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The 40 Best Movie Musicals of the Past 40 Years

A ranking covering everything in between ‘Grease’ and ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

Ringer illustration

As Mary Poppins Returns hits theaters this weekend and the A Star Is Born soundtrack infiltrates karaoke bars across the nation, we prepare to wrap up another year in which the movie musical has again proved its utter timelessness. We are also 40 years out from another musical classic, Grease, which helped usher in the modern form of the genre. That means it’s the perfect time to look back on the best of the genre since Grease hit theaters in 1978. From All That Jazz to Aladdin and Sing Street to School of Rock, here are The Ringer’s best movie musicals of the past 40 years.


40. Pennies From Heaven

Why is the movie on the list?

A strange and beautiful film with an odd conception. The British screenwriter Dennis Potter’s evocation of Depression-era gloom and whimsy was an adaptation of his own BBC miniseries. It’s gorgeously choreographed and costumed, a feat of taste and style. But there is no singing, just mime-ing of the ’20s and ’30s gems from Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Fred Astaire, and others. This was Steve Martin’s first dramatic role, and the movie bombed. Audiences expecting The Jerk got something sweeter and more delicate. Martin’s quote about the film’s reception is one of the greatest in movie history: “I’m disappointed that it didn’t open as a blockbuster and I don’t know what’s to blame, other than it’s me and not a comedy. I must say that the people who get the movie, in general, have been wise and intelligent; the people who don’t get it are ignorant scum.”

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“Did You Ever See a Dream Walking,” by Bing Crosby. —Sean Fennessey

39. Mamma Mia!

Why is the movie on the list?

Well, it made $610 million worldwide, and also it features Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, and Amanda Seyfried singing ABBA songs on a Greek island. I am not sure anyone expected those two facts to coexist.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The objective answer here is the closing credits number, set to “Waterloo,” when multiple Oscar-winning actors don sequined, bell-bottomed jumpsuits and give into the karaoke mania that fuels this film; in many ways, the “plot” is just a two-hour preamble to this music video.

But I have also always had a soft spot for Meryl Streep belting “The Winner Takes It All” directly at Pierce Brosnan as the sun sets behind her. Meryl Streep loves to sing in a movie, and literally nothing—singing partners, choreography, or concern for timing or movie momentum—will get in her way. It’s why we watch musicals, isn’t it? —Amanda Dobbins

38. Waiting for Guffman

Why is this movie on the list?

There’s no original cast recording for “Red, White, and Blaine,” but there should be. That would be the album for the musical that the community theater troupe of Blaine, Missouri, performs in Christopher Guest’s Waiting for Guffman. This clip of “Stool Boom” will have to suffice. The entire movie is worthy of a soundtrack, including Parker Posey’s performance of “Teacher’s Pet” and the Catherine O’Hara–Fred Willard duet of “Midnight at the Oasis.” Guest’s humor and his capable players are at their weirdest and funniest in this meta commentary on: Americana, community theater, the allure of Broadway, and the Midwest’s fading industrial economy, among other topics.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

Willard is a regular member of the Christopher Guest Rep, and he’s become known in recent years for landing one-liners as he did in Best in Show. That skill was honed in Guffman by tossing aside all self awareness in the name of performance.

—Juliet Litman

37. Enchanted

Why is this movie on the list?

Long before Amy Adams was greeting aliens, solving murders, or romancing Superman, she was responsible for some delightful movie musical numbers. Between crooning with Lee Pace in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and waltzing with the animals of New York in Enchanted, it was a magical time for Amy enthusiasts. Enchanted, in particular, provided a glimpse of the superstar she was about to become. Not to mention, James Marsden gives the best performance of his life.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

No one hates impromptu public sing-alongs more than me, so I relate to Patrick Dempsey on a spiritual level during this scene. That said, the moment the steel drum players start to duet with Giselle is the moment this turns into an all-time great Disney song. —Kate Halliwell

36. The Greatest Showman

Why is this movie on the list?

This earnest Hugh-Jackman-as-P.T.-Barnum spectacular was ridiculed upon its low-energy release in December 2017, but emerged in 2018 as an unlikely box-office and Billboard-chart sensation. Its countless peppy jams are a mix of Panic! at the Disco’s rock theatricality, Kelly Clarkson’s weaponized empowerment, and Ty Dolla $ign’s digital-lothario R&B. Incidentally, all three of those artists (and Kesha and Pink) showed up on November’s full-length all-star tribute album.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“This Is Me,” a heartwarming and barn-burning anthem handled by Broadway powerhouse Keala Settle, made it all the way to the Oscars (and lost to Coco’s “Remember Me”) and has anchored many full-audience sing-along screenings. (Kesha sang it on the tribute album.) It’s a “Fight Song” that won’t make you grind your teeth into dust. —Rob Harvilla

35. Moulin Rouge!

Why is the movie on the list?

Did you remember that Moulin Rouge! was nominated for Best Picture in 2002, alongside such films as Gosford Park and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring? (It lost to A Beautiful Mind, because the Oscars stay Oscar-ing.) Anyway: Baz Luhrmann built a Belle Epoque jukebox musical around a climactic tango interpretation of the song “Roxanne,” and then convinced Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor to star in it, and an entire generation of teens and Academy voters to take it seriously. This is an award for sheer chutzpah.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“Elephant Love Medley,” a.k.a. the song that primed a bunch of 12-year-olds to be Girl Talk fans eight years later. —AD

34. Hercules

Why is this movie on the list?

Hercules is yet another vibrant project from Disney’s string of successful ’90s animated films. Perhaps the weirdest thing about revisiting Hercules in 2018 is having to reckon with the fact that current Twitter troll James Woods is the movie’s MVP as the diabolical Hades. Hades doesn’t sing much in Hercules—he mostly plots like a good Greek Machiavelli should—but that just gives the rest of the cast, including Danny DeVito and Susan Egan, the chance to flex their vocal cords.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

Technically, it’s not part of Hercules itself, but I have to go with Michael Bolton’s music video for “Go the Distance,” perhaps the most iconic song of the film and certainly the most ’90s thing I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure if anybody at Disney requested that Bolton style his hair like he was Hercules, but I’m so happy that he did. —Miles Surrey

33. School of Rock

Why is this movie on the list?

Because besides being about a guy who commits identity fraud and child abduction, it’s also a delightful movie about kids finding their voices featuring Jack Black at his most tolerable.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

When Black discovers the class he’s substitute teaching for is full of absurdly talented musicians and forms the School of Rock band. It’s an undeniably charming scene highlighted by Black changing the lyrics of The Doors’ “Touch Me” to “Lawrence is good at piano,” which is canon now.

Andrew Gruttadaro

32. Mulan

Why is this movie on the list?

Animated Disney movies from the ’90s all come with caveat, perhaps none more than Mulan. It has a killer soundtrack, with Christina Aguilera and Lea Salonga, a true GOAT of musical theater and live performance, tag-teaming “Reflection.” Salonga sang the version heard in the movie (which I consider superior), while Aguilera sang the version released as a single. And therein lies the central problem of Mulan: While it traffics in Chinese history and tradition, it does so with the depth of a kiddie pool and the nuance of grayscale. It’s a shame the movie isn’t more respectful, because it has veritable bangers.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The Ringer has a noted fondness for getting-the-band-together montages, and Mulan’s is particularly grand because of the song against which the scene plays. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is the most fun song in the movie, and the scene that ties it together. JL

31. Cry-Baby

Why is this movie on the list?

Musicals are campy, and this is a movie musical from the camp counselor, John Waters. The legendary outsider filmmaker made a studio musical featuring Johnny Depp, a porn star (Traci Lords), a downtown New York art-scene stalwart (Joe Dallesandro), and a Stooge (Iggy friggin’ Pop). It’s about a rebel and a normie girl who fall in love and turn a ho-hum suburban town on its head.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The jailhouse rock of “Doin’ Time for Bein’ Young,” obviously. —Chris Ryan

30. Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Why is this movie on the list?

A glammy and vibrantly uncouth love letter to the likes of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie, this cult-classic adaptation of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s celebrated off-Broadway sensation is the best pure rock opera since Tommy. It’s also louder and lewder (“the Angry Inch” is a nod to a botched sex-change operation) than all the other rock operas combined. It bombed at the time but eventually hit actual Broadway as a beloved time capsule starring the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Taye Diggs.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“The Origin of Love” is a largely animated and nuclear-powered Book of Genesis rewrite that collapses the distance between flamboyant Broadway melodrama and volcanic downtown cool. They don’t even make bands like this anymore. Hammer it out at karaoke and triangulate the delight of people who love Glee and people who wouldn’t be caught dead admitting to loving Glee. —RH

29. Country Strong

Why is the movie on the list?

In 2010, less than a decade ago, wellness queen Gwyneth Paltrow starred in a major-motion picture about a country star trying to make a comeback while battling addiction. It was essentially Nashville (the show) before Nashville, but with A-list talent: Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester, and a young Garrett Hedlund. And, frankly, it was better than the show. They make a lot of movies about washed-up male country stars, but, just like in real country music, the women so seldom get a chance. Turns out they have song-worthy problems too.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

Spoiler alert, but: when Gwyneth Paltrow dies at the end. Goodness! Also, don’t miss this video—once again, from less than 10 years ago—in which Gwyneth Paltrow hangs out in a warehouse and does her best “cool Tennessee” look. Extraordinary times. —AD

28. Coco

Why is this movie on the list?

Best Pixar movie? Arguably! Best Pixar musical moment? Undoubtedly. With a fantastical visual imagination and one of the more vivid and risible villains in 21st-century animation, this whirlwind tour through the Land of the Dead is as kooky as it is thrilling as it is heartbreaking. As a means of expanding prestige animation’s cultural palate, it was a boon for both Pixar and the wider world; it won two Oscars and deserved, like, five more.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

That would be the Oscar-winning “Remember Me,” which in its final, devastating form—sung by a teary-eyed boy to his kindly old great grandmother—is an instant ugly-crying fit in the best possible way. —RH

27. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

Why is the movie on the list?

Good lord, this movie rules. The story is simple: High school students are having nervous breakdowns because of rock ‘n’ roll fever. The administration tries to stymie the students’ love of the music to regain control. Riff Randell (P.J. Soles, the human embodiment of a smile) and her favorite band the Ramones have something to say about that. That something comes in the form of a dozen incredible Ramones songs. Spoiler: The kids win. If you don’t like this movie, we can’t be friends.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“I Want You Around,” by the Ramones. —SF

26. Dreamgirls

Why is this movie on the list?

There was a time before Beyoncé dominated the pop culture landscape that she would agree to a movie remake of a storied musical in which she did not have full creative control. That time was in the previous decade, when she played Deena Jones in Dreamgirls. It’s a good part but it’s not the money role. Of course that would be Effie White, played by Jennifer Hudson, in a role that launched her into a different stratosphere of fame. She had already broken through as a contestant on American Idol, but the opportunity to sing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” made her a household name. The movie itself was a faithful remake of a musical that was previously referenced only by theater junkies.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

In the 12 years since the movie came out, the song written for Beyoncé, “Listen,” has become more of a staple for YouTube cover artists and singing competitions. The singular pop star’s shadow lingers over the movie, even if Hudson was the bigger revelation at the time. —JL

25. The Muppets Take Manhattan

Why is this movie on the list?

One Muppet movie, sure. Two, fine. Three is just crazy. So crazy it just might work. Muppets Take Manhattan is a convoluted, bizarre tale about the toll of puttin’ on a show that designs a subplot around amnesia and yuppie amphibians, and features a sequence in which Joan Rivers loses her mind with Miss Piggy. Muppets Take Manhattan was not a hit, but somehow it endured as a totem for a generation of Broadway fans. It endures specifically because of its wonderful musical numbers.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

It’s a tie: “Together Again” and “Somebody’s Getting Married”. —SF

24. Straight Outta Compton

Why is this movie on the list?

Straight Outta Compton is a surprisingly solid, remarkably faithful biopic about N.W.A., full of compelling performances—most notably Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E—and renditions of the rap group’s biggest songs. The movie notoriously glosses over some of N.W.A.’s more troubling anecdotes (a sin of most biopics, to be fair), but it at least gets the music right.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

With all due respect to the scene when Dr. Dre teaches Eazy how to rap and the one when Ice Cube is literally writing the script to Friday, the answer here is the “No Vaseline” scene, which cuts between Cube recording the iconic diss track and the remaining members of N.W.A. reacting in horror to it. It’s the kind of recreation of a seminal moment that makes this type of movie musical worth it. —AG

23. Hairspray

Why is this movie on the list?

I’m not sure why anyone considered it a good idea to attempt to improve upon John Waters’s already wonderful original Hairspray starring Ricki Lake, but I’m glad someone did. The musical is solid with several earworms, but the movie musical is a true delight. The future seemed bright and boundless for Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, and Elijah Kelley in 2007, even though it didn’t completely come to fruition. The talent is stacked in this movie, with John Travolta returning to his song-and-dance roots, Christopher Walken playing a ham with moves, Michelle Pfeiffer harnessing her inner bitch, and Zac Efron setting a thirst trap before that term even existed.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The sneaky scene-stealer of this version is Queen Latifah. She sings a powerful rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” and belts it out as she leads a segregation protest in a moving and impressive scene. Yet Latifah’s most impressive moment is having the most impact within “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the great final song. She’s against Travolta, who gets his own verse and a sparkly red dress. And yet, as the anchor voice in the last song, Latifah’s is the best. —JL

22. Sing Street

Why is this movie on the list?

As “getting a band together” romps go, this sentimental tale of downtrodden ‘80s Irish teenagers discovering their inner Hall & Oates is as sweet and as rousing as it gets. The outfits, the haircuts, and the hormones quickly get out of control, and the fake Duran Duran song is nearly as good as the real songs from the likes of the Cure, the Jam, and Joe Jackson. With co-writer and director John Carney as the throughline, it’s an adolescent Once with more eyeshadow and rad synthesizers.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The careful build of “Up”—the acoustic guitar and vocals, the piano, the synth and electric guitar, the bass and drums—is a tentative and beautiful and strikingly lifelike thing, with a chorus that stands up to anything else from 2016 or 1982. —RH

21. Moana

Why is this movie on the list?

A conventional hero’s journey in shiny Disney packaging, Moana boasts some of the finest cinematography from Mouse House’s animated renaissance of the 2010s. More importantly, though, the film’s got an all-star team led by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and some up-and-comer named Lin-Manuel Miranda to carry its catchy soundtrack.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

There are several great songs scattered throughout Moana’s soundtrack. Shout-out to Dwayne Johnson trying his hand—emphasis on trying—with a solo effort, and Jemaine Clement’s delightfully demonic king crab. But it’s young Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho who steals the show, voicing the eponymous heroine and carrying the emotional arc of the story mostly through song. The chorus of “How Far I’ll Go” is echoed throughout Moana’s journey—from her home island Motunui to the heart of Te Fiti and back again—and with good reason. It’s [prepares to be attacked by the internet] way better than “Let It Go.” —MS

20. Once

Why is this movie on the list?

It’s one of the best love stories of the 21st century despite the two main characters never actually getting together (depending who you ask). Filmed on a noticeably low budget—€112,000, to be exact—Once feels like you’re spying on two people who were destined to find each other as they’re brought together by glorious Irish folk pop.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

When the Guy (Glen Hansard) and the Girl (Marketa Irglova) play “Falling Slowly” together for the first time in a Dublin music shop. As the Girl grows more confident in her harmonies and piano accompaniment and the Guy lets his voice grow louder, the chemistry is off the charts, the sparks fly, and the passion grabs your heart and rips it out of your chest. —AG

19. Pitch Perfect

Why is this movie on the list?

Pitch Perfect is basically a sports movie, if the biggest thing on a college campus was a capella rather than football, and instead of Hail Marys there were just sing-offs. Pitch Perfect doesn’t break the wheel so much as it gives it an aca-makeover, but the movie remains a ton of fun. The song mashups—the main character Beca, played by Anna Kendrick, is an aspiring DJ—are catchy, and the ensemble of aspiring singers has great chemistry, even if some of the supporting characters are woefully underdeveloped.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The riff-off between the Barden Bellas and the Treblemakers. In what eventually became a franchise staple in the underwhelming sequels, the riff-off is funny and clever, and despite being scripted, it feels improvisational in the moment; a rap battle for the nerdiest possible timeline. —MS

18. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Why is this movie on the list?

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is far too draped in early ’80s camp to be sexy, but the movie is nevertheless a joyful, rose-colored whirlwind of technicolor negligees, a uniform-clad Burt Reynolds, and semi-prescient media commentary—all set to a saloon-style soundtrack carried by Dolly Parton and Broadway composer Carol Hall.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

There may be no better harbinger of the era’s over-the-top aesthetic than an ultra-tan Reynolds and the curvaceous, platinum-blonde Parton chasing each other around in matching his-and-hers Frederick’s of Hollywood underwear as they sing a cheesy country ditty about “Sneakin’ Around.” But, far and away, its most lasting contribution in pop culture is Parton’s somber, parting love ballad, “I Will Always Love You.” You may know it as the Whitney Houston megahit from The Bodyguard, but it is first and foremost the ballad of Miss Mona and Sheriff Ed Earl. —Alyssa Bereznak

17. Labyrinth

Why is this movie on the list?

Labyrinth is a bonkers, flawless cult classic. The plot alone is wild, and that’s before you even factor in the creepy puppets and musical numbers. A young Jennifer Connelly ventures into a mysterious labyrinth in order to save her brother from the probably evil, definitely hot Goblin King Jareth, played by David Bowie in a ridiculous wig. It’s absurd, slightly problematic, and I love it.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

A song in which David Bowie dances with a variety of puppets and sings about a “babe with the power” has no business being this good, but such is the magic of David Bowie. He sings, he dances, he kicks puppets, he swivels around in very tight pants, and he monologues at an infant—all in one three-minute song. A master of the craft! —KH

16. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Why is this movie on the list?

Arriving between Aladdin and The Lion King, Nightmare didn’t fit the Disney mold; after considering the concept as a short film or TV special in the early 1980s, the animation giant shelved the project before firing creator Tim Burton in 1984. Even when Disney committed to making the film years later in partnership with Burton and director Henry Selick’s Skellington Productions, the company released it through Touchstone Pictures, fearing it would be too strange and scary for kids. In retrospect, it was just strange and scary enough. Nightmare is a slightly unsettling Halloween/Christmas mashup elevated by Oscar-nominated stop-motion visuals, and was a modest box-office success that became a cult classic.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

Jack discovering Christmas Town. The curious skeleton’s spiderlike exploration of the Seussian winter wonderland is a visually arresting cross between creepy and cute, accompanied by the best song on a stacked soundtrack, “What’s This?”, which was written and performed by composer Danny Elfman (and later covered by Fall Out Boy). —Ben Lindbergh

15. Frozen

Why is this movie on the list?

In 2014, this was every child’s favorite movie, and every parent’s nightmare. Plot-wise, it might have needed some work, but I remain convinced that it’s one of the most rewatchable Disney movies. With a host of sneaky-great characters (you know you loved Olaf the first time around!), tons of great songs (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” still makes me cry), and beautiful snowy imagery, Frozen has cycled all the way back from overrated cash grab to underrated slam dunk.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

I remember hearing “Let It Go” for the first time in the movie theater and being blown away. Idina Menzel’s voice! That mid-song costume change! A veritable showstopper! Then it played nonstop on the radio for the entire following year, which was … challenging. Nonetheless, “Let It Go” didn’t have to go that hard, but it did, and I’m grateful. —KH

14. The Wiz

Why is this movie on the list?

It doesn’t get much more listworthy than this 1978 New York City-based, Sidney Lumet-directed reimagining of The Wizard of Oz. Featuring an all-black cast that included 33-year-old Diana Ross as Dorothy, an unrecognizable Michael Jackson as the scarecrow, and Richard Pryor’s voice as the titular Wiz, The Wiz is a trippy, bopping alternative for anyone who finds “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” pretty square. (Just beware of the subway station scene: those tile columns closing in on Dorothy are as harrowing as anything from Indiana Jones.)

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The Wiz was, at the time it was released, the most expensive movie musical ever made, and the climactic seven-minute “Emerald City” disco scene set at the base of the World Trade Center featuring 400 dancers making three costume changes was one obvious, outrageous, and completely worthwhile reason why. —Katie Baker

13. Dancer in the Dark

Why is this movie on the list?

“I used to dream I was in a musical, because in a musical nothing dreadful ever happens,” trills Björk, starring as a daydreaming factory worker who is going blind and is accused of murder in a hardcore melancholic Lars von Trier joint in which many dreadful things (and a train-based Thom Yorke duet) happen. In 2017, Björk gave a barely veiled account of sexual harassment at the hands of “a Danish director;” the film itself is a grim and brazen provocation that remains the mother of all acquired tastes, but for those who dig it, there’s nothing else like it.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

Unfortunately, this is the ending, which is shocking in the sense that you spend the whole movie just assuming that von Trier won’t go through with it. (Never a good strategy with him.) But Dancer in the Dark’s most delightful legacy is that it got Björk to the 2001 Oscars, where she wore, yes, the Swan Dress. —RH

12. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Why is this movie on the list?

Jake Kasdan’s Walk Hard came two years after the one-two punch of Ray and Walk the Line and was a much-needed takedown of the musical biopic. It featured a great lead performance by John C. Reilly, indelible, spot-on parody scenes—I think of the “You don’t want no part of this shit!” bit at least once a week—and remarkably catchy music (which is a big reason why the joke never goes stale).

What is the movie’s signature moment?

I already mentioned the “You don’t want no part of this shit” scene, and it should probably be a musical moment since this is a list about musicals—that eliminates Jack White’s sublime Elvis Presley impression, Dewey Cox’s Bob Dylan phase, and Dewey repeatedly ripping sinks out of the wall a la Johnny Cash—so I’ll say when Dewey first records “Walk Hard,” which is a near-perfect spoof of Walk the Line. —AG

11. Aladdin

Why is this movie on the list? Disney’s late 20th-century miracle run kicked off with 1989’s The Little Mermaid and peaked commercially with 1994’s The Lion King, but Aladdin—anchored by arguably Robin Williams’s best-ever role as an ebullient genie with 1,001 outlandish impressions—was a swooning monolith all its own. As pure love stories go, it rivals the Disney monoliths of any era; Snow White and Prince Charming are cardboard cutouts by comparison. The only thing to say about Guy Ritchie’s upcoming 2019 live-action remake is that he better not screw it up.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“A Whole New World” is the “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” of the Disney universe, the sweet and grandiose duet power ballad to rule them all. Every last word out of Robin Williams’s mouth—all seemingly tens of thousands of them—is tied for second. —RH

10. A Star Is Born

Why is this movie on the list?

Despite its wonky pop politics, this is a movie about fame, and creativity, and romance, and most of the ideals and pitfalls that motivate the other films on this list. Its original songs—written by director Bradley Cooper, star Lady Gaga, her frequent collaborator Mark Ronson, and country musician Jason Isbell, among others—are bona fide hits in their own right (and of genuine quality, which is not always the case for this type of movie music.) And then it boasts the greatest filmed concert performance in recent memory. A Star Is Born just might win the Oscar, and “Shallow” is why.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

All together now:

—AD

9. Beauty and the Beast

Why is this movie on the list?

It’s a tale as old as time, or so we’re told—I wasn’t aware that bestiality was such well-worn literary canon! All joking aside, Beauty and the Beast is an endearingly rendered love story with a soundtrack worth revisiting from Disney veteran Alan Menken, who was also responsible for the music in The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Pocahontas.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The tender dance shared between Belle and the Beast in the lavish ballroom is the obvious pick, but I’m going to have to go with “Gaston,” the most purposefully vain Disney song ever made. (“No one’s slick as Gaston / No one’s quick as Gaston / No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston.”) Gaston is such a messy bitch, and a perpetually underrated musical villain. This moment is, coincidentally, the best part of the 2017 live-action remake, as Luke Evans perfectly encapsulated the character’s self-admiring douchiness. —MS

8. Little Shop of Horrors

Why is this movie on the list?

Little Shop of Horrors checks many of the classic musical boxes: The music is catchy, the opening number is thoroughly rousing, the ensemble is as essential as the principles, and there are a few iconic songs. Rick Moranis as Seymour, Ellen Greene as Audrey, and Steve Martin as The Dentist (actual name is irrelevant) get much-deserved attention all these years later, but the movie was able to feature Jim Belushi, Bill Murray, a young Christopher Guest, and a vital Tisha Campbell because every scene is worthwhile. Only an imaginative musical could combine a giant blood-eating plant, a sadistic dentist and abusive boyfriend, fictionalized Pips, and a pleading song about the American dream all while making complete sense. Little Shop sells the fantastic and the fantasy.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“Suddenly, Seymour” is probably the movie’s most lasting song, because Ellen Greene is singular. But “Skid Row” is a deft example of how a musical can and should set the tone for what’s to come by introducing the audience to its world. Musicals don’t have to follow the rules of the real world, but they must establish boundaries; “Skid Row” immediately explains where Seymour and the gang live, and the kinds of struggles that exist in their world. —JL

7. La La Land

Why is this movie on the list?

Yes, it copies directly from classics like An American in Paris and Rebel Without a Cause. No, its stars aren’t trained singers or dancers. Yes, the whole “I love jazz” subplot is bewildering and snobby. Whatever. La La Land has seen all the movies on this list, and the list for the 40 years before that, and it knows that every musical movie enterprise is just a little bit hokey and weird. It can’t help being drawn to them anyway.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

Credit to Justin Hurwitz, who wrote the score that brings this alternate timeline finale together. If it doesn’t move you, you’re probably reading the wrong list? —AD

6. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Why is this movie on the list?

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have spent more than two decades upending the censorship debate and unearthing the contradictions of a world that wants to control speech without giving much thought to the world’s actions. They are free-speech icons, comedy mavericks, and self-made creative forces. They also write incredible songs with the word “fuck.” This movie is their creative peak, a full-stop musical in collaboration with Marc Shaiman (also the musical force behind Mary Poppins Returns) wending laser-sharp satire with Rodgers and Hammerstein bravura.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

“Uncle Fucka” —SF

5. That Thing You Do!

Why is this movie on the list?

A rock ‘n’ roll movie tends to follow a darker timeline: youthful anger, sudden fame, tragic outcome. We are programmed to understand the story of rock in terms of guitars and decline, which is perhaps why there are fewer song-and-dance musicals about the genre. (You will note that Rock of Ages did not make this list.) That Thing You Do!, on the other hand, is pure sunshine and Beatles homage with harmonies, romance, good suits, and hope. It helps that the titular song—written by Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger—is a genuine earworm; many a lesser movie has been felled by weak original songs. But really, That Thing You Do! is a mood—Singin’ in the Rain but for the ’60s, with drumming instead of dancing. The villains are revealed, the good guy gets the girl, and everyone keeps playing, just like old Hollywood taught us.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

When Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) inadvertently turns a droopy ballad into a one-hit wonder. —AD

4. The Muppet Movie

Why is this movie on the list?

The first Muppets movie proved that Muppets weren’t limited to the small screen and established a beloved film franchise. A madcap, metafictional, fourth-wall-breaking road movie that became one of the top-grossing releases of 1979, the musical combines the Muppets’ typical warm-hearted tone and parent-pleasing wit with a series of incredible cameos—including Elliott Gould, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, and Orson Welles—and an Oscar-nominated (and Grammy-winning) score.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

The Muppet Movie’s iconic opening scene features Kermit’s solo swamp performance of the film’s centerpiece song, “The Rainbow Connection,” which is also reprised in a literally showstopping finale.

That moment marked the first time Kermit’s legs were shown on screen, which required Jim Henson to operate the puppet from an elaborate underwater container. The aspirational song, which was written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher and improbably spent seven weeks in the Top 40, was nominated for Best Original Song but was unjustly beaten by “It Goes Like it Goes” from Norma Rae. Come on, Academy. —BL

3. All That Jazz

Why is this movie on the list?

Because it’s a pill-popping, eye-drop-dropping, heart-attack-having, alka-seltzer-fizzing, black-coffee-guzzling love letter to making stuff that turns into a last will and testament. It’s directed by Bob Fosse, and Roy Scheider plays Bob Fosse (his name is Joe Gideon in the movie). It’s basically Being Bob Fosse. And being Gwen Verdon (played by Leland Palmer) and being Ann Reinking (who plays Kate Jagger). Jessica Lange plays Death! It’s showtime, folks!

What is the movie’s signature moment?

It’s definitely the deathbed finale, featuring Ben Vereen and music by the Everly Brothers, but I have a real soft spot for the virtuoso shot from the opening moments that shows the teeming desperation and collective dreaming of a stage full of performers trying out for spot in a show.

—CR

2. Purple Rain

Why is this movie on the list?

Because it’s Prince. Playing all of the songs off of Purple Rain. At Minneapolis’s legendary venue First Avenue. In a loosely autobiographical movie in which the icon positions himself as the hero despite his character being a petulant, abusive misogynist. But ignore all that: It’s Prince. Playing all the songs off of Purple Rain.

What is the movie’s signature moment?

As much as I want to say it’s the “Beautiful Ones” performance or the two-song run of “Computer Blue” and “Darling Nikki”—during which Prince is dressed like this—of course it’s the climactic scene in which Prince and the Revolution play “Purple Rain” and Prince unveils a guitar solo that rips open the sky (and everyone finally realizes The Kid’s talent, which is absurd, because all this time they’ve been watching fucking Prince). Thank the lord Prince’s estate is much less litigious than he was, because now you can actually watch that scene on YouTube. —AG

1. The Lion King

Why is this musical on the list?

Let’s get the historic achievements out of the way first: At the time of its release in 1994, The Lion King was the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. The film won two Academy Awards for Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and Hans Zimmer’s score. The stage musical, which was adapted from the movie and not the other way around, won six Tonys, including Best Musical, and is the third-longest running show in Broadway history. Next year, Disney will release a live-action remake of the film starring, among other luminaries, Beyoncé. Suffice to say that The Lion King is popular.

It’s a stone-cold classic, too. How many other movies on this list are recognizable from their first note? The Lion King combined Shakespeare, Elton freaking John, Disney, and hyenas; it spawned catchphrases and sequels; it proved that an animated movie doesn’t have to have a pretty princess to succeed. Instead, it can offer pride, fear, loss, ambition, romance, and a wisecracking warthog. What more could you want from a musical?

What is the movie’s signature moment?

(With soundtrack.) A star is born, indeed. —AD

An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the song “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray. It was taken from the original musical, not added for the film.

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