Movie musicals can be delightful or they can completely destroy your entire existence and crush your soul. There’s very little in between. While movies have become musicals and vice versa, there are some pretty brilliant movie musicals out there that any fan of the genre would love. Especially if they want to just lose themselves to a good musical.
From the latest adaptation with tick, tick…BOOM! To classics like Cabaret and more, let’s take a look into the world of the movie musical and some of the best that have come out. And don’t worry, I did not include Cats or the films versions of Les Misérables or Phantom of the Opera so you can breathe easy.
Image Credit: Netflix.
Rocketman should have instantly gone to being a stage musical using the music of Elton John the minute that the movie came out. But alas, it hasn’t. Still, Rocketman is one of the greatest movie musicals ever made. Following the life and career of Elton John and told through a fantastical lens, the Dexter Fletcher movie is a look into the music we all know and the men behind it.
Starring Taron Egerton as Elton John, Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, and Richard Madden as John Reid, the movie just works for the world of Elton. We know so much about the musician because of his willingness to share his struggles with the world and the movie does a great job of exploring what led to the Elton John we know today. The use of Elton and Bernie Taupin’s music both play into the scenes as well as serve to show us the emotional arcs of the characters and it’s just a great look into movie musicals and how we can tell the real-life stories of musicians with them.
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Lin-Manuel Miranda bottled lightning with tick, tick…BOOM! based on the musical of the same name. Written by Jonathan Larson (creator of Rent), the musical features Larson as a character. And played by Golden Globe-winning Andrew Garfield, the movie does an incredible job giving fans of Larson a look into his other work while showing fans a completed version of the stage musical.
To be quite honest, it is a perfect musical to movie adaptation in regards to how it is shot. There have rarely been successful musicals turned movies that weren’t movies in the first place (looking at you Hairspray and the most recent version of West Side Story). So to see a musical translated on to screen so flawlessly is amazing and it is thanks to Miranda’s vision and understanding of the musical. Truly one of the best movie musicals in the last few years and of all time.
Image Credit: Netflix.
When it comes to the ‘jukebox musical’, no one does it better than Moulin Rouge! the movie. The 2001 film had audiences falling in love with Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine (Nicole Kidman) through the music of David Bowie, Paul McCartney, iconic Marilyn Monroe, and more. Set in France, the movie is about freedom, beauty, truth, and love in the world of Bohemia and has since been made into a Tony Award-winning musical.
So, what makes Moulin Rouge! work? It embraces the chaos. It knows that it is a bit of a mess and it knows that it is using that to push the story forward and it just works. Frankly, still works better than the stage musical (in my opinion). The movie bottled some weird magic we were missing in our musical loving hearts and made it work and somehow made Elton John’s “Your Song” even better by having Ewan McGregor singing it.
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Singing In the Rain
A classic for a good reason, Singin’ In the Rain has become a staple for musical theatre fans because of its beautifully staged numbers, choreography, and love story. Yes, we know that Gene Kelly was mean to Debbie Reynolds (even if they were rumored to be friends after the fact) because of the dancing but there is still something so magical about this movie. Don Lockwood (Kelly) was a big-time silent film star but when the talkies were taking over, and they quickly realized that his on-screen partner did not have a voice for film.
Kathy (Reynolds) begins to dub over the voice for Lina Lamont and strikes up a friendship with Don and his best friend Cosmo until she begins to fall for Don. It’s a classic musical love story and one that brought us Gene Kelly quite literally singing in the rain and for that, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this movie.
Image Credit: MGM.
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
The first Mamma Mia movie is a good adaptation of the stage musical set to the music of ABBA but it isn’t the best. Not by a longshot. That title goes to the summer smash hit Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again that is pure insanity bottled into one movie in the best possible way. When Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) needs help with a hotel opening and finds herself pregnant, she’s reminded of her mother Donna (played by Lily James while young in this movie and Meryl Streep in the original) and how she came to Greece and started her life there with Sophie.
Donna has died but we get to see her affair with Sophie’s three potential dads as a fresh college graduate trying to figure out her life in Greece paired with Sophie in the modern-day trying to get everyone to the opening despite weather ruining her plans. It’s frankly a perfect movie that felt unnecessary but was beautiful and unmatched.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.
In the Heights
The musical In The Heights brought Lin-Manuel Miranda’s unique Broadway style to the stage back in 2008 and it finally was brought to life on screen by director Jon M. Chu that showed us the struggle of the community of Washington Heights trying to keep their homes in the midst of an ever-changing landscape in New York and gentrification. Starring Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, the musical centers around a neighborhood all having dreams bigger than the few blocks they inhabit in Washington Heights and how they try to achieve them.
Vanessa wants to move downtown to start her fashion career, Nina is afraid to tell her father that school was too overwhelming for her, Benny wants to be with Nina, and Usnavi wants to go back to the Dominican Republic despite everyone in his life (for the most part) telling him to stay in New York. It’s beautiful, so very New York, and some of Miranda’s best work.
Image Credit: Warner Bros.
A Star Is Born
Can I count A Star Is Born as a movie musical or is it just a movie with music? Too bad, it is on the list. This specific version being the 2018 starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Jackson Maine (Cooper) meets Ally (Gaga) when he drunkenly stumbles into a bar and hears her singing “La Vie en Rose”. From there, their love story is one filled with fighting, addiction, and more emotional stakes then either are prepared for but they try to stick it out together even if the odds seem against them.
This isn’t the first time we’ve told this story or even the third. But there’s something about this version that is absolutely breathtaking in a way that has kept me thinking about it since I saw it. I loved the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version as a kid but watching as Gaga and Cooper fall in love singing “Shallow” is just incredible.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.
Across the Universe
There has yet to actually be a musical set to the music of the Beatles on Broadway yet. There was Rain which was a fake version of the Fab Four playing songs but it isn’t the same. And it is shocking when we’ve been given a perfect gem of a gift in Across the Universe. Set during the Vietnam War, Jude (Jim Sturgess) travels to America to try and find his father and discovers a world there with Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), her brother Max (Joe Anderson), and more.
It is a perfect mix of Beatles songs we know and love with references to other classics and has some of the most beautiful covers of songs like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Blackbird” that exist today. Julie Taymor directed this beautiful look into the world in the 1960s mixed with our love for The Beatles and it is still one of the best movies out there.
Image Credit: Sony.
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova brought us Once as a small movie about Guy (Hansard) meeting Girl (Irglova) and the two falling in love slowly (get it?) through music despite the pair not working out. Their song “Falling Slowly” became a staple of the film and it would go on to its own stage musical adaptation but it is such a simple and beautiful story told on screen that just hits your core and stays with you.
The 2007 film is sweet and you fall in love with both Guy and Girl as they start to learn about each other and through their music, you can feel the pain they’ve both experienced in their lives while still hoping that the two can figure love out for themselves. Once isn’t an easy movie to watch, it will make you sad, but it has one of the most beautiful soundtracks out there and is well worth the pain.
Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.
The Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret is a dark musical fan's dream. Meaning I love it. Set during the rise of World War II, the musical takes place in Berlin and the movie takes the same setting. Starring Joel Grey as the Emcee and Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, the movie is a pretty good adaptation of the stage musical. But even though there are changes, it still works because Cabaret as a show in itself is phenomenal.
Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel, the show brings us into the world of the cabaret seen in Berlin mixed with the rising tension in Germany. It’s daring, boundary-pushing, and one of the few shows that works with different adaptations of it because so many can still look to Cabaret and find importance in the messages being told. The movie is now a bit outdated but a beautiful look at the show and its power and it is well worth a watch.
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.
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Featured Image Credit: Universal Pictures.
Rachel Leishman is a writer based in New York City. She specializes in yelling about her favorite properties. A real-life Leslie Knope, she loves her fictional characters and knows probably too much about Harrison Ford's career.