and "There's no business like show business" are from.These are fairly well know songs, but most do not know that they are from this musical that was put on the screen in 1950.

Frank Butler is the star sharpshooter in Colonel Buffulo Bill' Wild West show. In each town Frank faces the local hotshot sharpshooter to gain extra money for the show. In one city he is faced with nothing he had ever seen before in a shooting contest. A woman.

Her name is Annie Oakley. She and her siblings are wandering and looking for food. Annie carries a shotgun for hunting and sells the meat for money. One of the town's proprietors buys some of Annie's game and is astounded with her talent. It is he who signs her up for the showdown with Frank Butler.

Of course a woman shooting at this time is ludicrous, but Annie beats Frank with ease. From here unfolds a budding romance with very funny situations. Howard Keel plays the arrogant Butler with ease and Hutton the stubborn Oakley flawlessly.

Another great family movie for all! Not necessarily as common as others, but certainly worth the watch!

Official 1950 Trailer

Movie Poster: Sound of Music

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Sound of Music

How could this not be one the list? One of the most timeless classics, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plumber bring the VonTrapp family to life. With songs like "The Sound of Music," "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" and "Edelweiss" it is sure to become a family favorite.

Maria, played by Julie Andrews, is a young women living in a convent studying to become a nun. She is very devout in her faith, but is different than the others because of her zest for life. Mother Superior decides to give her another task before she takes her vows to be sure this is where she wants to spend her life.

Maria becomes the governess for the VonTrapp family. Captain VonTrapp is a windower with seven children ranging from the age of 5 to 16. He has transferred his grief to his children and runs his home as a he would a ship. Maria shows the children and the captain how to smile and have fun again through song and her contagious personality.

Unfortunately, during this time the Nazis have invaded Austria. No one, not even the VonTrapps were left untouched as Nazi life infiltrated their beloved homeland.

This one is a little lengthy topping off at 174 minutes, but is definitely worth the time to watch all the way through from beginning to end. Julie Andrews singing is magical and Rogers and Hammerstein's stage musical transfers beautifully from the stage to the screen.

Official 1965 Trailer

Movie Poster: A Chorus Line

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A Chorus Line

This takes a hard turn from the light comedic movie musicals we have just visited. Still packed with humor and phenomenal performances this 1985 film is a great one. Definitely for older children and adults only due to content

Based as all the others on a staged musical, A Chorus Line takes a realistic look into dance auditions in New York. Dance hopefuls have been auditioning all day and being cut fairly quickly as the director has a very specific views of who he wishes to cast.

Zach, played by Michael Douglas, is one of the toughest directors in the city. It is very difficult to be cast in his shows, but hundreds come to audition anyway. The competition is stiff. In the line waiting to audition, a young man asks a more experienced dancer who has just been cut what the director is looking for. The dancer cheekily replies "Baryshnikov."

By mid day Zach has narrowed the number from hundreds to 16 dancers. Eight women and eight men. He only needs four of each so the dancers know another cut is coming. Zach informs them that he's seen how they dance, now he wants to get to know them as people. The dancers are incredibly surprised by this, but they go along. He asks each dancer to share things that are very personal. These stories make for great song and dance opportunities. Every dancer on the stage is truly amazing. The songs range from comedic to tragic and shows the diversity of the 16 still standing.

By the end, Zach has to make a decision. After such a grueling day physically, mentally and emotionally, it becomes very difficult for Zach to choose. The audience has formed an attachment to the characters by this time and it is devastating to watch them be eliminated. In this way, the audience is given a true peek into the life of a dancer trying to make it in New York City.

As I stated earlier, this one is probably not the best for younger children unless certain scenes are fast forwarded through. It begins to move movie musicals into a more realistic scene, dealing with tough issues. One of my favorites, I would definitely recommend it!

Official 1985 Trailer

Movie Poster: Phantom of the Opera

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Phantom of the Opera

This one is controversial. Some love it, some hate it and some just feel that it should never have be adapted to the screen. Emmy Rossum, an unknown young actress is cast in the lead opposite of Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson.

The musical is much different than the original story in the book. The adaptation from stage to screen is very similar. They kept the deep darkness out of the movie as in the stage musical. Rossum plays Christine, an aspiring singer and dancer who has been improving upon her skills as of late.

When the prima dona, Carlotta walks off of the set of the production on which Christine is a ballet dancer, she is volunteered to take Carlotta's place for that evening. She performs beautifully. Emmy Rossum does her own singing and is clearly classically trained.

Upon the conclusion of the productions, Christine receives a visitor named Raoul. He is a childhood friend and was thrilled to see his crush again.It is revealed that Christine has been taking voice lessons from what most call the 'ghost.'

Gerard Butler plays the Phantom. His deep gravelly voice is perfect for this mysterious and dark character. On the opposite end of the spectrum Patrick Wilson represents the lighter side of things and fills the movie with love.

This one is a little slow as they have no a dialogue, everything is song. I find that this one is rather dark. Wait to have a family night with this one after it is been previewed.

Official 2004 Trailer

Movie Poster: Rent

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Rent

We are now taking a turn from our light adaptations from stage to screen in a 180 with Rent. Rent is a musical that is extremely controversial. It deals with issues that many people would prefer remained hidden. The goal of the story is to bring awareness to these issues by connecting the characters so closely and putting a face with the issue.

Chris Columbus undertakes the task of transferring this Pulitzer and Tony award winning musical from stage to screen. He brilliantly used actors from the stage who had already connected with their characters. The cast consisting of Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Idina Menzel, Tracie Thoms and Taye Diggs is absolutely killer in both acting and singing.

Regardless of your views or whether you agree or disagree with the premise, it is irrefutable that these actors have stunning vocal abilities. I got chills a number of times while watching just listening to the incredible skills of the vocalists. Their blend is perfect and each voice compliments the other.

The story follows a group of Bohemian friends living on the East Side through their struggles. Mark, an aspiring director, is making a movie about the lives of he and his friends. The musical addresses AIDs, HIV, LGBTQ issues, poverty, suicide and drug use. The list goes on and on with many other things being presented.

The music, as I said is wonderfully performed. This musical is not for the faint of heart. Since it is following the lives of a group of people, there are many ups and downs. The characters face truly awful hardship and situations. Definitely not a movie for young children. However, if you love fabulous music or controversial subjects this is one to watch for you!

Official 2006 Trailer

Movie Poster: Burlesque

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Burlesque

Yep, I included Burlesque. I have a soft spot for Cher and was really excited to hear she was briefly coming back to the screen! I also love stories about the underdog and people who work their way up to the top. Starring Christina Aguilera and Cher this movie has a great cast. Granted, this is not one that was on stage and adapted, but it was amazing to have an original musical on screen.

Christina Aguilera plays Ali, a small town girl with huge dreams. (Cliché I know) She leaves her safe life and ventures to Los Angeles seeking a new life. She comes across a small burlesque lounge owned by Tess (Cher), a woman with a big heart and a sense of family. Tess is in financial trouble and in danger of losing her club if she does not change something and gain an income. Ali's dream is to be on that stage, however, she knows she needs a foot in the door. The waitress is doing an awful job of serving drinks, so Ali picks up a tray and works wonders. At the end of the night, Tess grudgingly hires Ali on as a server.

Ali secretly learns the routines and songs and has the opportunity to audition. Even more reluctantly than before, Tess places Ali in the chorus. Rivalry breaks out as Nikki, played by Kristen Bell, is not fond of Ali. She decides to show Tess and Ali that she cannot be forgotten so easily. But her brilliant plan backfires and makes Ali a star.

Of course there is the love interest between the bartender, Jack and Ali as well as the insanely rich Marcus. Tess' assistant keeps her sane through this and develops a soft spot for Ali. Played by the wonderful Stanley Tucci, Sean begins to mend some of the rifts created.

The music is great. There is not a bad song on the soundtrack. Is the movie predictable? Yes. Is it a little bit cheesy and cliché? Yep. Is Christina Aguilera as an actress shocking? You bet. But who doesn't love cheesy and cliché every once in a while and Christina does a great job playing Ali. Her vocals make up for any shortcomings she may have as an actress.

The dancing is rather racy which can be expected from a movie that takes place in a burlesque club. It fuses tradition with Fosse and adds a splash of the dancing popular now. It is well executed and very high energy in every scene. Christina does a great job blending as a dancer, though that is not necessarily her strong point.

Probably not the best for little ones, but a lot of the innuendo will go over their head. There is one scene with nudity and some strong language throughout. You would not think that Cher and Christina would make a good duo, but they do a really nice job. Kristen Bell and Stanley Tucci add extra dimension to the story. If you like light, fun movies with upbeat music and dance this is one for you!

Official 2010 Trailer

Movie Poster: White Christmas

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BONUS: White Christmas

I include this as a bonus because it is holiday related. If you are like me, I can watch it any time during the year, but that is not most people. This famous musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney's aunt) and the famous dancer Vera-Ellen is perfect for the holidays! The songs are great, the story is very sweet and thoughtful and it is all around a great film.

Crosby and Kaye make a great team. They play Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who meet in the army and after the war team up to become one of the biggest song and dance acts in the country. Phil decides it is his mission to find a girl for Bob. Bob is not pleased. One night after their show, they head to a nightclub to see the Haynes sisters perform.

Betty and Judy are introduced by singing "Sisters" which is a really cute number. There is confusion and Bob, Phil, Betty and Judy end up in Vermont where the sisters are performing for the holidays. Upon arriving, Bob and Phil are in for a shock. The owner of the inn is none other than General Waverly, their commanding officer. It is clear the Inn is failing and the four new friends decide they need to do something to help.

The music is wonderful and extremely well performed. We would not expect any less with such a cast. Vera Ellen brings the dancing to life and is absolutely enchanting in every dance scene. Some of my personal favorite dances ever recorded belong to this musical. The scene "Choreography" and the scene with Vera Ellen and her partner dressed in yellow are mind blowing tap sequences. Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen's scene "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" is a flawless blend of ballroom and tap. And who can forget Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas."

This is hands down my favorite holiday movie. I have watched it every year since I was little and it is a HUGE part of my December. I cannot recommend it enough if you haven't seen it and if you have I hope this has inspired you to watch it again and appreciate how amazing it is!

Official 1954 Trailer

Closing

Please share your favorite musicals! I'd love to hear!

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      sunset1967 3 years ago

      I love love musicals!, One of my favorite musical made to film would have to be Les Miserables!

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      bowhunt1966 3 years ago

      I have seen some of theese movies and love them and now I am going to have to watch the other ones I haven't seen yet and you are correct theese movies are classics and will live on forever

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      Beth McKamy 2 years ago

      What a great list! Many of them, such as White Christmas, Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Singing in the Rain would also be on my top 10 list. I would also add my favorite Howard Keel movie, Calamity Jane and the wonderful film, The Music Man with Robert Preston & Shirley Jones. And last, but not least, who can leave out the teaming of Julie Andrews and Robert Preston in the hilarious Blake Edwards film Victor, Victoria.

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      mapol 3 months ago

      I like "The Sound of Music" and "The Music Man" a great deal, but neither of them, admittedly hold the same special place in my heart regarding movies as "West Side Story".

      As for the others on this list, I've never seen any of them, so I can't compare them with anything. Thanks for the list, however.

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