The Greatest Movie Musicals Of All-Time

Everything I’ve done this week has been very rock-heavy, so I wanted to do a list this week that gave me a bit of a break from sonic overload. There was a time when liking musicals was seen as unmanly, that only chicks could dig a movie where people dance and sing for no reason. That changed after Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! became the first live-action musical to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture since Tender Mercies (a musical? not really, but it is about a musician and Robert Duvall sings). Like several years before when Luhrmann made Shakespeare cool to teens, the world of musicals was opened up to a whole new generation of potential fans.

Anyway, I’ve  been a fan of musicals old and new for a long time. I remember when I was a kid being forced to watch Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and actually enjoying it. I have kind of a non-traditional view on what makes a movie a musical, so I’ll just post my list and we can have a discourse about it later. Keep in mind that when I say “greatest,” I really mean my favorites. Also, as a rule, no Disney cartoons. They deserve a list all their own.

10. Rent:

Nowhere near as good as the Broadway musical (which we were lucky enough to see at the Nederlander Theater (where it played for 12 years), but still a damn fine movie musical. The subject matter is pretty dark, but overall the story of love and friendship in the bleakest of times is heartwarming. “Seasons of Love” might be one of the greatest songs ever written in any genre, and the rest of the songs are not far behind it.

9. Songcatcher:

If you’ve read the blog before, you know I’m a sucker for songs influenced by Appalachian hillsongs. This movie features Taj Mahal, Aidan Quinn, and introduces Emmy Rossum (Shameless, The Day After Tomorrow). The movie relies pretty heavily on the music and it’s all the better for that.

8. The Muppet Movie:

Opening with Kermit alone in his pond singing “Rainbow Connection” is one of the greatest things in movies ever. Throw in songs like “Movin’ Right Along” and “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” and you’ve got yourself a damn fine musical with or without humans. The muppets have always been great, but never greater than in the first of many movies (man I hope this new one doesn’t suck).

7. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory:

“Come with me, and you’ll be/In a world of pure imagination” ‘Nuff said.

6. South Park-Bigger, Longer, and Uncut:

The first half hour of this musical rivals anything that’s ever played in a theater. I stand by that statement. I could re-watch just that part of the movie on a loop forever and be happy. The songs are so funny, and more than that, so well put together. You’d think Rodgers and Hammerstein decided they were just going to be as filthy as possible, and this was the result. Honestly, after the movie I found a new respect for Matt Stone and Trey Parker. They absolutely understand how musicals work, and how to write one. For further examples, check out the soundtrack to The Book of Mormon or Team America: World Police.

5. Hedwig and The Angry Inch:

Ok, I couldn’t help but throw in this rock musical. If you’ve seen it, you know why. The first time I watched it, I literally could not believe that it got made and released. John Cameron Mitchell hasn’t put out anything good since (though I haven’t seen Rabbit Hole yet), and I doubt he could ever top this. If you can’t find it on DVD, look around and see if there’s a production of the play going on near you. Everything I’ve heard about the stage version is that it’s even better. It was playing at an experimental theater in Indianapolis about seven years ago, but we chose to see Proof in the downstairs experimental area.

4. Moulin Rouge:

I remember going to see this at a theater with Kari. I thought it was great, she initially didn’t like it that much, but came around when we watched it again on DVD. I remember in the theater they showed a bunch of summer blockbuster type trailers, which was an awful way to set up an audience before this particular movie. When the movie was over the guy behind us, obviously unimpressed with the movie, said “Well, at least we have King Kong to look forward to.” For some reason that’s always stuck out to me. The flick is very polarizing, due to it’s use of contemporary songs in a period setting. The use of Roxanne I thought was spectacular. As was the medley where Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman make their way up that tower singing David Bowie’s “Heroes,” The Beatles “All You Need Is Love,” and “Your Song” by Elton John. Moulin Rouge looks and sounds incredible, and gives Luhrmann a lifetime pass in my book.

3. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg):

I know you probably haven’t seen this one, so trust me when I say it’s great. This was Catherine Deneuve’s first leading role (I think). The story is pretty simple, a young girl and a guy a little older fall in love only to have their relationship forbidden by the girl’s mother. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you, but I will issue this warning: The entire movie is sung. There is no regular dialogue. So, go in knowing that and I think you’ll be ok. I can’t wait for them to release a bluray version of this film. It’s visual style is total bubblegum pop on the screen.

2. The Wizard Of Oz:

1939 was one of those years in film history that people look at and say, Jesus Christ. How did all those great movies come out in the same year? Gone With The Wind, Oz, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Stagecoach, and Rules Of The Game.  The closest we’ve come in modern cinema was probably 1974 with Godfather II, Chinatown, Young Frankenstein, and The Conversation (and many others).  It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Judy Garland playing Dorothy. The backstory on the film is pretty amazing-the fact that they ever made the movie is astonishing (4 directors, about twenty credited and uncredited writers, Buddy Epsen having to back out). You probably saw this a hundred times when you were a kid. Somehow it holds up still.

1. Singin’ In The Rain:

When you’re talking musicals, the conversation generally begins and ends with Gene Kelly, and rightfully so. Even if it wasn’t full of great songs and amazing dance sequences, Singin’ would still be a damn fine movie. Donald O’Connor is absolutely brilliant in this, as is Debbie Reynolds. If you haven’t seen it, you should be ashamed of yourself.

3 thoughts on “The Greatest Movie Musicals Of All-Time

  1. I concur… all in the taste buds & for clarity:

    Yes I have; I meant Audrey at her “musical” best.
    Popeye was listed more for Harry Nilsson’s lyrical genius, than righteous chord transitions; with the understanding that an appreciation for all things Nilsson could be easily comparable to the spread of viral contagion.
    Hedwig… uh, let’s just say, if you go live, avoid the front row else anticipate blindness. Is it possible to laugh while gouging one’s eyes out? Yes, yes it is.
    Annie? Ok, a bit bland & mushy; but: “Little Girls” alone makes it a worthy watch.

    Hey at least I didn’t suggest “Return of the King”?… Where there’s a whip…

  2. Stumbled here while mucking about online. Nice list; I’d augment with…

    Audrey at her best: “My Fair Lady”
    Underated lyrical genious = Nilsson: “Popeye” (So I’m a bit Schmilsson Bias)
    Disturbing or not, the music rocks: “Rocky Horror…”
    Wolverine’s softer side: “Oklahoma [1998]”
    Hard to have a list without: “Phantom…” and “Les Miserables”
    You’re never fully dressed without: “Annie [1982]”

    While there are certainly more, these have a better good/garbage ratio.

    1. Obviously it’s all subjective to taste. I have no problems with your list, but I will make some comments:
      Audrey at her best? Have you SEEN Roman Holiday?
      I, personally, can’t stand Popeye. It’s in the bottom tier of Altman films for me. But I do know a good number of people that like it a lot, so maybe I’m crazy.
      Rocky Horror could have made it, but I went with Hedwig. RH is just SOOOO campy. I do love Tim Curry, though.
      Annie…meh. I’d prefer Gypsy or Oliver!
      Again, everything depends on each person’s opinion. I try to never say Best without qualifying it as actually meaning my favorites.