We Ranked the 67 Best Movie Musicals of All Time, From West Side Story to 8 Mile
By SAMUEL R. MURRIAN
SEP 22, 2023
If you can’t get enough of movie musicals, then get ready for some speaker-blowing brilliance. To celebrate the release of Steven Spielberg‘s hotly anticipated, critically praised reimagining of West Side Story (now playing nationwide), and to honor the recent passing of the iconic Stephen Sondheim (whose contribution to musical theater would be hard to overstate), we’ve rounded up and ranked the all-time best movie musicals.
Ever since the inaugural “talkie” The Jazz Singer was released in 1927 (itself not that great a film, sadly), the movie musical has evolved and endured. For this list of the best film musicals ever made, we’re taking into account a picture’s overall greatness, how well it’s aged, re-watchability, and impact on pop culture. In the case of stage-to-screen adaptations, we’re judging based solely on the merits of the motion picture, not the source material. We’ve included classic animated musicals, but this list does not include music documentaries, non-singing dance films, or concert films (that includes Fantasia). To be clear: These are all outstanding, must-see musical films that we recommend everyone see at least once.
In ascending order, here is our ranking of the best movie musicals of all time. Unless otherwise specified, all titles are available to rent and purchase across major streaming platforms.
Best movie musicals of all time
67. Pitch Perfect (2012)
Jason Moore‘s sly, giddily crowd-pleasing teen comedy—a cappella group The Bellas’ first appearance—received positive reviews and was a leggy sleeper hit at the box office. It also proved to be a Hollywood calling card for many members of its young, purely talented cast including Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Adam DeVine. So-so Pitch Perfect 2 was an astounding box-office hit; the rushed, slipshod third outing was a thudding disappointment.
66. Moana (2016)
Stunning 3D vistas and toe-tapping earworms are highlights of Disney Studios’ musical comedy adventure film about a Polynesian girl who sets out to save her island from a blight with the help of a demigod. The story is pretty routine, but the audiovisual loveliness is transporting. Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, losing to the same studio’s Zootopia.
65. Hairspray (2007)
Based on a 1988 John Waters comedy and the Broadway sensation it inspired, this blissful family comedy deals with racial tensions of 1960s Baltimore. The seriously impressive cast includes John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Marsden, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, Allison Janney and Zac Efron—but Queen Latifah, who plays record shop owner Maybelle “Motormouth” Stubbs, is perhaps the best part of Hairspray thanks to her stirring performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
64. The Jungle Book (1967)
Released 10 months after the death of Walt Disney (this is the final film he produced), The Jungle Book adapted Rudyard Kipling‘s 1894 book with memorable characters and catchy songs. Jon Favreau‘s electrifying 2016 live-action hybrid reimagining remains the high-water mark for Disney remakes, by a margin.
(Silver Screen Collection/ Getty Images)
63. The King and I (1956)
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated on many of the most iconic musicals ever made (and penned countless show-tune earworms that are ingrained in pop culture). Their fifth musical (a romance about governess Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam) is one of their most famous, adapted into a sumptuous film starring Yul Brynner (who won a Best Actor Oscar) and the ever-resplendent Deborah Kerr. The enterprise’s place in history is undeniable and earned, though elements are unfortunately dated. (Emerald Fennell) savagely borrowed rather sexist “Something Wonderful” to extraordinary effect in Promising Young Woman.
(Peter Mountain/ Universal Pictures)
62. Mamma Mia! (2008)
Featherweight but also pretty fabulous, this jukebox musical sees an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth let their hair down in a Greek set family rom-com inspired by the immortal pop of ABBA. The best moment, hands down, is Streep’s surprisingly emotional “The Winner Takes It All.”
61. Gypsy (1993)
A marked improvement over the mostly unremarkable 1962 theatrical film starring Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood, the made-for-TV film—from the show—based on Gypsy Rose Lee‘s autobiography was a major vehicle for star Bette Midler the same year as Hocus Pocus. Nominated 12 Primetime Emmys including Best Made for Television Movie and Best Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special.
(Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
60. Tommy: The Movie (1975)
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball in an affably gonzo ’70s acid trip. The Who‘s rock opera makes for a wonderfully weird motion picture enlivened with committed performances. Roger Daltrey spearheads a cast including Ann-Margret. Oliver Reed, Elton John, Tina Turner and even Jack Nicholson.
59. Fame (1980)
Alan Parker‘s teen drama loosely inspired by A Chorus Line chronicles the life and times of students at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts. The picture is perhaps best known for its anthemic, Oscar-nominated title song.
58. Dreamgirls (2006)
Winner of two Oscars and three Golden Globes, director Bill Condon‘s vivid adaption of the Tony Award-winning 1981 stage musical—about a pop music group The Dreams and their struggles with fame and fortune—is uneven, but occasionally flat-out brilliant thanks to a star-making turn from Jennifer Hudson.
57. The Muppets (2011)
This, Oscar-winning, family-friendly reboot of the Muppets franchise boasts bizarre and inspired alchemy and nails the handmade, effervescently irreverent and just flat-out weird spirit of the classic show and films. Superb puppetry seamlessly entwines with warm and funny human performances from Jason Segel, Amy Adams—and, most unexpectedly, a rapping Chris Cooper.
56. Cinderella (1997)
The most memorable screen adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical of the French fairy tale (we’re pretty sure you know the story) is a flagship installment of ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney, praised for its production values and ahead-of-its-time diverse casting (the performers include Brandy, Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg… and Whitney Houston—who of course steals the show). With a production budget of $12 million, this still ranks among the most expensive television movies ever made.
55. Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Paul Lynde and Ann-Margret star in a kitschy, catchy, dance-tastic rom-com about a teen girl infatuated with an Elvis-like heartthrob. Definitely of its time, but snappy, buoyant and breezy good fun all the same.
(Michael Ochs/Getty Images)
54. The Blues Brothers (1980)
They’re on a mission from God. Arguably the crown-jewel SNL film (it’s this or Wayne’s World), John Landis‘ mega-hit stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as soul musicians and blood brothers determined to save a Roman Catholic orphanage from foreclosure. The best part? Well, obviously that’s Aretha Franklin‘s iconic performance of “Think” in a diner. The belushi-less sequel Blues Brothers 2000 was lifeless.
(Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
53. 8 Mile (2002)
Remember that time Barbra Streisand presented Eminem with an Academy Award for Best Original Song? Granted, the actor wasn’t at the ceremony, but all the same, it’s hard to forget an awards show moment like that.
Yes, director Curtis Hanson’s gritty biopic is a textbook musical in its way. It’s also a gripping and emotional portrait of a struggling artist. The rock-solid supporting cast includes Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer and the late Brittany Murphy. White-knuckle “Lose Yourself” still has the power to raise the pulse.
52. On the Town (1949)
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen co-directed this Technicolor extravaganza (very loosely based on a 1944 stage musical) with the same screenwriters they’d collaborate with on Singin’ in the Rain. Featuring most famously “New York, New York,” On the Town centers on three American sailors on shore leave, and their respective romantic connections in the Big Apple.
51. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
One of Tim Burton‘s finest films adaptations, graphically violent Sweeney Todd is macabre, disturbing, darkly funny and ultimately exhilarating. The only misstep here is an overly, distractingly squishy approach to “Johanna Quartet” that undermines the beauty of the music. Mostly, the picture (starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter) is bloody brilliant.
50. Frozen (2013) and Frozen 2 (2019)
We’re going to let go of the urge to make a “let it go” pun here. Disney’s 2013 smash and its slightly superior sequel are both among the highest-grossing films of all time, and it’s easy to be enchanted by the subversive, empowering messages for young girls here.
(Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
49. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Bursting with showstoppers, Stanley Donen’s CinemaScope spectacle based on short story The Sobbin’ Women is indispensable for its athleticism and artistry, but there’s a catch. The story is an ostensibly lighthearted, repulsively misogynistic mess involving kidnappings and false imprisonment. On the bright side, the “barn raising dance” is among a handful of the most heart-pounding song-and-dance number ever committed to film. No kidding.
48. Pennies From Heaven (1981)
One of the most underrated films on this list is an unusual stylization of the Great Depression starring Bernadette Peters, Steve Martin and the ever-graceful Christopher Walken. Loosely adapted from a London-set BBC series, the script earned Dennis Potter an Oscar nod.
(Michael Ochs/Getty Images)
47. The Wiz (1978)
Co-produced by Motown Productions and Universal Pictures, Sidney Lumet‘s enchanting staging of the off-Broadway hit stars an all-Black cast including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor. Released near the end of the blaxploitation boom of the ’70s, The Wiz was initially a commercial disappointment; it’s since become a cult classic.
(Larry Ellis/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
46. Oliver! (1967)
Released in a watershed year for Hollywood (some would say the watershed year for Hollywood) alongside more artistically ambitious, risky New Hollywood films like Bonnie & Clyde and The Graduate, Carol Reed‘s handsome, well-performed take on the stage musical from Dickens’ novel was a safer, not entirely unworthy choice for the Academy, winning six Oscars including Best Picture.
(Silver Screen Collection/ Getty Images)
45. Funny Girl (1968)
Hello, gorgeous. Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) is a timeless vibe in William Wyler‘s biographical dramedy. In one of the most iconic moments in Oscars history, Streisand tied Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) for Best Actress; her speech charmed the socks off audiences worldwide and cemented her status as a megastar.
44. The Band Wagon (1953)
A year after Singin’ in the Rain, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse spearheaded another MGM musical that’s now regarded as one of the best. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, jazzy and vibrantly production-designed The Band Wagon is about an aging film star trying his hand at a Broadway comeback.
43. Chicago (2002)
In Rob Marshall‘s enormously popular and successful adaptation of the stage musical, Queen Latifah played Mama Morton, matron of Cook County Jail’s women’s block. She received her first-ever Oscar nod (for Best Supporting Actress, losing out to co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones). Chicago ultimately won six Academy Awards, the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! over 30 years prior.
42. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Hands-down the most disturbing and emotionally messed-up film on this list, Lars Von Trier‘s hyperrealistic drama won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Björk, who infamously clashed with the infamous director, is a revelation as immigrant mother wrongfully accused of a crime. The film is tragic, also transporting.
41. In the Heights (2021)
Lin Manuel-Miranda‘s long-awaited big-screen spin on his pre-Hamilton Broadway smash (from Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu) delivers the summer’s most rocking big-screen block party. The semi-autobiographical tale of big dreams and romance in Washington Heights puts all-singing, all-dancing phenom Anthony Ramos front and center. He’s one of the year’s great breakthroughs, invaluable to the movie’s success.
40. Evita (1996)
Imperfect but seriously underrated and magnificently sumptuous, Alan Parker‘s big-budget adaptation stars Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce and, of course, Madonna. This is one of the only stage-to-screen adaptations to receive Webber’s stamp of approval (he hated Cats and even disliked Joel Schumacher‘s Phantom of the Opera). Madonna won a Golden Globe, but was frankly snubbed for an Oscar nod; she mastered and embodied this.
(Warner Bros/Getty Images)
39. Purple Rain (1984)
Prince and The Revolution are front and center in Albert Magnoli‘s biographical, coming-of-age story. Emotional, spirited, and featuring spectacular concert sequences—an artist an the height of his formidable powers—Purple Rain grossed 10 times its budget at the box office, and received glowing critical notices. 1990 sequel Graffiti Bridge didn’t enjoy the same kind of success, unfortunately.
38. Rocketman (2019)
Bohemian Rhapsody was overcommitted to recreating some things on a technical level. Rocketman really, truly feels the music. Dexter Fletcher‘s Elton John biopic is a splashy old-fashioned musical, a juicy showbiz melodrama, and one of the most affecting movies about sobering up in recent memory. It all wouldn’t work without Taron Egerton, who is now one of the most versatile and well-liked young actors working in popular films.
Rocketman can’t get bogged down by the clichés that commonly burden biopics, because–to be perfectly accurate here– it dances all over them. What a triumph this is.
37. Aladdin (1992)
Composer Howard Ashman, who also co-wrote the music of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, passed away while Aladdin was still in production, and he is immortalized in these iconic scores. Also, Aladdin‘s Genie is one of the most ingenious inventions in animation history, a clown who could morph and mold himself to suit the singular rapid-fire wit and imagination of Robin Williams. This is the funniest movie in the entire Disney canon, and a testament to Williams’ genius.
36. Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021)
All we can say is wow. This is one of 2021’s most staggering movie surprises, from any genre. Andrew Garfield has, very recently, shot up in the ranks of Best Actor Oscar predictions for a career-best turn in Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s film based on Rent creator Jonathan Larson‘s autobiographical musical. This is maybe the most invigorating snapshot of the all-consuming struggle of a creative since Brad Bird‘s layered masterpiece Ratatouille.
(Buena Vista International)
35. Once (2007)
Gritty realism, inconvenient romance and magnificent songcraft collide in John Carney‘s low-fi drama starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová as struggling musicians in Dublin. Oscar-winning ballad “Falling Slowly” is truly breathtaking.
34. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Like fellow holiday classic Gremlins, this red-blooded Halloween-Christmas mashup is one of the scariest movies ever aimed—ostensibly—at children. The Tim Burton-produced stop-motion musical has grown so iconic and popular that it’s become its own brand, but it’s important to remember just how special the film is on its own merits. The Danny Elfman songs haunt, and the German Expressionism-inspired visuals are breathtaking. Film critic Roger Ebert even compared the picture to Star Wars.
(New Line Cinema)
33. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
The status of John Cameron Mitchell‘s hilarious, touching rock musical as a queer landmark, and its sheer greatness, are written in stone. Mitchell’s controversial and envelope-pushing relationship study Shortbus is another outstanding indie drama worth seeking out.
32. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1998)
The critically acclaimed, then-controversial South Park movie hasn’t lost its edge nearly a quarter-century later. This is Trey Parker and Matt Stone at their razor-sharp, satirical best. Even the late Stephen Sondheim, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and lyricist of Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, was a fan.”Oh, yes, I think South Park Uncut is just terrific, and the numbers in it are wonderful,” Sondheim wrote in a volume of his collected lyrics called Finishing the Hat. The South Park movie was critically acclaimed, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (for “Blame Canada”).
Parker and Stone went on to co-create The Book of Mormon, one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the last quarter century.
31. Enchanted (2007)
Disney’s safely revisionist urban modern fairy tale really boils down to a star-making performance from Amy Adams (a year after she was Oscar-nominated for brilliant indie Junebug). The music by Alan Menken is commendably whimsical, though, too. The film received no less than three Oscar nods, each for Best Original Song (“Falling Slowly” from Once won, however).
30. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Released at the absolute zenith of Beatlemania, Richard Lester‘s comedy explores 36 hours in the life of the G.O.A.T. rock band. Highly innovative and influential, inspiring everything from contemporary spy thrillers to innumerable music videos to—most explicitly—The Monkees‘ visual media, A Hard Day’s Night was a massive hit of its time, and still a captivating, artistically remarkable watch. 1965’s sequel Help! was a hit, just not on the same level.
29. Mary Poppins (1964)
Julie Andrews on the Oscar for Best Actress in Walt Disney’s crowning live-action achievement, the only Disney film to get a Best Picture Oscar nod in his lifetime. Emily Blunt was terrific in 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns—making the role her own. The movie was overall a technically impressive, otherwise completely empty rehash, though.
28. Guys and Dolls (1955)
A play that won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for drama got the big-screen treatment courtesy of MGM and All About Eve legend Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Sparkling Guys and Dolls holds up pretty well even today, the most famous number being “Luck Be a Lady.”
27. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The one that started it all, the first animated feature in history, is one of the key American artistic triumphs of the 20th century. Walt Disney bet the farm on this musical fantasy, and a lot of people thought he was nuts to believe audiences would connect with hand-drawn creations for 80 minutes. Well, Snow White made grown men weep, and it became the highest-grossing film ever upon release (dethroned two years later by Gone With the Wind, still the all-time adjusted box-office champ).
(Murray Close/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
26. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Frank Oz directed Rick Moranis in Warner Bros.’ terrific adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman‘s off-Broadway black comedy. An original cut with the downbeat ending (everyone dies) from the stage show bombed with test audiences, suggesting it’s easier to digest an ending like that when there’s a curtain call. A happy ending was shot and inserted at the eleventh hour. Both cuts of the film are available on Blu-Ray; either way, this a really good movie—hilarious, icky, bittersweet and touching.
25. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Produced by Arthur Freed (whom many credit as the brains behind The Wizard of Oz), this turn-of-the-20th-century slice-of-life musical showcases Judy Garland debuting “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The number will give you chills to this day.
24. Annie (1999)
The best adaptation—by a margin—of the stage hit (and arguably Rob Marshall‘s best film) is an ABC Wonderful World of Disney original TV film, performed (brilliantly) by Victor Garber, Kathy Bates and Audra McDonald. It’s streaming on Disney Plus right now.
(Walt Disney Pictures)
23. Pinocchio (1942)
Made with a bigger budget, more time and more resources, Walt Disney‘s second full-length feature is at least as stunning as its predecessor; it’s the only picture that can give Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a run for its money for the title of greatest animated film of all time. The characters are more deeply developed, and the strides in animation (Pinocchio presents strikingly lifelike drawings of natural and mechanical elements) are substantial.
22. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Topol is iconic in Norman Jewison‘s successful adaptation of one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history—as poor Jewish milkman Tevye struggling to uphold tradition while raising five daughters in the village of Anatevka. Nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor.
21. Oklahoma! (1955)
Originally staged on Broadway 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical, like a lot of intellectual properties approaching eight decades of existence, has some cracks in the veneer, but it’s an essential work all the same. Fred Zinnemann‘s Technicolor movie was filmed in groundbreaking 70mm process, and won two Oscars. The songs are so strong the show will endure: notably, Daniel Fish darkly and brilliantly reimagined Oklahoma! in 2019; the production was nominated for eight Tonys and won Best Revival of a Musical.
20. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Following Walt Disney’s death in December 1966, the studio floundered for over two decades; several animated films were released, but none were particularly great, nor did any catch fire at the box office. The Little Mermaid was a runaway success, breathed new life into the studio, and kickstarted a decade-long era of animated hits now known as the Disney Renaissance. The score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is spellbinding; the melodies are enormous and indelible, and the lyrics are so intricate and clever, often hilarious. Watching it as an adult, it’s hard not to be really moved by the story of father and daughter working to mend a relationship that’s drifting apart. There’s a lot of depth in the ocean.
19. My Fair Lady (1964)
We’ve grown accustomed to George Cukor’s classic adaptation of the stage musical, starring Audrey Hepburn as a poor Cockney flower girl who becomes the project of an arrogant phonetics professor, played by Rex Harrison. Preserved with multiple high-profile restorations over the decades, My Fair Lady holds up most of all thanks to iconic turns from its leads.
18. Hamilton (2020)
Sure, it’s a “proshot” of a Broadway performance, but it’s too iconic not to include here. The generation-defining winner of 11 Tonys became the must-watch home entertainment of the pandemic era via Disney Plus. Its success has reinvigorated interest in the proshot experience as an alternative for eager audiences who can’t make it to Broadway. Just avoid Diana: The Musical like the plague.
17. The Lion King (1994)
With no shortage of catchy tunes, memorable anthropomorphized characters, humor and drama, this Africa-set loose adaptation of Hamlet was one of the most financially successful films of the ’90s, for good reason. The “live-action” though not really live-action remake received mixed reviews (Uncanny Valley alert!), and is currently the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
(John Miehle/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)
16. Top Hat (1935)
Along with Swing Time, this RKO Pictures release is the best and most famous musical starring the incomparable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s an all-dancing escapist confection about mistaken identity on European holiday. Highlights include dry, sparkling dialogue, gowns that are to die for, the iconic songs of Irving Berlin and—of course—jaw-dropping dance numbers.
(Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
15. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Between the boat ride from hell, the mysterious Slugworth (Günter Meisner), a young girl helplessly transforming into a fruit and other peril, this is a family film that’s scarier than, let’s face it, most run-of-the-mill R-rated horror movies. Call it gateway horror, if you will. The dry humor is singularly delicious, Gene Wilder‘s performance masterful. A modest hit in its day, Mel Stuart‘s captivating musical comedy/morality play now stands tall as one of the very best live-action family pictures ever, along with E.T. and The Wizard of Oz.
14. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
La La Land wears its influences on its sleeve, none more so than Jacques Demy‘s bittersweet, pastel-hued romantic comedy about French lovers separated by circumstance. One of the most transcendent and enduringly popular non-English films ever made.
13. A Star Is Born (1954 and 2018)
Melodrama sometimes gets a bad rap, one it doesn’t inherently deserve. Something of a spiritual successor to the great pictures of Douglas Sirk—glossy on the outside, and profound the deeper you dig—Bradley Cooper‘s remake of—well—three movies, centers on a fading rock star (Cooper) who’s a depressed mess, and a rising pop star (Lady Gaga) he becomes involved with.
Cooper’s pop masterpiece is a grand entertainment—and it’s an emotional juggernaut for anyone who’s been around mental illness and addiction struggles, one that doesn’t hit a false note. The longer you sit with it, the more you’re struck by the audacity of the first-time feature filmmaker’s achievement. A Star Is Born was nominated for eight Oscars, winning one for Best Song for “Shallow.”
It’s important to honor the brilliant 1954 version of this story here, too. Judy Garland and James Mason star in George Cukor‘s drama, a biting Hollywood satire ahead of its time. Garland gives a titanic performance; “The Man That Got Away” is one of the great songs ever written for film.https://www.youtube.com/embed/UzyPMRo8ZUQ?enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fparade.com&rel=0&widgetid=1
12. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The second film in the Disney Renaissance is an even more refined, dramatically punchy film than The Little Mermaid. Taking a cue from the 1946 French masterwork La Belle et La Bête, benefiting enormously from the songs of Ashman/Menken, this is a landmark.
The soundtrack album was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. The less said about the campy—financially successful, but featherweight—2017 remake, the better.
(Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
11. An American in Paris (1951)
Inspired by George Gershwin‘s 1928 composition of the same name, Vincente Minnelli‘s classic romantic musical stars Gene Kelly as an American ex-GI-turned-artist in a Parisian love triangle. An American in Paris won the Academy Award for Best Picture, it’s preserved in the Library of Congress and the American Film Institute named it the ninth best musical of all time.
Top 10 Best Musicals of All Time
10. Grease (1978)
Thanks entirely to time capsule-worthy, million-watt performances from leads John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Randal Kleiser‘s blockbuster ’50’s high school musical is a marked improvement upon its stage source material. Fox’s 2016 Grease LIVE! starring Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit and Vanessa Hudgens is, by a margin, one of the very best broadcasts of its ilk, a lively surprise.
(Movie Poster Image/Getty Images)
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Still going strong in limited theaters after nearly five decades, 20th Century Fox’s sweetly bizarre and affably raunchy spectacular thrives on a larger-than-life Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, and catchy pop songs. Richard O’Brien‘s iconic musical tribute to ’50s schlock is both a toe-tapping musical and an immortal, generations-spanning ode to sexual discovery. This is the longest-running film in history, the ultimate cult classic.
8. La La Land (2016)
Some huffy observers were down on La La Land, technically comparing it unfavorably to the golden age musicals it emulates here and there. This is completely beside the point, as La La Land is many things, thusly its own creation: deftly blending a modern showbiz melodrama, a giddy throwback, a striking love story.
The takeaway of Damien Chazelle‘s acclaimed spin on the classic musical is the love story. At risk of understatement, it’s one for the ages. Sharply written and performed, it’s a kind of love story we haven’t seen on screen before, at least certainly not done this well. It’s about two creative people (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), wildly ambitious and all but defined by their lofty dreams, who really see each other and help each other. The dreams come true—at the cost of their union. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny the picture’s layers of brilliance.
(20th Century Fox)
7. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The genius of Moulin Rouge!—and there is a kind of genius in this melodramatic musical tragicomedy—is that it’s a feature-length music video that works. On a scale from one to 10, every emotion is played to about an 18, but thanks to innovative, rapid-fire editing, confident direction by Baz Luhrmann, and flat-out brilliant turns from Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent and most notably Nicole Kidman (her first Oscar nod), it’s impossible not to be bewitched. Surrender to its powers, and Moulin Rouge! is a transporting experience. And it’s aging beautifully.
(20th Century Fox)
6. All That Jazz (1979)
A year after he appeared in the mediocre Jaws 2 out of obligation, Roy Scheider gave the performance of his career in Bob Fosse‘s semi-autobiographical drama, primarily inspired by a chunk of his career where he was simultaneously editing feature film Lenny and staging Chicago on Broadway. Nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Scheider.
(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image)
5. The Sound of Music (1965)
Robert Wise‘s musical epic (at one time the highest-grossing movie ever) remains a favorite of families everywhere and for many, an annual tradition. Julie Andrews is filmgoers’ favorite rebel, while Christopher Plummer is the widower with a broken wing, who eventually succumbs to her charms. This widescreen wonder’s heartbeat and most haunting moment is their duet, “Something Good.”
(Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
4. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Endearingly colorful characters vibrantly performed (how incredible is Judy Garland here?!), classic music including arguably the 20th century’s greatest song, timeless humor, thrills, and tenderness make MGM and Victor Fleming‘s musical fantasy an enduring masterwork—one that just does not age.
The Library of Congress says this is the most-watched movie ever, and that isn’t surprising. It isn’t hyperbolic to say this is the best family film in history and the best fantasy film. Exciting, touching and big-hearted, The Wizard of Oz is the picture we most look forward to sharing with future generations.
(MIRISCH-7 ARTS/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com)
3. West Side Story (1961 and 2021)
Robert Wise’s electrifying musical of star-crossed love between rival street gangs is the most awarded musical in Oscars history (10 wins including Best Picture). If there is a flaw here, it’s that the supporting stars Rita Moreno and George Chakiris steal all the thunder whenever they’re on screen.
Steven Spielberg’s hotly anticipated remake generated considerable awards-season hype in the wake of its premiere. It turns out West Side Story is the movie surprise of the year. It isn’t flawless— but the same could probably be said of the original. It’s mostly just exhilarating—with star-making, buzzy performances from Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose. Spielberg’s best movie since Minority Report two full decades ago. There isn’t a weak performance in the shimmering cast, but perhaps the most powerful standout is Mike Faist as Riff. Phenomenal.
(Allied Artist/Getty Images)
2. Cabaret (1972)
Of all the films on this list, Cabaret might be the one that’s aging the best. Bob Fosse‘s grounded, yet electrifying period musical holds the record for most Oscar wins for a film that didn’t win Best Picture, released the same year as The Godfather. Time has been very good to Cabaret, a historical snapshot of a place where darkness and fear are sinking their talons far and wide… and where sometimes sad hookers sing beautiful songs. Among the eight Academy Awards Cabaret racked up were Best Actress honors for a luminous Liza Minelli, Best Supporting Actor for a haunting, comic Joel Grey.
1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
You didn’t think we were going with Cats, did you? Stanley Donen‘s MGM musical spectacular is often cited as the best musical ever made. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen star in a showbiz rom-com set at the industry-shaking dawn of the talkies. The nuance and physicality of the dance sequences is still staggering to watch, and the witty comic script by Adolph Green and Betty Comden is one of cinema’s cleverest, most quotable. The final moments (“Stop that girl!”) are so swoon-worthy it’ll still make your heart leap