The feel-good-cinema hall of fame is brimming with movie musicals – film adaptations of beloved stage shows, from The Sound of Music to Chicago, and from Oliver! to Dreamgirls.
Whether you believe life is a cabaret (old chum) or have yet to be struck by greased lightning, our rundown of the best stage to screen musicals chronicles a masterclass in big-screen entertainment - and even shines a spotlight on some future classics coming our way in 2021.
So warm up those pipes of yours with a Do-Re-Mi, strike up the band, and let’s get started…
Music, maestro, please...
My Fair Lady (1964)
My Fair Lady is a rousingly old-school musical liberated from the confines of the stage and let loose on the streets of a London that’s pure movie nostalgia.
Audrey Hepburn is glorious as Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison is perfect as the arrogant Professor who bets he can restore her dropped ‘aitches’ and pass her off as a lady. It’s true that time has not been kind to My Fair Lady’s representation of gender roles, but taken as an artefact of its time, it remains a remarkably entertaining film packed with classic sing-along numbers.
Wouldn’t it be Loverly
The Rain in Spain
I Could Have Danced All Night
The Sound of Music (1965)
From the moment the camera swoops over Austrian hills onto Julie Andrews as she belts out the title track, you know you’re in for a timeless treat.
Written by Rodgers and Hammerstein and inspired by the true story of the von Trapp family singers and their flight from Europe on the eve of WW2, The Sound of Music is surprisingly sweet and upbeat considering its historical backdrop. Andrews’ optimistic nun Maria is as refreshing as an Alpine stream, the von Trapp children are delightful, and the emotional thawing of Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) in the presence of such positivity is a joy.
The Sound of Music
My Favourite Things
Lionel Bart’s musical was a theatrical favourite for seven years before Carol Reed's big screen adaptation. And the jump from page, stage, to screen gave Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of workhouse orphan Oliver Twist a twentieth-century spin.
The songs are phenomenal and the cast performs the living daylights out of them. Or not - in the case of Oliver Reed's evil Bill Sykes, whose songless villainy is equally unforgettable.
But special mention must go to Ron Moody’s turn as street-urchin-wrangler, Fagin. His rendition of You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two is one of the all-time great musical moments.
Food, Glorious Food
As Long as He Needs Me
You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two
Cabaret is a terrifically tuneful story of love, sex and intersecting lives set against the last days of bohemian decadence in early 1930s Berlin.
Liza Minnelli has never been better than as vampish cabaret performer Sally Bowles, while Joel Gray created such an iconic performance as the Kit Kat Klub’s impish Master of Ceremonies that – to this day – it’s impossible to imagine the character being played any other way.
And while we won’t spoil the surprise, just wait for the shocking last-minute misdirection in the song If You Could See Her. 49 years after the film’s release, it still has the power to shock.
If You Could See Her
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Mad-scientist alien transvestites? B-movie visuals blended with punk fashion and soundtracked by 1950s rock?
The film of Richard O’Brien’s comedy horror musical may have failed to seduce the mainstream on its initial release. But anchored by gleefully vampish songs and a mesmerising Tim Curry performance as Dr. Frank N. Furter, The Rocky Horror Picture Show gained a cult audience at midnight screenings around the world, which continue to this day. Meaning 46 years on, the film has never fully ended its theatrical release - a phenomenal record.
The Time Warp
Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me
I’m Going Home
Grease is more than a word. More than a time, place, motion, or feeling. It's a pop culture phenomenon that rewards every rewatch with the same highway to happiness as the last.
It's a timeless and disarmingly wholesome tale of high-school love between bad boy greaser Danny (John Travolta) and goody-two-shoes new girl Sandy (Olivia Newton John). Packed to the bleachers with instantly recognisable tunes and enjoyably low-stakes drama, arguing against its greatness is futile.
Best to just press play and settle in for the ride with your favourite T-Bird or Pink Lady.
Hopelessly Devoted to You
There are Worse Things I Could Do
You’re the One That I Want
The Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
The Little Shop of Horrors is a fantastic oddity – a love story featuring blood-ravenous extraterrestrial plants and several ‘accidental’ murders, all framed by a three-woman Greek chorus.
It was filmed entirely on the gigantic 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios, giving it that staged reality feel that big-screen musicals do so well, and features a ridiculously star-studded peak-80s cast that includes Rick Moranis, Jim Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray and Steve Martin. It’s a cult classic, and for anyone unversed in it's otherworldly charm, it's well worth seeking out.
Skid Row (Downtown)
Somewhere That’s Green
Feed Me (Git It!)
Chicago showed that there was still a massive audience for a highly stylised big-screen adaptation of an unashamedly theatrical musical.
The story – inspired by real events – examines celebrity and the insatiable public hunger for scandal through the lives of two women. Roxy Hart (Renée Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are imprisoned for murders but hopeful that infamy can twist into fame and lead to a reprieve via larger-than-life lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). Directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall, Chicago is an exhilarating experience from start to finish, and deservedly wowed the crowds and critics alike.
All That Jazz
When You’re Good to Mama
Cell Block Tango
The girl group The Dreams may be a fictionalised version of The Supremes, but there’s nothing fictional about this film musical’s megawatt appeal.
Centred on outstanding performances by its trio of leads – Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Golden Globe for her role), and Anika Noni Rose – Dreamgirls pulls no punches depicting the backstage graft and grief behind every on-stage triumph.
The songs are fabulous and the acting extraordinary. If you’ve not seen it yet, do yourself a favour and cue it up immediately.
And I am Telling You I’m Not Going
I am Changing
I Miss You Old Friend
Les Misérables (2012)
Rather than just expand it's theatrical staging for the big screen, Tom Hooper's stage-to-screen adaptation of Les Misérables embraced reality in every way possible.
Keen for his actors to have the freedom to perform organically in the moment rather than simply mime on set to their pre-recorded vocals, Hooper captured their performances on the day (to piano accompaniment via earpiece). The full orchestral score was then added in post production. The results are breathtakingly powerful and intimate renditions by a powerhouse all-star cast. Prepare your spine for chills, before Anne Hathaway's take on I Dreamed a Dream.
Do You Hear the People Sing
One Day More
I Dreamed a Dream
On My Own
And if that list wasn't enough, fans of big screen musicals can fill up their excitement reserves for two new adaptations that are set to whirl their way to cinemas later this year. And we're not biased in any way in saying they have all the foot-stomping, feel-good hallmarks that will send them straight into our all-time list.
In the Heights
Lin-Manuel Miranda is the 21st century king of musicals having conceived and written the theatrical phenomenon, Hamilton. He’s a rare talent as In the Heights demonstrates once more.
The musical, also written by Miranda, won four Tony awards in the wake of its Broadway debut in 2008.
Set over three days, it's a story set in the largely Latino neighbourhood of Washington Heights in New York. It’s about family, belonging and longing for something more from life. The trailer looks fantastic and we can’t wait to get swept up in its irresistible world.
In the Heights
It Won’t Be Long Now
West Side Story
Inspired as it is by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the stage musical of West Side Story has already had one spectacular, era-defining big-screen adaptation.
But that was back in 1961, so we’re all about this remake of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s classic Broadway smash.
It’s a labour of love for director Steven Spielberg who, as the glitzy and giddy Anything Goes number at the start of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom confirms, has always wanted to direct a musical.
So, naturally, we’re excited to see what the legendary director brings to this dramatic tale of forbidden love between two members of opposing street gangs in 1950s New York City.
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