Musical movies have been a part of our culture for decades. Whether you’re a Musical fan or not, everyone has that one musical movie that they have a soft spot for; they can’t help but sing along to and it gives them that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Musical movies are a great way to escape from the real world. For 120 minutes or so you’re in a world where the general public can burst into song and dance at any time. There are tons of movie musicals, from lesser-known titles like ‘The Music Man’ movie to the recent popular musical movies everyone knows like the ‘Cats’ musical movies, ‘Annie’, and the ‘High School Musical’ movie. In this article, we’re going to briefly go through the history of music movies and a list of musical movies that we think are the best of all time!
A musical movie is a motion picture where songs sung by the actors are woven into the narrative of the story, this can also be paired with dancing. The songs featured in the film most commonly further the narrative of the character, although sometimes serve merely as breaks in the storyline. There are many types of movie musicals from stage musicals adapted for the screen to musicals created purely for tv or movies. Some film musicals have no speech at all, only a string of songs to relay to story to the audience, these are called a ‘song cycle’.
The movie musical is a genre of film that’s almost as old as film itself. Since the very first ‘talkies’ (films with sound) were invented, musical films have been a source of entertainment for millions. The very first movie musical was ‘The Jazz Singer’, released in 1927. Following this, there was a surge in musical films making the most of the invention of sound with motion picture. In the mid 1930s, the singing/dancing teams such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers became hugely popular. Some would say they have moulded musical movies into what they are today.
The addition to movie musicals having their own category on Netflix has also boosted viewings. From old musical movies to new, for kids and adults, music movies on Netflix have made choosing a film on a Sunday evening a whole lot easier.
We’re going to try and compile a list of some of the best musicals of all time in movie format. Here we go…
Directed by: Robert Wise
Music and Lyrics: Richard Rogers/ Oscar Hammerstein
Starring: Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer
Budget: $8.2 Million
Box Office: $296.2 Million
Best Known Songs: The Hills Are Alive’ and ‘My Favourite Things’
Not many people aren’t aware of the von Trapp family and the wild-spirited nun, Maria. Maria goes to work as a nanny to all 7 the von Trapp children in Austria. She breaks through the previous military-style upbringing with songs and fun and ultimately falls in love with the widowed father, Captain Georg von Trapp. As the story progresses, you learn that the family will have to flee Austria to Switzerland to avoid becoming part of Hitler’s evil plans for the war. The Sound of Music was originally a stage musical, first performed in 1959. If you want something classic, The Sound of Music movie is the one for you!
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Music and Lyrics: Claude-Michel Schönberg
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter
Budget: $61 Million
Box Office: $441.8 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘On My Own’, ‘Bring Him Home’ and ‘I Dreamed A Dream’
No one can ignore this star-studded cast. Set in the early 1800s in France, Hugh Jackman opens the film as Jean Valjean. He’s a prisoner serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her child. After being released from prison he assumes a different identity and reforms his life, adopting a child, Cosette, and raising her as his own. Javert, the ruthless police officer played by Russell Crowe, is on the hunt for the prisoner who violated parole, Jean Valjean. Fun fact: a lot of this movie was filmed in Greenwich, London. This caused a lot of hassle for the locals! The beautifully done sets and music and opera-style singing will leave the hairs on your arm standing up. Les Mis is really one of the nation’s favourites.
Directed by: Robert Wise/ Jerome Robbins
Music and Lyrics: Leonard Bernstein/ Stephen Sondheim
Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Monero
Budget: $6.75 Million
Box Office: $44.1 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘Maria’, ‘I Feel Pretty’ and ‘America’
This musical movie marked a turn in musical theatre addressing social problems and racism in America. West Side Story was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10 including a special award for Jerome Robbins for choreography. Perhaps some of the most iconic choreography of all time, the finger-clicking in the opening scenes immediately sets the suspense for the story to come.
Based on Romeo and Juliet, Teenagers Tony and Maria fall in love in 1950s New York City. This is despite having affiliations with rival street gangs, the white Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks. This causes rifts within the gangs and they try to keep the pair separate, however they see each other in secret. There is a shootout and Tony is killed, ending the feud between the gangs and Maria is left with her grief. Elvis Presley was approached for the role of Tony but turned it down! There is a remake of West Side Story being released in December 2021 directed by Steven Spielberg!
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Music and Lyrics: Marc Shaiman/ Scott Wittman
Starring: Nicki Blonsky, Zac Efron, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelley
Budget: $75 Million
Box Office: $203.5 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘Good Morning Baltimore’, ‘Big Blonde and Beautiful’ and ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’
Set in 60’s America, with huge hair and huge dreams, Tracy Turnblad, who’s on the slightly plumper side, dreams of dancing on ‘The Corny Collins’ show. From luck and talent, she gets a spot on the show, much to the anger of the station’s producer ‘Velma’. Tracy rallies against racism and makes huge movements against the discrimination of people of colour. The show’s lead dancer and heart-throb, ‘Link’, falls in love with Tracy. The film ends with the show becoming integrated. Aimed at a younger audience, Hairspray opened the door for talking more about racial discrimination as well as advocating body positivity within younger audiences. That, mixed with feel-good songs and colourful sets and outfits make for a great night of sing-along fun!
Directed by: Gene Kelly/ Stanley Donen
Music and Lyrics: Nacio Herb Brown/ Arthur Freed
Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner, Debbie Reynolds
Budget: $2.5 Million
Box Office: $7.2 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ and ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’
Directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly, the story, set in Hollywood in the 20s, depicts three performers caught up the transition from silent movies to ‘talkies’. Kathy (Reynolds) and Don (Kelly) have a love-hate relationship, they don’t get on at the start but you just know they’re going to fall in love at the end, and they do! This feel-good movie, filled with romance and comedy is definitely a golden oldie and one you should have on your watch list if you haven’t already!
Directed by: Thomas Kail
Music and Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Leslie Odom Jr, Phillipa Soo
Best Known Songs: ‘My Shot’, ‘Burn’ and ‘You’ll Be Back’
This Disney musical movie is a little different from the rest as it’s a recording of the stage musical rather than a film in itself. The story follows founding father Alexander Hamilton and depicts his life with his wife, Angelica and peers. Filled with humour from King George III and terrible loss and sadness with death and adultery, this film takes you on a real emotional rollercoaster with being historically informative. Miranda wanted to make the show more inclusive by using a multi-ethnic cast, the Hamilton musical movie is an absolute must for your ‘to see’ list!
Directed by: Fred Zinnemann
Music and Lyrics: Richard Rogers/ Oscar Hammerstein
Starring: Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Gene Nelson
Budget: $6.8 Million
Box Office: $7.1 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’ and ‘I Can’t Say No’
The Oklahoma musical movie didn’t do too well at the box office, however, it’s a musical that everyone knows the songs to. Oklahoma! tells the story of farm girl, Laurey, and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly and the sinister farmhand Jud Fry while touching on the local conflict between cattlemen and farmers. This movie musical is a little like marmite – you’ll love it or hate it, but you’ll definitely leave with those songs in your head – you might even find yourself whistling them while you hoover!
Directed by: Michael Gracey
Music and Lyrics: John Debney/ Joseph Trapanese/ Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Furgeson
Budget: $84 Million
Box Office: $435 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘The Greatest Show’, ‘Rewrite The Stars’ and ‘This Is Me’
A menagerie of colour, buoyant characters and catchy upbeat songs that you can’t help but dance to, The Greatest Showman is a phenomenal hit with both adults and children. Due to the humongous budgets of more recent musical movies, they’re using set and costume to create large spectacles.
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Music and Lyrics: John Kander/ Fred Ebb/ Danny Elfman
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah
Budget: $45 Million
Box Office: $306.8 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘Cell Block Tango’, ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Roxie’
The Chicago musical movie explores the themes of celebrity life, scandal, and corruption in Chicago during the Jazz Age. Chicago centres on Roxie Hart (Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) two murderesses who find themselves in jail together awaiting trial in 1920s Chicago fighting for the fame that will save them from the gallows. Chicago won 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture!
Directed by: Miloš Forman
Music and Lyrics: Galt MacDermot/ Gerome Ragni/ James Rado
Starring: John Savage, Treat Williams, Annie Golden
Budget: $11 Million
Box Office: $38 Million
Best Known Songs: ‘Hair’ and ‘Ain’t Got No’
The Hair musical movie is an anti-war comedy-drama film about a Vietnam War draftee who meets and befriends a group of hippies on his way to the army induction centre. The hippies introduce him to marijuana and LSD, and their environment of unorthodox relationships and draft evasion. Leaning more towards a rock style, this movie musical reaches a slightly different audience while adding some historical context around draft evasion during the Vietnam war.
There are so many more movie musicals out there, we just couldn’t fit them into one article! There really is something for everyone, whether that be the ‘Annie’ musical movie for young children or ‘Sweeney Todd’ for those horror film fans! Musical movies have a way of bringing us together. Although not many are made each year these days, the quality of movie musicals, for the most part (ahem Cats The Musical movie remake), is of a much higher calibre. Hopefully, at least one of your favourites are mentioned here, but let us know if we’ve missed out your favourite in the comments below!
If you’re interested in the crossover between music and film, take a look at our article on music supervisors. With our concierge and service and extensive music library, allow us to help you find music for your film. Sign up free for Music Gateway now!