Almost everyone, at some point in time, loved a musical. As children, musicals are one of the first genres we are exposed to thanks in large part to the Disney Renaissance of the late 80’s and 90’s. As a film buff who was also exposed to theater in college and has a sibling who is a dancer, the genre has always been one of my favorites (when done correctly). So here is the list of my Top 15 musical films of all time. There have been plenty of sensational musicals on Broadway over the years (*cough* Hamilton), but this is a movie blog so every movie on this list will be ranked based on the quality of the film as well as the music. Enjoy!
15. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
It only makes sense to start with a musical classic. Singin’ in the Rain is a staple of old Hollywood cinema and features vibrant set pieces and some fun choreography performed by an iconic cast. For all intents and purposes, it is the first film that comes to my mind when I think of classic musical films.
FAVORITE SONG: “Singin’ in the Rain” of course. It has a wonderful jazzy feel to it.
14. INTO THE WOODS (2014)
This movie had great potential until its somewhat jarring and poorly fitting final act. But that doesn’t change the fact that this blending of classic fairy tales set to music by iconic composer Stephen Sondheim is an overall fun film with a great cast.
FAVORITE SONG: “Agony” is not only a great song, but seeing the two pompous princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) perform it is the funniest part in the movie.
13. THE WIZ (1978)
The Motown re-imagining of L.Frank Baum’s classic novel doesn’t get enough credit. The set pieces and costumes are gorgeous. And you can’t go wrong musically with the likes of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
FAVORITE SONG: Young Michael Jackson’s soulful rendition of “You can’t win” will always be my favorite.
12. LES MISERABLES (2013)
This would be much higher on the list if I actually enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed the stage performance. Casting Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried was almost an insult to the incredible music created by French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg. I was also not a fan of having the actors sing live rather than having the songs dubbed like most musicals. But Hugh Jackman was amicable as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks all give sensational performances.
FAVORITE SONG: Not even Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried’s lackluster vocals can spoil “One Day More”.
11. THE LAST FIVE YEARS (2014)
This film is undoubtedly the least known as it was essentially only released On-Demand. But if you’re a fan of musicals or romantic comedies, I suggest you check it out. The film chronicles the relationship between a struggling actress (Anna Kendrick) and a successful writer (Jeremy Jordan). It earns points for its unique non-linear narrative along with a great soundtrack.
FAVORITE SONG: The song “A Part of That” shows off Kendrick’s enchanting vocals and also personifies her character’s inner struggle with the success of her significant other while her career sputters.
10. DREAMGIRLS (2006)
This film featured an all star cast that included Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, and famously won Jennifer Hudson a much deserved Academy Award. It does get a bit lengthy, but what Broadway musical turned film doesn’t?
FAVORITE SONG: While I love the song “Heavy”, because it has a Destiny’s Child vibe to it, it’s only about a minute and a half long, I’ll go with the obvious choice in “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” which was powerfully performed by Hudson.
9. IDLEWILD (2006)
This film is highly underrated and features incredible Hip Hop duo Outkast in their musical production debut. It also helped launch the career of Paula Patton. A unique hip hop musical before the likes of Hamilton, this film features some great cinematography (albeit a bit jarring at times) as well as a soundtrack that’s basically just another Outkast album.
FAVORITE SONG: “Movin’ Cool” (which ironically isn’t on the official soundtrack) is a wonderful duet that also marks one of the most endearing moments in the film when Andre 3000’s Percival helps Patton’s Sally B. Shelly become the actual star she had been posing as.
8. ALADDIN (1992)
You didn’t think this was going to be a list of greatest musicals and not include Disney films, did you? Well get ready, because they’re about to come in droves. This film is an animated classic and features a ton of iconic songs as well as some great characters like The Genie.
FAVORITE SONG: “A Whole New World” is easily the best romantic ballad in all of Disney history.
7. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)
The most underappreciated Disney film of all time. The characters were fun and endearing, but what won me over was the music which carries a beautiful touch of New Orleans jazz that is fitting and unique.
FAVORITE SONG: “Friends on the Other Side” is my all time favorite villain song and the scene probably would’ve given me nightmares if I wasn’t 21 years old when I first saw it.
6. THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (1998)
Take notes Ridley Scott. THIS is how you tell the story of Moses. This is still the greatest non-Disney animated musical ever made. The animation is vibrant and pays homage to the art of the era and the music (written by Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer) is nothing short of breathtaking.
FAVORITE SONG: Choosing the late Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s rendition of “When You Believe” would be a cop out since it isn’t in the actual movie until the end credits, so I’ll go with the hauntingly beautiful “The Plagues” which features a duet between Moses (performed by Amick Byram) and his brother turned enemy, Rameses (Ralph Fiennes).
5. LA LA LAND (2016)
I knew there was a reason I had waited to post my list of favorite musicals. La La Land was one of my favorite films of 2016 and it featured captivating performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as well as some excellent jazz music fused with the style of old Hollywood.
FAVORITE SONG: “Someone In the Crowd” is a great toe tapping arrangement and the scene features some sensational cinematography.
4. THE LION KING (1992)
I originally had this higher on my totem pole until I realized I loved the story and characters more than the music itself. But that’s not to say the music isn’t great as well. Lion King still has the best intro song of any Disney musical and all of the songs are memorable.
FAVORITE SONG: “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” arranged by Elton John, comes in a close second. But my favorite is “Hakuna Matata”… duh. It means no worries. Who knew the safari was so hip to jazz music?
3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)
Emphasis on the 1991 version. The remake was fine, but Emma Watson doesn’t have the vocal range of Paige O’Hara. This film features one of the most angelic compositions in any movie to date and it helps that the story itself is full of memorable characters.
FAVORITE SONG: The title song, performed by the great Angela Lansbury, is a fan favorite. But my actual favorite song from the film is the opening number titled “Belle”.
2. SWEENEY TODD (2007)
Tim Burton’s grungy, wonderfully gory and gothic, musical horror film adaptation is not actually as great as the musical stage play I once saw in person at my alma mater (UNCG), but it’s still excellent. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and the late Alan Rickman deserve credit for holding their own musically and not spoiling Stephen Sondheim’s vivacious soundtrack. If the movie had true vocalists, this would actually be #1 on my list as it is my favorite musical (excluding Hamilton).
FAVORITE SONG: As a fun and exciting duet that is ironically vibrant and boisterous despite being the prelude of attempted murder, “Pretty Women” is the epitome of the overall tone of the film.
1. MULAN (1998)
One of my favorite animated films features a soundtrack that I believe is flawless. The empowering story is also great so this film is in this spot simply because it is the ultimate combination of wonderful music infused with the culture of its setting and a movie worth watching even without the music.
FAVORITE SONG: Let’s get down to business, to defeat the Hun. Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons? You’re the saddest bunch I’ve ever met, but you can bet before we’re through… mister “I’ll Make a Man Out of You!” Yes… I wrote that without looking up the lyrics. Judge away.
Honorable Mention: West Side Story (1961), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Hairspray (2007), Chicago (2002), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Pocahontas (1995), Tangled (2007), Moana (2016)
Think I left something off of my list? Feel free to comment and share! And if you have any suggestions for other lists, feel free to comment them below! Thanks for reading!