As someone who has no shame and was not too proud to sing along (loudly) in the theater to the live-action remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King, it should come as no surprise that I’ve always loved movie musicals. In fact, the soundtracks for The Sound of Music, Xanadu and Grease, among others, have been in heavy rotation at my household for years.
But the musical film genre still suffers a bad rap because of missteps from past decades. Even though the ‘50s and ‘60s ushered in several Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning classics such as Singin’ in the Rain, Oliver! and West Side Story, there were only a few hit musicals for the following 30 years. Some film historians point to the financial flop of 1969’s Hello, Dolly! as the point when the genre took a downturn. And though there were certainly successful animated musicals from Disney in the ‘90s, the genre’s live-action counterpart didn’t get another big boost until the early 2000’s, when Moulin Rouge! (what’s with musicals and !s, by the way?) and Chicago wowed critics and audiences alike, and went on to capture Oscar gold.
Now that I’ve been a film critic for over a decade, I can confidently say that movie musicals are on the upswing once again. Ever since Bohemian Rhapsody surprised everyone by being a major box office smash and Best Picture nominee, studios have been scrambling to get in on the action — and on the widening definition of the genre. No longer does “musical” equate with characters randomly breaking into cheesy song-and-dance numbers. Now, films based on already established and popular music, like Bohemian Rhapsody, are flipping the script.
In fact, three of my favorite films this year — which are now all at the Box and On Demand — have put their own spin on what it means to be a movie musical:
- In Yesterday, the premise is that a strange worldwide power outage rewrites history for all but a few people. In this new reality, The Beatles never existed. When a struggling musician realizes this, he starts recording their hits as his own. It’s a completely original premise and — and a gigantic Beatles fan — I couldn’t get enough.
- In Rocketman, we are treated to some of Elton John’s greatest hits performed in traditional movie musical style, but with the twist of being reordered and worked in to explain or illuminate milestones in John’s early life and career. I will be shocked if this film isn’t eventually made into a Broadway production.
- In Blinded by the Light, some of Bruce Springsteen’s most beloved songs are used to tell the true story of his biggest (but perhaps most unlikely) fan: a Pakistani immigrant living in the economically devastated working-class town of Luton, England. If you’re a fan of The Boss, this is a must-see.
The movie musical genre shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. I mean, Steven Spielberg is in the process of remaking West Side Story, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda is adapting his Tony-winning In the Heights for the big screen as I write this. There are also biopics on Aretha Franklin and Boy George in the works. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!
What’s your favorite movie musical?