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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

Hit or Miss: Movie Musicals

Movie musicals used to be a staple of Hollywood, but in the past few decades they have been dwindling in popularity. In the 21st century, we're lucky if we get one movie musical a year. This also comes from the fact that it is easily one of the hardest genres to produce. Not only do studios have to worry about story, but also licensing issues and soundtrack sales, and excitement from theatre kids across the world. While some movie musicals happen to be amazing spectacles, there is also a list of ones that have fallen short in terms of content and reviews. Today we will examine both sides of the coin. And for clarification, this is will solely include films that were based off existing Broadway musicals, so while they are great films, La La Land. Singin' in the Rain and A Star is Born will not be on this list.

Hit: Tick, Tick...Boom! (2021) dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tick, Tick...Boom! is easily one of the most well-received movie musical in years. It even prompted viewers to demand an Oscar for Andrew Garfield, who gives quite possibly the best performance of his career. It tells the biographical tale of legendary Broadway composer, Jonathan Larson who tragically passed away the night before his masterpiece, Rent would premiere. Not only does this film provide an exceptional soundtrack and great performances, but it also tells a poignant story about passion, identity, and dealing with your own mortality. It's a must-watch for any theater kid, recovering theater kid, or anyone who craves a powerful story to devour.

Miss: Dear Evan Hansen (2021) dir. Stephen Chbosky

Out of all the modern musicals to hit Broadway in the 21st century, Dear Evan Hansen has undeniably aged the worse. It was met with rapturous applause and endless praise upon release but ever since, its reputation has been slowly tumbling downhill. But this isn't about the source material, it's about the movie, and the worse. Not only does it have the same pseudo-intellectual message as the original but it also made the grave mistake of casting Ben Platt in the lead role, the actor who starred in the show on Broadway. The fact that Platt was playing a 17 year old while pushing 30 paired with the news that the film's producer was his father, Marc Platt, Dear Evan Hansen the movie not only further tainted the reputation of the musical, but also completely soiled Ben Platt's good name for a lot of people. A failure in every sense of the word.

Hit: Little Shop of Horrors (1986) dir. Frank Oz

If there is one word that perfectly describes Little Shop of Horrors, it's "ridiculous." The performances are campy and over exaggerated, the music is all over the place, and the plot looks like a surefire failure on paper. Yet, somehow, this remains one of the most professional, faithful, and incredible Broadway film adaptations, nearly four decades after its release. It's a film that knows how absurd it is, and decides to embrace it rather than cover it up, which is what makes it so strong. If you're in the mood for a hilarious, feel-good flick for movie night, look no further than Little Shop of Horrors.

Miss: Cats (2019) dir. Tom Hooper

Whether you like it or not, you remember this movie, you know what I'm talking about, and you agree with me. Tom Hooper's Cats will go down in history as not only the least successful movie musical, but also one of the worst films to ever come out of Hollywood. With a clearly uncomfortable cast of A-List celebrities, singing material from a weird, divisive musical, it's one of the strangest movies you'll ever see and it's absolutely baffling that it got made in the first place. Now, time to forget it exists again...

Hit: Cabaret (1972) dir. Bob Fosse

Even half a century after its release, Cabaret still stands as one of the best and most iconic movie musicals, and for good reason. Not only does it include Liza Minelli's most renowned performance, and a soundtrack of incredible songs, Cabaret also carries 0ne hell of a message. It explores themes as heavy as fascism and universal as relationships. There's a reason why the entire cast and crew of this film have gone on to become legends, and if you're curious why, look no further than Cabaret.

Miss: The Prom (2020) dir. Ryan Murphy

In an attempt to create a colorful, feel-good movie about acceptance and a celebration of queerness, The Prom ends up being a saccharine, shallow, mess of a film. It's the kind of film you watch once, feel nothing, and then forget its existence. Even after watching The Prom, I couldn't name a single character or recall any song. While the musical was hailed as the "next best thing" when it was on Broadway, the film completely extinguished that notion. It was an annoying enough movie, but once you cast James Corden, you might as well kiss your production budget "goodbye."

Hit: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) dir. Tim Burton

This might be a controversial take, but I believe Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd is a strong movie musical. That might be because the source material is so strong but the casting, production design, and incorporation of songs just works really well. Combining Tim Burton's signature creepy style with Stephen Sondheim's genius combining is a collaboration so ambitious, we may not see it again for a long time. While there's debate as to whether Johnny Depp was the right casting choice for the lead, Helena Bonham Carter flawlessly embodies Mrs. Lovett. Overall, it's really difficult to ruin a Sondheim musical, and I consider Sweeney Todd to be a perfect Halloween watch.

Miss: Les Misérables (2012) dir. Tom Hooper

Tom Hooper's adaptation of Les Misérables is a mixed bag of a movie;. It's difficult to criticize considering its incredible ambition, however there're so many elements that fall flat. The source material is strong, but the pacing is a mess and any positive aspect about the film is overshadowed by Russell Crowe's atrocious performance as Javert. Yes, the production design is impressive, yes Anne Hathaway gives an amazing performance, and yes I have been forced to watch this a million times because Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) stars in it. While Les Misérables has plenty of strong elements, the cons of the movie outweigh the pros, so I have to controversially place it in the "Miss" category.

Hit: Dreamgirls (2006) dir. Bill Condon

Bill Condon's Dreamgirls not only perfectly captures the spirit of the stage musical, but builds on it by bringing in powerhouse performers like Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphym, Jennifer Hudson, and Beyoncé. The same songs that bring audiences to their feet in a Broadway theater, feel ten times as grandiose and fabulous on the big screen. Not to mention the plethora of Oscar nominations this garnered. Dreamgirls is a film that reminds us why we like musicals, and breathes new life into an old theater classic.

Miss: The Last Five Years (2014) dir. Richard LaGravenese

The whole appeal of Jason Robert Brown's musical, The Last Five Years is its bare-bones, humble feel. This resonates when you're in a small theater-in-the-round, but when you expand that into a full-fledged Hollywood movie, that charm vanishes. The Last Five Years is a harrowing, complicated story about a relationship but the film manages to turn this haunting story into a boring, tonal mess. Despite the clear talent of its small cast, The Last Five Years simply falls short of greatness.

Hit: Annie (1982) dir. John Huston

John Huston's Annie might not be the best reviewed movie musical of all time, but it still has an undeniable charm. Is that due to pure nostalgia? Who knows? But it is probably the strongest adaptation of the musical because of its star-studded cast. Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Albert Finney, Bernadette could you not expect theater kids not to love this? It's definitely a turn-your-brain-off kind of movie, but it's the perfect way to introduce your children to the world of musicals.

Miss: Annie (2014) dir. Will Gluck

On the opposite side of the spectrum we have Will Gluck's Annie. This ended up being one of the worst reviewed films of 2014. Like its 1982 predecessor, the actual content of this film isn't great, but unlike the 1982 version, this doesn't have the incredible cast to make up for it. Annie ended up winning "Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel" at the 35th Golden Raspberry Awards as well as winning Cameron Diaz "Worst Supporting Actress." Why you would modernize a movie whose charm relied on its retro-ness I will never understand.

There is a long list of both great and terrible musicals that did not make this list either for brevity's sake, or a lack of strong feelings. Perhaps a part two is in order? I hope you enjoyed the list and thank you for visiting

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