Musicals are not for everybody. Some people don’t like the music, others don’t like the dancing, yet other don’t like singing or dancing in their films, period. But I love them. I love the impromptu dances, the ridiculousness of it – who just starts dancing out of the blue? (It was actually made fun of in the newest Oscar-winning Muppets film,  if you have seen it!). Or singing out of the blue, for that matter (I know who, this guy does).

And for other people who are like me and like impromptu dance routines and singing out on the streets, here’s a list of the top 10 best musicals.

10. Chicago

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I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact this musical has landed on a best/worst list here as one of the worst musicals ever made.

But I love it. The choreography is quite brilliant, the songs are awesome, and unlike my fellow writer, I actually love Catherine Zeta-Jones in this film. I think she’s brilliant – and the fact that she was pregnant through part of the film just shows her awesomeness.

Based on a 1975 stage musical, the film centres around women in a female prison who are all in there for various crimes (mostly murder, it seems) and how they use their looks to gain popularity and then finally be set free.

One of few dark musicals out there – there’s not much colour in this film. Maybe understandable, since the film is basically about miscarriage of justice – that’s serious business. No time for colour or happiness!

9. High School Musical 3: Senior Year

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I’m generally not much of a pop music fan. As a teenage girl I hated all those boy- and girl bands that were around. I usually don’t listen to any of it. I do give some of them a chance, though, and sometimes download albums with Lady Gaga or Beyoncé just to hear and then realise I love a few songs on the album and I’m not embarrassed about it at all.

But once in a while I get honest-to-god cringeworthy obsessions (as my recent One Direction “mania” proves *hides in shame* but they can actually sing, so it’s all right). High School Musical is one of those things. I never liked the first one (simply because Zac Efron wasn’t given a chance to sing in it). Number 2 was all right but I looooove number 3 and I’m not afraid to admit it (although slightly ashamed).

I also tend to judge musicals on how many times I can listen to the soundtrack. If I can have the soundtrack on my music player of choice and listen to it over and over and over without getting tired of it, I tend to love the film. I’m also perfectly willing to overlook any cheesiness associated with the film.

Like the fact that, despite High School Musical being produced by Disney, and the third film had a considerably higher budget than the other two films, the music still seems to be mostly computerised. It’s… bad. Why couldn’t they splurge a little bit on instruments? It’s not that hard.

I also have to admit that one of the reasons I love this film is Zac Efron. Oh my gosh, have you seen him? I can ogle him for days on end [/fangirl].

But apart from the cheesiness and poor musical production, it is a pretty decent film. Obviously it is made for tween girls, it is a simple love story but it is a love story young teenage girls would want to watch. And can possibly relate to in some way.

The choreography of the dances and the costumes are also quite brilliantly thought out. Even though everyone in the school is very handsome and fit, you can still, kind of, believe that this could in fact be in a real high school (well, apart from the impromptu dance numbers scattered around the film – but it wouldn’t be a musical without that, now would it?). I at least want to believe that high school life is like that for everyone. Even the “ugly” dorky girl is pretty.

And how else would you deal with your girlfriend breaking up with you (‘cause she’s moving to California) other than going to your unlocked high school at night, in a thunderstorm, dance around basketballs, having the halls rotate around you and singing emotionally about the way you feel (which seems to have been the way for young male teenagers to get out their anger for many many years). And the production team seems to have wanted to make the *realness* of his masculine teenage emotions shine through, because they used real instruments in the song.

8. Across the Universe

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The Beatle fan in me wouldn’t be able to leave this film off the list even if I had a gun to my head.

It’s a love story that centres around Jude, a Liverpudlian who decides to go to the U.S to make it big (and find his father). Not everything goes according to plan and soon he’s “stuck” there without a VISA. And then of course there is the Vietnam War, love triangles, drugs and what not. Oh and Joe Cocker. And Eddie Izzard. And Bono.

But what is best about this film is the musical production. They make the songs theirs, but at the same time manage to keep the feel of the original Beatles songs. They walk a narrow line of completely ruining the classic songs and making them so different no one will recognise them.

There aren’t any typical out of the blue dance routines in the film. The dances in the film are strategically placed and done in such a way that you might just as well be watching a music video.

When they are high (since it’s the time of happiness, drugs and love), we are high with them. I wouldn’t recommend watching this film while on ‘shrooms.

7. Hairspray

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Ah, another Zac Efron film. Gotta love him!

This is a film, based on a musical that was based on a film. Oh yes. The original film was made in 1988, but it wasn’t a musical. Then some Broadway guy decided to change it into a full-blown musical with big singers and big dance numbers (the same thing was done with Footloose).

The musical film was released in 2007, 19 years after the original, and had quite a few big actors in it. Christopher Walken, John Travolta, Michelle Pfieffer, James Marsden, Queen Latifah and Amanda Bynes. It also starred the plump little Dairy Queen employee, Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad.

Apart from musicals made before the 1960s I don’t think there is a more colourful musical out there. Even the mute colours are colourful in this film, everything is bright and sunny and happy.

Set in early 60s Baltimore, we get to know Tracy and her friends a bit better, how her live revolves around The Corny Collins show where you listen to the newest hip (white) music and watch people dance to it (this is actually based on real shows). But like in so many musicals, there is a serious issue being dealt with and in this film it is the segregation of black and whites. It all ends well of course.

6. Sound of Music.

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Ah, the hills are alive with the sound of music. I don’t think you need to say much about this film. I want to believe that everyone has seen it at least once (if you haven’t, do!).

With Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer (I didn’t realise it was him until this year. True story), this film has the dark undertones of Nazi Germany invading Austria.

But before that all happens, it is a sweet love story of a renegade nun, who becomes the caretaker of a bunch of kids who are raised in military fashion by their father. Their mother had died years ago and with that the singing and dancing of the household was banned.

However, Maria is a rebel and doesn’t like to be told what to do so she slowly but surely weasels the music, dancing and laughter back into the household. And gets the man on the way.

The moral of the story is, you can do whatever you want as long as your heart is in it!

5. The Wizard of Oz

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If any musical is colourful, then this is it. Making the most of actually being able to film in colour it was incredibly expensive.  Oddly enough, the film was originally a box office flop! Can you imagine? It has since become one of the most memorable films in history.

This musical is based on a book from 1900 called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and stars the wonderful Judy Garland – who was only 17. She is the musical queen in my opinion.

The film begins in sepia tones, the reason for that is because Baum described Kansas as being gray. But then soon we are whisked away to a far away land where the Munchkins live and there are four witches! And all the colour you could dream of!

The film has one of my favourite characters of all time: The Cowardly Lion. What a miserable thing to be!

It is such a wonderful watch, and when you’re living abroad, like I am, it makes you want to go home and give your parents a hug.

4. Grease

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I don’t think any list of best musicals would be complete without Grease and one other film (which is on the list as well, you’ll just have to wait and see!). My parents weren’t big on the whole disco era back in the day. They were hippies, they were rockers. So everything that was remotely connected to disco was almost banned in my household.

Included on that list was Grease (probably because of Olivia Newton-John (or Olivia 19-Ton as she was called by my parents)) so I didn’t see it until I was a teenager, and I fell madly in love with it.

There are a few reasons. John Travolta (John 100-volt) is dreamy in it, the music is awesome, the dances are brilliant and the costumes are even better. For a girl who has some seriously romantic dreams about anything before 1960, this film was heaven.

As so many other musicals on this list, this first began as a stage musical in 1971 in Chigaco. Its original name was Grease Lightning and was based on Jim Jacob’s high school experience (he’s one of two authors of the musical, the other is Warren Casey). The musical was then moved to Broadway and the West End before the film was made in 1978. It has been shown around the world (like most other popular musicals) almost without a break since 1971.

No musical though is complete without a big, happy, over the top jolly musical number in the end. And Grease is no different (High School Musical 3 has many similarities with Grease, which is probably one of the reasons why I love that film so much).

There are some issues dealt with in the film that would probably have been pretty serious back in the day, like with Rizzo’s pregnancy scare. But that’s not the reason I love this film.  It’s the colour, happiness and music that draws me in over and over.

3. Moulin Rouge!

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I seem to like musicals with actors that you wouldn’t normally affiliate with musicals. This one is no different. Starring Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent and John Leguizamo.

It’s a heartbreaking love story set in Paris, right at the end of the 19th century. It revolves around the bohemians who believed in the 19th century’s equivalent of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. And courtesans. And there’s jealousy. A lot of it. It creeps up on you and takes such a hold you can hardly breath.

The musical numbers, using mostly 20th century pop songs, are masterfully produced. And fit the story perfectly. The Police’s Roxanne, for example, is used in one of the most haunting scenes ever made in a musical.

Christian’s (McGregor) jealousy over Satine’s (Kidman) work is getting such a hold of him, he is losing his mind. The scene uses Roxanne, a song about a prostitution, and tango, an intense Argentinian dance about jealousy, as a way to explain Christian’s insanity. Mixed with the song is music by the Argentinian composer Mariano Mores, which gives it a darker tone.

In the scene, Satine is supposed to be seducing The Duke (Richard Roxburgh), who’s financing the show, Spectacular, Spectacular, they are all trying to make. She can’t go through with it because of her love of Christian. The Duke is even more jealous that Christian and the scene ends in, well, almost rape – Satine is saved just at the right time.

The moral of the film: Jealousy will drive you mad.

Oh and did you know, John Leguizamo‘s character, Toulouse, actually existed?

2. Singin’ in the Rain

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This is the other musical which has to be on every list. This is one of Hollywood’s greatest. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, dance and sing of all their might and this is just one of the best films ever made.

It’s funny, it’s colourful, it’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s sad, it’s romantic – and the music is good.

There are scenes in the film that are a bit dodgy, like near the end when Lina (Jean Hagen) is “singing”, in front of a large audience after a premiere of a musical she and Don (Gene Kelly) starred in. The curtain is drawn and it is shown to the world that Lina sing at all, and Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) had done all the singing for her.

It is obviously done for comedic effect, since Lina is a horrible person – but I doubt anyone deserves being mocked publicly.

Other scenes are way funnier – like the voice coaching. I can’t stand him.

And the second best scene in the whole film (after the iconic Singing in the Rain), is when Donald O’Connor as Cosmo sings about how actors have to make the audience laugh. It is so well choreographed (which by the way, Gene Kelly created).

This film is one of the last of the great musicals. All other films, apart from The Wizard of Oz, on this list were made after this one, but it was still an end of an era.

There probably have never been greater dancers than Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. They make it look like there is nothing easier than tap-dancing your life away. The world is a darker place without them in it, but we have their films to colour it until the next dancing genius comes along.

1. Rocky Horror Picture Show

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This was no easy choice. I debated for a long time if I should put The Rocky Horror Picture Show in first or second place. In the end though I decided to put in the first place for a very simple reason. Rocky Horror is one of those films I can watch over and over. I’m not joking, I can finish watching it and then immediately put it back on. I love it. And even though Singin’ in the Rain is definitely one of the most beautiful films ever made, I can’t watch it over and over and over.

The Rocky Horror ride began as a stage play called The Rocky Horror Show, and was shown in London and L.A in 1973 and 1974, before the film was made in 1975. A few members of the cast, Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn (owner of the famous lips) and Nell Campbell stayed from the beginning to the making of the film. Meatloaf came on board in L.A. The film then starred Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as Janet and Brad.

There have been rumours for years about remaking the film – which I personally hope will never be done. Simply because the low budget and b-movie feel of it is intentional. If it would be remade, they would have a much higher budget and the feel will be lost. The only “remake” of sorts that has been done was in Glee, which had a themed Halloween episode. It wasn’t too bad. It was of course wrapped in the typical bubble-gum wrapper they wrap every single one of their songs in, but it was decently done. Except Sweet Transvestite – they changed “I’m just a Sweet Transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania” to “I’m just a Sweet Transvestite from sensational Transylvania”. Which is just weird for a show which is heavily based on gay and lesbian issues – how is saying “transexual” too much?

But, apparently MTV Films and Sky Movies are planning on remaking the film, but it is all very vague since it was supposed to released on Halloween 3 years ago – it was also supposed to be 2 hours long (the original is 100 minutes) and include songs that are not in the original. Plus, Richard O’Brien never gave his blessing.

The play has been shown around the world multiple times (including three times in my home country, Iceland), and the film is still being shown in cinemas. Clearly – awesome film!

The film doesn’t follow the strictest lines of a musical. For example, there is basically just one dance routine (in the Time Warp), if you don’t count the wiggling around they do in the end, all dressed in lingerie. There’s killing, and cannibalism. And aliens.

Not your run of the mill musical. But that is what makes it so great. It brings the silly to a whole knew level of insane. An alien from a transexual planet called Transylvania, comes to Earth to make a man in 7 days? Ok then, if you must.

What’s your favorite musical? Tell us!

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  • http://prawnandquartered.wordpress.com Howlin’ Mad Heather

    Absolute favorite musical? The Blues Brothers, which would make one hell of a Broadway show if somebody could do it right. Second favorite is a guilty pleasure: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

    • helgadis

      The Blues Brothers definitely has one of the best car chases in film history, that’s for sure! But yes, that is a good one. I kind of forget it for some reason when thinking about musicals, but it clearly is one!!

  • Pingback: Hairspray « Favorite Films of Marcus Pullman

  • johnnyratface

    High School Musical 3? What about West Side Story,My Fair Lady, Oliver!, An American In Paris? All BEST PICTURE WINNERS!!!Then there’s the others, like Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man, and how about any animated Disney film from late 80′s to mid 90′s. Again, High School Musical 3? A sure sign of great film/musical is how it will endure the test of time. HSM 3 came out just a few years ago, and you’d be hard pressed to find people that remember it.

    • helgadis

      Just because a film wins the best picture award, doesn’t mean it is brilliant. I don’t always agree with what the Oscar Academy says :) But of course there are loads and loads of musicals I left out. Mary Poppins, Guys and Dolls, Cabaret, Meet me in St. Louis, On the town, every single Fred Astair film, Gigi, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and so on.

      I also want to argue that just because not everyone still remembers High School Musical 3, doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthy of being on the list. I tried to find films all over the scale. I could’ve gone with musicals done before the 60s for example. Or only musicals done after 2000. Films can still be great even though not every one remembers them. That’s why, for example, we have the “Forgotten Classics” feature.

      High School Musical 3 obviously isn’t on the same musical production scale as An American in Paris for example. But I still maintain it is one of the best. There is a reason for all the hoards of girls (and boys) loving it and the whole franchise. It was made for tweens, there is no doubt about it. Doesn’t diminish it’s greatness in my opinion.

      And I left out Disney animated films because I wanted to focus on non-animated films this time. Who knows, maybe we’ll do a list of best Disney animated films – definitely a worthy list!

      Thank you for commenting! This wouldn’t really be fun if we all agreed! :)

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