The 10 Best Musical Movies of All Time

Jan 4, 2006

The Bottom Line Music makes a movie that much better, and when you are relying entirely on sound, you had better get it right. Here are my top 10 film musicals.

Deciding what the 10 best musicals on film are, is not that easy of a task. There are a lot of good musicals out there which are pretty good. More than most top 10 lists, this one really comes down to personal preference on what is ideal to the ears. For me, I choose films that are fun to listen to long after they have ended, and are good enough that I find myself singing along to the tune even after the movie has ended.

With a blend of both old and new, here is the list of my 10 favorite musical films.

Annie (1982)

Annie is a musical that has been done many times, but I like the 1982 version the best. Like a lot of the great musicals out there about orphans (3 make my list), Annie is about Little Orphan Annie, who lives at an orphanage where the children are worked to the bone. The person running the place is not nice at all, and sees these kids as slaves to whatever she wants. Carol Burnett plays the role of Miss Hannigan the owner of the orphanage, and along with Rooster Hannigan (Tim Curry) decide to take advantage of any way they can to make money. But this is a story about Annie, and how she believed "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow." Albert Finney plays Daddy Oliver Warbucks, who seems like the least likely person to ever want a child a child in his mansion, but he takes a liking to Annie, and the two end up hitting it off. Little do they know that the Hannigan's want to profit off of this the entire time. The music is great, the story is fun with a great ending, and the acting is top notch. Combined they all make Annie an awesome musical.

Chicago (2002)

Chicago was a play long before it became a motion picture musical, but when it hit theaters everyone fell in love with it. Rob Marshall directed the story about Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart who aspire to be famous dancers, and will stop at nothing to accomplish that. Aided by a lawyer played by Richard Gere, they may get to do just that. Starring in the film are Rene Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the two main characters. In other roles are Gere, Queen Latifah, Taye Diggs, and John C. Rielly. Combined you have a really strong cast that brings a lot to the screen, and the movie succeeds on that backs of that, a strong story, and some really great singing and dancing. Chicago of course is about the city and everything that it can offer to a celebrity. Using the press to get what they want, these two women set the town on its ear. It ended up winning 6 academy awards including best picture, and well deserves its spot on my list.

Grease (1978)

If you had to pick one musical where the most hit songs came out of, this would probably be the one. The song Summer Nights actually hit it big in the 90's as well, long after the movie was out of theaters. It came out way back in 1978 and starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as Danny and Sandy, a very unlikely couple. Sandy was your typical good-girl, while Danny belonged to a gang of mis-fits that often caused trouble. They hit it off in the summer, and the movie takes place as both have gone their own ways, and are back in high school that following semester. The movie shows the progression through the year as they each deal with teen issues, and their hidden love for each other. The singing can seem cheesy at times, but it is still a fun movie, and has stood up for a while because of just that. Having a sequel was a mistake, but the original has its place among the best musicals to come out.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Baz Luhrmann directs this film about a poet who falls for a beautiful courtesan, whom a jealous duke covets. The poet is played by Ewan McGregor, and the courtesan is played by Nicole Kidman in roles that both of them seem destined to play. Not only are they able to show off their acting talents as Satine and Christian, but they have to sing as well in this musical. Set at the turn-of-the-century in France, the Moulin Rouge is a lively, sometimes dark, nightclub that caters to all walks of life. Christian goes there with the hopes of scoring he and his fellow Bohemian actors a sponsor for the play that he wants to put on, but instead finds more than he had ever hoped. He quickly falls for Satine, who will not be loved if she can help it. Moulin Rouge is one of those films that I am able to watch over and over again. The music in the film, especially the remake of the song Roxanne, soars the entire time, and the story is one that can hook any audience into watching it. At times fun, and at other times very serious, Moulin Rouge was the best film of 2001.

Newsies (1992)

The word "Newsies" was used to describe the orphans who delivered the newspapers in New York City during 1899. This movie is about their struggles to earn money by doing just that, and their struggle against the people who looked to profit from their misfortunes. The message of the movie is that everyone should have a fair chance to make a living, and that even these kids should have a voice of their own. Among the huge cast in this 1992 movie is Christian Bale, who stars as Jack 'Cowboy' Kelly, who dreams of making something of himself and one day moving. Robert Duval plays the "bad guy" as the man who wants to raise the cost of distribution and take money out of the kid's pockets. The drama isn't completely there in the movie, because it is a "break out in song for no reason" type of film, but it is still fun to watch, and the story is strong enough to keep your attention. I liked it though, and it makes my list of 10 best.

Oliver! (1968)

Everyone knows the story of Oliver Twist. He is the orphan who asked if he could "have some more." Well this is where the old saying comes from, and it was a 1968 musical that gave Oliver a place in film history. This is a musical adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens story about an orphan unhappy with his surroundings. This causes him to run away, and join up with a gang of street kids who make a living by pick-pocketing people of the city. The adaptation is quite good, and stays very true to the original story. In addition, the musical has many songs that you will find yourself singing along to once the movie has ended. Oliver! turned out to be more than a success in the minds of its core audience, and it ended up winning 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Score. The story has been redone a thousand times, but the 1968 version stands out as the best to date.

Rent (2005)

This is a controversial choice, because a lot of people didn't think that it held up to the Broadway musical. It just recently came to theaters, and I enjoyed it so much that I already have the double-disc of its music. Rent is a Pulitzer award winning story about the lives of 8 people living out a year in the East Village of New York City. The film actually starts with a quick recap of what has been going on in their lives for the past year, and we are told (in song) right from the beginning how important a year is, and just how much can happen in that year. This becomes a common theme throughout the film, as the story tries to convince us that there are many ways to measure out time, but the most important tool to do that with is love. The story is very deep, and has a lot of great character development throughout. We get to see the lives of these 8 people progress, and you fall in love with most of them before the movie comes to a close. The singing is very strong, and I ended up seeing this film two times in theaters just to experience the music a second time.

Singin In the Rain (1952)

Gene Kelly starred and helped Direct this 1952 classic that has made many lists of the top 100 films of all time. This could be because of one of the great moments in the film where Kelly's characters gets completely lost in dancing, and becomes oblivious to the fact he is getting soaked on a wet street. The film is based in 1927, and is about a movie being made into a musical. Kelly plays one of the leads, and the other lead is an actress who cannot seem to sing very well. So of course, someone who can is brought in to do those lines and have them dubbed over top. Kelly's character falls in love with her, but the drama occurs when the first actress finds out. It all sounds like a big soap opera, but it is pulled off very well, and the movie works like a charm. It ended up being nominated for a couple of Oscars, and the title song is one that everyone can relate to. After all, don't we all wish we could just sing in the rain?

The King and I (1956)

Rodgers and Hammerstein brought this musical in 1956, about a British governess and her son that travel to Siam, and meets up with the ruler of the land. Her old ways clash with the King and it seems like nothing is going to work out between them. The reason for this, is that women are seen as second class in this far land, and she is not going to sit by while this happens. She puts herself into dramatic situations by not being silent, and it actually gains her the admiration of the King. Starring in the two main roles as Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut of Siam, are Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. Both are very good in the film, and sing quite well. So, as you are watching the movie, you aren't distracted by the singing, but rather taken along for the in-depth story. The two have a great chemistry on screen and it turns the movie into a very watchable one. Nominated for 9 academy awards in 1957, it ended up winning 5 of them, including best actor.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

There is a lot of story filler between the main musical parts of the film, but in my opinion The Wizard of Oz is still a musical. Taking the best of both worlds, the movie starts out in black and white, and part way through turns to color to accentuate what Dorothy is experiencing. Dorothy is played by Judy Garland who has been living in Kansas, but after a tornado strikes her farm, finds herself in the land of Oz. Now Dorothy, with the help of a tin-man, a scare-crow and a lion must find the only man who can send her home: The Wizard of Oz. This is a musical adventure as we get to visit many different parts of the world of Oz and meat many interesting people along the way. The movie gave us "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and "We're Off to See the Wizard", which have become great classic children's songs over the years. The film and the music appeals to all ages, and this is one of those musicals that I will flip on anytime it comes on television.

A Few Additional Honorable Mentions:

The Producers
Damn Yankees
The Sound of Music
Little Shop of Horrors
Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory

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