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10 best musicals ever, ranked

Catherine Zeta-Jones dancing alongside two dancers.
Miramax Films

Ah, movie musicals. Not everyone loves them—in fact, some people outright detest them. However, their impact on cinema, especially American cinema, is undeniable. From the genre’s glory days during the Golden Age of Hollywood, when stars like Garland and Berlin dominated the big screen, to explosive and colorful modern efforts that prove it is far from dead, the movie musical has endured against all odds.

Unlike other film genres, deciding which movie musical is the best isn’t as hard as you’d believe. Perhaps it’s because there’s probably one musical per drama or crime movie out there, or perhaps it’s because the absolute best entries into the genre truly tower above the rest. Whatever the reason, the best movie musicals are timeless and revered, recognized by even the most casual filmgoer, and pretty beloved by pretty much everyone — even those who wouldn’t be caught dead singing in the rain.

10. West Side Story (2021)

Ariana DeBose as Anita dancing in a scene from West Side Story.
20th Century Studios / Everett / Image via 20th Century Studios

“Sacrilege!” you might be shouting at the notion that Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of West Side Story is better than Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s 1961 classic, but it’s the truth. Deal with it. Spielberg’s version is as vibrant and electrifying as the 1961 original, full of kinetic musical numbers that actually enhance rather than merely decorate the plot.

A product of their time, both movies reflect the conditions under which they were made. The 1961 version, like the musical itself, is a complicated examination of the American dream that tries to have its cake and eat it too. However, the 2021 update feels more raw and earnest, and while it still commits to the problematic and frankly disappointing tropes about what it means to be Latino, it at least tries to find a middle ground between what should be and what actually is. However, its visual bravado and heartfelt sentiment are irresistible. Steven Spielberg has conquered sci-fi, historical dramas, biopics, and adventure movies; with West Side Story, he definitively proves there’s no genre he can’t pull off.

West Side Story is available to stream on Disney+.

9. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

A close-up of Nicole Kidman as Satine looking serious in Moulin Rouge!
Image via 20th Century Studios

Baz Luhrmann is a divisive filmmaker; chances are you are either really into his maximalist style or entirely appalled by it. No movie represents his trademark larger-than-life, absurdist approach better than the 2001 jukebox musical Moulin Rouge! In her first Oscar-nominated turn, Nicole Kidman stars as the courtesan Satine, who begins a love affair with the charming but penniless writer Christian, played by a dashing Ewan McGregor, while they attempt to mount an ambitious play at the titular club.

Moulin Rouge! is the perfect combination between style and substance. Yes, the bombastic tone pretty much dominates every scene to the point of being overwhelming, but that’s very much the point. Like the Parisian landmark that provides the title and setting, Moulin Rouge! is all about the experience. The film wants you to feel everything, sending a jolt of electricity through your veins with each exaggerated line reading and explosive musical number. Powered by an outstanding Kidman and a scene-stealing cast of supporting players, Moulin Rouge! is a musical like no other. Spectacular, spectacular indeed.

Moulin Rouge! is available to rent or purchase on Amazon and other digital vendors.

8. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Belle and Beast looking lovingly at each other in Beauty and the Beast.
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Without a doubt, Beauty and the Beast is the crowning achievement not only of the Disney Renaissance but Disney as a whole. An adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1756 eponymous fairy tale, the film follows the unconventional love story between a young woman and a seemingly fearsome Beast who is truly a prince cursed by an enchantress.

Beauty and the Beast captures all the magic the Mouse House had during its apex. Sweeping, romantic, and show-stopping, the film is an explosion of creativity and craft that captures the animation medium at its most powerful. Many of Disney’s best songs come from this film, including Be Our Guest and the titular theme, which won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Original Song. Beauty and the Beast reigns supreme as the best the animation medium has to offer; it’s enchanting, deceitfully complex, and ridiculously entertaining, a true cinematic masterpiece that cements Disney as a titan in the industry without equal. Tale as old as time to be sure.

Beauty and the Beast is available to stream on Disney+.

7. An American in Paris (1953)

Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly in An American in Paris
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

An American in Paris‘ Best Picture Oscar remains contested today. However, whether you believe A Streetcar Named Desire deserved the honor or are a staunch defender of this lively production, the truth remains Vincente Minnelli’s picture is among the best musicals in history. Gene Kelly stars as the titular character, a former GI trying to make a living as an artist in post-war Paris.

Although the genre has had many worthy directors, arguably, no one has mastered it as well as Vincente Minnelli. An American in Paris is one of his crowning achievements, a delightful and wildly imaginative creation from one of classic Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers. The film is led by Gene Kelly, who brings to life the musical numbers with near-inexhaustible energy. Sharing enviable chemistry with Leslie Caron—in her film debut, no less—Kelly is the film’s ring leader, and everyone marches to his perfectly set beat. An American in Paris is the very definition of a musical, respecting the formula without quite perfecting it. But when the result is this good, who really cares about perfection?

An American in Paris is available to rent or purchase on Amazon and other digital vendors.

6. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Judy Garland as Esther dancing with her sister at a party in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

There are queer icons of the Hollywood Golden Age, and then there’s Judy Garland. The actress delivers one of her most spirited and dazzling performances in Minnelli’s 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Told in vignettes throughout a year, the plot follows the Smith family in the months leading to the 1904 World’s Fair, focusing especially on the second-eldest daughter, Esther.

Meet Me in St. Louis introduced many tunes that would become staples of Garland’s repertoire, mainly The Trolley Song and, of course, the nostalgic and generational-defining Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Like many musicals from the Golden Age, this one soars on the back of its star. Garland is at her utter best: she’s magnetic on the screen, effortlessly guiding the plot through her endlessly charming and profoundly endearing performance. There’s an innocence to Meet Me in St. Louis that makes it digestible without seeming overly outdated. The film is, for lack of a better word, pretty, sweet, and harmless, like a delicious comfort food at the end of a particularly grueling day.

Meet Me in St. Louis is available to rent or purchase on Amazon and other digital vendors.

5. Chicago (2002)

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart posing for a photo in Chicago.
Image via Miramax

Booze, sequins, two killer actresses, and all that jazz. In 2001, the musical was all but dead, with no major release in the genre pretty much since 1996’s Evita—and the less we say about that film, the better. Moulin Rouge! brought it back to life with a shot of absinthe, but it was 2002’s Chicago that truly proved the musical was ready to rule. This Best Picture-winning adaptation of the 1975 eponymous musical follows two murderesses women trying to make a name for themselves in 1920s Chicago.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger are dynamite together, playing the now-iconic roles of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart with wickedly delicious allure. The songs are equally seductive and wonderfully staged by Rob Marshall in his feature directorial debut. Chicago faithfully translates the musical’s stage magic into the cinematic medium, resecting its essence while enhancing everything that’s already great about it.

It’s big, loud, flashy, ridiculously contagious, and enticing, a true assault on the senses that is no less profound in its observations of fame and infamy. It’s not an overstatement to call Chicago the single most important musical of the past fifty years; every single musical from the 21st century is indebted to it in one way or another, and its legacy lives on over twenty years since its release.

Chicago is available to stream on Pluto TV.

4. Mary Poppins (1964)

Julie Andrews slightly smiling in Mary Poppins.
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Arguably, no film has ever blended animation with live-action as well as Mary Poppins. Walt Disney’s passion project, the film adapts P. L. Travers’ eponymous series about a magical yet stern and vain nanny who helps a dysfunctional family living in 1910’s London. The film stars Julie Andrews in an Oscar-winning role opposite Dick Van Dyke and David Tomlinson. The film was a massive commercial and critical success, earning multiple Oscar nominations and scoring big at the box office.

Mary Poppins is a generous dose of old-fashioned magic that’s sorely lacking these days. In her feature film debut, Andrews is simply marvelous as Mary Poppins, playing the nanny as an ethereal yet somehow endearing figure. What she does in the role is nothing short of extraordinary, brilliantly capturing a child’s idea of what an authority figure is while still keeping her warm and engaging.

Andrews is the beating heart of Mary Poppins, dominating the scene with her magical presence and delightful voice. The songs, written and composed by the Sherman Brothers, are among the best in the Mouse House’s catalog, including seminal classics like Chim Chim Cher-ee and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Mary Poppins is available to stream on Disney+.

3. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The characters from The Wizard of Oz holding each other close and looking at something off-screen.
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer

Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gayle, a young woman transported by a tornado from Kansas to the wonderful land of Oz. There, she must work with the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man to follow the yellow brick road, searching for the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz is a cinematic institution. A brilliant display of skill with just as much heart, the film represents a before-and-after in American cinema. It was the crowning achievement of a remarkable year that saw the release of untouchable classics like Gone with the Wind and Stagecoach. The song introduced the Garland staple Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song that has surpassed the film itself to become an anthem for millions.

The Wizard of Oz‘s legacy is far too great to put into words; it redefined what audiences expected from musicals and it keeps dazzling us even today, thanks to its colorful visuals and catchy music. However, it’s the story’s universal, insightful, and reassuring nature that still resonates with us—and probably always will.

The Wizard of Oz is available to stream on Max.

2. Cabaret (1972)

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles singing on stage in Cabaret.
Image via Warner Bros.

“What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come, let the music play.” With those iconic words, Liza Minnelli opens the titular song of Bob Fosse’s 1972 masterpiece, Cabaret, based on the 1966 eponymous musical. Set in the last days of the Weimar Republic when the Nazis rose to power, Minnelli stars as Sally Bowles, a cabaret singer who falls for a young English academic struggling with his sexuality.

Cabaret is, first and foremost, a showcase for Liza Minnelli, who delivers the performance of a lifetime as the chaotic Sally Bowles. The film also introduced a few new songs, including Mein Herr and Maybe This Time, while cementing tunes like Willkommen and Cabaret as timeless classics.

Beyond Minnelli’s tour-de-force performance and the timeless songs, Cabaret is a seminal entry in the genre. Like all the best musicals that came before, Cabaret changed the way we see the genre. It’s flashy and energetic, yes, but far less bombastic and enthusiastic than the musicals from the Golden Age; instead, it’s more intimate, seedier, and far more somber. In many ways, Cabaret is the opposite of what you might expect from a musical, but thanks to Bob Fosse’s impassioned directing, it’s no less seductive.

Cabaret is available to stream on Max.

1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood smiling while holding an umbrella in Singin' in the Rain.
Image via MGM

There might be no bigger snub in the Best Picture category than Singin’ in the Rain. An ode to the last days of silent cinema, the film stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds as three performers caught between the old silent techniques and the revolutionary arrival of sound. Kelly directed and choreographed the film alongside the equally legendary Stanley Donen.

Without a doubt, Singin’ in the Rain is the best musical in American cinema. Profoundly influential and instantly iconic, the film introduced many of the best-known sequences in the genre. From O’Connor’s manic Make ‘Em Laugh to Kelly’s generation-defining performance of the titular number, the film is a treasure trove of songs, matched by three crucial performances that remain landmarks in 1950s cinema.

Singin’ in the Rain is exuberant and near-perfect, perfectly encapsulating what a musical should be. Every scene is striking, every song is overwhelming, and not a second is wasted. There will probably never be a musical like Singin’ in the Rain, a film that strikes the perfect balance between songs, dance, humor, and romance to craft a flawless cinematic experience.

Singin’ in the Rain is available to stream on Max.

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David Caballero
Freelance Writer
David is a Mexican freelance writer with a deep appreciation for words. After three years in the cold world of Marketing…
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