For a fan of movie musicals, choosing an all-time top ten is no easy task. But if the criteria are superb scripts, characters, songs, performances, and uniquely cinematic direction, then ten films stand out above the rest.
Among this list, the numbers 7 and 3 abound; 7 of the films were adapted from stage to screen, 3 of them were later adapted from screen to stage. The films netted 7 acting Oscars, 3 Best Picture Oscars, 3 Best Director Oscars, and one performer appeared in 3 of them (name that performer to be the trivia champ).
10. “Mary Poppins” (1964) is Disney’s masterpiece that made international treasures of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The film’s magical blend of fantasy, comedy, music, dance and animation is as enchanting today as when you first saw it as a child.
9. “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971) brought the village of Anatevka to warm, gritty life in a way that the near-perfect stage version could not. Breaking Hollywood tradition by casting the unknown Israeli actor Topol as Tevye was a stroke of genius, and the rousing, haunting score sounds magnificent.
8. “The King and I” (1956) is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s finest work and its compelling love story was decades ahead of its time. The chemistry between Deborah Kerr’s feminist Anna and Yul Brynner’s headstrong King of Siam is electric. When he touches her corseted waist during “Shall We Dance,” my heart still stops.
7. “The Music Man” (1962) features a great love story between Robert Preston’s traveling con artist and Shirley Jones’ prim librarian. The most amazing aspect of this classic is Meredith Willson who wrote the book, music and lyrics — and threatened to back out of the film if the studio cast Frank Sinatra instead of Preston.
6. “The Sound of Music” (1965) was pummeled by both stage and film critics, but the combination of Julie Andrews, seven children, nuns, Nazis, and those magnificent Alps is impossible to resist. To this day I want Julie Andrews to be my nanny.
5. “Chicago” (2002) brought the long-dead movie musical back to sexy, cynical life. Director Rob Marshall’s dazzling tour-de-force took a big risk in casting non-musical stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. It paid off.
4. “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) was a high water mark in the golden age of MGM musicals. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor sparkle in this colorful, effervescent satire about the early days of talking pictures.
3. “Cabaret” (1972) is the film that made Oscar winners Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and director Bob Fosse immortal. Confining the musical numbers to the sleazy Berlin cabaret brought the movie musical into the ‘70s era of gritty realism – and that title song still packs a wallop.
2. “West Side Story” (1961) revolutionized both the stage and movie musical with Jerome Robbins’ acrobatic choreography and Leonard Bernstein’s thrilling score. This modern “Romeo and Juliet” set amid urban gang violence and prejudice resonates to this day.
1. “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) is such a seamless blend of story, character, fantasy and song that one hardly thinks of it as a musical – which makes it the greatest musical, and film, of all time. It also features the greatest song ever written, that still makes children and adults want to go “Over the Rainbow.”