Top 5 Movie Guide: Live-Action Musicals

With this weekend's release of "Rock of Ages", we decided to take a look at some of our other favorites from the long and esteemed history of this genre. The musical genre is unique in the fact that is uses song and dance numbers in place of certain moments of dialogue to help advance the plot. As no surprise, this section of film arose from those on the stage. As sound quality and film technology advanced, it was a natural evolution for the medium. While it's still common practice for actors in film to treat the performances much as if they're on stage in front of an audience, many do prefer film to the actual stage because it allows for more creativity and elaborate set designs.

First making their big screen appearance in the mid 1920's, the genre's "Golden Age" was from the 1930's to the 1960's, when its popularity was at an all-time high. From 1961-1965 three different musicals won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, the best stint the genre's ever had. The problem that the genre had after that time was that it was traditionally a very soft and elegant genre. But 1970's audiences didn't care for the idealistic views and themes anymore; they needed more realism in their films. The genre adapted, and the decade produced a number of hits that have become some of the greatest the genre has ever seen. Walt Disney took the reigns for the majority of the 1980's, though much more with animation than live-action, and overall, the genre experienced another upswing. the 1990's and 2000's haven't been quite as impressive for the genre - especially in the live-action department - but there's still no doubting that the genre is here to stay. Fans continue to show up in masses for new adaptations, and it's clear that while the themes of the genre have continued to change, it's still a staple in our culture, and one that will be around for years to come.

So hit the jump and see which Live-Action Musicals we found as some of the best that the genre has ever had to offer.

Alex Schopp -

     1. Grease (1978)

I hated this movie growing up. Couldn't stand it. Somewhere along the line I wised-up though, and now I get it. I love the songs, and the era is awesome. Also, I really can't believe that this John Travolta and today's John Travolta are literally the same person.
     2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Ben said literally the exact same things below that I would have said here. This movie is so much fun!
     3. My Fair Lady (1964)
This used to be my favorite musical, because I actually liked this movie when I was younger. I just thought it was a cool story, and I don't think I knew that cool rags to riches tales like this were told in old movies when I was a kid. I still hold it as one of my favorites, even if I'm not trying to watch it as much as some of these others.
     4. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Tons of great cameos and comedy here. Ben introduced this movie to me when I was a kid. It's funny to think about, and you know it transcends the genre when too little boys are hanging out on a sleepover and watching a musical (it seems worth mentioning that I do have a girlfriend).
     5. Across the Universe (2007)
The Beatles are easily my favorite band, so I loved the idea of seeing their music and its themes focused around a newer film. There were moments that weren't great, but I Want to Hold Your Hand was one of the most beautiful recordings of that song I've ever heard, and I Want You was such a visually interesting piece. Very stylized. I think this is definitely worth checking out if for nothing other than the great music and art direction.

Ben Foutch -

     1. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

I lost track of how many times I've watched this growing up. Steve Martin and Bill Murray give us one of the best scenes in a musical.
     2. Grease (1978)
Don't think this needs an introduction.
     3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Had a huge crush on Susan Sarandon growing up. Plus, crank up that Meat Loaf!
     4. West Side Story (1961)
I don't know why, but this cracks me up.
     5. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Art direction is fantastic.

Derek Clem -
I'm putting my focus on "book musicals", where sung dialog is present and advances the narrative as apposed to films that include music as a performance that the characters themselves are putting on, such as "Sister Act", "That Thing You Do!", and "School of Rock". I love those movies but they don't seem appropriate for this list.

     1. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

This movie just really did it for me. I wanted to be so angry at the film when it walked away with academy awards that I felt "The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring" deserved, but at the same time I was kind of like, "yeah, I can see that". Such a great and beautiful film. I love all the intertextual relationships they play with dealing with a variety of moments in the history of pop culture.
     2.Blue Brothers (1980) & Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
These movies kind of goes half and half with being book musicals as well as movies with the characters putting on musical performances. While their start was in television, Jake and Elwood are definitely cinematic icons.
     3. Gigi (1958)
Beautiful sets. This movie also enriched My Father The Hero (1994) for me.
     4. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Such powerful music! So rockin'! Plus I love Biblical events told in 70's dress.
     5. Evita (1996)
I actually got 10-points extra credit in 7th grade History for seeing this in the theater and bringing back my ticket stub as evidence. At that age, I couldn't believe literally every single line was sung. I appreciate the movie much more today.

Nathan Hinds -

     1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
If you had seen my individual list from our collective Top 10 Greatest Films of All-Time list, you would've seen that I have this as the greatest film of all-time. So yeah, it will pretty much be at the top of any category it could fall under.
     2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
What was my problem with musicals growing up? They were always too light for my tastes (at least from what I was watching). This film definitely didn't have that problem.
     3. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Even though I think the Tim Burton adaption is closer to the book, in terms of music, this one wins in a landslide.
     4. Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)
This is the only full movie soundtrack to ever make it on my iPod.
     5. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
The Toy Catcher in this film was one of the most terrifying people I'd ever seen growing up...okay ever.

Andy Schopp -
Tired of the radio? Need your music in movie form? Here you go, here's a playlist for you!

     1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

     2. Grease (2978)

     3. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

     4. Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006)

     5. Across the Universe (2007)

So there we have it. Some of the best Live-Action Musicals as seen through our eyes. There's a nice mix above with a few films that had repeat selections, but still overall a lot of different titles mentioned - 16 different films in total. Three films tied with three overall selections, the most any film received this week: "Grease" (average ranking of 1.6), "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (2.0), and "Little Shop of Horrors" (2.6). "Grease" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" revitalized the genre in the 1970's, while "Little Shop of Horrors" was one of the few big screen live-action successes of the genre from the 1980's. All three are very unique films, and stand out even more compared the the quality of other musicals coming out around them at the time. No question that these are all valuable films for the genre.

The only other films with any repeat listings were "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny", "Across the Universe", and "Moulin Rouge!", each with two. Tenacious D is more of a modern cult hit amongst fans of the band's music, while the latter two provide, if nothing else, visually stunning art direction that is really impressive, even for this genre.

Otherwise, everything else was a solo selection. There are a lot of different films listed here, but that's nothing surprising from a genre that's stood the test of time and been a staple in the film industry for the last nine decades. With so many different tones and themes listed in the titles above, everyone should be able to find a few that really interest you.

And as always, we hope that each of these selections can help you to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films this genre has to offer, and guide you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!