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There’s no escape quite like the alternative reality of the movies where characters break into beautiful melodies and join into elaborate song-and-dance numbers. Movie musicals are particularly effective medicine to mend a rough day or bring an extra pep in your step. These movies are a spoonful of sugar among cinema. The genre has certainly seen a resurgence in recent years on the big screen as films such as The Greatest Showman, La La Land and the love-to-hate recent adaptation of Cats, but it’s time to get back to the classics that you can stream and rent right now.
A classic movie musical isn’t necessarily a remnant of Hollywood’s golden age. These movies (new and old) are the films that are staples of the genre that any musical theater fan wouldn’t blink an eye before revisiting at home. Between the many streaming platforms and digital availability, it’s easy to have a ball in your own home with a classic movie musical night. It’s also a great way to get excited for upcoming musical adaptations of In The Heights and West Side Story coming to theaters later this year. Check out these iconic musicals:
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
If you’re looking for a truly original movie musical, look no further than Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, Moulin Rouge. It’s a “jukebox musical” that borrows popular songs such as Elton John’s “Your Song” and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” to illustrate the romance between Ewan McGregor’s poet character Christian as he falls for Nicole Kidman’s Satine, who is a cabaret actress in Paris’ famous Moulin Rouge red windmill. Tinted in Luhrmann’s sparkly lens later found in his adaptation of The Great Gatsby, this musical is edgy, wacky and a simply charming modern musical.
The Sound of Music (1965)
The classic of classics, The Sound of Music is the kind of musical you could watch a hundred times and it still wouldn’t feel like enough. The ‘60s movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer follows a young woman who leaves her Austrian convent to become the governess of seven difficult children. She teaches them music, brings back spirit into their household and cracks more than a smile out of their stiff Naval officer father, Captain Von Trapp. The songs are not only delightful, but the movie delivers a layered story set in World War II.
Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
There’s no happier musical than Singin’ In The Rain. Almost seventy years later, this musical not only holds up, but you can see the influences to so many other musicals after it – namely with Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. Starring Gene Kelly and Carrie Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ In The Rain is about a Hollywood production company’s transition to making movies with sound after its success with silent film. Reynolds’ Kathy is an aspiring talent who forms a partnership with Kelly’s Don Lockwood amidst this industry change.
Where To Rent: Amazon
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Between his work on his own Batman films, live-action Disney films and stop-motion films such as The Corpse Bride, Tim Burton also directed a full-fledged musical starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen back in 2007. The dark-toned musical and period slasher film is about a barber named Sweeney Todd (Depp) who murders his customers with a straight razor and then his partner Mrs. Lovett (Carter) processes the bodies into meat pies. It’s a nice change of pace from the typical starry-eyed musicals and watching Tim Burton’s visions is always a treat.
Fiddler On The Roof (1971)
A musical theater staple still often performed at schools and local playhouses is Fiddler on the Roof, which was adapted into a movie back in 1971. The musical takes place during pre-revolutionary Russia and follows a poor Jewish family as he attempts to marry three of his five daughters off by matchmakers when they wish to marry for love. The timeless tale discusses the shift between generations from cultural traditions to more modern ideas and the growing anti-Semitic rhetoric during the time period. Plus, it includes especially epic performances and catchy music.
Another title stemming from a successful Broadway hit is Chris Columbus’ movie version of Rent. Based on the Tony-winning musical of the same name, the movie follows the lives of unconventional New Yorkers living in the East Village who struggle with a number of things that open up the conversation about AIDS, sexuality, drug addiction and making rent on time. Unlike many movies of its genre, Rent actually features many of the original cast members from the Broadway musical including Idina Menzel who would later become Elsa for Disney’s Frozen movies.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
A truly underrated career highlight for Dick Van Dyke is his role of Caractacus Potts in the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Sure it’s a wacky title, but it’s an endearing family musical that’s just not talked about enough. His character is a struggling inventor who decides to refashion a car into a fantastical flying machine to show off to his two kids. They end up going on an adventure on “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” to save their grandfather (played by Lionel Jeffries) and meeting a ton of storied characters on the way.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Another jukebox musical to add to your queue during your musical binge is 2008’s Mamma Mia! Based on the Broadway hit and exclusively (and cleverly) implementing songs from ABBA’s discography, Mamma Mia! is a high-energy musical comedy that will turn you into a dancing queen. The movie follows Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie, who snoops into her mother’s diary and finds out her father could be one of three men she dated nine months before she was born. Since Sophie is getting married, she secretly invites all of them (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth) and chaos ensues.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Before he was a spartan or action hero, Gerard Butler was under the mask for 2004’s rendition of the famed Andrew Lloyd Webber production Phantom of the Opera. It’s a chilling well… opera. This should be distinguished: while musicals have dialogue in between, operas are wall-to-wall singing. It’s a lot to ask from an audience, but this storyline is so intriguing and the music is so well produced you’ll be enchanted in no time. It’s about a disfigured man called the “phantom” who lives beneath a Paris Opera House and the passionate romance he sparks with one of its star singers.
Hello, Dolly! (1969)
Blending in some of the Broadway musicals previously touched on in other movies on this list, Hello, Dolly! Is directed by Gene Kelly of Singin’ in the Rain and is all about a matchmaker, not unlike Fiddler On the Roof. It wouldn’t be a movie musical list without Barbra Streisand and here she is playing Dolly Levi in this 1969 adaptation of the Broadway production. The matchmaker travels to Yonkers in New York to find a partner for a half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (played by Walter Matthau). It’s a rom-com wrapped up into a grand movie musical that is among Hollywood’s best of the genre.
Set in the ‘60s, Hairspray calls upon an incredible ensemble cast including John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Zac Efron, Alison Janney and Queen Latifah. The 2007 flick is a ball to groove along with as it follows a teen Tracy Turnblad as she lands a spot on the local television dance show. She makes waves since she’s not stick thin like the other girls and causes a greater stir among the community at a time when racial integration is a hot button issue.
Mary Poppins (1964)
And if you’re looking for some live-action Disney magic, it’s time to revisit Disney’s beloved classic Mary Poppins. The movie was recently given a sequel starring Emily Blunt, but there’s nothing quite like the original is there? The 1964 movie is practically perfect in every way many years later as it tells the story of the peculiar nanny that comes into two kids’ lives at a time when the British family could use a little nonsense in their lives. It’s a touching story and silly musical that is sure to do what musicals do a best – put a smile on our faces.
Which classic movie musical are you streaming first? Sound off in the comments and vote in our poll below.