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The 27 Best Movie Musicals of All Time

Sing and dance along with these great films.

Movie musicals have been around since the early days of cinema but have fallen in and out of favor over the years. The genre first had a heyday in the 1940s and '50s, and there have been waves of popularity ever since—such as a resurgence in the '80s and '90s, which included hugely successful animated movie musicals. In the 21st century, musicals are made less frequently than they once were, but every once in a while, one becomes a huge hit. Just look at Les Misérables in 2012 and La La Land in 2016.

If you're looking for a new-to-you musical to watch or just want to find out what are considered some of the best musical films of all time, keep reading. From The Wizard of Oz in 1939 to Coco in 2017, here are 27 of the best musical films ever made.

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The 27 Best Musical Movies of All Time

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Singin' in the Rain isn't just considered one of the best musical movies ever but one of the best movies, period. Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, and Donald O'Connor star in the 1952 film as actors working in Hollywood around the time that movies went from being silent to using sound. The humor stands up, the song-and-dance sequences are amazing, the romance is believable—it's just an all-around classic.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Speaking of… There are few movies more celebrated and beloved than 1939's The Wizard of Oz, adapted from the Frank L. Baum novel. Playing Dorothy Gale made an even bigger star out of Judy Garland, whose unforgettable performance of "Over the Rainbow" established it as one of the most popular standards of all time. The effects, especially when the film goes from black-and-white to color, are still stunning all these years later. The Wizard of Oz is basically timeless.

Chicago (2002)

When Chicago won Best Picture at the 2003 Academy Awards, it became the first musical to do so in 34 years. (Oliver! was the last one to win, back in 1969.) Catherine Zeta-Jones also won a statue for her turn as Velma Kelly, a nightclub performer accused of a double murder, while Renée Zellweger plays Roxie, a dreamer who gets her first taste of fame after she kills her lover. Don't be confused by all the killing, though—John Kander and Fred Ebbs' Broadway musical is a comedy, and so is this feature adaptation.

The Sound of Music (1965)

The hills are alive with the sound of music… Full of memorable songs, 1965's The Sound of Music stars Julie Andrews as Maria, an aspiring nun in Austria who is sent to take care of the seven von Trapp children during the time leading up to World War II. While raising the children, Maria falls in love with their father, Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). The film is based on the real life story of the von Trapp family, who performed together as singers and escaped Austria before the war.

Grease (1978)

Released in 1978 but set 20 years earlier, Grease is about a sweet, Australian teen named Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), who moves to the U.S. where she has a summer romance with a greaser boy, Danny (John Travolta). The two soon reunite when the school year begins, and Sandy tries to fit in with her new friends, the rebellious Pink Ladies. The two struggle to get on the same page when it comes to their feelings for each other, but they eventually figure it out—through song, of course!

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Mary Poppins (1964)

Another Julie Andrews classic, in this 1964 film, she stars as magical nanny Mary Poppins, the character created by P.L. Travers in her book series. Mary Poppins appears just when the Banks children need her the most, taking them on fantastical adventures along with her friend Bert (Dick Van Dyke), all while their father, George (David Tomlinson), learns that he needs to be a more kind and responsible parent.

Fun fact: Andrews, who made her big screen debut in Mary Poppins was only free to do it because Warner Bros. cast Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady instead of Andrews, who originated the role on stage. Both actors were up for Oscars that year, and Andrews won.

Dreamgirls (2006)

The 2006 movie Dreamgirls is about the rise of Motown music in the '60s, but instead of being a biopic about a particular artist or group, it features a fictional act. The Dreams are basically stand-ins for the Supremes to tell this story of the tumultuous music industry. Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose star as the singers, while Jamie Foxx plays a big time record executive and Eddie Murphy is a singer in a tumultuous relationship with one of the Dreams.

Les Misérables (2012)

The 1862 novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo has been adapted many times, including into the 1985 blockbuster hit stage musical on which this movie is based. The epic story spans many years and is centered around Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) a prisoner, who becomes wealthy after being given a second chance at life. Valjean takes in the daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), of one of his factory workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), after she dies. As time goes on, Valjean's past continues to haunt him, while real-life events from 19th century French history occur in conjunction with the main storyline.

West Side Story (1961)

A musical movie inspired by a work created even further back in time is West Side Story, which is a musical retelling of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set in New York City. Rather than the Montague and Capulet families, West Side Story is about the conflict between the Sharks and Jets gangs. Maria (Natalie Wood) is a Puerto Rican teenager associated with the Sharks, who falls in love with Tony (Richard Beymer), a white member of the Jets. The group's violent rivalry threatens Maria and Tony's relationship. And if you know Romeo and Juliet, you won't be surprised by the tragic end to this 1961 film.

La La Land (2016)

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in 2016's La La Land as Mia and Seb, two people who fall in love while trying to make their dreams come true in Hollywood. Mia wants to be a successful actor, while Seb is a jazz musician who dreams about opening a club. As time goes on, the couple have to figure out if it's truly possible to make their relationship work while also getting what they want in their careers. Stone won her first Oscar for this role.

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My Fair Lady (1964)

As previously noted, Audrey Hepburn plays Eliza Doolittle in 1964's My Fair Lady, which is a film version of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe stage musical, which is in turn adapted from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion. Eliza is a poor girl who sells flowers in Covent Garden, which is where she meets linguistics professor Henry Higgins, played by Rex Harrison. Behind Eliza's back, Henry makes a bet with a colleague that he can change her Cockney accent and thereby pass her off as lady of high society; Eliza thinks that he is helping her with her accent so that she can get better work. The two have a contentious relationship while they work together, but eventually, Henry realizes that he's fallen for his student.

An American in Paris (1951)

The American in Paris in this film is Gene Kelly's Jerry, an artist who moved to France in the hopes of having a successful career. He begins a mutually beneficial relationship with a wealthy woman named Milo (Nina Foch) who wants to be a patron of his art, though she's more interested in him romantically than he is in her. Meanwhile, Jerry falls for a Frenchwoman named Lise (Leslie Caron). While An American in Paris includes famous songs (such as "I Got Rhythm"), the dancing is even more memorable, particularly a 17-minute dream ballet with Kelly and Caron.

The Lion King (1994)

The best musical movies aren't all live-action. One of the most loved animated musicals for both its story (Hamlet, but with lions, essentially) and its music is The Lion King. Songs including "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," "Hakuna Matata," and "Circle of Life" were co-written by Elton John and Tim Rice. All three songs were nominated for Best Original Song at the 1995 Academy Awards with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" winning John and Rice trophies.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Disney's Beauty and the Beast has the distinction of being the first animated film nominated for Best Picture. The title song by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman won the Oscar for Best Original Song. The fairy tale is about a bookish young woman named Belle (Paige O'Hara), who becomes trapped in an enchanted castle with a prince who has been turned into a beast (Robby Benson).

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Cabaret (1972)

Liza Minnelli stars in 1972's Cabaret, another screen adaptation of a Kander and Ebb musical, as Sally Bowles, an American cabaret performer living in Germany in 1931. The free spirited forms with strait-laced Brian (Michael York), an Englishman who moves into the same boarding house, while she spends her nights performing at the Kit Kat Klub, which is presided over by the ominous Emcee (Joel Grey). The rise of fascism supplies a discomfiting contrast to the decadent and hedonistic mood of the city. Cabaret won eight Oscars, including nods for Minnelli and Grey.

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Gigi (1958)

The 1958 musical Gigi is about a young woman, Gigi (Leslie Caron), who lives with her grandmother (Hermione Gingold) in Paris during the Belle Époque. Gigi's grandmother plans for her to become a mistress to rich men, but her life changes when she forms a friendship—and later a romantic relationship—with a man named Gaston (Louis Jourdan). Back when musicals were frequently winning Best Picture awards, Gigi was one of the films to take home the prize.

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Fiddler on the Roof is about a Jewish family in Russia in the early 1900s, led by Tevye (Topol), a father who is trying to get his five daughters married though he's too poor to have a dowry for them. The 1971 film shows how three of the daughters find husbands while also depicting the tensions between their Jewish community and non-Jewish Russians living nearby.

Purple Rain (1984)

The 1984 Prince musical Purple Rain stars the singer as the Kid, an up-and-coming musician, who grew up in an abusive home. The Kid is gaining popularity in the Minneapolis (where Prince is actually from) music scene, but faces issues with rival musicians, a love interest named Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), and his family. The film includes Prince hits such as "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," and of course, "Purple Rain."

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Set in 1899, Moulin Rouge! is loosely based on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and is about an English poet (Ewan McGregor) and a French courtesan (Nicole Kidman), who fall in love in Paris. Their romance has to be kept a secret, however, because Satine has been promised to the conniving Duke (Richard Roxburgh), whose patronage is keeping the titular nightclub in business. Contrary to many of the films on this list that went from stage to screen, Moulin Rouge! is an original movie musical that was then adapted into a Broadway show.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The 1971 musical Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory tells Roald Dahl's story of Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), a poor boy who wins a trip to the magical chocolate factory run by the wacky yet mysterious Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder). At the factory, he and the other winning children on the tour witness unbelievable things—that turn out pretty darkly for the kids who aren't as well behaved as Charlie—with songs to accompany each shocking moment.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult movie that still sees fans dressing up for showings and singing along at raucous screenings today. Combining elements of sci-fi, comedy, horror, and queer culture into a musical, the film is about a couple (Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick), who end up at a castle full of eccentric characters having a party after their car breaks down. These include a scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) and his creation, Rocky (Peter Hinwood).

All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz is inspired by director and co-writer Bob Fosse's own life working as a choreographer, dancer, and director all at once. Roy Scheider plays Joe, a man who is struggling to edit a movie while also directing a Broadway play and begins facing health setbacks while still trying to keep up with his overwhelming life. Parts of the movie are dream sequences as the main character becomes increasingly unwell.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell star as Lorelei and Dorothy in the 1953 musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The two play showgirls and friends, who run into all sorts of conundrums when they travel to France for Lorelei's wedding to a man named Gus (Tommy Noonan Jr.). These include Gus' father hiring an investigator, Ernie (Elliott Reid), to spy on them… and Dorothy falling for the spy herself. The movie includes Monroe's iconic performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."

Oliver! (1968)

Best Picture Oscar-winner Oliver! is based on a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. The titular orphan (Mark Lester) gets kicked out of the sweatshop where he and other kids are working and ends up being trained in pickpocketing by a group of criminals. Soon, though, Oliver is taken in by the wealthy Mr. Brownlow (Joseph O'Conor) as the truth about his past is revealed.

Coco (2017)

A more recent animated musical, 2017's Coco, from Pixar Animation Studios, was widely acclaimed for both its story about a Mexican boy, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who visits the Land of the Dead on día de los muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Miguel tries to find out the truth as to why his family doesn't allow music to be played in their home and learns a lot about his family history—including some dark secrets—along the way.

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Funny Girl (1968)

Barbra Streisand became a major star with her performance Funny Girl, which is inspired by the life of comedian Fanny Brice, who came to fame as a performer in the Ziegfeld Follies in the early 1900s. The film also tells the story of Brice's relationship with husband Nicky Arnstein. Streisand had previously played the role on Broadway, and for the 1968 movie adaptation she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

On the Town (1949)

Our third Gene Kelly entry is 1949's On the Town, starring Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin as three Navy sailors who spend 24 hours in New York City while their ship is docked. It's only a short time, but they spend it out on the town and end up finding love—or at least lust—as they venture around the city. (Their love interests are played by Betty GarrettAnn Miller, and Vera-Ellen.) The most famous song from the movie—and the stage musical it was adapted from—is "New York, New York."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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