As cliché as it sounds, musical movies are genuinely some of the most enjoyable and uplifting films anyone can watch. Although it was challenging to narrow down my personal favourites, the five films discussed throughout this article embody some of the best aspects of this genre. Hopefully after reading this you’ll be inspired to either go and watch one of the films mentioned below or listen to your favourite musical soundtrack!
Singin’ in the Rain is potentially my favourite musical film of all time. This 1952 movie starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds has to be considered amongst the greats of classic musicals. It’s funny, heart-warming and has numerous impressive tap-sequences; what more could you want? Featuring incredible songs like ‘Good Morning’, ‘Make ’em Laugh’ and obviously ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, it follows a silent film production company in 1920s Hollywood attempting to incorporate sound into their movies. Singin’ in the Rain is a genuinely funny film that captures the bright colours and dynamism of Hollywood in its prime, all through iconic music and characters.
Though Moonlight clearly deserved the 2017 Oscar win, La La Land is one of the best original musical movies to emerge from the last decade. When examining what makes a successful musical, it’s apparent that La La Land has it all: great music, showstopping dance numbers, likeable characters and an interesting plot. The film harks back to classic musical movies with its use of vibrant colours and timeless dance sequences, in many ways mirroring the style of Singin’ in the Rain as it explores themes of fame, talent and what it really means to make it in the “city of stars”. The special thing about La La Land is that, whilst it captures elements of older musicals, it also encapsulates Mia and Seb’s ordinary struggles and character flaws, making the audience root for each of them due to their immense likeability.
As much as I love the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, in my opinion the 1961 classic West Side Story is the only film version of this famous Shakespeare tragedy worth watching. Bernstein delivers the perfect combination of orchestral film music and catchy musical hits, such as ‘Tonight’, ‘Maria’ and ‘America’, to truly captivate any audience. The setting of 1950s New York is a well-considered and interesting choice, which surprisingly suits the plot of Romeo and Juliet as it perfectly portrays the rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues through the alternative Sharks and Jets.
Though there are plenty of excellent musical films from the 1980s, including Dirty Dancing or Little Shop of Horrors, the 1984 movie Footloose has always been a personal favourite of mine. It brilliantly incorporates awesome music and a satisfying ending to create an entertaining watch. The story is about a teenager, played by Kevin Bacon, rebelling against a small town’s established authority figures with the power of rock music and dance. There are some amazing dance numbers in this film but more than anything it has stayed popular to this day thanks to its ability to illustrate a refreshing sense of youth, optimism and teenage rebellion.
Many were understandably elated when Mamma Mia was released onto Netflix in February this year because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a bit of ABBA? Whether it’s the star-studded cast, or the beautiful Greek island setting, this 2008 classic will always be a family-favourite. To be honest, what really makes this musical so good is the soundtrack; something about the catchiness of pretty much every featured ABBA song only enhances the wholesome storyline. The scene in which ‘Donna and the Dynamos’ sing ‘Super Trouper’ fully depicts the fun nature of this film and the joyful spirit of any musical movie for that matter.
Illustration by Samantha Fulton