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10 Best Movie Musicals of All Time

Updated June 26, 2018
6 min read

What do we want in a movie musical? We want high-note entertainment, large-scale audacity and glorious, sweeping singing. Musicals over the years, whether original, or adapted from their stage counterparts, have attempted to redefine what a musical means and in the process delivered both game-changing and middling cinema. A lot of the current generation doesn’t seem have the patience and the zeal required to thoroughly relish a musical. They say they don’t see the point of singing when you can talk.

And some films do reaffirm their beliefs (I’m looking at you, Tom Hooper’s ‘Les Miserables’), there are films that work so effectively and with such effortless charm, you find yourself humming their unforgettable tunes and reminiscing their optimistic, surreal view of the world. They prove, beyond doubt, why talk, when you can sing. With that said, here is the list of top classic musical movies, ranked in order of how well they work, not only as a part of the genre they belong to, but as works of cinema as well. You can many of these movie best musicals on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

10. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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The first animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ might just be Disney’s best film. With impeccable casting, gorgeous animation and sound design and a musical score by Alan Menken that will stay with you for days after watching the film, reminding you of its heartbreaking sincerity, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, like most musicals, is not one for the cynics, but the hopeless romantics won’t be able to shake off it’s magic.

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9. Chicago (2002)

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A musical must, more than anything else, be entertaining. Intellectually sound and thematically relevant are qualities that add to the experience of it,  but sometimes blatant wit and on-your-face theatrics work very effectively in a musical. And perhaps no movie musical is as consistently entertaining as Rob Marshall’s rendition of ‘Chicago’. A romp ride throughout, it will make you laugh, sing and be completely dazzled by its old-world charm.

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8. Cabaret (1972)

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Mostly known today as the film that stopped Francis Ford Coppola from winning the Best Director Oscar for ‘The Godfather’, most forget that Bob Fosse’s ‘Cabaret’ is a cinematic classic itself. Featuring terrific performances from Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey (mostly known today for coming in the way of Al Pacino’s Supporting Actor Oscar for ‘The Godfather’), ‘Cabaret’ radiates intelligence and is breathless, rollicking fun. Fosse didn’t deserve the Oscar, but he deserves the legacy.

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7. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

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No one makes movies like Baz Luhrmann does. More divisive than beloved, his films can either sweep you off your feet or be appallingly repulsive. But you simply cannot deny the inventiveness of ‘Moulin Rouge!’. It’s stirring combination of the sweet and the tangy with its electrifying editing and direction, it’s music too new to belong to the period depicted, it’s so witty, that even the most indifferent viewers would be drawn in and its tragic ending is as haunting as endings get, mostly because Nicole Kidman just blows you away.

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6. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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A tornado, a man-made of tin, a cowardly lion, a scarecrow, a sweeter than sugar girl and a renowned wizard. Children’s fable, right? But this version of Oz is so legendary and iconic, you have to be really cold not to be completely charmed by it. Yes, the effects are dated, and so are some of the performances, but Judy Garland is a joy to watch and the story of hope and joy is sublimely underlined by classic songs.

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5. The Sound of Music (1965)

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God, can Julie Andrews sing. Her powerful, fully realized performance anchors this classic tale of the Von Trapp family, and the picturesque locations, combined with some of the most ageless musical numbers of all time make this a worthy Hollywood paradigm in the genre. It’s also remarkably funny; and sheds some light on the horrors of the Nazi period. It may lack intensity, but sure does have a lot of allure.

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4. My Fair Lady (1964)

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Many would say ‘My Fair Lady’ has aged. But in my eyes, its sophisticated aesthetic, rousing plot and the dazzling chemistry between its leads is still detectable. Rex Harrison is an acidic delight as the linguistic professor who falls for the flower girl Eliza who he grooms to perfection in order to win a bet. The film is wildly hilarious and although long and slogging in places, doesn’t lose it’s acuity. Audrey  Hepburn may annoy some in the louder moments of the film, but is equally compelling in the quieter ones. It is, as Roger Ebert called it, “the best and most unlikely of musicals.”

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3. All That Jazz (1979)

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Before ‘Birdman’, there was ‘All That Jazz’; a dizzying, spectacular take on the many highs and lows of the frustrating, adrenaline-fused life in show-biz. Fosse pours his heart out in this genius work of art, but ‘All That Jazz’ works because it’s both moving and scathing. In the hands of a lesser actor, ‘All That Jazz’ would be turgid and dull, but Roy Scheider lends the film just gravitas and charisma, and is my personal favorite musical film performance of all time.

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2. La La Land (2016)

‘La La Land’ is the epitome of what a musical should look and feel like. The trick with making a successful musical is to hold no bars. Damien Chazelle does exactly that, while simultaneously ensuring that his film tells a moving story that everyone who has ever been in love can relate to. Replete with eye-popping song and dance numbers, ‘La La Land’ is a mesmerizing and emotional tale of aspirations in a world where success is both the best friend and the worst enemy. I can’t recall the last time I enjoyed watching a film so much in a movie theater.

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1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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Widely considered as the greatest movie musical of all time and one of the greatest films of all time, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was a humble success at the time of its release but has grown in stature over the years. The film focuses on the transition of the industry from silent features to “talkies”, and is still as relevant as cinema continues to grow and redefine itself. It is profound in its expression of nostalgia, sharp as a tack in its humor and I promise you, you won’t be able to stop singing the title song. It’s hard to belt out high notes in the rain, but boy, does Gene Kelly make it look easy.

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