Spread the love

There are no “best musical movies,” because “best” is subjective and we’d have a field day getting cancelled by Chula’s Arts students. So, here are some of the best musical movies you can watch right now.

Also, trigger warning for reminding you of that Cats movie exists, and we’re very sorry.

Larger-than-life, majestic in its scope and largely escapist, a musical movie leaves fans awestruck with both its warmth and budget. Music interwoven in cinema plays a potent tool in taking the story forward coupled with a hearty song-and-dance routine that is like a dream for movie lovers with a penchant for watching something light, romantic and lyrical all at the same time. The success of good musical films depends largely on a characteristic feel-good factor which can make you forget reality even if that is for a few seconds.

The driving factor of a musical film is its songs which stay with you long after you have watched the film. These definitive gems should be powerful enough to bring back happy memories and ultimately touch your soul. Won’t it be incredible if we could break into a dance routine while doing the most mundane of tasks? It makes situations less stressful and more enjoyable. For people who have a major main character energy, grooving with musical films is a perfect antidote to a dull day.

[Hero and featured image credit: Beauty and the Beast/Facebook]

Why can’t musicals be irrelevant, ever?

musical movies
A still from Wizard of Oz. Image credit: IMDb

Music is like healing owing to the powerful vibrations that can alter moods, revive happy memories and evoke strong emotions including love or even sadness. The magic of musicals can never go because they transcend language barriers. Apart from a huge psychological impact, it also gives scope to the makers to showcase their creativity, hit all the right notes with the cinephiles and rake in a lot of moolah too.

Musical movies in pop culture: Past, present and future

musical movies
Taylor Swift in a still from Cats. Image credit: IMDb

The first musicals in Hollywood can be dated as far as the late 1920s with one of the first Oscars won by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers Studios (MGM) for The Broadway Melody in 1929. The fall of broadway owing to The Great Depression of 1930, led to Hollywood’s gain in terms of many rights of musicals being sold to them. Thus the 1930s could be characterised as a golden period for musicals.

Actors Fred Astaire and Judy Garland were arguably the first superstars of the musicals in the 1930s with Garland mesmerising fans with her reverberating track “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in Wizard Of Oz (1939). Her magic continued well into the 1940s with films including Babes On Broadway (1941), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), For Me and My Gal (1942) and Meet Me In St Louis (1944). While speaking about musicals, one can’t miss mentioning MGM Studio’s Singin’ In The Rain (1952), immortalised by Gene Kelly and Astaire on screen.

Musicals have come a long way since then with recent films like the Oscar-winning West Side Story (2021) directed by Steven Spielberg which is an adaptation of 1957 musical or Cats (2019). This movie also is an adaptation of a classic by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The new version stars Taylor Swift but despite her popularity and sincere performance, the movie failed to impress movie buffs. There sure have been a few hits and misses with respect to musicals but its prowess is undeniable. Moviegoers are super excited about Ariana Grande’s Wicked, all set to release in 2024, with a lot of hype already created around the film after the music icon went blonde for the role. Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell’s Spirited, which premiered on 11 November 2022, was also one of the most awaited musicals of the year.

Isn’t your interest piqued already?

Some of the most loved musicals to watch online


Director: Randal Kleiser

Release Date: 16 June 1978

Cast: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing

Synopsis: Greaser Danny Zuko (Travolta) falls hopelessly in love with Sandy Olsson (Newton-John) one summer. They later discover that they are in the same high school. Will their romance stand the test of time?

Awards: Nomination for Best Music, Original Song for John Farrar at the Academy Awards, USA 1979; Nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for Newton-John, Best Original Song – Motion Picture for Barry Gibb, Best Original Song – Motion Picture for Farrar at Golden Globes 1979.

Image credit: IMDb

Funny Girl

Director: William Wyler

Release Date: 19 September 1968

Cast: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif and Kay Medford

Synopsis: The film revolves around Fanny Brice, a comedienne of the 1900s and her spectacular journey in the show business.

About the film: The movie has been adapted from the broadway musical released in 1964 on the life and times of Brice, spectacularly portrayed by Streisand. Funny Girl was revived again as broadway in September this year with Lea Michele as the lead. It received mixed reviews.

Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Streisand at Academy Awards, USA 1968.

Image credit: IMDb

Les Misérables

Director: Tom Hooper

Release Date: 25 December 2012

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway

Synopsis: A prisoner named Jean Valjean (Jackman) is on a run after his parole, with the police on the lookout for him. In the meantime, he starts caring for a factory owner’s daughter.

About the film: The movie is adapted from the legendary broadway musical of the same name which is celebrated as Victor Hugo’s most ambitious and acclaimed work. The play was released in 1987, in New York and then renewed twice, in 2006 and 2016. The play captures the spirit of post-revolution France.

Awards: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Hathaway, Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling for Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing for Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes at the Academy Awards, USA 2013.

Image credit: IMDb

Moulin Rouge!

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Release Date: 1 June 2001

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor an John Leguizamo

Synopsis: Christian (McGregor) has a passionate and forbidden affair with a Cabaret dancer Satine (Kidman) and both navigate through the ups and downs of life. Can their love conquer everything?

About the film: Over the top and set to overwhelm the masses, the movie captures the bohemian cabaret culture of 1900, Paris. The movie also inspired a broadway play which opened in 2018.

Awards: Nomination Best Actress in Leading Role for Kidman, Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for Catherine Martin, Brigitte Broch and Best Costume Design for Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie at Academy Awards, USA 2002.

Image credit: IMDb

5 /19

Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie

Director: George Roy Hill

Release Date: 22 March 1967

Cast: Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore and John Gavin

Synopsis: Set in the 1920s, Millie (Andrews) wishes to get a job just to marry a rich boss. She grows fond of Jimmy (Fox) who is broken yet good-hearted with her eyes set on the company superior Trevor Graydon (Gavin), who does not have feelings for her.

Awards: Best Music, Original Music Score for Elmer Bernstein at Academy Awards, USA 1968.

Image credit: IMDb


Director: Bob Fosse

Release Date: 13 February 1972

Cast: Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Helmut Griem

Synopsis: Set in the Nazi era of 1931, Sally Bowles (Minnelli) pursues an affair with a British student Brian Roberts (York). Bowles gets allured by another man who is a wealthy playboy, Maximilian von Heune (Griem). Who will she choose?

Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Minnelli, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Grey, Best Director for Fosse, Best Cinematography for Geoffrey Unsworth, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for Rolf Zehetbauer, Hans Jürgen Kiebach and Herbert Strabel, Best Sound for Robert Knudson and David Hildyard, Best Film Editing for David Bretherton, Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation for Ralph Burns at Academy Awards, USA 1973.

Image credit: IMDb

An American in Paris

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Release Date: November 9 1951

Cast: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant

Synopsis: Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), a former American soldier, is passionate about pursuing painting in Paris post World War. He cannot shake off the charms of a wealthy art collector Lise Bouvier (Caron). Things get complicated when he realises that his friend also loves the same woman.

About the film: The film is inspired by George Gershwin’s Jazz composition of the same name which came out in the year 1928.

Awards: Best Picture for Arthur Freed, Best Writing, Story and Screenplay for Alan Jay Lerner, Best Cinematography, Colour for Alfred Gilks and John Alton, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour for Cedric Gibbons, E. Preston Ames, Edwin B. Willis and F. Keogh Gleason, Best Costume Design, Colour for Orry-Kelly, Walter Plunkett, Irene Sharaff and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture for Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin at the Academy Awards, USA 1952.

Image credit: IMDb


Director: Robert Altman

Release Date: 11 June 1975

Cast: Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Ned Beatty and Ronee Blakley

Synopsis: Delbert Reese (Beatty) is a lawyer and political organiser whose life entwines with fellow music lovers but people of rival political parties.

About the film: On one of the rare occasions in cinematic history, politics did come together with music. One of the biggest strengths of this musical is that the songs are woven quite beautifully with the comic plot.

Awards: Best Music, Original Song for Keith Carradine at Academy Awards, USA 1976.

Image credit: IMDb

The Sound of Music

Director: Robert Wise

Release Date: 1 April 1965

Cast: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Eleanor Parker

Synopsis: A young nun Maria (Andrews) is appointed as a governess for the seven children of a widower Captain Georg von Trapp (Plummer), a former naval officer. As the significance of Nazis grow, an unlikely love-story flourishes between the leads.

About the film: This iconic gem is one of the most loved films across the globe for its fairytale plot set against the backdrop of war, the lilting music and the magic of Andrews and Plummer on screen. Not surprisingly, it is the third highest-grossing movie of all time.

Awards: Best Picture and Best Director for Wise, Best Sound for James Corcoran, Best Film Editing for William Reynolds, Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment for Irwin Kostal at Academy Awards USA 1966.

Image credit: IMDb

La La Land

Director: Damien Chazelle

Release Date: 25 December 2016

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Rosemarie DeWitt

Synopsis: In a beautiful meet-cute, Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) fall for each other in Los Angeles. They navigate through their love life and dream to make it big in the show business.

About the film: This original modern musical smashed a lot of records, including the one at the Golden Globes after it won all the seven categories it was nominated for in addition to sweeping six Academy Awards that year.

Awards: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Stone, Best Achievement in Directing for Chazelle, Best Achievement in Cinematography for Linus Sandgren, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) for Justin Hurwitz, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) for Justin Hurwitz (music), Benj Pasek (lyrics), Justin Paul (lyrics), Best Achievement in Production Design for David Wasco (production design) and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco (set decoration) at Academy Awards, USA 2017.

Image credit: IMDb

All That Jazz

Director: Bob Fosse

Release Date: 20 December 1979

Cast: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange and Ann Reinking

Synopsis: The plot circles around Joe Gideon (Scheider), a choreographer, who is addicted to drugs and women.

About the film: All That Jazz is loosely based on the real-life of Fosse.

Awards: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for Philip Rosenberg, Tony Walton, Edward Stewart and Gary J. Brink, Best Costume Design for Albert Wolsky, Best Film Editing for Alan Heim, Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score for Ralph Burns at Academy Awards, USA 1980.

Image credit: IMDb

Mary Poppins

Director: Robert Stevenson

Release Date: 27 August 1964

Cast: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and David Tomlinson

Synopsis: Mary Poppins (Andrews) is entrusted with a duty to be a governess to the siblings Jane (Dotrice) and Michael (Garber) and bring sunshine to their otherwise ordinary lives.

Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Andrews, Best Film Editing for Cotton Warburton, Best Effects, Special Visual Effects for Peter Ellenshaw, Hamilton Luske and Eustace Lycett, Best Music, Original Song for Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, Best Music, Substantially Original Score for Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman at the Academy Awards, USA 1965.

Image credit: IMDb

My Fair Lady

Director: George Cukor

Release Date: 25 December 1964

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway

Synopsis: An egoistic professor Henry Higgins (Harrison) takes upon an unlikely challenge to tutor a simple, working-class woman Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) to get her a good job and make her fit into high society.

About the film: The movie is based on an iconic stage musical written by George Cukor by the same name. The stage musical itself is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.

Awards: Best Picture for Jack L. Warner, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Harrison, Best Director for Cukor, Best Cinematography, Colour for Harry Stradling Sr, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color for Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton and George James Hopkins, Best Costume Design, Colour for Cecil Beaton, Best Sound for George Groves, Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment for André Previ at the Academy Awards, USA 1965.

Image credit: IMDb

The Lion King

Director: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Release Date: 24 June 1994

Cast: Matthew Broderick (voice), Jeremy Irons (voice) and James Earl Jones (voice)

Synopsis: The plot starts with King Mufasa (Jones) getting killed at the hands of evil Scar (Irons), and cub Simba (Thomas) surviving. Adult Simba (Broderick) returns to avenge the death of his father.

About the film: This is the highest-grossing animated film revered for its catchy songs and action. The plot is loosely based on Hamlet. The film inspired a franchise by the same name.

Awards: Best Music, Original Song for Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics), Best Music, Original Score for Hans Zimmer at the Academy Awards, USA 1995.

Image credit: IMDb

A Star Is Born

Director: Bradley Cooper

Release Date: 5 October 2018

Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliott

Synopsis: A once-celebrated singer, Jackson Maine (Cooper) discovers a rising star Ally (Gaga) and helps her to achieve success while struggling with addiction and mental health problems himself.

About the film: The film is a remake of the original film starring Judy Garland by the same name and was released in 1954. The film was touted to be ahead of its times and the dazzling musical numbers were a massive hit.

Awards: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) for Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt at Academy Awards, USA 2019.

Image credit: IMDb

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Director: Jim Sharman

Release Date: 31 August 1975

Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick

Synopsis: Lovers Brad (Bostwick) and Janet (Sarandon), chance upon after entering the scary mansion of scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter (Curry) and meet strange characters as their love blossoms.

About the film: The musical film was highly regarded in the horror/sci-fi spoof genre. It became a cult classic musical and the most loved midnight movie to watch with friends owing to all the song and dance numbers.

Awards: Winner at Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA 1980.

Image credit: IMDb

Pitch Perfect

Director: Jason Moore

Release Date: 5 October 2012

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and Rebel Wilson

Synopsis: Beca (Kendrick) is lost in a new college only to find solace in girls coming from different backgrounds but with a common passion — music. They unite to form a band and participate in competitions.

About the film: The teen comedy musical was hit for its different arrangements like Cappella and its success inspired the makers to come up with sequels Pitch Perfect 2 and Pitch Perfect 3.

Image credit: IMDb

Beauty and the Beast

Director: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Release Date: 22 November 1991

Cast: Paige O’Hara (voice), Robby Benson (voice) and Jesse Corti (voice).

Synopsis: A prince is cursed to lead the life of a beast (Benson). He falls in love with Belle (O’Hara) and regains his former avatar.

About the film: This hit animated musical inspired a franchise too.

Awards: Best Music, Original Song for Alan Menken (music) Howard Ashman (lyrics) and Best Music, Original Score for Menken at Academy Awards, USA 1992.

Image credit: IMDb

Mamma Mia!

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Release Date: 18 July 2008

Cast: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Amanda Seyfried

Synopsis: Donna (Streep) is a single mother and a hotelier in the Greek Islands who is planning to get her daughter Sophie (Seyfried) married. Sophie wants her father to walk her down the aisle and secretly invites three men from her mother’s past to understand who her biological dad is.

About the film: The movie is an unforgettable ode to the pop band Abba. Its sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was released in 2018.

Image credit: IMDb