On the surface, movie musicals are love-em-or-hate-em fare; for every devotee, you'll find a self-avowed enemy of the entire musical genre. But we believe -- and we know you Fosse-haters are already bristling -- that everyone loves something musical. Maybe "Jesus Christ Superstar" isn't your bag, but surely you're on board with "The Muppet Movie?" No?
For those who do love the old song-and-dance (or at least admit it), we asked our writers Scott Harris, Sandie Angulo Chen and Elizabeth Rappe to put together a list of the 50 greatest, ranked by committee... and here it is:
50. "Bye Bye Birdie"
One of the most charmingly meta musicals of all time, 1963's 'Bye Bye Birdie" is based on the stage musical of the same name, which in turn is based on the true story of Elvis being drafted into the Army. In the movie, a rock star named Birdie (Jesse Pearson) holds a contest to see which girl he will give his last kiss to before entering the military. Ann-Margret became a superstar for her role as that lucky girl, while the song "Put on a Happy Face" became a new standard. -- S.H.
Man, why don't more bands try to create rock operas? The answer is probably because there are few rock groups in history that have had both the skill and the vision to pull off a project as ambitious as The Who's "Tommy," which was turned into a major motion picture back in 1975. Featuring both musicians (like Elton John, Eric Clapton and The Who's Roger Daltry among others) and superstar actors (Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margret), "Tommy's" tale of a deaf, dumb and blind kid who becomes a pinball wizard is still the gold standard for high concept rock n' roll. Play on, Tommy. -- S.H.
48. "A Chorus Line"
"Line" is about the dedication of dance, and lengths a performer will go to (and suffer) to have their one shining moment on stage. It definitely plays as stiff and claustrophobic compared to the exuberance of other classic musicals (is anyone having as much fun as Fred and Ginger?), and Zach and Cassie aren't the roles anyone dreams of playing. But you can't beat the closing number for sheer pizzazz, or the peek into a world most of us are too clumsy to join. – E.R.
47. "The Wiz"
Comedian Keegan-Michael Key has claimed there are five seminal movies every black person must see: "Wiz," "Shaft," "Juice," "Friday," and "Roots." We think everyone should see them, starting with director Sidney Lumet's urban reimagining of "The Wizard of Oz." Set in Harlem instead of Kansas, the all-black adaptation stars the incomparable Diana Ross in the Dorothy role and fellow African-American icons Michael Jackson, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor as the Scarecrow, Glenda, and the Wiz. Everyone knows "Ease on Down the Road," but the musical's full of jazzy, R&B numbers that showed off the talent of all the triple-threat stars.
If you're part of the "'Rent' is too damn high on this list party," allow us to give you 525,600 reasons why you're wrong. One of the biggest stage hits of the '90s, "Rent" was brought to the big screen in 2005 in an adaptation so faithful that it starred almost the entire original Broadway cast, including Taye Diggs and Rosario Dawson, who won the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress. On film or on stage, "Rent" is one of the seminal musicals of the past quarter century. -- S.H.
"Oliver!" is like the best and worst of musical adaptations all at once. The songs have gone down into pop culture legend ("Food, Glorious Food" has been trilled over commercials) but it's endless dance numbers, it's angelic lead, and it's syrupy songs contrasted with Dickensian brutality doesn't exactly make a cohesive, enjoyable whole. Yet there's an undeniable charm to stuff like "Who Will Buy," and you have to admire they sprinkle in so much bloodshed while chirping "Consider Yourself." -- E.R.
We admit it takes considerable suspension of disbelief to see 40-year-old Babs as an orphaned Jewish maiden disguising herself as a yeshiva boy. Streisand directed the film, based on an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story, with herself in the starring role, naturally. Nepotistic as that may be, there's no one else who could have done it – regardless of age. Featuring wonderful supporting performances from Mandy Patinkin and Amy Irving, "Yentl" is a celebration of family and faith, and "Papa Can You Hear Me?" remains one of the Great One's most powerful songs ever. -- S.A.C.
43. "Les Misérables"
The songs have been weepy cover staples for more than a decade (see: Susan Boyle) but it took nearly thirty years for someone to finally dream the dream, and adapt it with all its barricades and ballads intact. While it's disappointingly claustrophobic at times, it's nevertheless a throwback to the glory days when stars could sing and act with equal intensity. Yes, it's manipulative stuff, but it's impossible not to get caught up and teary in the plight of Jean Valjean, who imperils everyone he comes across. – E.R.
If you ever doubt the '70s were the time in which film could do anything, look no further than "Jesus Christ Superstar," where Judas sports fringe and bellbottoms, and challenges Jesus on the very nature of his ministry. This is rock opera at its best – challenging, bombastic, anachronistic and irreverent, yet sincere in the questions it asks about religion and the prophets who inspire it. – E.R.
41. "Purple Rain"
Concept albums have been around for a long time, but concept album films? Sure, there were a few before "Purple Rain" (see: Pink Floyd's "The Wall"), but none of them ever reached the level of Prince's 1984 hit "Purple Rain," which works both as an album and as a cool movie in its own right. "When Doves Cry" is just the best known of the songs that comprise the legendary soundtrack to "Purple Rain' - a soundtrack that has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. -- S.H.
The two most memorable numbers from "Annie" consist of its anthem to optimism, "Tomorrow," and its declaration of pessimism, "It's a Hard Knock Life." Amazingly, the lament of the poverty-stricken orphan girls is delivered with no less enthusiasm than the signature song of its lucky star. John Huston, famous for writing and directing "The Maltese Falcon," and "African Queen," helmed his only musical, directing Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks and Carol Burnett as the venal Miss Hannigan (who snagged a showstopper with "Easy Street"). -- S.A.C.
39. "All That Jazz"
If you need one film to sum up the gritty '70s musical movement, it would probably be Bob Fosse's dark, dense, and cigarette fueled autobiopic. It's a weird fusion of glittery, showstopping numbers, humor, hallucinations, and grim egotism, never flinching from the nastiness (there's an unflinching sequence of open-heart surgery) or decay, and indulging whenever it wants to. It's a testament to Roy Schneider that he keeps it all going, knowing when to put a wink and a grin to keep us hooked. – E.R.
Everybody loves The Beatles, right? So making a musical based around their legendary pop songs seems like a no-brainer, assuming, that is, you can actually secure the rights to the music. Director Julie Taymor had the cred to do just that, with the result being the 2007 hit "Across the Universe." Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood and a soundtrack that can rightly be called the most popular of the century? What's not to love? -- S.H.
37. "Top Hat"
No one ever did it as well as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and "Top Hat" is arguably the best of an elegant and seemingly effortless partnership. What's striking about "Top Hat" today is how simple and fun it is. There's no elaborate sets, no cast of thousands, and no special effects setting off an epic story. It's just dance, beautifully framed, and set to two of the most iconic songs in cinema. ("Top Hat" and "Cheek to Cheek," which have both been parodied and imitated to the extreme, but never lost their charm.) Who doesn't dream of being this light on their feet, wrapped around the person they love? -- E. R.
36. "Show Boat"
Lots of stars have been accused of showboating before, but Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner and Howard Keel are among the few who could proudly admit to it. That's because the 1951 musical "Show Boat" is a classic of the genre, earning two Oscars and providing a fantastic full-on extravaganza version of the hit 1927 stage musical by Oscar Hammerstein. With a songbook that introduced standards like "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man," this one is hard to top for any fan of musicals.
The 2007 version of "Hairspray" has an interesting history, as it's based on the stage musical that was adapted from the original 1988 film "Hairspray" by auteur John Waters. So why is the musical version so great? Well, it's partially because director Adam Shankman does such a nice job of making the material accessible to everyone. And it's partially because of Queen Latifah being awesome and the mad spectacle of John Travolta in a cross-gender fat suit. But it's mainly because of the top notch performance by Nikki Blonsky. You go, girl. -- S.H.
The film may be more conservative in its narrative and stylings than the stage version (there's little nudity, and the long, politically charged drug trips are missing) but it's still a perfect slice of time, filmed when the Summer of Love was still fresh in people's minds. Even with an arc that's a bit mawkish compared to the commune love of the original, the shock value of the music remains, and the message about peace and love sticks. Even "Rock of Ages" couldn't boast a song like "Sodomy," and we're supposedly post-sexual revolution now. – E.R.
What can we say about stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John that hasn't already been said? Tapping into a wave of '50s nostalgia that was sweeping the nation in the 1970's, "grease" took things to a new level thanks to the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Travolta and Newton-John. But it wasn't just all about the stars; it's a testament to the power of the music that sing-along screenings of "Grease" are still being shown around the country almost 35 years after it was first released. Go, greased lightning! -- S.H.
The remarkable tale of a trio of R&B singers' (with a remarkable resemblance to The Supremes) rise to prominence, "Dreamgirls" introduced us to the depths of "American Idol" alum Jennifer Hudson's talent, confirmed Beyonce's serious acting abilities and reminded audiences that Eddie Murphy was more than just a funny face (we're still a little heartbroken that he didn't win an Academy Award). A poignant take on the cost of fame and fortune, the musical boils down to one epic torch song, Hudson's Effie letting loose "And I Am Telling You" from her soul. -- S.A.C.
There was an energetic musical renaissance in the early 2000s, and one of the results was the sexy, snappy "Chicago." It's pure girl power (who out there can't identify a little with "Cell Block Tango"?) set in the 1920s we all wish existed, and mixed with a heady dose of celebrity cynicism that still bites today. It could probably have done without some of those in-your-face crotch closeups, though. – E.R.
30. "Yankee Doodle Dandy"
Well, put a feather in our cap and call it macaroni, because darned if "Yankee Doodle Dandy" isn't just as cool now as it was when it hit theaters 70 years ago. James Cagney, who previously was known mostly as a Hollywood tough guy, won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of legendary song and dance man George M. Cohan. And the emphasis here s on the dance part, because seriously, these people could really hoof it. At a time when America sorely needed an old fashioned patriotic pick me up, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" was exactly what the doctor ordered. -- S.H.
29. "The Muppets"
Ask yourself this question: Are you a man or are you a muppet? Leaving behind the tedious self-importance some musicals seem to have, "The Muppets' embraces the joy of music in a way only iconic felt puppets can. Amy Adams and Jason Segel join their non-human co-stars in rousing and hilarious numbers that celebrate, well, just being alive. And Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords!) won last year's Oscar for Best Original Song for "Man or Muppet." Hey, if you can win over those stuffed shirts, you must be doing something right. -- S.H.
28. "High Society"
"High Society" can't really hold a candle to "The Philadelphia Story," and if it wasn't for Cole Porter, trying to set its madcap plot to music would have probably been disastrous. It's certainly not the finest movie musical out there, but it's sumptuous to look at (it's the closest you'll ever get to a "Mad Men" musical), and you can't beat a love triangle of Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. If you think you need loud ballads for a love scene, just watch "You're Sensational" and realize how hot it can get over a minibar. – E.R.
27. "Easter Parade"
Irving Berlin may dominate Christmas, but he could make a song-and-dance out of any holiday, as evidenced by "Easter Parade." (Warning – this film will make you crave the return of Easter parades and large, luscious hats.) It's "My Fair Lady" with an even more spirited heroine, and without the sprinkling of misogyny. Fred Astaire may have been older, but he still had it, and it's impossible not to fall in love with him as thoroughly as Hannah does. – E.R.
26. "Damn Yankees"
Only in a musical could selling your soul for a sports team be so full of whimsy! "Yankees" lacks the sheer star power of its contemporaries, but it boasts the original Broadway cast (with the exception of pretty boy Tab Hunter in the lead) and a dogged faithfulness to the Broadway original. A remake could certainly spice it up (and restore the Lola's banned hip thrusts), but it would be hard to beat the retro warmth and charm, and the ordinary evil of Ray Walston's Applegate. –E.R.
25. "An American in Paris"
Calling it one of only two perfect films in existence might be overdoing it, but there's no doubt "Paris" is an excellent musical. The sets are lavish, the ballet sequence (inspired and illustrated by French Impressionist work) is legend, and the romance is swoonworthy. But none of it would work without Kelly, who was never better than when his puppy dog eyes were lovesick, or when he was dancing with a group of moppets. – E.R.
24. "Funny Girl"
The movie where Barbra Streisand just became, once and forever, Barbra. With eight Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress win for Streisand, 1968's "Funny Girl" is an undisputed classic of the genre. It was also a timely look at changing gender roles, telling the true story of pioneering female comedian and singer Fanny Brice, a woman who directly paved the way for Streisand and those who followed. The perfect role for the perfect star. -- S.H.
23. "Blues Brothers"
Sure, it may not be a traditional musical, but on the other hand, it has the word "blues" right in the title. And John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd aren't just playing around, they are playing the blues for real in this cult classic 1980 comedy. It's true that the sequels were basically abominations, but this film also has a unique musical legacy: Aykroyd went on to launch the House of Blues chain of musical venues to promote new talent. -- S.H.
It's official, you guys: Johnny Depp can do anything. Despite having basically no training or experience as a singer, Depp stepped into the lead role of Tim Burton's 2007 adaptation of the popular Stephen Sondheim Broadway production and proceed to, well, kill it. Beyond the singing, though, "Sweeney Todd" is one of the most cinematic musicals ever made thanks to Burton's unique visual style, which saturates every throat cutting and meat-pie making. Face it: This ain't exactly "The Sound of Music." -- S.H.
21. "Little Shop of Horrors"
Like "Hairspray" and "The Producers," 1986's "Little Shop of Horrors" is based on a musical adaptation of a previous motion picture, in this case the creepy 1960 cult classic "Little Shop of Horrors" that introduced the world to Jack Nicholson. As cool as that version is, though, we prefer our giant, sentient, man-eating plants to engage in some full-throated warbling alongside a surprisingly awesome Rick Moranis. As a wise plant once said, "Feed me, Seymour!" Feed us awesome musicals, that is. -- S.H.
20. "The King and I"
Another classic based on a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, "The King and I" tells the (mostly) true story of a schoolteacher who becomes the personal tutor to the King of Siam's children. Like many Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it also contains a strong anti-racism subtext; and like many of their musicals it's also totally awesome. Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr knock it out of the park with renditions of classic tunes like "Getting to Know You," and their dance number is one of the best loved in cinema. Hey, it's good to be the king. -- S.H.
19. "South Pacific"
World War II doesn't sound like the most obvious setting for a musical, but sometimes the least obvious ideas make for the best movies. Created by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein, "South Pacific" hit the big screen in 1958 and immediately joined the pantheon of great musicals thanks to songs like "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and 'Some Enchanted Evening," which have become American standards. -- S.H.
Based on the Broadway smash of the 1940s, the movie stars Gordon MacRae as Curly, the handsome cowboy who can't help but flirt with the lovely farm girl Laurey (Shirley Jones). Rodgers and Hammerstein sure knew how to craft the catchiest of songs about love and land. Whether it's the sunny "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'," the suggestively sweet "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No," or the theme's epic chorus, there's no way you'll get to the credits without wanting to square dance. Yee-haw! -- S.A.C.
Other Muppet movies feel like comedies or adventures with some entertaining musical numbers thrown in, but "The Muppet Movie" is a true musical – the songs further the plot, develop the characters, and in the case of "Rainbow Connection," make adult audiences misty eyed with nostalgia. Kermit and Fozzie and friends' cross-country roadtrip to Hollywood (in that classic Studebaker) is still a family favorite, because what could be better than a "frog and a bear seeing America"? -- S.A.C.
By the time Tevye (Topol) has seen his three daughters married (to increasingly more objectionable men), the Jewish shtetl of Anatevka, set in Tsarist Russia, seems as real as whatever "Tradition"-filled town you call your home. Even though the Old Country musical clocks in at just under three hours, the film hums along, driven by jubilant dancing and the all-embracing love that animates tune after tune -- "Matchmaker," "If I Were A Rich Man," and the wedding-singer favorite, "Sunrise Sunset." -- S.A.C.
15. "My Fair Lady"
The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but what's even more plain is the fact that Audrey Hepburn absolutely kills it in this 1964 adaptation of the classic Broadway musical. Not that Hepburn is someone you usually associate with the word "plain," but that's kind of the point to the story, as Rex Harrison's egotistical professor embarks on a musical mission to turn a lower class girl into an upper class lady. A delightful romance and a must-see for any Hepburn devotee. -- S.H.
14. "Guys and Dolls"
No, Marlon Brando wasn't much of a singer, but does it matter? This is one of the most strapping and sexy musicals out there thanks to the snappy dialogue, the catchy songs, the suits, the humor, the bad boys, and the Sinatra. "Guys" is one of those musicals that's good no matter who plays its wiseguys, but if you had to cement one production in cinema history, thank goodness it was this one. – E.R.
Nearly 40 years after it hit theaters, "Rocky Horror" is the longest-running theatrical release in movie history. It wasn't a huge hit when it came out, but two years later the horror musical drew a following as a sing-along "midnight movie." The campy romp follows a newly engaged couple (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) that's lost and winds up in the castle of the cross-dressing Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry in his first role). Although it has a catchy setlist of songs, like "Time Warp" and "Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me," nothing beats the experience of participating as you watch. -- S.A.C.
12. "Anchors Aweigh"
Joe and Clarence are two of the cleanest, cutest sailors that ever washed ashore, and started to tap dance. This movie is pure boyish charm, whether it's coming from the young, Navy obsessed Donald, Joe tap-dancing with Jerry the Mouse, or Clarence's awkward attempts at love. The songs aren't as memorable as they could have been, but seeing Sinatra this young and nerdy (but still crooning like a king) is worth a few forgettable numbers. – E.R.
11. "Meet Me in St. Louis"
Many musicals deal with young love and misunderstandings, but "Meet Me in St. Louis" is rare, devoting far more screen and song time to family dynamics, and the strong pull of our hometown. The Smith family lives in that magical Disney/Downton Abbey Victorian setting, where no one is poor or unequal, and girls can pursue young men without being called terrible names, or go trick or treating alone without danger. It's rather unfortunate "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" outstripped the fame of the other numbers, because "St. Louis" is so much more than a single Christmas lament. – E.R.
10. "Moulin Rouge"
The first musical in 10 years to be nominated for a best picture Oscar, this pastiche of campy jukebox remakes and romantic excess convinced Hollywood to start producing musicals again. The sumptuous costumes and sets transformed fin de siecle Paris into a place of otherworldly beauty, and won Oscars for art direction and costume design. Highlights include a tuxedoed company remaking Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor belting out their love for each other in "Come What May." -- S.A.C.
Bob Fosse adapted the envelope-pushing 1966 musical into a multiple-Oscar-winning film that broached sensitive topics (sexuality, abortion, hedonistic excess) and proved that Liza Minnelli had as much (or, okay, nearly as much) talent as her late mother Judy Garland. Minnelli will forever be considered one of musical theater's grand dames for her inimitable performance as Sally Bowles (she of the garter belts and bowler hat), the flamboyant American cabaret girl living it up in Weimar Berlin. Costarring Joel Grey as the voyeuristic (and creepy) emcee and Michael York as a reserved Englishman, "Cabaret" is as substantive as it is entertaining. -- S.A.C.
8. "The Sound of Music"
Even five decades later, the hills (and the suburbs, and the cities, and definitely the preschool classrooms) are still filled with the sounds of this timeless musical. Julie Andrews' Maria is the ultimate ingénue, and her tale of love and childrearing amidst the ugly (and often fast-forwarded) backdrop of Nazi-controlled Austria is one of the greatest testaments to the joy of going back to the basics ("Do-Re-Mi"), seeking comfort in a storm ("My Favorite Things"), falling in love ("Sixteen Going on Seventeen") and staying true to your homeland ("Edelweiss"). -- S.A.C.
7. "Porgy and Bess"
It's rare for a musical to be such a controversial and commercial disaster that it's been all but destroyed, but such is the case with "Porgy and Bess." It's a shame. The storyline is explosive, tackling the misery of poverty, drugs, and abuse in a way had been rarely seen on stage or screen. It can be racially problematic (though that opinion seems to be slowly changing), but the heartbreaking performances of Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandrige should be more widely known and loved. – E.R.
Proving that musicals need not be big technicolor productions to succeed, "Once" explored love and longing on a $160,000 budget. Anchored by the Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly," the indie musical also stands out as a musical whose songs are entirely diagetic -- each song begins only when the story requires the characters to sing. Because of that, this is the perfect choice for moviegoers who otherwise can't stand musicals. The songs, as beautiful and moving as they are, merely support the story of an Irish busker (Glen Hansard) falling for his unexpected bandmate, a young Czech flower seller (Marketa Irglova). -- S.A.C.
"Hedwig" is a crazy, colorful, rock concoction of droll wit, emotional poignancy, light philosophy, romance, and the search for self (and sexual) identity. That's a lot to cram into a musical, and the combination should tip the entire production over. The fact that it keeps tripping along in its platforms, never stopping in its quest to make you laugh, rock out, and sniffle along with all of Hedwig's emotional highs and love life lows. – E.R.
4. "West Side Story"
The rolled jeans, slicked hair and finger-snapping choreography have been oft-parodied (we swear, the gang's balletic moves are less comical on stage than on-screen). But when Tony serenades "Maria" (the beautiful but lip-syncing Natalie Wood) or when she convinces Anita (the amazing Rita Moreno) to accept love rather than hate with "I Have a Love," the genius of composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim cannot be denied. Fifty years later, there are few showstoppers that give chills like the climax's "Tonight." The soaring "Romeo and Juliet" remake won 10 Oscars, including best picture, the most of any musical. -- S.A.C.
3. "Singin' in the Rain"
A perfect combination of Gene Kelley’s athletic dance moves, Debbie Reynold’s irrepressible charm, and Donald O'Connor’s slapstick (his "Make ‘Em Laugh" is almost as good on mute as it is with him singing). And there’s also the number with the man and his umbrella -- perhaps the best filmed depiction of the happiness that comes from having just fallen in love. An antidepressant in four-four time, and considered by some to be one of the best musicals ever filmed. No one finishes this movie without humming a tune or feeling better about the world. -- S.A.C.
The first of Julie Andrews' back-to-back musicals is this British homage to the nanny who can make all things better. When Mary magically descends on her umbrella to the upper-crust (and highly dysfunctional) Banks clan, she's able to do everything from get the kids to tidy their rooms and swallow medicine to pay attention to those less fortunate and bond with their busy parents (dad's a banker, mom's a Suffragette). From the sugary sweet "Let's Go Fly a Kite" to the heartbreaking "Feed the Birds," every day's a "jolly holiday with Mary." -- S.A.C.
The Library of Congress has named "The Wizard of Oz" the most-watched film in history, and the story of a young girl in a gingham dress (plus her little dog too!) stands as one of the pillars of American popular culture. Unlike other musicals, with arrangements or costumes that place them in a very particular time or setting, Dorothy's fantastical journey and its universal themes render the musical timeless, ensuring its appeal to each new generation of audiences. From little ones fixated with ruby slippers to grown-up Judy Garland fans, everyone can appreciate Dorothy's trip to Oz. -- S.A.C.