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Sing, Dance, Enjoy: Top 10 Musical Films of All Time according to the AFI

Updated on August 22, 2019
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JM has a passion for inspirational objects of the past and the present. Using words to create a new form of storytelling.

Musical masterpieces have been tap dancing throughout the years with its fair share of the cinematic world. These musicals moved out from the live theater halls to grazed the big screen. With the American Film Institute remembering these legendary works, here is a countdown to the top 10 of the most memorable and truly enchanting movie musicals of all time that you and your family can enjoy. These are timeless pieces that are worth every minute with memorable songs and lovable characters.

10. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

One of the first movies top billed by Judy Garland where she portrayed a beautiful leading lady instead of her usual girl-next-door characters. Meet Me in St. Louis is a classic romantic comedy musical made by Metro Goldwyn Meyer (MGM) Studios, Inc.

The movie shows four sisters on the cusp of St. Louis World's Fair that is set in 1904. The story focuses on the growth and education of the sisters towards the ways of the world. They learn about life and love. This experience unfolds through the part of a boy-next-door character. All of the sisters' adventures are presented in Technicolor and accompanied by the beautiful songs, dances, and costumes. Meet Me in St. Louis shows that in the end, love conquers all.

Meet Me in St. Louis with the main cast, Judy Garland
Meet Me in St. Louis with the main cast, Judy Garland | Source

9. An American in Paris (1951)

A film directed by Vicente Minnelli who is also known for the musical Meet Me at St. Louis. He created another classic musical film with Gene Kelly as the American ex-GI in Paris. This movie won numerous awards and nominations from the most prestigious award-giving bodies like the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

The story takes place in post-World War II Paris. Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) stays there to become a painter. However, Paris offers more than an opportunity for dreams. Jerry then eventually falls for the beauty of Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). The romantic love-affair of Jerry and Lise, as well as the love interest of Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) to Jerry unfolds with the accompaniment of great music, dance numbers, and memorable characters.

8. My Fair Lady (1964)

My Fair Lady is a classic tale that has many enchanted with the beauty of Audrey Hepburn in her character Eliza. This ever-favorite musical has the known professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) showing off his ability to transform a Cockney working-class Eliza to someone who can be considered as a cultured member of high society. In the process, Eliza agrees to take up speech lessons to help improve her job prospects. However, the two main characters come to a clash that is heightened by Eliza's aristocratic suitor acted by Jeremy Brett.

This film surely has many surprises up its sleeves. It won numerous awards like Best Picture, Best Director George Cukor, Best Cinematography and others from the Academy Awards. My Fair Lady also won in the Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards, and others. Moreover, this film was adapted from the famous theater play, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

An image of Audrey Hepburn and Harry Stradling in the shooting of My Fair Lady.
An image of Audrey Hepburn and Harry Stradling in the shooting of My Fair Lady. | Source

7. A Star is Born (1954)

Another musical with Judy Garland as an aspiring actress Esther. This 1954 film also has James Mason as Hollywood actor, Norman Maine. The film tells how Norman's star is on the wane but is inspired to help an aspiring actress (Garland). This leads to the two of them appearing in a musical. Eventually, the two gets married, but Esther is now more popularly known as Vicki Lester, who is more in demand compared to Norman. This leads to her husband's heavy drinking. Now, the challenge that the new star is about to face must include a decision to choose between moving forward or save her husband.

6. Mary Poppins (1964)

With other nannies, Jane and Michael (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) are all too playful to handle. When the two children of the wealthy Banks family meet with the magical Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), they are surprised. Their playful days are placed in order with a series of adventures together with Mary and her friend, Bert (Dick Van Dyke).

This 1964 musical became a hit with its fantastical nature, memorable songs, and remarkable casts ( with the addition of David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns). It is no surprise that this film received multiple awards from much prestigious organization and award giving body. Aside from the wonderful features, its touching story gives a refreshing sight for moviegoers of the time.

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Julie Andrews and Dick Van DykeThe memorable scene with the flying umbrella.The Banks siblings from Mary Poppins
Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke
Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke | Source
The memorable scene with the flying umbrella.
The memorable scene with the flying umbrella. | Source
The Banks siblings from Mary Poppins
The Banks siblings from Mary Poppins | Source

5. Cabaret (1972)

Cabaret is set in 1931 Berlin. Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli), an American cabaret singer, meets British academic Brian Roberts (Michael York). In this story, the two become lovers despite the fact that Brian is having some confusion about his sexuality. There love affair becomes complicated with the arrival of Maximilian von Heune (played by Helmut Griem). Maximilian is a wealthy, decadent playboy who adds to the love triangle which happens in the rise of the Nazi party and the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

This intriguing film is one of the many other movies that deal with the idea that the rise of the Nazi started the bisexuality, homosexuality, sadomasochism, and assorted other activities. It features the dark recesses of the Nazi period with a mix of dramatic visuals and music.

4. The Sound of Music (1965)

In 1965, The Sound of Music won the 38th Academy Awards for Best Picture. Julie Andrews stars in another heartwarming musical. This time, she plays Maria, the tomboyish postulant. The story is based on the real-life account of the Von Trapp Family singers. A family that is most popular in the time immediately preceding World War II.

The Sound of Music's cast includes Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp, Charmian Carr, Kym Karath, Angela Cartwright, Heather Menzies, Nicholas Hammond, Debbie Turner and Duane Chase as the Von Trapp children. They are the people who brought life and timeless music for that generation and until today.

Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews stars in the classic musical, The Sound of Music. The two had the roles of Captain Von Trapp and Maria.
Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews stars in the classic musical, The Sound of Music. The two had the roles of Captain Von Trapp and Maria. | Source

3. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

A film inspired by the classic tale of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book written in 1900. This musical is a top favorite by avid fans of musical movies. It brought fame to Judy Garland who later on continued to star in various films.

In this 1939 film, a tornado rips through Kansas where Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her dog, Toto, are taken away to the magical land of Oz. Here, they come across different adventures as they follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City. Along the way, they meet different characters: Scarecrow (played by Ray Bolger) that needs a brain; a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who wants to have courage; and a Tinman (Jack Haley) that is missing a heart. In their journey, the wizard asks them to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West played by Margaret Hamilton. If they are to succeed, the wizard will help them.

This film also made Judy Garland a much-loved actress with a beautiful voice. She is most famous for the song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

2. West Side Story (1961)

A movie adaptation of the musical play inspired by the story of Romeo and Juliet. This 1961 musical was directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. A modern tale set in New York City. The lives of Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) come across where the two falls in love. However, they are put to a complicated relationship because they are connected to rival gangs. The harsh streets in the West Side of Manhattan are filled with amazing performances and wonderful music in this modern musical.

It's taken on Shakespeare's tragedy, made it a hit and it won the 1961 Academy Awards for Best Picture alongside other nine other awards. Aside from these, it received numerous recognition and awards with a great following from the movie goers.

1. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

The top musical classic picked by the AFI, Singin' in the Rain presented a spoof of the historical transition in the film industry. From silent films to sound in the late 1920s, sets the events that had Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) singing all time favorites.

This 1952 film was directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen was nominated in multiple awards. The musical film is more known for its music score and memorable soundtrack.


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