For me, a musical film is not simply a staging on film. In fact, I’ve disqualified all film versions of Broadway musicals from this ranking – all films here either came before their stage version or have no stage version. A musical film (or musical film, for purists) is a film that integrates music so well into its narration that the plot would be lost without it. It’s not always about the characters breaking out into song and tap dancing, it’s about how the music moves the plot of the film forward and portrays the characters’ innermost thoughts. So what are the best musical movies?
5. The Muppet Movie (1979)
I’ve always been a huge Muppet fan, so it should come as no surprise to anyone reading that The Muppet Movie is on my list of top musical movies. From the iconic opening hit of Kermit the Frog playing his banjo and singing “The Rainbow Connection” in his swamp to the road trip classic “Movin’ Right Along” to the bluesy “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along”, The Muppet Movie delivers hit after hit while giving the world the Muppet prequel it craved, reintroducing familiar characters with a younger, purer sense of starry-eyed wonder. Plus, there are plenty of running jokes throughout the movie that make viewers of all ages laugh.
4. Mary Poppins (1964)
This is my comfort movie. I remember many nights curled up next to my grandmother while we sang “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step In Time”, pretending we were Mary Poppins and Jane. Every song in this movie reached the
popular lexicon, proving its timelessness. Julie Andrews plays the practically perfect nanny perfectly, mixing her beautiful voice with a firm yet kind demeanor. Dick Van Dyke, aside from the dodgy Cockney accent, also features plenty of heartwarming lines and catchy tunes. The film runs the gamut of emotions, taking anyone watching from immense joy to sadness to anxiety to hope in 139 minutes.
3. Baby Driver (2017)
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Although Baby Driver is by no means a traditional movie musical – there’s very little singing in it – every moment of this film is fueled by its music. The aural experience of watching Baby Driver is unparalleled, from Baby’s hand-picked endless diegetic soundtrack to Baby’s subtle tinnitus nods. (Pay close attention to the very beginning of the movie, before “Bellbottoms” begins. There’s a faint moan that simulates the ringing in Baby’s ears.) Which completely convinces me that Edgar’s masterpiece Wright belongs in the pantheon of great musicals, however, is the fact that almost all of the action is choreographed in time to the music. So instead of feeling like mundane car chases and gunfights, the entire film reads like frenetic iPod-powered ballet — a level of choreography even the best musicals could admire.
2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Recently adapted into a Broadway musical (and nominated for quite a few Tony Awards, too), I’ve been counting on Moulin Rouge for a long time! like one of my favorite movies. Baz Luhrmann is my favorite director, and he holds that title for the way he incorporates music so perfectly into all of his films. Moulin Rouge!, of course, is no different. Although it’s a musical jukebox, each of the songs included in the film are given new life thanks to the orchestral arrangements, lush costumes, and production design. One moment in particular, the El Tango De Roxanne stage, stands out as the best way to bring the energy of a live performance to the screen. Lighting changes, razor-sharp editing, sweeping choreography and orchestral arrangement of an original The Police song recreate the heart-pounding ecstasy of watching a live musical, all from the comfort of your own home. living room, a feat that most movie musicals can only dream of achieving. Rather than pushing back the conventions of cinema, Moulin Rouge! kiss them.
1. Start Over (2014)
While not a traditional musical either, Begin Again follows a singer-songwriter on her quest to recover from a bad breakup and produce her debut album. The songs in the film all have a heartfelt, serious quality to them and seem to defy the genre. As an audience, seeing Keira Knightley outside of her period drama fare is refreshing, and she has incredible chemistry with James Corden and Mark Ruffalo. For music lovers and New York City lovers, Begin Again is food for the soul. My favorite scene is where the two main characters roam the streets of New York all night, sharing their music and soaking up the city. The film, originally titled Can A Song Save Your Life?, is a love letter to New York City, and especially to those who are young, driven, creative and a bit lost. It’s the ultimate pick-me-up movie, and does double the work of also inspiring the creative energy of its audience. It shows that there is beauty in music and art. There’s beauty in charting your own path while doing what you love.