Musicals are an essential part of American film culture. They bring us closer together through their spontaneous singing and artful way of portraying life. From Singin’ In the Rain to La La Land, moviegoers have flocked to theaters to see their favorite actors and actresses singing and dancing across the silver screen. Some musicals are lighthearted, like Beauty and the Beast (2017), while others, such as Les Miserables, are more dramatic. Regardless of the story, they all share one aspect: song and dance bringing characters and audiences together.
#10: My Fair Lady (1964)
This movie is definitely a classic. Starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, it focuses on a haughty professor (Harrison) trying to ingrain some culture into a young vagrant (Hepburn). The Cockney accents mixed with the more upper-class British accents are what really makes this musical come alive — they perfectly mix with the music and create that old-timey musical feel. Featuring iconic songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “The Rain in Spain,” this is definitely a must-see for all musical fans.
#9: Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Awww, if I were a rich (wo)man…I would definitely pay money to see this in theaters. This movie is a tale about the Russian family of Tevye and his five daughters as he struggles to maintain his Jewish traditions in the face of a changing family and country. Though this movie is just over three hours, it is definitely worth it to hear classic songs like “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” If you’re like me, you may end up wishing that you, too, could transport to early twentieth century Russia, where life was simpler and bursting out into song was required.
#8: Pocahontas (1995)
Starring Mel Gibson as explorer John Smith and Irene Bedard (an actual Native American–good job Disney!) as free-spirited Pocahontas, this movie has some of Disney’s best music, in my opinion. “Colors of the Wind” and “Just Around the Riverbend” are the soundtrack of my and probably every other American’s childhood. The wonder and glory this soundtrack portrays gives the audience a soaring feeling that only enhances the experience.
#7: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz is a classic, not only among musicals but among movies in general. It was one of the first movies to use Technicolor, causing Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to dazzlingly stand out. This movie features Judy Garland’s amazing voice in songs such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” The best part about this movie is the way it combines startlingly bright color with a wondrous fantasy plot. It reminds us all that our “hearts,” “brains,” and “courage” were in us all along, and we don’t need a wizard to help us get them.
#6: Newsies (1992)
Starring Christian Bale of The Dark Knight fame, this 1992 film resulted in every girl in America hopelessly swooning over the dashing Jack Kelly (Bale). Detailing the newsboy strike of 1899, this film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, but I can let it slide because they all sing and dance beautifully. The best part about this movie is the dance numbers set to the Alan Silvestri score. The dances are so well-choreographed yet just clumsy enough to remind you that you’re still watching a bunch of goofy teenage boys messing around. It’s a stunning piece of musical cinema.
#5: West Side Story (1961)
This Romeo and Juliet story incorporates everything great about the late 1950s with modern dance numbers that have captivated audiences everywhere. With recognizable songs like “Maria” and “I Feel Pretty,” a tense rivalry between two gangs, and the forbidden love plot, this musical hits all the points that make not only a good musical, but a good movie as well. The blatant male bravado of the Sharks and the Jets combined with the softer femininity of the girls of both gangs create a movie that audiences of all genders and ages will love.
#4: Mary Poppins (1964)
Who doesn’t love Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke? Everyone has a soft spot in their heart for Mary Poppins and her magic handbag, her flying umbrella, and her no-nonsense attitude. In a way, I think we all wish we had a Mary Poppins of our own in our life. Someone to sing “A Spoonful of Sugar” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to us when we were down, or to spirit us away to the rooftops of London to watch the chimney sweeps dance and sing their song. This is one of the musicals that definitely earns its place on the list as a certifiable classic.
#3: La La Land (2016)
Starring heartthrobs Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen come out in the past few years. It has all the surrealism of a musical with the reality of modern Hollywood. Also, who knew that the two had such superb singing voices? Sure, they’re no Bing Crosby or Judy Garland, but that’s what makes their voices so unique–they sound like actual people and not professionals singing. From the bubbly opening number to the jazzy piano solos to the sophisticated tap routines, this combines all that’s good about old Hollywood with all that’s good about new Hollywood to create an extraordinary musical.
#2: The Sound of Music (1965)
Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, this is one of my all-time favorite movies, let alone musicals. It takes place in the perfect setting: scenic 1930s Austria, right before World War II. With delightful numbers featuring the Von Trapp children — “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” “So Long, Farewell” — and the more romantic numbers — “Something Good,” “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” — this movie is perfect for families or anyone who enjoys beautiful music set against an equally beautiful setting. I don’t know anyone who can watch this movie without a smile gracing their face at some point.
#1: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
What other movie could take the top spot? With Hollywood stars like Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor, this movie couldn’t fail. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s genius choreography and classic tunes like “Make ’em Laugh,” “Moses Supposes,” and, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain” are the highlights of this exceptionally well-made musical. It undoubtedly earns every accolade and award it gets. What better way to celebrate the shift from silent movies to talkies than through song and dance?
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