Top 12 Movie Musicals

Updated on August 27, 2018
Rachel M Johnson profile image

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for over two years.

Musical films captivate audiences through their dramatic storytelling, catchy dance numbers, and powerful soundtracks. The 1930s to the 1950s was widely considered to be the Golden Age of musical film, and many popular musicals were released during this period. As the years progressed, Hollywood fascination with the storytelling method dwindled, but has seen a resurgence in recent years. Let's take a look at some of the most popular musical movies to be released.


12. Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous musical follows the young soprano Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) as she becomes the obsession of her "Angel of Music", the mysterious and disfigured Phantom (Gerard Butler). The film is set at the Paris Opera House, and also features Christine's childhood friend and romancer Raoul (Patrick Wilson). Though the directing and writing were criticized, Rossum's performance and the stunning visuals were praised.

Fun Fact: Gerard Butler had no professional singing experience, and had only taken four voice lessons before recording "The Music of the Night."


11. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

This modern musical follows the story of the gorgeous courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman) at the Moulin Rouge, as she falls in love with a poor writer Christian (Ewan McGregor). Their love affair must be kept a secret or the cabaret is at risk of being shut down. Set in early 19th century bohemian Paris, the musical features re-imagined popular songs from modern day artists including The Police, Madonna and Elton John.

Fun Fact: Leonardo DiCaprio, Health Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were all considered for the role of Christian before Ewan McGregor was cast.


10. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

The musical that brought us Marilyn Monroe's iconic performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" while donning a pink silk gown, starred Monroe and Jane Russell. Both leading ladies were two of Hollywood's biggest sex symbols during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The film follows Lorelei (Monroe) and Dorothy (Russell), two showgirls on their way to Paris who are hounded by a detective hired by Lorelei's rich fiance's father, who believes she is a gold digger. The musical was a box-office success and both Monroe and Russell received praise for their performances.

Fun Fact: The stage musical was based on the 1925 novel of the same name, written by Anita Loos. A sequel to the novel was released in 1927, entitled But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.


9. Les Miserables (2012)

This heart-wrenching French musical set in the 19th century follows ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as he is ruthlessly hunted by policeman Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean takes in an orphan named Cosette, who's mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) dies. The story is told during the time France begins to split before the Paris Uprising of 1832. The musical also features Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Helena Bonham Carter.

Fun Fact: Anne Hathaway won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Fantine. Before she was cast, Kate Winslet, Amy Adams, Marion Cotillard and Jessica Biel were all considered for the part.


8. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Known for its iconic dance scene with star Gene Kelly and an umbrella, the film offers a lighthearted depiction of Hollywood life in the 1920's. The three main stars (Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds) portray performers stuck in the transition from silent films to "talkies." The film is frequently considered one of the greatest musicals ever made, and in 1989 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Fun Fact: In the famous scene where Kelly sings the title song while spinning an umbrella, the actor was actually sick and battling a 103 degree fever.


7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The cult classic musical that was both a parody and tribute to science fiction and horror films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show starred Tim Curry as mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter. The film centers on a young couple whose car breaks down outside Furter's castle, and they seek to use the telephone to call for help. The wayward couple Janet and Brad (Susan Sarandon & Barry Bostwick) are stranded at the castle for one wild and freaky night.

Fun Fact: Though the film has become a cult classic, and still inspires live renditions, the musical was initially panned by critics. It wasn't until audience members began seeing it frequently and dressing up as characters, that it began to make an impact.


6. Guys and Dolls (1955)

With a star-studded cast including Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine, Guys and Dolls became a mega-hit and was ranked the No. 1 moneymaking film of 1956. The musical follows a gambler played by Sinatra who needs to make some quick money, so he bets that his old acquaintance Sky Masterson (Brando) won't be able to get the good-girl Sergeant Sarah Brown (Simmons) to go on a date with him.

Fun Fact: Marilyn Monroe had wanted to play the part of Adelaide, but director Joe Mankiewicz wanted Vivian Blaine from the original production. Grace Kelly was almost Sarah Brown, but had to turn the part down due to other commitments.


5. Grease (1978)

Grease follows the lives of two high school seniors growing up in the late 1950's: bad boy Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and good girl Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John). Between the hand-jivin' songs and melodies, iconic outfits and strong ensemble cast, Grease became an overnight sensation. With catchy songs like "Summer Nights", "Greased Lightnin'", and "You're the One That I Want" the film cemented it's place in musical history and is still beloved to this day.

Fun Fact: Stockard Channing, who played the leader of the Pink Ladies Betty Rizzo, was actually 33 years old when she portrayed a high school teenager.


4. West Side Story (1961)

A modern day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is an epic love story that follows a couple caught between two rival gangs: the Jets and the Sharks. Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn, the tale has Jet's member Tony (Beymer) fall in love with his rival 's sister Maria (Wood). In between its elaborate dance numbers and powerful ballads, trouble brews for the star-crossed lovers.

Fun Fact: The film won ten Academy Awards, making it the musical with the most Academy Award wins ever.


3. Chicago (2002)

Two of the toughest, savviest women to ever appear on Broadway were the characters Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. In the blockbuster film version, Catherine Zeta-Jones (Kelly) and Renee Zellweger (Hart) portray the two murderesses, as they find themselves in jail awaiting trial for their crimes. Set in 1920's Chicago, the musical focuses on their fight for fame (and their lives) as their smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) turns them into celebrities to gain public support. The film was a smash hit and won six Academy Awards in 2003.

Fun Fact: Hugh Jackman was offered the role of Billy Flynn, but declined because he felt he was too young for it. The actor later admitted he regretted the decision.


2. The Sound of Music (1965)

Perhaps one of the most famous musicals to date, The Sound of Music followed the Von Trapp family singers and their picturesque lives in the Austrian countryside. Starring Julie Andrews as a young Austrian woman studying to become a nun, she takes a job as a governess to Captain Von Trapp's (Christopher Plummer) seven children. The film that reminded you the hills were alive (with music), became a massive hit and captured the hearts of many since its release.

Fun Fact: Julie Andrews was always the first choice for the role of Maria, but other possible options had included Shirley Jones and Grace Kelly.


1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The iconic musical reminded audiences everywhere that "there's no place like home," and took us on a journey to the magical land of Oz. With munchkins, flying monkeys and witches and wizards, The Wizard of Oz captivated moviegoers. Starring Judy Garland as the unruly Dorothy Gale, the film follows the young girl who is trying to find her way back home, with the help of the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man. The musical received acclaim upon its release, and won an Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow."

Fun Fact: Shirley Temple was considered for the role of Dorothy, but producer Mervyn LeRoy was adamant on casting Judy Garland.

Agree with my list? Let me know in the comments below!

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