Musical movies have provided a delightful escape into fantasyland for decades. From the wordless wonder of The Wizard of Oz to the unforgettable melodies of La La Land, there’s something to tingle even the most jaded palette.
Here are our picks of the top 20 musical movies ever. You’ll find classics such as The Sound of Music and Singin’ in the Rain’ in the mix, along with modern-day masterpieces like The Greatest Showman and tick, tick…Boom!. With toe-tapping dance routines, breathtakingly beautiful sets, and unforgettable music, these movies guarantee a spellbinding journey into a world of dreams that’ll stay with you long after the credits roll.
1. The Greatest Showman (2017)
Get ready to be immersed in the madcap world of The Greatest Showman. With an all-star cast featuring Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron, and Michelle Williams, this musical extravaganza chronicles the bizarre-but-true story of America’s most famous conman-turned-circus impresario, P.T. Barnum. Watch as Barnum’s motley crew of performers, including a bearded lady, acrobat siblings, and a dwarf, put on the show of a lifetime.
But the story of this dazzling spectacle didn’t just come out of thin air. Hugh Jackman’s stage presence at the 2009 Oscars, which drew comparisons to Barnum’s captivating theatrics, led to the creation of this epic musical.
With unforgettable original songs, including the Oscar-nominated “This Is Me”, and stunning choreography that will transport you through time and space, The Greatest Showman is a masterclass in dazzling, original filmmaking.
2. The Sound of Music (1965)
Back in 1959, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece, Sound of Music, premiered on Broadway and immediately became a sensation. Hollywood was quick to catch on, with Twentieth Century Fox snatching up the film rights just months later. The studio took time to work on the screenplay, scout locations and cast the perfect actors, and thankfully, all the effort paid off. They even wrote a dazzling new song for the film!
Julie Andrews, who had just starred in Mary Poppins and was the Hollywood darling at the time, had initial reservations about playing another singing nanny, but the risk was worth it. Shot in real locations, Sound of Music is a true feast for the eyes and ears.
3. La La Land (2016)
La La Land is a movie musical that stole audiences’ hearts from the moment it was released, reminiscent of acclaimed classics like An American in Paris and The Young Girls of Rochefort. The movie follows the dreams and aspirations of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Seb, a jazz pianist, both struggling to make it in Los Angeles. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling bring their A-game in what can only be described as electrifying chemistry.
Director Damien Chazelle strikes a perfect balance of romance and melancholy, a unique mix that makes great musicals an unforgettable experience. From the breathless highway traffic opener, Another Day in the Sun, to the tap-dancing A Lovely Night, every scene is a gem that enriches the soul. Justin Hurwitz’s score and songs, including the Oscar-winning City of Stars, are some of the finest written for any movie this century.
La La Land marks the return of movie musicals with a bang! It feels like an instant classic, yet, it’s very much set in the modern day. It’s an extraordinary movie musical where the story, music, and performance culminate into an unforgettable experience.
4. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Stanley Donen’s MGM masterpiece is consistently regarded as one of the greatest musicals of all time. It boasts the delightful performances of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Jean Hagen, telling a lovely romance story set in the pioneering days of the motion picture.
Singin’ in the Rain’s dance scenes are so nuanced and physical that they still blow you away, while Adolph Green and Betty Comden’s whip-smart, humorous script remains one of the cleverest and most quoted in modern-day films. And the ending is so incredibly swoon-worthy we defy you not to fall in love with it!
5. Grease (1978)
John Travolta’s nuanced portrayal of Danny and Olivia Newton-John as Sandy is an unforgettable onscreen reincarnation of the classic ’50s adaptation, outdoing even the original stage version that preceded it. Randall Kleiser managed to convey Englewood High School’s high school musical aesthetic with breathless energy, buoyed by the effortless chemistry between Danny and Sandy.
Most retellings of great stories don’t quite do justice to their progenitors but Thank Fox Broadcasting for GreaseLIVE, starring Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit, and Vanessa Hudgens, which served as a surprisingly lively reenactment of this timeless musical.
6. A Star is Born (2018)
The fourth retelling (and some might say the greatest) of the 1937 classic flick is co-penned and helmed by none other than Bradley Cooper and stars the sensational Lady Gaga. Brace yourself for a tale of a musician (Cooper) with a strong affinity for drink who serendipitously discovers and falls head over heels for a budding crooner (Gaga) as she journeys to the top.
If you want to be blown away by a soulful ballad performance, then A Star is Born is the film for you. Even though the movie is not your light-hearted type, the tunes alone are worth it. Do sift through the content warnings, though, if you need more clarification on the plot.
7. tick, tick…Boom! (2021)
Jonathan Larson encountered many difficulties upon entering the world of show business, working long hours as a playwright at a diner on the cusp of his thirtieth birthday. But his fortunes changed enormously when his rock opera Rent became an instant hit, propelling him into fame.
This film brings to life the unpredictable and eventful years in one’s mid-twenties through Jonathan Larson’s own lens, featuring an excellent performance from Andrew Garfield (a total novice at the time with the musical theatre before!) The story will make you grab your tissues as the rollercoaster of peaks and struggles tugs on our heartstrings.
8. Dreamgirls (2006)
Great movie adaptations can revitalise classic musicals and bring fresh interest to Broadway’s rich history. Dreamgirls is a prime example: a 2006 release that reframes the 1981 hit show for modern audiences while honouring the powerhouse performances that made it famous in the first place.
Inspired by dynamic all-women R&B groups like The Supremes, Dreamgirls chronicles the rollercoaster journey of a fictional girl group called “The Dreams” from humble beginnings to international super-stardom. Original Broadway stars Jennifer Holliday, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Loretta Devine were replaced by Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles, and Anika Noni Rose for the movie.
Though none can quite match Holliday’s star-making turn in the hit number “And I’m Telling You (I’m Not Going),” Hudson delivered a memorable performance of her own and even earned an Oscar. Dreamgirls stands out as one of Beyoncé’s best (and rare) serious acting roles, cementing its place as a precious gem in the queen’s untouchable portfolio.
9. West Side Story (1961)
West Side Story may have predated most of us, but it’s a timeless classic that’ll outlive us all. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ snow globe of a world is still as enchanting as ever, despite the staged shots of New York City. This adaptation of the Broadway hit is narratively rich, with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s songs and the doomed Tony and Maria’s love that speaks for itself.
However, what makes West Side Story truly exceptional is its unreal yet vividly captivating portrayal of the Upper West Side. Every brick and spray paint drip feels technicolour-infused with love, and Rita Moreno’s outstanding performance makes it all feel so real.
10. Mary Poppins (1964)
The mid-’60s was a time to remember for Julie Andrews, appearing twice onscreen as an iconic, Best Actress-nominated nanny. The 1965 musical fantasy film, Mary Poppins, won Andrews the award for her phenomenal portrayal of a no-nonsense enchantress summoned to Edwardian London, an unforgettable performance. The nanny, Mary Poppins, has a carpetbag that carries a room’s worth of furniture and modes of transportation that include an umbrella. Also, she loves having tea parties on the ceiling and has the soothing singing voice of an angel.
This delightful film is filled with quirkiness and depth and is not at all saccharine, unlike its marketing. Under the direction of Robert Stevenson, the movie earned 13 Oscar nominations, a record-breaker for a Disney film. The studio, therefore, won Walt Disney the only Best Picture honour in his lifetime.
11. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
When it comes to iconic musicals, The Wizard of Oz takes the cake. The film’s stunning transformation from monochrome to dazzling technicolour was magical in 1939 and remains just as enchanting today. And who could forget Judy Garland, with those sparkling ruby slippers and a voice to make the coldest hearts burst into flames?
But what truly makes The Wizard of Oz a classic is the lovable misfits on the yellow brick road with Dorothy. From the terrifying Wicked Witch to the ragtag team of endearing creatures, we’re taken on a journey that reminds us that what we’re searching for is often already within us.
12. Chicago (2002)
Rob Marshall’s transition from stage to screen was masterful. As a Broadway dancer-turned-director, he’s received five Tony nominations and an Oscar nod for his breathtaking transformation of Kander & Ebb’s Chicago.
One striking scene featuring the fabulous Renée Zellweger in her role as accused murderer Roxie Hart, and the show-stopping Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly, had Queen Latifah humorously quip, “In this town, murder is a form of entertainment.”
Through brilliant choreography and impressive dark humour, Marshall brings to the screen the tale of two murderesses in the Windy City. The film hailed for its ability to match the frenetic magic of live performance, won Best Picture and five other Oscars. With seven more nominations, Chicago sits among Hollywood’s most awards-laden musicals ever created.
13. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
After almost fifty years, 20th Century Fox’s outrageously charming and pleasantly bawdy creation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, still riles up crowds whenever it is on. At the heart of this zany mash-up of Richard O’Brien’s musical tribute to ’50s schlock is the ebullient performance of Tim Curry as Dr Frank N. Furter and an earworm-worthy soundtrack filled with pop gems.
As you lose yourself in outrageous musical numbers, spinning around to dance-worthy tunes, you’ll never forget this cheeky coming-of-age story that’s been captivating audiences of all ages for nearly half a century. Immerse yourself in the ultimate cult classic, which also happens to be the longest-running film in history.
14. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Moulin Rouge! is a cinematic gem that manages to combine music, romance, tragedy, and comedy into one gloriously entertaining package. It’s a vivid feature-length music video that truly works, thanks to the innovative editing, strong direction from Baz Luhrmann, and stellar performances from Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, and, of course, Nicole Kidman (whose performance earned her her first Academy Award nomination).
Every emotion is emphasised to the extreme, but in such a dazzling and mesmerising way that it is impossible not to feel the magic. Give in to its charm and let Moulin Rouge! take you on a truly transporting journey. It’s a timeless classic that only gets better with age.
15. All That Jazz (1979)
In the wake of a lacklustre appearance in Jaws 2, a year later, Roy Scheider graced us with the performance of a lifetime in Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece. Inspired by the tumultuous period where Scheider tackled the daunting task of editing the feature film Lenny whilst simultaneously directing a Broadway version of Chicago, the movie was nominated for nine gold statues, including Best Picture, Best Director, and a well-deserved Best Actor nod for Scheider. Ultimately cementing its place among Hollywood’s most renowned musical movies.
16. Once (2007)
Get ready for a riveting combination of heart-wrenching authenticity, tumultuous romance, and stupendous music in Once’s cosy atmosphere provided by director John Carney’s low-fi drama. Featuring wonderful performances by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová as two ambitious musicians attempting to conquer Dublin with their tunes, this award-worthy picture is guaranteed to mesmerise you. In particular, don’t miss out on the astounding Oscar-winning melody Falling Slowly, which will undoubtedly raise the hairs on your arms.
17. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
You’re in for a treat with Norman Jewison’s celebrated adaptation of one of the longest-running productions in Broadway history. Topol, playing the part of a poor Jewish milkman named Tevye, raises five daughters while struggling to preserve traditions in the village of Anatevka. This masterpiece was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Get ready for a heartwarming journey through one man’s determination to maintain his family’s heritage.
18. Cabaret (1972)
Cabaret has, hands down, survived the test of time better than most movies in its genre. Bob Fosse’s sobering yet electrifying period musical set a record with the highest number of Academy Awards wins for a movie that didn’t clinch the Best Picture award.
Dark and fearful, Cabaret has managed to encapsulate a snapshot of a place where sadness and fear come together to make even the saddest ladies burst out into beautiful yet haunting songs. The film boasts of a total of eight Academy Awards, including a Best Actress win for the luminous Liza Minelli and a haunting, comedic performance by Joel Grey, which clinched him the Best Supporting Actor award as well.
19. An American in Paris (1951)
Vincente Minnelli’s classic romantic musical, An American in Paris, is a timeless spectacle. Gene Kelly glides effortlessly through the stunning streets of Paris, his artistry capturing hearts and just as quickly causing complications in a love triangle.
This Academy Award-winning masterpiece is nothing short of a cinematic treasure, so much so that it’s preserved in the Library of Congress. The American Film Institute even named it the ninth-best musical of all time.
20. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
From battling through a boat ride from hell to witnessing a helpless girl transforming into a fruit, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a movie that offers more thrills than your average R-rated horror movie.
This captivating musical comedy/morality play will have you laughing out loud, with Gene Wilder’s performance being nothing short of excellence. It was a modest hit at its time but now stands tall as one of the greatest live-action family flicks ever, alongside the likes of E.T. and The Wizard of Oz.
The world of entertainment has been graced with timeless classics like Singin’ in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz as well as contemporary sensations like Once and Chicago. But what makes a movie musical truly divine?
From toe-tapping numbers to epic adventures and even heartwarming romance, there’s no one recipe for creating the perfect musical, but we’ve rounded up 20 films from the past decades that exemplify the best in the musical genre. Get ready to explore the world of entertainment like never before!