The movie musical: a genre that has waned in popularity over the decades, but has resulted in some of the best soundtracks and triple-threat performances in the history of cinema. I find that most people have a love-hate relationship when it comes to the movie musical, and having a well-composed and arranged soundtrack is often the deciding factor. While the prominence of the songs and score is the defining feature of the genre, a successful movie musical knows how to place the songs to best reflect the film’s plot and tone and maintain a balance of reality and performance.
5. “Chicago” (2002)
Besides the stellar cast that featured Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renne Zellwegger, Richard Gere, and Queen Latifah, what made Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the famous musical “Chicago” so successful was the jazzy soundtrack that accompanied this tale of murder, deceit, and fame. Set against the backdrop of 1920s Chicago, the soundtrack brought the audience into dim, smoke-filled nightclubs, and the cells of a women’s prison. With impressive choreography and use of space, the soundtrack in “Chicago” acts as the bridge between reality and the film’s theatrical performance aspects, especially as it depicted Roxy Hart’s fantasies.
4. “Grease” (1978)
The soundtrack of “Grease” has a certain contagious energy that just makes you want to jump up, dance, and start singing along. Easily one of the most audience-friendly musical soundtracks, the songs of “Grease” were inspired by early 1950s rock-and-roll and classic teen love ballads. With some help from The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb, who wrote and produced the film’s funky title track, the soundtrack from “Grease” was the second best-selling album of 1978.
3. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
The soundtrack from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” isn’t particularly well-sung or composed, but it’s off-key and off-kilter performances are the reason why this musical has been a cult classic for nearly 40 years. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” captivated unsuspecting audience members with its zany lyrics and infectious songs like “Time-Warp” kept them returning to midnight screenings for years to come.
2. Dreamgirls (2006)
When this popular Broadway musical was cast, producers enlisted the help of contemporary heavyweights like Jamie Foxx, Beyonce, and Eddie Murphy to tell this story loosely based on the success of Diana Ross and The Supremes. At the time, relatively-unknown singer and actress Jennifer Hudson was cast in the role of Effie White, and her emotional performance of the ballad “I’m Telling You” landed her an Oscar. The soundtrack of “Dreamgirls” heavily incorporates the music of Motown’s prime with energetic R+B numbers, while it reserves the slower numbers to reveal the characters’ inner struggles with fame.
1. “Moulin Rouge!” (2001)
Baz Luhrmann’s original musical is set at the famous Parisian gentleman’s club in 1899. A love story between the Moulin Rouge’s star performer, Satine (Nicole Kidman) and a penniless poet, Christian (Ewan McGregor) develops with the help of some well-placed love songs. Characters within the film use clever re-workings and mash-ups of contemporary love songs to express their feelings and move the plot forward in a way that no movie musical attempted before. Satine makes her grand entrance with an extravagant performance of Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friends” and later, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” becomes a sexualized version of “Be Our Guest.” The soundtrack of “Moulin Rouge” is like a musical mosaic and with Luhrmann’s signature over-the-top visuals, the film practically pops out of the screen and invites you into this unique world.