Olivia Newton-John recently died aged 73 after a long battle with breast cancer and the world mourned the loss of the incredibly talented actress and singer. She was a mainstay on stage and screen and most viewers will remember her as Sandy, the co-star of the hit phenomenon, Fat.
Fat wasn’t the first teen-focused musical film, but it learned many lessons from previous films and those that followed struggled to reach its heights. And that’s largely due to Olivia Newton-John’s incredible singing and playing.
ten The Fantastic (2000) – 5.6
The Fantastic is a film adaptation of the 1960 off-Broadway play of the same name. Both the play and the film are a riff on a Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet story but with the plot reversed in a very interesting way and in a suburban and modern setting.
The film’s teenage lovers are separated by a wall and their conflicted fathers. The twist, the dads are secretly best friends and pretended to fight because they know there’s no better way to make young romantics fall in love faster than telling them “no.” Once the scheme is revealed, the lie leads to real feelings developing between the teens.
9 Dear Evan Hansen (2021) – 6.0
Dear Evan Hansen first appeared on Broadway in December 2016 and plans for a film were quickly drawn up with the creator of Benefits of being a wallflower, Stephen Chbosky. The film stars Ben Platt who made a name for himself a few years earlier as the co-frontman of The Book of Mormon.
Dear Evan Hansen is a dark comedy, coming-of-age story that tells the story of an unpopular high school student. He ends up, through a series of coincidences, becoming poster friends with another student who recently committed suicide. Although the film was not a smash hit, the film’s production was praised for successfully converting the play to the screen effectively.
8 Cry-Baby (1990) – 6.4
Johnny Depp gets to do two of his favorite acting moves in crybaby when he gets to play both a quirky, greaser character that’s sort of a parody of the trope, and he gets to sing, something he didn’t get the chance to do until many years later in adapting Sweeney Todd.
crybaby was actually an original property that eventually made it to Broadway. Not only were there catchy and ear-worthy songs, but it was also a funny and charming send-off of earlier musicals like Fat and West Side Story.
seven Goodbye Birdie (1963) – 6.6
The 1960 Musical goodbye birdie was an immediate success upon arrival, and a film was made three years later. This music classroom staple is a fantastic coming-of-age story with real stakes as the main character, Conrad Birdie, who dramatically and charmingly rocks a small town when he comes for a visit.
The main plot involves pop icon Birdie, based on Elvis Presley and Conway Twitty, who decides to do her farewell tour before her military service in Columbus, Ohio. All the girls in town are excited, and the boys are of course angry that a big bang took their attention away from them. It has great musical numbers and it’s a clever look at how boys and girls interact with each other at this impressionable age.
6 Fame (1980) – 6.6
A musical based on experiences that each of the cast members would have had had to be a worthy entry into the teen musical subgenre. Notoriety tells a five-part story of students from their auditions for performing arts school to their senior year.
The film was a critical success, receiving two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. Its release was also unlike most films of the time. Notoriety opened more like a play, released in specific cities first to gain attention, then released nationwide later.
5 Hairspray (2007) – 6.7
2007 hair spray is the third version of the hit film originally created by John Waters for the screen, adapted into a play, then finally into a film starring John Travolta, Zac Efron and Niki Blonsky. The film is an upbeat coming-of-age flick about a young woman, Tracy Turnblad, who wants to be a star and ends up rallying against segregation along the way.
This hair spray is a time machine into the hottest stars of the early 2000s and each actor brings palpable joy and readiness to the film. John Travolta excels as Tracy’s mother, which is traditionally played in drag, with Christopher Walken proving to be an unexpected delight as Tracy’s father. On top of that, Michelle Pfeiffer excels as the loathsome villain of the musical.
4 Not Perfect (2012) – 7.1
Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick star in the 2012 film which led to two sequels and an ongoing TV show. The story is based on a non-fiction story by Mickey Rapkin titled Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.
The story is about a college a cappella band and a freshman (Anna Kendrick) who is a newcomer to the struggling all-female vocal team. There are some amazing and unusual choices for pop songs in the film, including “Cups (When I’m Gone)” which propelled Anna Kendrick to number 6 on the US Billboard Top 100.
3 West Side Story (2021) – 7.2
A remake of the well-known classic film and play, Steven Spielberg and his longtime screenwriter, Tony Kushner, directed and wrote the first remake of the musical in over 50 years. This updated version is closer to the stage version than the original film.
Spielberg and Kishner decided that although the script would be rewritten, the songs themselves would remain. This departure from Spielberg’s usual film fare was not a box office success, but critics praised it and the film was nominated for Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards and Ariana DeBose became the first Afro-Latina and openly LGBTQ+ woman of color to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
2 Grease (1978) – 7.2
In 1978, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John teamed up to bring one of cinema’s greatest romances to the big screen. Fat is the legendary high school musical about a California greaser in love with a preppy Aussie.
Every song in Fat is emblematic of “Grease Lighting” to “You’re the One That I Want”. Each musical number has amazing choreography and lyrics that have stuck with audiences for years. The names Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson are now synonymous with musicals, and the film remains incredibly watchable to this day.
1 West Side Story (1961) – 7.6
Every musical that followed West Side Story owes a debt of gratitude to the film. It’s by no means the first film adaptation of a famous Broadway show, but it’s one of the first truly modern musical films with real-life issues the characters face and a setting familiar to many moviegoers.
An adaptation of Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet, the film follows two star-crossed lovers as their respective gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, battle for control of the streets of New York City. It was nominated for 11 Oscars and won 10, including Best Picture becoming the record holder for the most wins for a musical. It’s a testament to the importance of the film that the story has remained intact until 2021.
Next: Sandy’s 10 Most Iconic Grease Quotes