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The 20 Greatest Movie Musicals

Musicals are different from other genres of cinema. You either love it or hate it, or so they say. I for one adore all kinds of musicals. Cinema accompanied by great music, ‘Who could ask for anything more?’ as the Great Gershwins wrote. People complain about the unreality of musical scenes in a movie; characters suddenly breaking the scene and start singing and dancing with joy, that’s what makes people get offended, can you believe it? If you aren’t watching a documentary, I don’t think you couldn’t expect from a movie being sooo realistic; it is called fiction for a reason. But of course I respect their opinions, I just don’t agree with them, that’s all. And I am very happy about my decision.

I am especially happy at the time when I’m watching Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers or Gene Kelly singin’ in the rain. In my humble opinion, musicals are the best of both worlds: fascinating, intense, glamorous, romantic, dramatic, funny, entertaining, enchanting, dazzling, devastating, intriguing, fun  and many many more. Here are the greatest movie musicals; enjoy.

20. Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

A girl sharpshooter (Betty Hutton) becomes a rival to a famous sharpshooter (Howard Keel) that she is helplessly in love with. They are sometimes lovers and sometimes rivals; relationship is in limbo and the tension reaches a climax, a scene in which they sing a very famous anthem of hot-blooded lovers called ‘Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.’ Betty Hutton and one of MGM’s and movie musicals finest baritones Howard Keel are excellent in their roles. Film is entertaining plus the songs were written by Irving Berlin, so loving ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ is quite easy.

Highlights

“Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” and “There is No Business Like Show Business” scenes.

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

19. An American in Paris (1951)

Gene Kelly lives in Paris and tries to make a living as a painter. He falls in love with a Parisian who is played by Leslie Caron and of course if Gene Kelly is in love with a girl, it will be a mutual one, if the girl is on her right mind. But there are other unwanted parties; will their love be prevailed against all odds in the city of love itself ? The film is very colourful, full of lovely sets. MGM shot the film in a studio especially built for the film, not in Paris. Famous musical director Vincente Minelli directed it, Alan Jay Lerner wrote the screenplay, Gershwins wrote the songs and the film became a 6 time Oscar winner.

Ever so graceful Gene Kelly is the one that made the film what it is. This was the first film that Leslie Caron starred in, and she wasn’t even a good English speaker, but she closed the gap by dancing masterfully. Gershwins’ friend pianist Oscar Levant played a pianist just like in the Minelli’s other classic musical ‘The Band Wagon’. Gene Kelly sang the best version of my favorite Gershwin song “I’ve Got a Crush on You” for the film but alas they cut out this scene in the editing room.

Highlights

“I’ve Got Rhythm”, with children in the streets of Paris, one of Kelly’s finest moments in film and of course a Gershwin classic ” ‘S Wonderful”.

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

18. Guys and Dolls (1955)

Who would have thought Marlon Brando could sing and dance in front of the camera, and sing in the same film with Frank Sinatra? Based on a stage musical by the director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, ‘Guys and Dolls’ is an entertaining film with good performances by the actors. The old bet turns a real love story film in a gambling atmosphere of New York, Frank Sinatra resented that a non-singing Brando at the height of his fame (which he calls “Mumbles”), got the starring part of Sky Masterson. Lovely Jean Simmons and Brando who both got singing lessons for this film make a beautiful couple.

Highlights

I’ll Know, If I were a Bell, Luck be a Lady, Sue Me, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat scenes.

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

17. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Musicals were golden in the golden age of Hollywood and MGM musicals were popular in the 50’s and 60’s but after that, the genre started to lose its popularity. In 90’s and in the beginning of the millennium it was somewhat a forgotten genre. With ‘Moulin Rouge!’, people started to like musicals again, thanks to its great songs, great actors, colorful and marvelous set designs and director Baz Luhrmann. This is the movie that made Nicole Kidman a household name and she won an Oscar nomination for it. A great love story between Satine (Kidman) and Christian (Ewan McGregor) in the city of love, ‘Moulin Rouge!’ made people want to fall in love. The cast covered some of the most famous tunes in music history; as a person who usually prefers the original versions to the covers, these covers were actually fun for me, too.

Highlights

Sparkling Diamonds, Your Song, Elephant Love Medley, Come What May and El Tango de Roxanne scenes.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

16. My Fair Lady (1964)

A very sympathetic character for a very sympathetic actress, Audrey Hepburn; this was a match made in heaven although Julie Andrews who played Eliza on stage could be great, too. George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion became a successful stage musical and then was turned into a movie by legendary Hollywood director George Cukor. Marni Nixon sang the songs but Audrey was Eliza Doolittle through and through. Rex Harrison recreated Professor Higgins in the movie after the Broadway musical. Loewe & Lerner wrote the songs. This fairy-tale of a poor flower girl turned a princess-like lady won 8 Oscars.

Highlights

Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, I could have Danced All Night, On the Street Where You Live and I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face scenes.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

15. Mary Poppins (1964)

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”

English speaking children all over the world tried to say this word right at least once in their lifetime. Julie Andrews might be the queen of movie musicals, because of films like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. She also gave life to some famous musical characters on stage. One of Disney’s most famous movies, which is also one of the most favorite movies of Walt Disney himself, magical nanny in London with a dancing and singing enthusiast friend named Bert (Dick Van Dyke), helps the children and their parents in need and it is a joy to watch. Based on the book by P.L. Travers who was unreluctant first to sell her book, the story of making of Mary Poppins was made into a successful film named “Saving Mr. Banks” in 2013. The Sherman Brothers wrote the songs that became anthems over the years.

Highlights

A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Feed the Birds (Walt Disney’s favorite song), Chim-Chim-Cheree and Let’s Go Fly a Kite scenes.

Credit: Buena Vista Distribution

14. Carousel (1956)

Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals have a special place in my heart. Some of the greatest show tunes of musical theatre in one film, that is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. Three of the songs became the staples of auditions for musical theatre artists and not everybody could sing them like Gordon Macrae and Shirley Jones who played unsympathetic, violent, insensitive womanizer husband Billy Bigelow and naive, dewy-eyed, enamored Julie Jordan in the 1956 film version. Composed by Richard Rodgers (his favorite work of his own) and written by Oscar Hammerstein II, Carousel is one of the most dramatic and distressing love stories of musical genre which is also a fantasy. Great baritone of the era Macrae and the glorious Jones made a good team in Carousel just like in another Rodgers & Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!”. Theme music of the film, “The Carousel Waltz” is so powerful a song that when you hear it, it will certainly give you goosebumps.

Highlights

If I Loved You, Soliloquy and You’ll Never Walk Alone (Liverpool FC Anthem) scenes.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

13. Newsies (1992)

Uprising of newspaper sellers in New York against their bosses and the system, this is a classic inspirational family film from Disney which is based on a true story of Newsboys Strike of1899. You get carried away and feel like one of the paper boys and cheer for them in the end. Young Christian Bale, Bill Pullman and Robert Duvall (Joseph Pulitzer of the famous Pulitzer prize) star in it, while one of the greatest living composers, 8 time Oscar winner Alan Menken who is famous for Disney’s musical animations wrote the music and the lyrics are by Jack Feldman. In 2011, the film was adapted and turned into a stage musical and became a huge hit.

Highlights

Carrying the Banner, Santa Fe, Seize the Day, King of New York scenes.

Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

12. Oklahoma! (1955)

From the same team who made Carousel, with the addition of a great director Fred Zinnemann, this is another beautiful love story from Rodgers & Hammerstein. Gordon Macrae is Cowboy Curly and Shirley Jones is Laurey. Cowboys and farmers clash in Oklahoma by dancing and singing of course. I also want to talk about another adaptation of Oklahoma, directed by Trevor Nunn for the National Theatre in London, and filmed for TV in 1999. This was the first time that I realized Wolverine could sing beautifully. Hugh Jackman is Curly in this version, and because he is one of the most talented actors in the business and a rare kind of actor as in a triple threat with two Tony awards and an Academy award nomination, I may like it a little bit more than the Hollywood version. In short, Oklahoma! as a whole is one of the musicals that makes Rodgers & Hammerstein legendary.

Highlights

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top, People will Say We’re in Love, The Farmer and the Cowman, Oklahoma! scenes.

Credit: Magna Theatre Corporation

11. Grease (1978)

The musical that even the people who hates musicals watched at least once, this movie is a legend among the audience; it was the highest grossing movie of 1978. A generation of boys and girls fell in love with the stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John because of this movie and they were really a great couple. The story of love between two high school students in the 50’s; was it only a summer love or will it be eternal, we find out the answer with a little help from some beautiful songs.

Grease, Summer Nights, Hopelessly Devoted to You, Beauty School Drop Out, Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee, Greased Lightning, There Are Worse Things I Could Do, You’re the One That I Want, We Go Together scenes.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

10. Les Misérables (2012)

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” Victor Hugo

Based on a musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg which is based on one of the most famous novels of all time, Victor Hugo’s book of the same name, this is one of the most dramatic movies you can watch. While it’s elementary to read this classic book, now classic songs are so beautiful that they give a new meaning to the whole story. Hugh Jackman plays the long suffering saint-like protagonist Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe is Javert, Anne Hathaway is Fantine, Amanda Seyfried is Cosette and Eddie Redmayne is Marius. The cast is full of talented actors and the director Tom Hooper made a brave decision by shooting the singing scenes live which means that there is no recording before or after, it is all theater-like. The film won 3 Oscars, one of them being Anne Hathaway’s the best supporting actress Oscar.

Highlights

Valjean’s Soliloquy, I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, Do You Hear the People Sing?, One Day More scenes.

Credit: Universal Pictures

09. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

“There’s no place like home.”

A beloved children’s book gave birth to a beloved movie musical that affected not just the children but generations of moviegoers. In L. Frank Baum’s story of Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her friend Toto, they find themselves in a magical land of Oz. Here they meet the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. They start to follow the yellow brick road to consult The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan), but the Wicked Witch of the West waits for them in the meantime. Famous Broadway musical Wicked is also based on these books, and it became another much-loved musical; people probably love the magical world of Oz. It was the beginning of The Judy Garland Legend, who was one of the most talented people who came to earth. The nostalgia that this movie brings is a joy to people all over the world.

Highlights

Over the Rainbow, Follow the Yellow Brick Road , We’re Off to See the Wizard scenes.

Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

08. The Sound of Music (1965)

From the director of West Side Story, Robert Wise and the creators of musicals like ‘The King and I and South Pacific’, Rodgers & Hammerstein, cherished musical ‘The Sound of Music’ is based on a real life story of Maria, a young governess who was raised in a convent to become a nun and fails. Then sisters send Maria to the Captain Von Trapp’s house for her to look after his seven children. These undisciplined children are hostile, who are in need of motherly love and couldn’t find what they’re looking for before Maria’s arrival. But with her coming to their home, Maria brings love and joy to this family’s life and everything and everyone changes including their father. Musicals’ uncrowned queen Julie Andrews is Maria and the oldest Oscar winner Christopher Plummer is Captain Von Trapp, are perfect in their roles.

Highlights

The Sound of Music, Do-Re-Mi, My Favorite Things, I Have Confidence, Maria, Edelweiss, Climb Every Mountain scenes.

Credit: Twentieth Century-Fox

07. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

A cult musical film of the 80’s, this one is a very entertaining adaptation of an off-Broadway musical. Directed by Frank Oz and written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ has fans and/or haters just like another famous musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A nerdy quiet man Seymour works in a flower shop with another employee Audrey whom he’s in love with. One day Seymour realizes that there is a very different and very alive plant in the shop. He tries to win Audrey’s heart while he’s also trying to make this plant (Audrey II) stop eating people he knows/and occasionally he feeds her with them. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are great in their roles; also we can spot Steve Martin (the craziest dentist ever) and Bill Murray.

Highlights

Prologue (Little Shop of Horrors), Feed Me, Suddenly Seymour scenes.

Credit: Warner Bros.

06. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Tale of a Jewish family, Tevye and Golde and their daughters’, especially their marriages, ‘Fiddler On the Roof’ was first written as a book, then became a successful Broadway musical, and then became one of the best movie musicals ever made. This film has a very different atmosphere from a classical musical, maybe it’s this difference and originality that charms the people who watch it. Is there anyone who has not heard of the famous song “If I were a Rich Man?” Topol plays the father of the girls, Tevye, who at the time was 36 and was made look older to play the role. Norman Jewison is the director of the film.

Highlights

Tradition, Matchmaker, If I were a Rich Man, Anatevka scenes.

Credit: United Artists

05. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Mysterious, astonishing, inspirational, entertaining, delicious, colorful, a place beyond the wildest dreams of children and especially of children who adore chocolate. Who doesn’t wanna have one of those golden tickets? I certainly do. Roald Dahl’s eccentric world of pure imagination makes for a trip worthwhile especially with the help of the great Gene Wilder and again, chocolate. If you will watch only one adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book, please do yourself a favor, ignore the newer version with Tim Burton & Johnny Depp and watch this version instead.

Highlights

The Candy Man, (I’ve Got a) Golden Ticket, Pure Imagination, Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-De-Do scenes.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

04. Awaara (1951)

This is the film that makes the world fall in love with Bollywood cinema. Director/Actor Raj Kapoor gives life to one of the most sympathetic characters in movie history which is loosely based on Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, even the meaning of the word ‘Awaara’ is almost the same, that is why people call Raj Kapoor ‘The Charlie Chaplin of India’ and as far as I am concerned, that’s a great honor for any actor any time.

It’s a love film on the surface but the themes of the movie have deeper meanings than just a love story, although it’s a great one. Caste system in India at the time, rich peoples prejudice against helpless, and poor peoples destiny and struggle in life to be someone decent and honest. These are the reasons why this movie is still watched today and remembered by so many people all over the world. Raj Kapoor and Nargis are a famous Indian film couple and they are at ease with each other and so believable as the children in love who haven’t seen each other for 20 years and when they meet, a love greater than before blossoms against all odds.

Highlights

Justice Leaving Raju’s mother and the birth, Awaara Hoon, Flirtation in the boat and the dream sequence scenes.

Credit: R. K. Films

03. West Side Story (1961)

This film brings so many great elements of an art piece together, so maybe it’s normal for it to break a record for its genre at The Academy Awards by winning 10 Oscars, just one Oscar less from the records of Titanic and The Lord of the Rings for eleven Oscars. For a genre like this, which people usually tend to look down on as a mere entertainment, this is like breaking a Guinness record. What were these great elements by the way? The screenplay is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet which also addresses immigration, racism and culture clash in USA, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein, directors are famous musical director Robert Wise and famous Broadway choreographer and director Jerome Robbins. Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris are the stars. When two people from rival groups (Jets vs. Sharks) in New York fall in love, a Shakespearean tragedy is inevitable.

Highlights

Prologue, The Dance at the Gym, Maria, America, Tonight, I Feel Pretty scenes.

Credit: United Artists

02. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

The most known and loved musical is probably “Singin’ in the Rain”. It also is AFI’s the greatest movie musical. The story takes place in the era of the transition from silent movies to the talkies/musicals after the first talkie ‘The Jazz Singer’ was shown in theaters. The silent movie stars who has a nice voice make it, while the others fail to go on their movie careers, so the producers come up with an idea for it, dubbing. In the movie, this solution couldn’t be helpful for the shrew actress with a screechy voice. Star Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen directed the film, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Cyd Charisse are the other stars. Filled with a lot of iconic movie moments, especially Gene Kelly (even though he was sick with a high temperature) singing and dancing in the rain with the ultimate feel good song for the people who need a little boost to go on.

Highlights

Make ’em Laugh, Moses Supposes, Good Morning and Singin’ in the Rain scenes.

Credit: Loew’s Inc.

01. Top Hat (1935)

The golden couple of musical movies, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made 10 movies together. My favorite is Top Hat but if I put Swing Time, Shall We Dance and The Gay Divorcee instead of Top Hat, my list would be just fine. On screen, they were the perfect dance partners; witty, graceful and entertaining, it’s like they were moving in the air. Their movies can put a smile on people’s faces any time. My favorite singer and the world’s favorite dancer Fred Astaire was the ultimate professional dancer, who made everything seem so easy, and Ginger Rogers was a powerful talented actress, who danced with Fred Astaire beautifully and in heels.

Top Hat is a fun and romantic journey; a misunderstanding between two people who fell in love with each other. Conventional Astaire & Rogers movies’ supporting actors Edward Everett Horton, Ric Blore, Helen Broderick and Erik Rhodes are in the movie too which is directed by Mark Sandrich. Songs are written by Irving Berlin.

Highlights

No Strings, Isn’t This a Lovely Day, Top Hat White Tie and Tails, Cheek to Cheek and the Piccolino scenes.

Credit: RKO Radio Pictures

Honorable Mentions

Disney’s animations

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Swing Time

Funny Face

The Music Man

Man of La Mancha

Annie

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

The Band Wagon

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Fame

Oliver!

Thoroughly Modern Millie

Cabaret

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Easter Parade

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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Gamze Akan

8 Comments

  1. “Godspell” will always be my favorite, though I’m sure I’m in the minority.

    • I love “Day by Day” and “Light of the World”, but I haven’t watched Godspell yet, because I couldn’t find a way to watch it. I am sure it’s a good one.

  2. Best lists are so subjective – what makes these films “best” as you see it? Is it their musical score? Is it the story and script? Gorgeous visuals? I am confused by your list without further explanation.

    • You’re right Mark, of course this list is subjective. These are the best films according to the writer 🙂 And these are the best films because of all the things you’ve mentioned, because films are collaborative art forms as we all know. But to answer your question, I will simply say : It’s purely liking, these are the greatests for me, because of the feelings and the joy these movies gave me.

  3. You are spot on. I would replace “Singing in the Rain” with “Cabaret”.

    • Thank you for your kind words Richard. I, too adore Cabaret’s songs and of course Liza Minnelli.

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