The 10 Movie Musicals That Should be On Your Holiday Movie List!
The holidays are probably the only regular time of the year when family and friends gather together. It’s a time to catch up and see people who may live hundreds of miles away. It’s also a time for shared experiences, like going for walks or eating a meal, or watching a favorite movie. Nowadays, it has become increasingly rare for people to view movies or television programs and have a shared experience.
The holidays allow us to turn the clock back and enjoy a time from our childhood when everyone would get together and watch and enjoy a movie as a group. What better way to relive those memories than to pop some corn and snuggle up to watch a movie musical. We’ve picked out ten of the best movie musicals that you can sing along with, and help recreate that ‘feel-good’ holiday moment from your youth.
1. My Fair Lady (1964)
The musical stars Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway and Wilfred Hyde-White. The movie is based on a stage play by George Bernard Shaw called Pygmalion, which is about a lowly London flower girl, Eliza Doolittle played by Hepburn, who wants to better herself, and takes speech lessons from Professor Higgins played by Rex Harrison. The speech coach boasts he can pass her off as a duchess within six months, and so begins the battle of wills between Eliza and Higgins.
Along the way, we are treated to some perennial song favorites, and some lively dialog taken straight from Shaw’s play. The original play was written as an attack on the British class system, and the undertones are still there in the musical, but they don’t overshadow the essentials that this is a gentle underplayed love story. Audrey Hepburn didn’t do the singing as her voice was overdubbed by Marni Nixon, who had already sung for Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Deborah Kerr in the King and I. Even so, Hepburn owns the movie with her natural beauty and elegance.
It’s more than a hundred years since the play was first produced, and sixty years since it was turned into a musical. However, the themes of nescient feminism and the folly of a class system still ring true today and make the musical more than just a collection of great tunes.
2. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Some people say Singin’ In The Rain, is not just one of the greatest musicals ever made but is also without exception one of the best movies ever made. Be that as it may, it’s one of the greatest watches for the whole family. When you consider that only one of the songs in the musical was specially written for it, and when made MGM reused old sets and props, it doesn’t look or feel as if it were second-hand in any way. Quite the contrary, the stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and then-newcomer Debbie Reynolds bring vibrancy and vitality to the screen that had never been before or possibly since. The young Debbie Reynolds has her work cut out to keep up with the seasoned professionals Kelly and O’Connor.
The song and dance numbers are some of the best every photographed. Donald O’Connor’s acrobatic ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ number is only topped by the balletic Gene Kelly in his tour de force performance of the title number ‘Singin’ In The Rain’. And what of the plot you may ask? Well, it’s a nicely contrived tale of silent movie stars coming to terms with the talkies. Gene Kelly’s character Don Lockwood is romantically linked on screen and off the screen with his co-star Lina Lamont, only to have the partnership fall apart when Lina’s grating New York accent fails to win over the fans. In steps Debbie Reynolds’ character Kathy Selden to provide the sweet voice that can be dubbed.
All is revealed in a finale when Lina has to sing to a crowd, with Kathy behind a curtain. As the song gets underway, the curtain falls, and the ruse is uncovered. Needless to say, the guy gets the girl in the end, and everyone lives happily ever after, well maybe not Lina, but by the time the movie ends, we don’t really care about her.
3. Mamma Mia (2008)
When a stage musical sells 30 million tickets, you know there is an audience. So, after record-breaking runs in London, New York, and many other cities around the world, it does not surprise that the hit musical was turned into a movie. Rather than starting with a story, the musical set out to create a story around the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA.
The songs were already well known; it was just about contriving a story that would link them all together. The premise turns out to be just as dreamlike as most musicals. Donna played by Meryl Streep is running a holiday hotel on a Greek island. Her daughter Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried is about to get married, and she invites the three men who could be her father to the wedding. The arrival of Donna’s former lovers, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, and Pierce Brosnan turns the small island world upside down, not to mention Donna’s plans for the wedding.
What little there is in the story doesn’t really matter as the songs keep on coming, driving the films energy and exuberance. Shot on the Greek island of Skopelos, the idyllic, sun-drenched locations add to the movie’s vibrancy. That shot of Mediterranean sunshine is what everyone needs on a cold gray winter’s day.
4. Oklahoma! (1955)
Right from the opening shot of Oklahoma! you know you’re in for something special. The Rogers and Hammerstein stage musical was given the Hollywood treatment to showcase a new widescreen 70mm format called Todd-AO. That’s why watching it again at home on a modern high definition flat screen TV makes so much sense. The richness of the color and the sound come through so much better than it was first small screen appearance back in 1970. The story is based around two cowboys in turn of the century Oklahoma, and the courtship of their sweethearts.
Of course, nothing goes exactly to plan with baddies trying to steal the girl. The songs are classics, and I dare anyone to say they won’t be humming ‘Oh What a Lovely Morning’ when they get up the next day. Unlike many stage to movie adaptations, Oklahoma! Sticks closely to what audiences would have seen in the theater. Nobody will say that this is a perfect movie or even a perfect musical, but what everyone will agree is that it has a feel good factor that can’t be beaten.
5. Grease (1978)
Nobody is going to say Grease is the best musical ever. The acting is not particularly wonderful, with a couple of notable exceptions, and the direction can be pedestrian at times, nevertheless the package works. The nostalgia for the 1950s is something that has transcended the 1970s and is just as vivid today as it was when the movie was made. The story centers around the newest student at a high school in Southern California.
The squeaky-clean Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) has transferred from Australia and she and greaser Danny (John Travolta) have a summer romance, never to meet again. But as the new school year starts the two are thrust back together, which plays havoc with Danny’s tough guy image. The on-off relationship between the two makes for some great songs and dance routines. If there is one major flaw in the movie in that all the seventeen-year-olds look at least ten years older. Maybe that adds to the idyll of wanting to return to a youth were things were much simpler. T
ravolta comes across as a modern-day Elvis Presley, whereas Olivia Newton-John shines as the demure Sandy, but has a harder time being the vamp Sandy at the end of the movie, even though she had to be sewn into the tight pants she wears for the climax. It may be kitsch, it may be overblown in parts, but Grease stands out for its memorable sing-a-long songs.
6. Moulin Rouge (2001)
In its own gorgeously brash way Moulin Rouge re-wrote the movie musical style book. Australian director Baz Luhrmann created a vibrant, sparky musical uniquely filled with pop tunes. Moulin Rouge tells the story of writer Christian, played by Ewan McGregor, who travels to Bohemian Paris and falls in with the group of eccentrics including Toulouse Lautrec.
He becomes beguiled by Satine, played by Nicole Kidman, a singer and courtesan at the famous Moulin Rouge. Satine keeps a secret from Christian as he falls deeper and deeper in love with her. While the film is set in the 1890s, the music is straight out of the 1980s with songs from artists such as Madonna, Elton John, the Police, and Queen. The film is wonderfully colorful, and is reminiscent of the Technicolor musicals of the 1950s were rich hues jumped out from the screen. However, it is cut more like a pop video which adds to the pace of the movie.
As a musical, the movie pays homage to Victorian operettas, and 50s musicals while at the same time creating its own fantasy Paris that grabs the audiences and never let’s go from the first frame until the last.
7. Chicago (2002)
It’s been said that the change in movie musicals which started with Moulin Rouge continued the following year with the release of Chicago. It was the first musical to win the best picture Oscar in more than 30 years, probably partly because it harked back to the dazzling song and dance musicals from MGM in the 1950s, and partly how the songs move the story rather than the dialog. Based on the hit stage musical by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebbs, Chicago follows two ‘good-time’ girls accused of murder, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rene Zellweger, and their crooked lawyer played by Richard Gere.
Bob Fosse captures the era of Chicago in the 30s and 40s in the original stage musical, and it is passed on to the movie. Veteran stage director Rob Marshall, making his first movie, gives the film pace and the bravado needed to move from musical number to the next with the shortest of gaps.
8. Cabaret (1972)
When English writer Brian Roberts (Michael York) visits Berlin in the dying days of the Weimar Republic he falls under the spell of American cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli). The two start an affair and the musical charts that relationship, along with the changing world around them as the Nazis rise to power.
Almost all of the musical is set in a seedy cabaret club in Berlin, overseen by the dominant MC played by Joel Grey. The cinematography of Geoffrey Unsworth and the direction of Bob Fosse bring the vitality of the cabaret culture of the time to life. However, the dark undercurrent of Nazism is never far away, and as the movie progresses, Sally’s life becomes more and more detached from the reality around her. It is, without doubt, the defining performance of Liza Minnelli’s career, and she won the best actress Oscar for it. Her co-star Joel Grey won the best supporting actor award. While we’re on the subject of Academy Awards, director Bob Fosse also picked up the Oscar for best director.
At the time this was a ground-breaking musical, and it stands the test of time well, it’s one of those movies you have to see at least once in your life.
9. Dreamgirls (2006)
With both a good story and great songs seamlessly tied to the plot, even those who would usually turn their noses up at musicals will really enjoy Dreamgirls. The movie is set in 1960s Detroit and follows the rising fortunes of an all-girl pop group, and their manager and record label owner. Parallels to Motown Records and The Supremes are plain to see. Three girls, Effie played by Jennifer Hudson, Deena played by Beyonce Knowles, and Lorell played by Anika Noni Rose, are spotted by entrepreneur Curtis Taylor played by Jamie Foxx.
The group signs to his label Rainbow Records and they take off on a rollercoaster ride through the 1960s. The girls’ career is intertwined with that of Jimmy Early played by Eddie Murphy as a very dark and troubled character, so different from his comedic achievements. The costumes and sets of the musical evoke the 60s so well, but it’s the characters that drive the story and sweep you up into the world of pop music. Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for her breakout performance, thumbing her nose after being dumped from American Idol. This is one of the few musicals where the characters become flesh and blood, and as an audience, we empathize with all of their trials and tribulations. It’s another must-see for the holiday season.
10. The Sound of Music (1965)
We leave what is arguably the best until last. The Sound of Music has been described as the ‘epitome of the movie musical’. It has certainly stood the test of time, partly in thanks to the stand-out performance of Julie Andrews as the postulate nun Maria who becomes a governess. Set in 1930s Austria, wayward Maria is sent from her convent to become the governess to a family of children whose mother recently died. The father Captain Von Trapp, played by Christopher Plummer, is a hard taskmaster, and likes military precision around the home.
Maria comes in like a breath of wind and turns the place upside down, getting the children to sing and play. Overshadowing the whole story is the rise of Nazism and the impending takeover of Austria by Nazi Germany. The score by Rogers and Hammerstein has so many sing-along favorites it’s difficult to pick out anyone as being the high point of the musical. However, you know you’re in for something special with the opening, when Julie Andrews sings the title song in a high Alpine meadow with breathtaking scenery. As dark clouds form over Austria, anti-Nazi Captain Von Trapp and his family must make a stand.
They do so near the end of the musical when performing at the Salzburg Festival, and astound the audience of mostly Nazis by singing Edelweiss. The heart-warming tale and the host of songs that everyone has come to know and love means The Sound of Music never grows old and is, therefore, one of the mainstay musicals for the holiday season.