Musical films have been around since the 1920s, a genre featuring songs belted out by the characters that are interlaced into the narrative. From the birth of sound to the arrival of jukebox musicals, the musical film genre has always been popular throughout the decades, birthing iconic classics including The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and many more.
The 21st century sees the re-emergence of the genre with many musical films being produced, from original musicals to classic remakes and Broadway adaptations. Moulin Rouge and Chicago are widely regarded as the two films responsible for the revival of the musical film genre in the 21st century. The success of Chicago has led to many Broadway musical productions being adapted to film including Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Mamma Mia!, Les Misérables, Cats and many more.
For this week’s Must-Watch Movies, we share a list of the greatest and most entertaining musical films featuring the most show-stopping duets, magical dance sequences and hand jives of the 21st century!
Moulin Rouge (2001)
Released in 2001, Moulin Rouge is a jukebox musical romantic drama directed by Baz Luhrmann from an original script co-written with Craig Pearce. Following the release of Luhrmann’s films, Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge is the final instalment in his “Red Curtain Trilogy”. The film received generally positive reviews upon releasing, garnering eight nominations at the 74th Academy Awards, winning Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.
Set in 1900 Paris, Moulin Rouge follows the story of Christian (McGregor), a depressed English writer who recounts his tragic love story one year earlier when he first arrived in Montmartre in 1899 to join the Bohemian revolution and befriends a group of troupe performers led by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Leguizamo). At a time where Paris’ underworld is overrun with drugs, sex and prostitution, there’s no place more thrilling than the legendary Moulin Rouge, a cabaret night club where rich and poor men alike come to be entertained. Christian becomes infatuated with Satine (Kidman), the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge, and begins a tragic love affair with her. Unbeknownst to him, Satine has been promised to a Duke (Roxburgh) and a dangerous love triangle ensues as Christian and Satine strive to defy all odds to be together. However, Satine hides a deadly secret from Christian that will prove fatal to their love story.
Featuring a stellar cast led by the powerful and heartbreaking performances of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge is an extravagant spectacle driven by the bold vision of Baz Luhrmann, unabashedly original storyline, explosive style, fantastic musical numbers and choreography, and of course, who can forget the iconic soundtrack with its hit-single “Lady Marmalade”?
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, Jacek Koman, Caroline O’Connor, Kerry Walker, Lara Mulcahy, Garry McDonald, Matt Whittet, Keith Robinson, David Wenham, Kiruna Stamell, DeObia Oparei, Kylie Minogue, Peter Whitford and Linal Haft.
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Running time: 128 minutes
Release date: May 9, 2001
Released in 2002, Chicago is a black comedy crime musical film directed by Rob Marshall with a screenplay by Bill Condon. The film is based on the 1975 stage musical of the same name by Bob Fosse, which in turn was based on the 1926 Broadway play by Maurine Watkins. Chicago received critical acclaim upon release, receiving thirteen nominations at the 75th Academy Awards, winning six awards for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Set in 1920s Chicago, during the Jazz Era, the film centres on Roxie Hart (Zellweger), a housewife with dreams of fame, and Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones), a vaudevillian nightclub sensation, who find themselves on Murderess’ Row, after Roxie killed her lover and Velma killed his cheating husband and sister, respectively. When Velma’s slick and brilliant lawyer, Billy Flynn (Gere) decides to take on Roxie’s case as well, turning Roxie into a media sensation. Both women develop a rivalry and vie to outdo each other for fame and the public’s attention, in the hopes that it will keep them away from the gallows.
Enriched by the dazzling performances of its cast, Chicago is a lively and high-spirited cinematic adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical that exceeds at being more than just pure spectacle but also presents an unexpected level of profundity as well as humour. It is a fun, flash and extravagant musical film that helped launch the re-emergence of the musical genre in film.
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski, Taye Diggs, Colm Feore, Lucy Liu, Dominic Wet, Mýa, Jayne Eastwood, Chita Rivera, Susan Misner, Denise Faye, Deidre Goodwin and Ekaterina Chtchelkanova.
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Screenplay by: Bill Condon
Based on: Chicago by Bob Fosse (musical) | Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins (play)
Running time: 113 minutes
Release date: December 10, 2002
Released in 2006, Dreamgirls is a musical drama film written and directed by Bill Condon. The film is an adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name, which is a fictional story that takes inspiration from the real history of the Motown record label and the female singing group, The Supremes. The film received critical acclaim upon release and received eight nominations at the 79th Academy Awards, winning Best Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson.
Set in early 1960s Detroit, Michigan, during the Motown era, the film follows a trio of black female singers led by Effie White (Hudson), Deena Jones (Knowles), and Lorrell Robinson (Rose), known as ‘The Dreamettes’. When car-salesman-turned-music-producer Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Foxx) spots the trio at a talent show, he signs them and offers them the chance to be backup singers for R&B star, Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Murphy). When Jimmy starts to burn out, Curtis takes creative control of the trio and thrusts The Dreamettes into the spotlight as headliners under the new name The Dreams. They soon learn about the high price of fame as one star shines more than the other.
Featuring strong performances from its cast, particularly the standout (and heart-breaking) performances of Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls is a moving and electrifying musical drama that is adorned with dazzling and exciting musical numbers, impeccable art direction and costume design, and a catchy soundtrack. Who can forget Jennifer Hudson’s show-stopping rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”?
Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Danny Glover, Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Eddie Murphy, Sharon Leal, Hinton Battle, Loretta Devine, Dawnn Lewis, John Lithgow, John Krasinski, Jaleel White, Cleo King, Robert Cicchini, Yvette Nicole Brown, Mariah I. Wilson and Paul Kirby.
Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Bill Condon
Based on: Dreamgirls by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen
Running time: 130 minutes
Release date: December 4, 2006
Released in 2007, Once is a romantic musical drama film written and directed by Irish filmmaker, John Carney. Featuring an original story by Carney, the low-budget indie musical film found commercial success upon release, earning over $20 million against its $150,000 budget. The film also received critical acclaim, winning Best Original Song at the 80th Academy Awards.
A modern-day romantic musical that follows the story of a man simply known as Guy (Hansard), a vacuum repairman who moonlights as a busker on the streets of Dublin hoping for his big break. When he crosses paths with a Czech immigrant known as Girl (Irglová), a flower seller who is also an aspiring singer-songwriter, the pair begins an eventful week as they collaborate and write, rehearse and record songs that reflect their budding love story.
Driven by the naturally authentic performances from its two leads, who are real-life musicians, Once is an irresistibly charming film that you just can’t help falling in love with. Featuring a perfectly simple storyline, it is a touching, inspiring and uplifting film that is elevated by its authentic production and remarkable songs, most notably the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly”.
Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Hugh Walsh, Gerard Hendrick, Alaistair Foley, Geoff Minogue, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova, Darren Healy, Mal Whyte, Marcella Plunkett, Niall Cleary, Wiltold Owski, Krzysztos Tlotka, Tomek Glowacki and Keith Byrne.
Directed by: John Carney
Written by: John Carney
Running time: 86 minutes
Release date: January 20, 2007
Released in 2007, Hairspray is a musical romantic comedy film directed by Adam Shankman with a screenplay by Leslie Dixon. The film is an adaptation of the 2002 Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was based on the 1988 comedy film of the same name by John Waters. The film was a box-office success and received critical acclaim, garnering three nominations at the 65th Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actress – Musical or Comedy for Nikki Blonsky and Best Supporting Actor for John Travolta.
Set in 1960s Baltimore, the film follows the story of dance-loving teenager Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky) with an obsession with The Corny Collins Show. Tracy and her best friend Penny (Bynes), rush home every day to catch the show and fantasise over teen heartthrob Link Larkin (Efron), to the dismay of her mother, Edna (Travolta). When Tracy catches the attention of Corny Collins (Marsden), she lands a spot to be on his show and becomes an overnight sensation, trendsetting in dance, fun and fashion. With her new status, Tracy might be enough to take the spot of Corny as reigning dance queen, whilst introducing racial integration into the show.
Hairspray is a highly energetic and thoroughly entertaining musical feast that is full of heart and catchy musical numbers that you just can’t help but sing and dance along to. Anchored by the joyous and high-energy performances from its cast, especially lead actress Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray is the epitome of fun and entertainment that is an all-around feel-good and wholesome musical with perfectly balanced humour and heart.
Starring: Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley, Allison Janney, Paul Dooley, Jayne Eastwood, Jerry Stiller, Taylor Parks and George King.
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Screenplay by: Leslie Dixon
Based on: Hairspray by John Waters (1988 film) | Hairspray by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan (musical)
Running time: 116 minutes
Release date: July 10, 2007
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Released in 2007, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a musical period slasher film directed by Tim Burton from a screenplay by John Logan. The film is an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning 1979 musical of the same name by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. The film was a moderate financial success but was critically praised, garnering three nominations at the 80th Academy Awards, winning Best Art Direction.
Set in Victorian London, the film follows the story of Benjamin Barker (Depp), a successful barber who is married to the beautiful Lucy (Kelly) and parents to an infant daughter, Johanna. Lucy’s beauty catches the eyes of the corrupt Judge Turpin (Rickman), who falsely accuses Benjamin of a crime he didn’t commit and exiles him. Following fifteen years in exile, Benjamin returns to London as a mad-man, changing his name to Sweeney Todd, and vowing revenge against Turpin. He meets Mrs. Lovett (Carter), a meat pie shop owner, opens a barbershop above her store and begins a crime rampage against those who have wronged him and made him lose his family.
Driven by the marvellous performances of its cast, notably leads Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a wonderfully macabre musical that is elevated by the fantastic visuals, stunning production and costume design, as well as its faithfulness to its source material. Under the masterful helm of Tim Burton, this film is an extremely entertaining adaptation of the musical that is efficiently and exquisitely staged for the screen by Burton.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Jayne Wisener, Sacha Baron Cohen, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jamie Campbell Bower and Ed Sanders.
Directed by: Tim Burton
Screenplay by: John Logan
Based on: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
Running time: 116 minutes
Release date: December 3, 2007
Les Misérables (2012)
Released in 2012, Les Misérables is an epic historical period musical film directed by Tom Hopper from a screenplay by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer. The film is an adaptation on the original 1980 sung-through musical by Boublil and Schönberg, which in turn was based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name. The film was a financial success and received generally favourable reviews, garnering eight nominations at the 85th Academy Awards, winning Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway.
Set in the early 19th-century post-revolutionary France, the story follows Jean Valjean, also known as Prisoner 24601, who is released from prison and breaks parole to restart his life as he evades the ruthless Inspector Javert (Crowe). Reinventing himself as a mayor and factory owner, Valjean rescues a young girl named Cosette (Seyfried), who is the daughter of Fantine (Hathaway), a former factory worker who falls into prostitution and later died a horrible death after being fired. Valjean becomes Cosette’s guardian, and eight years later, at the centre of the June Rebellion, Cosette gets tangled in a love triangle between Marius (Redmayne), a student of the rebellion, and Eponine (Barks), a street girl. However, their lives will forever change when the war proves to be more gruesome than expected.
Driven by the astounding performances from its ensemble cast, especially that of Hugh Jackman’s moving portrayal of Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway’s painfully heart-breaking take on Fantine, Les Misérables is an ambitious screen adaptation of the esteemed stage musical that exceedingly pays off under the visionary direction of Tom Hooper. The film’s high production value and inspiring musical numbers elevate the film into an undeniably mesmerising and compelling cinematic experience.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit and Daniel Huttlestone.
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Screenplay by: William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer.
Based on: Les Misérablesby Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (musical) | Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (novel)
Running time: 158 minutes
Release date: December 5, 2012
La La Land (2016)
Released in 2016, La La Land is a romantic comedy musical film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The film features an original script by Chazelle, conceptualised together with his long-time collaborator and college roommate, Justin Hurwitz, during their time at Harvard University. Chazelle wrote the script in 2010 but did not get the funding for the film. However, following the success of his 2014 film Whiplash, the project was greenlit by Summit Entertainment. The film was a major financial and critical success, garnering a staggering fourteen nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, winning Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Production Design and Best Actress for Emma Stone.
Set in Los Angeles, the film tells the story of Mia Dolan (Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian Wilder (Gosling), a jazz pianist, two artists in their respective fields who are drawn together by their common goal of pursuing their dreams and falling in love along the way. As they find success, they are faced with decisions that start to unravel the frail foundation of their love story, and the dreams they diligently worked hard to uphold in each other jeopardise their relationship.
Under the artistic vision of director Damien Chazelle, La La Land is a breath-taking and beautifully shot musical film that excels in every aspect of filmmaking. From the wonderful performances and undeniably strong chemistry of its two leads, the remarkable screenplay, Chazelle’s directing prowess, fantastic musical score and mind-blowingly magnificent production design, La La Land is one of the most ground-breaking musical films in recent years. Chazelle is a master of his craft with a keen eye for details and inspiring assured direction.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Tom Everett Scott, Josh Pence, Meagan Fay, Damon Gupton, Jason Fuchs, Marius de Vries and Anna Chazelle.
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Running time: 128 minutes
Release date: August 31, 2016
The Greatest Showman (2017)
Released in 2017, The Greatest Showman is a musical biographical drama film directed by Michael Gracey from a screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon. The film takes inspiration from the story of American showman, P. T. Barnum and his creation of Barnum’s American Museum and the lives of its star attractions. Although the film received mixed reviews upon release, the film was a financial success and received a nomination at the 90th Academy Awards for Best Original Song.
Set in mid-19th century New York City, the film follows the story of P. T. Barnum (Jackman), the orphaned and penniless son of a tailor, who grew up hungry for fame and success. Married to his childhood sweetheart Charity (Williams) and raising two daughters, Barnum craves for more. After losing his job at a shipping company, Barnum dips his toes in showbusiness to enlighten his imaginative mind and fresh ideas and purchases a waxing museum. He soon shifts focus and turns the museum into a circus stage with peculiar and extraordinary live acts. But his limitless craving for success results in him gambling everything he has in his life to appeal to the upper-class society, which threatens the most important part of his life: his family.
Despite its flaws in its direction by a first-time director, Michael Gracey, and screenplay, The Greatest Showman is an unabashedly feel-good and highly entertaining film with a strong cast, show-stopping and wonderfully choreographed musical numbers, great production value, and catchy songs by the award-winning songwriting duo of La La Land fame, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It is a joyous and uplifting musical spectacle that is pure entertainment.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Ellis Rubin, Skylar Dunn, Keala Settle, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Paul Sparks, Sam Humphrey, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely and Eric Anderson.
Directed by: Michael Gracey
Screenplay by: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon
Story by: Jenny Bicks
Running time: 105 minutes
Release date: December 8, 2017
A Star is Born (2018)
Released in 2018, A Star is Born is a romantic musical drama film directed by Bradley Cooper, in his directorial debut, from a screenplay co-written with Eric Roth and Will Fetters. The film is the third remake of the original 1937 drama film starring Janet Gaynor, after the 1954 musical film starring Judy Garland and the 1976 musical film starring Barbara Streisand. The film was a major box-office hit and received high critical praise, garnering eight nominations at the 91st Academy Awards including Best Picture, winning Best Original Song.
The film tells the story of Jackson Maine (Cooper), a seasoned country musician who secretly struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, as he comes across and falls in love with a young struggling artist named Ally (Gaga). On the brink of giving up her dreams to become a successful singer, Jackson sways her into the spotlight. As Ally finds success and her career skyrocketing, their personal relationship starts to crack as Jackson struggles to fight his own internal demons.
Anchored by the strong performances of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and their undeniable chemistry, proficient direction and a touching love story, A Star is Born is the perfect example of a remake done correctly. It is a great and effective retelling of the classic love story, updated for movie-goers today, that features electrifying musical numbers and inspiring screenplay.
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, Rafi Gavron and Greg Grunberg.
Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Screenplay by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters
Based on: A Star is Born (1954 screenplay) by Moss Hart | A Star is Born (1976 screenplay) by John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion and Frank Pierson | A Star is Born (story) by William Wellman and Robert Carson
Running time: 136 minutes
Release date: August 31, 2018