Top 10 Lists are all the rage, and I’m not one to be left out of the epicenter of trends. So, I’ve put together my list of the Top 10 Movie Musicals of All Time. Some of them are classics, some are modern masterpieces, and some you might not even have heard of. As a career star of musical theater and the host of a popular weekly radio show on movie, television, and film musicals, I have some degree of “expertise” in musicals – but a knowledge of the genre doesn’t necessarily mean my taste is “right”. My hope is that if this list does anything, it makes you think about and share with the world your own favorites.
10) The Sound of Music – is a 1965 American movie musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical of the same name. It was produced and directed by Robert Wise. Based on the true story of the Von Trapp family, the film follows a young Austrian Woman who is studying to be a nun. She is sent to be the governess of seven children of a widower retired naval officer. The would-be-nun and the officer fall in love and together engineer an escape from the Nazis for them and their children. It won the Academy Award for both Best Picture and Best Director.
9) Purple Rain – is a 1984 American rock movie musical starring rock star Prince as “the Kid” – a semi-autobiographical role about his start in music in the Minneapolis club scene. The film was written and directed by Albert Manoli and featured appearances by Appolonia and Morris Day. It won an Academy Award for Best Score.
8) The King & I – is a 1951 movie musical based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical of the same name. It stars Yul Brynner – on of my personal heroes. An English woman and her young son go to Bangkok where she has been hired to teach English to the children of the King of Siam. Although the King and Anna clash in personalities, they both learn from each other and learn to respect one another. Brynner won an Academy Award for his performance.
7) Wizard of Oz – is a 1939 American musical fantasy film that stars Judy Garland as a girl swept up in a tornado and transported toe the magical world of Oz. It features the talents of Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, and Margaret Hamilton. It won Academy Awards for Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow and Best Original Score. Garland also earned an honorary Academy Award for her work as a screen juvenile.
6) Little Shop of Horrors – is a 1986 film directed by Muppets legend Frank Oz that combines horror, music, and comedy. Featuring the talents of Rick Moranis, the incomparable Ellen Green, and Levi Stubbs as the voice of a man-eating plant from outer space set to take over the earth. The movie is based on the stage musical, which was itself based on a black and white Roger Corman horror film.
5) Singin’ in the Rain – is a 1952 musical directed, choreographed, and starring Gene Kelly – one of my all time favorite movie musical icons. The film also stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, and features a command comical performance by Jean Hagen who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. The story is a light-hearted take on the 1920’s move from silent movies to talkies and features amazing dance and song numbers.
4) Jesus Christ Superstar – was immortalized in two amazing film adaptations. While I love the 1073 film starring Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson, it is the 2000 straight to video film starring Glenn Carter as Jesus that lands at number four on my list of all time best movie musicals. JCS is based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera of the same name – one of the greatest musicals ever. The sung-through movie musical depicts the last days of Christ against a futuristic post-apocalyptic background.
3) Grease – premiered in movie theaters in 1976. Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Grease the film replaced many of my favorite numbers from the stage production with songs that work just as good in the film. The film is different than the stage product, but it is iconic in its own right thanks to amazing performances by my idol John Travolta and his co-stars Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, and Jeff Conaway. The story follows the good girl falling for the bad boy theme that always invites a charming love story.
2) The Five Heartbeats – is a 1991 musical film from director and writer Robert Townsend, co-written by Keenen Ivory Wayans. Townsend stars alongside Michael Wright (in an amazing performance), Leon, Harry J. Lennix, and Tico Wells. The story follow the musical journey of a Motown-like five man vocal group over three decades. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s that good.
1) West Side Story – is a 1961 film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical that changed musical theater forever. The story was conceived by Jerome Robbins who also choreographed and co-directed the film with Robert Wise. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris. Chakiris and Moreno both won Academy Awards for their performances. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10 including Best Picture. It is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet set against the backdrop of New York and racial tensions between Caucasians and Puerto Ricans. It features music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Peace. Love. Trust