Top 10 Most Influential Musical Films

Posted by Simply HE on

La La Land may not have won the Best Film Oscar, but it has won hearts all over the world. And it has reignited our love of the musical! To celebrate the DVD release of the multi-award-winner, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, we take a look back at some of our favourite musicals which helped inspire director Damien Chazelle.


  1. Grease (1978)

One of the most recognisable Hollywood musical dramas loved by fans of all ages! This energetic 1970s adaptation of the stage production, about summer love between rebel Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and good-girl Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), remains the highest grossing musical film in the US.

Set in the 1950s, the songs were about falling in love, trying to "score chicks" with your "hot ride" and even juvenile delinquency – enough for a nostalgia trip for many of you, no doubt!

Stand-Out Song: The entire ensemble cast singing Summer Nights is an iconic moment in musical cinema history – for the right or wrong reasons!

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  1. Chicago (2002)

The most recent musical on our list, Chicago took the film world by storm in 2002 and brought the genre back to life after many years out of the spotlight. In fact, the last critically-acclaimed musical was in the 70s!  

Created by musical genius Bob Fosse, who had already won an Oscar for Cabaret (more on that later), this saucy tale of corruption, scandal and murder during the Jazz Age in Chicago earned itself six Oscars. It was the first musical to win the Best Picture statue since Oliver! in 1968.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the alluring vaudevillian Velma and Renée  Zellweger, who’s star was on the rise after her success with Bridget Jones' Diary, gives a fantastic performance as timid housewife Roxie. The tale unfolds as these two opposites are imprisoned for murdering the men that had wronged them.

Stand-Out Song: The murderesses sharing their tales of woe during the Cell Block Tango.

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  1. Bugsy Malone (1976)

Who would have thought a British-made gangster musical about child mobsters could have been so charming?

Bugsy Malone tells the story of a war between two rival gangsters in 1920s New York, played entirely by a cast of extremely talented child actors. The songs are classy and catchy and were composed by none other than Paul Williams who wrote hits for The Carpenters, Barbara Streisand and The Muppets. Bizarrely, he’s better known today for his contributions to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories album.

Mix in some hilarious slapstick comedy (thanks to the use of the rapid cream-firing "splurge guns") and Bugsy Malone will have you singing and laughing all the way up until its unforgettably messy climax.

Stand-Out Song: My Name is Tallulah performed by a talented young Jodie Foster.

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  1. Meet me in st. Louis (1944)

The joyous love story Meet Me in St. Louis perfectly encapsulates the optimism of post-war America. It marked the start of the Golden Age of the Hollywood musical and is the perfect example of the classic all-singing, all-dancing carefree all-American tale about falling in love with the girl/boy next door.

The MGM classic is about the Smiths, a wealthy suburban St Louis family looking forward to the arrival of the 1904 World's Fair. But turmoil soon follows when the family patriarch is offered a job promotion in New York. The film is essentially a coming-of-age story at heart, dealing with the challenges the Smith daughters face as they approach womanhood.

Director Vincente Minnelli met his future wife Judy Garland on set. Garland had already won our hearts playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, so it was natural for her to be cast in future MGM productions.

Stand Out Number: Judy Garland's melancholy rendition of Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas to her sobbing sister after learning the family will be relocating to New York.

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  1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The oldest film on our list, and the second to star Judy Garland, MGM's double Oscar-winning The Wizard of Oz is an icon of American pop culture. The famous scene in which the film moves from black-and-white to vibrant colour when Dorothy arrives in Oz is one of the most memorable and magical scenes in cinema.

At the time, it was MGM's most expensive production. Unfortunately it was not a great success at the box office, and MGM was unable to recover its budget. However, it grew in popularity with its first TV broadcast in 1965, on CBS. The Library of Congress has cites The Wizard of Oz as the most viewed movie on television.

Stand-Out Song:  Judy Garland's heartfelt performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

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  1. West Side Story (1961)

Packed with hit songs, the 1960s fast-paced and modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet (using two rival New York street gangs of different races) still feels relevant today, and surprisingly so given that it’s now over 50 years old! It went on to win 10 Oscars, more than any other movie musical!

Alongside the fantastic score and the immaculate choreography, the film’s strength lay in the storylines. Unusual for cinema at that time it tackled issues of race and immigration before the civil rights movement in America had even begun. It cleverly adapts the story of rivalry between two families to being one that looked at the issue of inter-racial relationships that was considered controversial at the time.

The combination of all its strengths, the fantastic direction, score and lyrics to each song, has led West Side Story to be considered a near-perfect musical film, and one of the most iconic Shakespearian film adaptations.

Stand-Out Song: The energetic cast rendition of 'America' perfectly encapsulates the main themes of racial tension within the film.

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  1. The Sound of Music (1965)

The beloved musical broke box office records in 29 countries, won five Oscars, and was the highest grossing film of 1965.

Set in the 1930s, just before Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany it tells the story of Maria, a governess who manages to move away from strict convent life to the countryside to care for seven children whose widowed father is a stern military man.

Unusually for Hollywood musicals, which were filmed in the big studio sets in Los Angeles, The Sound of Music was filmed on location in Salzburg. Choosing to cast rising star Julie Andrews, straight after she won the Best Actress Oscar the year before for a very similar role in Mary Poppins, proved a triumph.

Stand-Out Song: Julie Andrews' life-embracing performance of the title song The Sound of Music.

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  1. Cabaret (1972)

Not just one of the most iconic musicals, but one of the most iconic films of the 20th century. Loosely adapted from the stage musical of the same name, the sexy and stylish tale of a free-spirited bohemian cabaret performer, played by Liza Minnelli, becoming friends but then falling in love with a shy British gentleman (Michael York) is sensational.

Set in 1930s Berlin Bob Fosse’s multi Oscar winning film doesn’t shy away from showing the Nazi party growing in size and stature as the country heads unstoppably toward war. People having a good time in the Kit-Kat club provides a stark contrast to the Nazi violence and anti-Semitism in the background. The film also tackles controversial issues like bisexuality and abortion sensitively, particularly as these activities were illegal at the time.

The film scored eight Oscars in total, including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli.

Stand-Out Song: Liza Minnelli singing Mein Herr.

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  1. Oliver! (1968)

"Please Sir, I want some more". Charles Dickens' dark and morose novel Oliver Twist is turned into a charming musical for all the family. Oliver! features catchy songs and energetic performances from the largely unknown young cast of ragamuffins. It nominated for a staggering 11 Oscars, winning six of them, including Best Picture and Best Director for Carol Reed.

This is the timeless story of the workhouse orphan who ends up on the streets of London, where he falls under the wing of petty crook Fagin (Ron Moody) and his gang of young pickpockets.

Look out for the menacing presence of Bill Sikes, played by a dark and brooding Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe and Leonard Rossiter.   

Stand-Out Song: The Artful Dodger confidently belting out Consider Yourself.

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  1. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Featuring the irrepressible Gene Kelly in one of the most iconic scenes in all of cinema history, MGM's comedy Singin' in the Rain remains THE most iconic musical of all time, and a cinematic masterpiece. Surprisingly it didn’t win a single Oscar, but is cited today as one of the best movie musicals ever made.

As well as boasting an impressive original score of catchy tunes, the dance routines were mesmerising. Did you know that the choreography was often improvised because of the pressing deadlines? Co-star Debbie Reynolds had no on-screen dance experience prior to her role in Singin in the Rain, and declared: "Singin in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life."

The storyline in which a silent-movie star tries to win the heart of an aspiring actress as the introduction of sound changes the film business forever was given the homage treatment in the more recent musical, The Artist, which won the Best Film Oscar in 2011.

Stand-Out Song: Undoubtedly Gene Kelly's song-and-dance routine in the title song Singin in the Rain.

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By Hannah Page


Browse our collection of Hollywood Musicals.

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