Updated: May 19, 2020
Ah, the age-old musicals. Some people LOVE them whilst some others LOATHE them. The common consensus is that musicals aren’t for everyone, and while it is true to a significant extent, it is wrong of people to say that a person who does not enjoy musicals as a genre cannot enjoy ANY movie musical. As such, in this list I’ll provide a definitive list of musicals that everyone should see at least once in a lifetime despite their lack of affinity to the genre.
Below the listed movies, you will find a song from it which I urge you to listen to or watch at least once if you still need convincing.
10. Les Miserables (2012): This Musical directed by Tom Hooper was adapted from the stage musical of the same name which itself was adapted from the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo about people in France during the early 19th century against the background of the June Rebellion of 1832. The musical was revolutionary for its time since it was the first musical to incorporate live singing instead of the usual practice of lip-syncing to pre-recorded vocals. This technique has gone on to influence many musicals thereafter and just because of this one thing alone, I feel, the list is incomplete without this movie. Oh, and Anne Hathaway gives a performance of a lifetime in this movie which will undoubtedly be a benchmark in the days to come for all actors working in Musicals.
9. Chicago (2002): Directed by Rob Marshall, Chicago tells the story of two Murderesses as they spend their days in Jail trying to get out of it by hook or by crook and making it big on the Chicago Vaudeville scene of singing and dancing stars. The musical which was also adapted from the stage musical of the same name is famous for its seamless transition between mundane jail life and extravagant musical numbers. Taking in the fact that it also won the Best Picture Oscar in 2003, this film is a must watch.
8. Once (2007): Probably the most intense yet the most nonchalant film in the entire list, this movie, directed by John Carney is a very subtle film that will hook you into its magic, if and only if, you give it the attention it deserves. The song ‘Falling Slowly’ from the movie also went on to win an Oscar which somewhat makes up for the lack of nominations for the film in the other categories. The film deserves a watch. It will not go to waste; I promise you that. Need more convincing? Go listen to Falling Slowly.
7. The Wizard of Oz (1939): Probably the most famous Musical all around the globe, this film by Victor Fleming, set in the land of Oz where a Wizard is said to reside and where a young girl from the state of Kansas gets somehow magically transported to, is most famous for its song ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ and for bringing to notice the talent of Judy Garland to the audience. The movie is also known for its clever transition from Black and white to Color to mark a significant moment in the film. Nominated for six Oscars, the film has since become a Classic.
6. Cabaret (1972): The film that made Liza Minelli a Star and the film which infamously stopped Francis Ford Coppola from winning the Best Director Oscar for ‘The Godfather’. Directed by Bob Fosse, this film tells the story of Sally Bowles, a young American cabaret singer performing at the Kit Kat Klub in Nazi-era Berlin who gets caught up in a love triangle with a British academic and a German playboy. The film is a must watch for people who do not like musicals that are too saccharine but who prefer a grittier version. Like ‘Once’, the musical numbers in the film are completely Diegetic and do not advance the film, so, despite my absolute horror, are skippable.
5. La La Land (2016): I’m sure almost all of the readers will be familiar with the name of this movie. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous movie which lost to another movie at the Oscars. It’s a shame that the Oscar mix-up has overtaken the movie which in itself is probably one of the best movies to have come out this decade and my personal favourite in this list. Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle (who went on to become the youngest person to ever win the Best Director Oscar), this movie tells a story about two dreamers trying to make it in Los Angeles that is as magical as it is heartbreakingly real. If you have not seen it yet, I really urge you to go and see it now.
4. Top Hat (1935): Making any list about musicals without including this classic is a sin beyond comparison. This screwball comedy starring the most iconic couple from all of Hollywood’s history, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or more popularly known as Fred & Ginger, is a film that seems to be a lighthearted movie without a lot to offer but as Director Damien Chazelle once put it, ‘When they start dancing, it’s Art with a capital A and it has as much substance as a tune by Mozart or an artwork by da Vinci'. Go watch it keeping in mind to ignore some of the histrionics of the acting of that time.
3. Singin’ in the Rain (1952): This movie written and directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen is another film which just stands as a giant in the musical genre to which any and all Musicals are bound to be compared to. Complete with toe tapping, almost one-shot musical numbers, an adorable Debbie Reynolds and the Maestro Gene Kelly himself, this movie is another which you cannot ignore if you want to call yourself an avid musical watcher.
2. The Sound of Music (1965): Directed by Robert Wise and adapted from the stage musical of the same name, this beloved musical is usually something adults are discouraged from seeing as people consider this movie to be mostly for kids. However, they could not be more wrong. This movie is suitable for people of all ages and to be honest, is something that some adults really need to see in order to learn some basic lessons and morals of life. Starring the effervescent Julie Andrews, this musical has the most hummable songs of all the movies in this list.
1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964): I know most of the readers right now are rather confused as to how this movie which they have never even heard of is number 1. Well, I’ll tell you why. It is the most MUSICAL of all the movies in this list as all the words in it are sung. There is literally no word in this movie that is spoken. Yes, you heard that right. This French musical, directed by Jacques Demy is one of those movies that just does not make sense on paper, the only way it makes sense is when you see it on-screen. Featuring a breakout performance from Catherine Deneuve and probably the most tear-jerking song from the entire list, this movie is not for everyone but I can guarantee you this, you will come out an emotionally richer person just from the experience of watching it.
I've added an English version of the song, so that you can cry your eyes out tonight. Thank me later.
This was my definitive list of the top 10 musicals of all time. In each of these movies you'll find the magic of a genre much overlooked in contemporary times. Musicals aren't just movies that include song and dance and people wearing colourful clothing, it's Art with a capital A and it deserves not only your attention but also your respect.