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10 Magnificent Movie Musicals

10 Magnificent Movie Musicals


Article by: Rogue Benjamin

Geek Girl Northern Belle wrote this list of 10 magnificent live-action movie musicals...

While Shakespeare was the first form of theatre I was ever exposed to, Musicals swiftly made their way into my heart after seeing Beauty and the Beast on stage with my father when I was quite young. Since then I’ve practically devoured every musical that I could get my hands on. Unfortunately though, theatre tickets can be pricy and selection limited depending on what shows are in town. It is for this reason that I absolutely adore movie musicals, regardless of what anyone else says. I am aware that movie musicals do not always do the original justice – but that tends to be true of any movie adaptation be it of a book, a piece of history, a play/musical or even a comic book. To that end I also appreciate that with access to movie musicals, other people who are not theatrically inclined can be exposed to the awesome power of story through song. So I’ve complied a list of what I believe to be some of the better movie musicals out there, not including any animated films.

Number 10 – (1975) The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I’m sure many are familiar with this movie, even if they are not fans of musicals. A cult classic featuring Tim Curry in his infamous black corset and fishnets, this is a musical you really should watch with friends. Since it’s release it has become hugely popular and is frequently shown in theatres with a shadow cast. A shadow cast is a group of performers that act out the movie on a stage in front of the screen so the audience can see both the film and the performers. There are also many “rules” for seeing Rocky in such venues, for those of you unfamiliar with them you can check out a virgins guide to Rocky Horror here. One of the most common rules you’ll notice is dressing up making it the perfect musical for any cosplayer. So next Hallowe’en check out your local theatre listings and don’t forget your newspaper!

Number 9 – (2012) Pitch Perfect

Aca-scuse me? Okay yes, this isn’t your typical musical so much as it’s a movie about music and A capella singing groups in college – but hey at least it isn’t High School Musical? Although this pretty much could be considered the slightly older upgrade. Set in Barden University several singing groups face off in a glee style competition while angry Beca learns to appreciate her caring father and that she shouldn’t be so judgmental. The plot line is not particularly brilliant, but Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy steals the show with hilarious jokes and witty one liners. The music consists of covers of pop songs or A capella mash ups opposed to traditional story-song like the other musicals on this list – but it is still a lot of fun. Furthermore it is a happy musical, while there are a lot of brilliant ones on this list, few of them could be considered happy musicals and even fewer end happily. Pitch Perfect is a great musical to put on when you want something bouncy and joyful.

Number 8 - (2007) Across The Universe

This film took me by surprise, personally. I went to the theatre expecting to hate it as I’m not overly fond of the Beatles, but in fact it was just the opposite. I was completely enamored by absolutely everything (with the exception of the Benefit of Mr. Kite, that was a little too out there for my taste). The beautiful tapestry of the sixties woven together with the music of the Beatles and the voice of Jim Sturgess still brings me chills. The love story between him and Evan Rachel Wood is predictable and a bit boring but amazing characters like the Janis Joplin inspired Sadie, or the Jimi Hendrix inspired Jo-Jo and of course Joe Anderson as Max kept me glued to the screen. Another thing that kept me glued was trying to decipher if it was Robin Williams as the Walrus only to realize that Bono is Mr. Williams’ doppleganger. Julie Taymor’s adaption of each song and the visuals put to them were brilliant and at the end of the movie, for the first time in my life, I felt I could really appreciate the music of the Beatles even if it isn’t sung by them. Furthermore, the amount of Beatles and 60’s references outside of the music itself such as Max with his silver hammer in one scene creates a lot of fun little Easter eggs for any die hard fan.

Number 7 – (2004) Phantom of the Opera

I recall a fair bit of controversy surrounding this movie musical when it first came out. The biggest complaint that I remember is that Gerard Butler’s voice does not compare to Colm Wilkinson and that Emmy Rossum cannot compare with Sarah Brightman. I am not here to argue these points, Wilkinson and Brightman are forever the voices of this score, but to me, that didn’t make this movie-musical any less spectacular. During the opening scene Joel Schumacher luminously captured the typical chandelier trick that so often captured the audience in the stage production. The costumes were beautiful and Meg/Madam Giry were cast perfectly. I’ll admit there were a few moments of spoken dialogue that broke my heart, as I don’t think they needed to be brought from music to speech – particularly the engagement between Christine and Raoul. To that end the music is still powerful in my opinion, the triplet between the Phantom, Raoul and Christine at the end still gives me chills. The movie is visually stunning and truly captures the grandeur of the opera.

Number 6 – (1986) Little Shop of Horrors

This horrific comedy was the first musical that I ever participated in. My high school did a version of Little Shop of Horrors and so of course we all ran out to Blockbuster to rent the movie (remember those days?) Anyway, I got it home and remember popping it in and being bored because it was “old”. Rick Moranis was your typical adorable dweeb and I was slightly perturbed by the abused Audrey and her raspy voice. However once Steve Martin graced the screen I was absolutely hooked. This film is marvelous because unlike others it could stand alone on its music/performances. There was no real need for crazy computer graphics or mind blowing visuals - although the puppetry for Audrey II was incredible. Little Shop was written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, (also responsible for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast). If you are ever interested there is also a sixties version of the story where Jack Nicholson plays a masochistic patient for the dentist and it is quite entertaining.

Number 5 – (2002) Chicago

This sizzling musical contrasts the freedoms of the 1920’s against those that would abuse the privilege. Set primarily in the Cook County Prison Renee Zellweger and Caterine Zeta-Jones face off as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly both murderesses on death row for the death of their respective lovers AND both desperate for attention of Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) the hot shot lawyer who can save their lives. Chicago is a great story that depicts not only the struggle to survive but the greed and desperation for fame. With Bonnie Parker flair, my favourite number is definitely the Cell Block Tango, although Queen Latifa singing “When You’re Good To Mama” gives it a run for it’s money as the sexiest scene. Full of sassy fun, and honest heartbreak this musical is one of the overall best movie musicals out there that is also accessible to people of varying tastes.

Number 4 – (2006) Dreamgirls

Growing up I was never a huge fan of Beyoncé, sure I danced around to Destiny’s Child’s Independent Woman, but her “break out” roles as an actor appalled me including both Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers and Xania in the Pink Panther – however when she graced the silver screen as Deena Jones she was absolutely divine. This sassy Supremes based story has a perfect casting through and through with every character in this film. The story and characters are well developed and interesting. Not to mention the cute reference to little MJ and the Jackson 5. Furthermore not only did this film win my respect for Beyoncé as an actor but it also gave me a new profound respect for Eddie Murphy as not only a talented comedian/voice actor, but as a serious dramatic actor (of course with a bit of Murphy flair). This beautiful story about struggling to achieve ones dreams from fame to love shows a myriad of perspectives and ended up winning 2 out of 8 Oscar nominations including Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Jennifer Hudson and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. A phenomenal film with music that truly hits the soul, I highly recommend it to any musical fan.

Number 3 - (1978) Grease

A canon classic – Grease took the world by storm at the end of the 70’s and those greasers remain in our hearts today. Ever the typical love story – cool boy meets nerdy girl, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John will forever fill those archetypes. Between the leather jackets and the poodle skirts Grease not only deals with teenage emotions but also other important issues like teen pregnancy and drag racing. Granted, the lyrics can be a little racy such as in Grease Lighting, but somehow that seemed to completely slip past me as kid, and clearly many others for I cannot even count how many times I’ve seen Grease Lighting performances in high school settings. A classic coming of age flick that basically teaches us to turn to the dark side for a boy in the end… and then a car flies off into the sky… wait what? Exactly.

Number 2 – (2005) RENT

This musical movie changed my life as a teenager. To date I’ve had arguments with die hard theatre fans and many of them find this film adaptation pales in comparison to the original theatrical production, and I could not disagree more. While yes the theatrical production, which is entirely in song, won both a Pulitzer and Tony award and worth seeing I believe that the film stands up to the original. With the exception of Mimi and Joanne, the original cast members portray 6 out of the 8 main characters in the film. The plot centers around Bohemians in the East Village of New York City and the struggles they encounter including life, love and HIV. Perspectives from these multi-racial characters include the rich and the poor, the male and the female, the gay and the straight. This was the first film that made me shake my head and realize how privileged my own life was and how much someone might suffering in our own backyard and we’ve no idea. After I saw this, the sound track played on repeat for close to a year and I began volunteering at my local AIDs Committee. While I do not expect this movie to inspire everyone who sees it to do the same, I hope it does inspire you to remember how short life is and to enjoy it while we can.

Number 1 – (2001) Moulin Rouge!

On the theme’s of life being too short this brings us to my absolute favourite music movie ever – Moulin Rouge! This spectacular and sparkling musical combines the best of everything on this list. It channels the fishnets from Rocky Horror, the mash-ups from Pitch Perfect, the brilliant colours of Across The Universe, the theatrics of Phantom of the Opera, the soul sucking horror from Little Shop, the glitz from Chicago, the dream chasing from Dreamgirls, the classic forbidden love of Grease and the passion and incurable disease from RENT. Ewan McGregor steals hearts as Christian a boy who moves to Paris to become a writer and ends up falling in love with Nicole Kidman as Satine, the star and top courtesan at the Moulin Rouge. A strong supporting cast of pimps, whores, bohemians and a duke, this entire musical covers racy subject matter but can rarely labeled as inappropriate. Many of the more sinister scenes are tastefully portrayed through cut scenes and dance numbers. As with everything Baz Luhrmann touches it is a cinematic masterpiece and well worth watching.

Musical movies are great for a number of reasons. They expose the masses theatre who may not otherwise experience it. Furthermore some do not recreate theatre so much as they tell a story through music on film. They create fun soundtracks to listen to while traveling to work or school. They make you laugh, they make you cry and most of all – they inspire.

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March 07 2014

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