5 Great Films Based on Musicals

While this year’s slate of movie offerings features a fair number of the typical big-budget action movies, dystopian sci-fi flicks, and comedies, there are also several film adaptations of popular musicals coming to theaters in 2014. Jersey Boys — a film based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name – makes its debut on June 20. Directed by Clint Eastwood, this musical biography drama tells the story of the legendary 1960s band The Four Seasons and features Christopher Walken, John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, and Francesca Eastwood.

A contemporary adaptation of Annie — the popular and long-running Broadway musical that was previously adapted into a movie in 1982 — will be released December 19. The Annie reboot will feature Quvenzhané Wallis in the title role and Jamie Foxx as Benjamin Stacks, the renamed Daddy Warbucks character. The film also stars Cameron Diaz as the villainous Miss Hannigan and Rose Byrne as Grace, Stacks’s kindly assistant.

While it remains to be seen if either of these film adaptations can match the success of the original musicals, it should be noted that Hollywood has a long tradition of mining Broadway for source material with varying degrees of success. However, whether or not Hollywood’s latest attempts to recreate Broadway musical entertainment on the big screen is successful, there are always plenty of other excellent film adaptations of musicals that movie buffs can revisit. While there are literally dozens of great films to choose from in this genre, here are five particularly great film adaptations of musicals that garnered significant critical acclaim as well as box office receipts.

1. West Side Story (1961)

This film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name was a runaway commercial and critical success.  Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who get caught up in a conflict between rival gangs in 1950s New York City. Featuring music composed by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, the songs of West Side Story are irresistibly catchy and have become American classics. West Side Story won a record ten Academy Awards, more than any other musical film adaption, according to IMDb. The film currently holds 94 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

2. Chicago (2002)

Based on a Broadway musical of the same name that originally opened in 1975, this film adaptation ended a thirty-year-plus Best Picture Academy Award drought for musicals and was widely credited with reviving the genre. Starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly, this film tells the story of two women who cynically exploit their fame in order to avoid murder convictions. According to Box Office Mojo, Chicago is the second highest-grossing live-action musical since 1974 with a total lifetime gross of almost $171 million. Chicago currently has an 87 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

3. The Sound of Music (1965)

Made during Hollywood’s golden age of film musicals in the 1950s and 1960s, The Sound of Music was a highly successful film adaptation of the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical of the same name. The movie version stars Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp. The film features the same infectiously cheery songs that made the stage version so popular, including classics such as “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi.” As noted by IMDb, The Sound of Music took home five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

While the character of Sweeney Todd originates in the Victorian era, this Tim Burton-directed film is an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning 1979 musical. Starring Johnny Depp in the title role and Helena Bonham Carter as his murderous accomplice Mrs. Lovett, this dark comedy film tells the story of a skilled barber who seeks revenge on a corrupt judge who framed him. While Burton’s adaptation of this highly successful musical received generally favorable reviews, some critics took issue with the director’s decision to shorten and eliminate some of Sondheim’s original songs.

However, the film won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Art Direction, according to IMDb. Depp also garnered a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Sweeney Todd. With nearly $53 million in total domestic box office receipts, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ranks fifteenth on Box Office Mojo’s list of highest-grossing musicals.

5. Cabaret (1972)

While this Bob Fosse-directed film is based on a 1966 Broadway musical of the same name, the movie version deviates from the original musical with several storyline and character differences. Set in 1930s Berlin, Cabaret tells the story of Sally Bowles, an American cabaret performer whose life becomes increasingly chaotic as the Nazi Party rises to power in Germany. Starring Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Michael York as Brian Roberts, the film was a commercial and critical success. As noted by IMDb, Cabaret won eight Academy Awards, including a Best Actress Oscar for Minnelli and a Best Director Oscar for Bob Fosse. The film currently has a 97 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

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