Top 10: Movie Musicals

“Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.” 

In the fallout of the Mamma Mia phenomena, it’s time to tune down and look back at some of the greatest cinematic musicals to hit our screens. Whether there’s sweet transvestites, polyester suits (it’s wool), a Bourbon Room or a Pierce Brosnan, the pure unadulterated joy of a great musical is hard to match. So without further-a-do, the curtains are raised on this top 10 list.

Let me know what you think at the end.

10. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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© – United Artists

It’s no surprise really that the origins of a musical based around a flying car are rooted in the mind of Ian Fleming, the man responsible for a small series about a spy called James Bond. Based on his book of the same name, this 1968 extravaganza is adored around the world. The magnetism of Dick Van Dyke cannot be resisted, but the supporting cast, especially Lionel Jeffries’ Grandpa Potts who has the film’s most hilariously catchy tune (P-O-S-H, Posh!), and the petrifying Robert Helpmann as the “Lollypops, come get your Lollypops” offering Child Catcher, are on top-form.

9. Rock Of Ages

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© – Warner Bros

Rock Of Ages has a lot going for it. The mixture of some of the 70s/80s biggest and best rock anthems, ranging from ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ to ‘I Wanna Rock’, a fantastic cast with some veterans and fresh-faced stars, a poppy, vibrant art style like a huge stage set, and one of the greatest Tom Cruise performances of all time. The pacing is a bit iffy in the latter half, but man, the music is just so good. Come on, feel the noise.

8. The Sound Of Music

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© – 20th Century Fox

Anyone’s home is alive with The Sound Of Music when this is put in the DVD player. An enduring treat that manages to squeeze in many themes, such as coming-of-age (“I am 16 going on 17”), to the constraints of religion, to the oppression of nazism, it’s a bold musical even today. But, somehow, through the lively spirit of Julie Andrews and her supporting Von Traps, it feels remarkably breezy. Indeed, it is one of my favourite things.

7. The Wizard Of Oz

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© – Loew’s Inc

Without The Wizard Of Oz, we wouldn’t have Wicked, so there’s that alone. But the original source material is a wistful fantasy delight, like a wacky dream built upon several fairytales (of course originally based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). There’s munchkins, winged monkeys and a Wicked Witch. The production value, considering it was 1939, is still very impressive, with some of the big set-pieces like the flying house still evoking a gasp. I don’t know about you, but this has put me in the mood to go off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

6. Mamma Mia

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© – Universal

Whoever allowed Pierce Brosnan to exercise his wonderfully rusty and endearing vocal chords alongside the talents of Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Christine Baranski deserves some sort of reward. This loveable adaptation of the broadway musical featured an all-star cast, a gorgeous location and the timeless tunes of ABBA. Feel-good fuel.

5. The Lion King

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© – Disney

Probably the best, most universally accessible adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet there is, this Disney masterpiece is a feat of animated filmmaking. Highly effective as a compelling, gut-punchingly emotional drama and toe-tapping musical, this is a glorious feature fit for both kids and adults, and for some, it is yet to be matched. Elevated further by modern day master Hans Zimmer, if you’ve had a childhood on the planet earth, the songs will probably engrained in your subconscious.

4. Rocky Horror Picture Show

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© – 20th Century Fox

Really, this was the musical for people who weren’t really into musicals. Serving as a parody and love letter to 70s sci-fi B-movies, Rocky Horror pushed a lot of boundaries for 1975. Even now it’s pretty explicit, but even through the crudeness of the material (Touch-a touch me, I wanna be diiiirty), the all-welcoming themes are very resonant. ‘The Time Warp’ is every bit as infectious as it was 40 years ago, and the film’s quirkiness has only grown. Go on, don’t be put off, “hand yourself over to absolute pleasure.”

3. Singin’ In The Rain

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© – Loew’s Inc

There’s two groups of people: those who watched Singin’ In The Rain before seeing A Clockwork Orange, and those who watched it after. I fall into the latter category, so the titular tune is slightly tainted by Kubrick’s vision. But, the global appreciation for this outstanding musical is well-deserved. Like a warm bath, watching this almost transports you back to an easier time. Think of it as the best natural high you can attain, built from expertly-executed satire, lovingly implemented nostalgia, and glittering, infectious show-tunes.

2. La La Land

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© – Summit Entertainment 

There was ‘Another Day Of Sun’ when this future classic hit cinemas. A marvellous conceived feature from Damien Chazelle, opting for more low-key music, used a little more sparingly than other musicals but hitting more emotional beats than others too. Undoubtedly delightful in varying scale (Stone and Gosling’s nighttime tap dance is a joy) you’ll want to get up on screen and dance along. It’s a throwback to the MGM musicals of old with a modern, more grounded twist, a loving tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood, still respecting the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers but taking the genre to new heights. Entirely splendid – I am unashamedly, and unconditionally, in love with La La Land.

1. Grease

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© – Paramount Pictures

Grease is the word, after all. As cheesy as it is, as stereotypical as the girls and guys are, as unhealthy as the relationship between Sandy and Danny realistically is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t at least hum along to ‘Summer Nights’ (or if you’re me, do a god awful rendition of the closing line). The electric chemistry of its leading duo only adds to the enjoyment throughout. A raucous, contagious time with the power to uplift the lowest soul. Unmissable.

What’s your favourite musical? What tune really grabs those heartstrings or makes your heart soar? Let me know on twitter @frewfilm.

Author: Cameron Frew

Freelance film writer. Words on Flickering Myth, Bloody Disgusting, Movie Corner UK and Jumpcut Online. My five favourite films are: 1. The Goonies 2. Forrest Gump 3. The Shawshank Redemption 4. Warrior 5. Whiplash

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