The “Must-See” Musicals I’ve Seen So Far

Musical is the one genre most likely to have you singing along and tapping your
toes.  These films have made icons out of
actors and actresses like Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Julie Andrews.  And, it’s always attracted stars looking to
expand their horizons for example Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and more
recently Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep.

Seen to date: 15 out of 50

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Director: Victor Fleming and King Vidor

Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan and Jack Haley

Academy Award Wins – Best Song “Over the Rainbow” and Best Original Score

AFI Top 100 – #6 (1998) and #10 (2007)

A farm girl from Kansas named Dorothy (Garland) is carried away in
a house on the strength of a twister to Munchkinland.  Glinda the Good Witch sends Dorothy off to see the Wizard of Oz and on her way she encounters a cowardly lion, a scarecrow without a brain and a tin man without a heart and is attacked by the Wicked
Witch of the West.

The Wizard of Oz stands out as one of the most beloved and acclaimed American films of all-time.  In addition to being in the top 10 in both editions of AFI’s to 100 Movies, The Wizard of Oz ranks as the number 1 fantasy film of all-time.  It’s one of a few that you could say, “Everyone’s seen it” and be pretty close to correct.  Personally, I prefer the stage musical Wicked to The Wizard of Oz, but I still recognize its significance.

My Rating – 4 Ticket Stubs (Out of 5)

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 100% (74 Reviews)

Singing in the Rain (1952)

Director: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds

AFI Top 100 – #10 (1998) #5 (2007)

Don Lockwood (Kelly) is a celebrated leading man during the silent
film era.  After the success of The Jazz Singer, Lockwood’s studio head
decides to turn his most recent film into a talkie, the only problem is the
leading lady (Lina Lamont played by Jean Hagen) has a voice like nails on a
chalk board, so they decide to use the voice of newcomer Kathy Selden (Debbie
Reynolds) while keeping Lamont on screen.

One of the most celebrated musicals of all-time with one of the
most recognizable songs of all-time; Singing in the Rain is another example of a musical that ranks in the top 10 of the AFI top 100 movies.  Gene Kelly is brilliant as a silver screen leading man adjusted to the change to talkies.

My Rating – 5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 100% (45 Reviews)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell and Charles Coburn

Showgirls and best friends Lorelei (Monroe) and Dorothy (Russell)
sail together to France in advance of Lorelei’s wedding.  However her father-in-law to be does not trust Lorelei and hires a private investigator who is also on board.  Despite being warned to be on her best behavior, Lorelei meets a rich diamond mine owner (Coburn) and her gold digging ways get the best of her as she tries to charm him (inspiring the classic musical number, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”).  In the meantime, Dorothy falls in love with the private investigator.

Marilyn Monroe is one of America’s most iconic stars and enduring sex symbols and among her films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of the most beloved.
In classic comedy duo form, Monroe plays the straight person to a T, while Russell handles the comedic barbs with a sarcastic wit that would fit in today’s cinema.

My Rating – 3 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 97% (36 Reviews)

Funny Face (1957)

Director: Stanley Donen

Starring: Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire

While commandeering a local book shop for a photo shoot, fashion
photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) meets Jo Stockton (Hepburn) who thinks the
entire fashion industry is nonsense.  Avery sees something new and interesting in Jo’s
‘funny’ face and convinces to model in exchange for an all-expenses trip to
Paris where she can attend lectures of her favorite philosopher.

Funny Face is certainly a movie from this list that surprised me.
Unexpectedly it became one of my favorite examples of the genre.  Hepburn and Astaire play off each other to perfection and are just as brilliant dancing as they are singing.  Also, the 1950s Technicolor is brilliant.

My Rating – 4.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 87% (23 Reviews)

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Director: Richard Lester

Starring: The Beatles

The Beatles travel from Liverpool to London, by train, to perform
a concert on a TV show.  After finally escaping the crowds, the group tries to relax on the train but is harassed by Paul’s grandfather and their manager.
Eventually, they arrive in London and have to overcome obstacles before
finally performing and meeting the press.

The plot is pretty pedestrian, but at the same time seems plausible.  During the height of Beatlemania, it’s likely that they had to go to great lengths just to travel in peace.  Also, the band members seem to joke at theirown expense adding to the laugh total.

My Rating – 3.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 100% (74 Reviews)

MaryPoppins (1964)

Director: Robert Stevenson

Starring: Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke

Academy Award Wins – Best Actress (Andrews), Best Visual Effects,
Best Original Song “Chim Chim Cher ee”, Best Original Score and Best Film

Set in London in 1910, Marry Poppins (Andrews) floats down from a
cloud to serve as a nanny for a pair of rambunctious children.  Mary and her chimney sweep friend Bert (Van Dyke) take the kids on a handful of magical adventures.

Mary Poppins was Julie Andrews film debut and announced her presence as a force in musical films in a big way.  Personally this was never one of my favorites when considered as a children’s film or a musical, that’s not to say its place on this list isn’t justified.
Fans and critics alike hold Mary Poppins in high regard.

My Rating – 2 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 100% (39 Reviews)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Director: Jim Sharman

Starring: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick

Janet (Sarandon) and Brad (Bostwick) are newly engaged when their
car breaks down during a thunderstorm. They seek help in a mysterious castle, which happens to be occupied by strange characters from the galaxy of Transylvania led by the transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Curry).

I’m always interestedcby films that achieve cult status and establish a culture all their own.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show is certainly one of those films. Even 35 years after its release, fans turn out (in full costume) in droves for midnight showings.  It wasn’t
a favorite of mine, personally.  But, I can understand why some folks like it and certainly admires what the culture represents to outsiders.

My Rating – 2 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 76% (37 Reviews)

Grease (1978)

Director: Randal Kleiser

Starring: John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

The leader of the T-Birds, Danny Zuko (Travolta) comes back from
vacation bragging about his ‘Summer Lovin’ with an Australian girl Sandy (Newton-John).  But, romance gets more complicated when Sandy
shows up at Danny’s high school as part of an exchange program.

Grease is one of the most beloved high school movies and musicals of all-time.   Travolta plays the conflicted tough guy well and Newton-John’s transformation from good-girl to bad-girl is one of the most famous in film history.

My Rating – 3.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 82% (55 Reviews)

The Blues Brothers (1980)

Director: John Landis

Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Carrie Fisher

In the hopes of raising $5000 in 11 days to save the home where
they were raised by nuns, the Blues Brothers (Belushi and Aykroyd) decide to
stage a concert.  To set about their ‘mission from God’ they try to re-form their Blues band.

The Blues Brothers could easily be in the comedy section on this list.  For example, this film like so many others started out as a sketch from SNL.  It has become a cult classic every since it hit video shelves.

My Rating – 4 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 85% (46 Reviews)

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Director: Frank Oz

Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin

Seymour (Moranis) works in a flower shop and is in love with his
co-worker Audrey (Greene).  Much to Seymour’s dismay, Audrey is in a relationship with a sadistic dentist (Martin).  Seymour finds a strange plant, which feeds on human blood and grows to be enormous.  The plant makes the flower shop and Seymour famous, but its appetite gets to be bigger and bigger.

This remake has the indelible touch of puppeteer extraordinaire Frank Oz.  He directs with a careful eye on the movie’s most unique character, Audrey II.  In
addition to Moranis and Martin, this film features cameo appearance by comedic
legends like John Candy and Bill Murray – making this an outstanding blend of
the comedy and musical genres.

My Rating – 4.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 89% (47 Reviews)

Moulin Rouge (2001)

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Starring: Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor

Academy Award Wins – Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction

In Paris, during the late 1880s a society of bohemian lifestyle exists with a focus on truth, beauty, freedom and love.  Christian (McGregor), young penniless writer, writes a show for the Moulin Rouge.  The Moulin Rouge is close to being considered a real theatre, but needs the financing of The Duke of Worcester who only wants favors from the Moulin Rouge’s
star (Kidman).  During production of the show, the star and the writer strike up a secret affair which risks the future of the Moulin Rouge.

Moulin Rouge is a visual treasure trove and deservingly won Best Art Direction.
Kidman and McGregor both turn in outstanding performances in this modern
musical classic.

My Rating – 3.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 78% (174 Reviews)

Chicago (2002)

Director: Rob Marshall

Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere

Academy Award Wins – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress
(Zeta-Jones), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and
Best Sound

Set in the 1920s, Roxie Hart (Zellweger) will do anything to be a
famous performer in Chicago.  To this end, she has an affair with a connected guy only to find out that he was lying and simply wanted to sleep with her.  She
kills him, resulting in her being sent to the same jail as her stage idol Velma
Kelly (Zeta-Jones).  Both woman turn to flashy lawyer Billy Flynn who turns Roxie into an overnight sensation making Velma extremely jealous.

An Academy Award winner for Best Picture (among other things), Chicago explores the nature of fame with the help of outstanding performances by an all-star cast (including Queen Latifah, Taye Diggs, John C. Reilly and Lucy Liu in supporting roles).  The musical numbers (specially “Cell Block Tango”,  “All That Jazz” and “We Both Reached for the Gun”) are masterfully done.

My Rating – 4 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 88% (211 Reviews)

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

Director: Kenny Ortega

Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale

Seniors at East High, prepare for life after high school and along the way win a state title in basketball, decide on colleges, try for scholarships and plan the year-end musical.

I have absolutely no justification to this film being included.  Especially when you consider
all of the snubs that were not included on this list (would’ve preferred Across the Universe in this spot).

My Rating – 0.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 65% (127 Reviews)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman

A villainous judge (Rickman) exiles an innocent man in the hopes
of having his young wife.  The man returns to London under the alias of Sweeney Todd (Depp) and learns that his wife committed suicide after being raped by the judge.  He sets out for revenge and partners with Mrs. Nellie Lovett, a meat-pie shop owner who’s shop is directly under Todd’s murderous barber shop.

Johnny Depp earned his third Oscar nomination for his performance
of the killer barber, Sweeney Todd (also for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Finding Neverland).  But, to me he shines more in some of his reputation
building roles (ie Blow, Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).  I like Depp, Carter and Rickman all, but I found Sweeney Todd didn’t live up to
my expectations for it.

My Rating – 2.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 86% (218 Reviews)

MammaMia (2008)

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Pierce Brosnan

Sophia (Seyfried) lives with her single Mom (Streep) on a Greek island.  As she prepares for her wedding, she secretly sends invitations to each of the three men that she believes could be her father.  Much to the surprise of her mother, the each show up and Sophia tries to determine which of the three actually is her father.

Mamma Mia uses all songs from Abba and sees Meryl Streep try her hand, er vocal cords, at the musical genre (she received a Golden Globe nomination).  Mamma Mia
also has the distinction of being one of the most financial successful musical
films of all-time (over $600 million in gross revenue).

My Rating – 2.5 Ticket Stubs

Rotten Tomatoes Score – 53% (174 Reviews)



About DC Evans

I’m a long time film lover. For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent my free time going to multiplexs; renting tapes and building my own DVD/Blu-ray collection. I'll be blogging about my efforts as I watch my way through the history of film. For starters, I’ll be focusing on watching each movie in the book “501 Must-See Movies.” Follow me on twitter: @D_C_Evans
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