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Top 10 Best Modern Movie Musicals

VO: Lisa Yang
Script written by Nick Spake These are the best modern movie musicals! We’ve included movies like Once, Chicago, Hairspray, Beauty and the Beast, La La Land, Sweeney Todd, Rent, Movies, Into the Woods and The Last Five Years! For this list, we’re taking a look at the absolute best movie musicals from the early 2000s beyond. We’ve excluded Disney animated musicals because let’s be honest, they’d probably take up like half the list.

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Top 10 Best Modern Movie Musicals

Just when you thought it was the final curtain, the movie musical got a second act. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Best Modern Movie Musicals.

For this list, we’re taking a look at the absolute best movie musicals from the early 2000s and beyond. We’ve excluded Disney animated musicals because, let’s be honest, they’d probably take up like half the list.

#10: “Into the Woods” (2014)

After spending years in development hell, “Into the Woods” finally got the cinematic treatment with director Rob Marshall behind the camera. Assembling an ensemble of fairytale icons, “Into the Woods” has no shortage of familiar storylines. What makes this musical so distinctive, however, is that the characters all live happily every after by the conclusion of act one. They eventually realize, though, that maybe their so-called “happy endings” weren’t what they truly wanted, amounting to an unpredictable second act. While not as dark as James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s original vision, this stunning adaptation still does its source material justice with an appropriate blend of satire, tragedy, and bittersweet moments.

#9: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007)

Where most people view musicals as bright, colorful, and joyous, “Sweeney Todd” is dark, brooding, and flat-out sadistic. As a master of gothic horror, director Tim Burton was the ideal visionary to adapt Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s thrilling musical for the big screen. Johnny Depp might not have an angelic Broadway voice, but he brings a rock star quality to the film’s titular homicidal barber. Helena Bonham Carter is equally charismatic as Mrs. Lovett, who bakes Mr. Todd’s victims into her meat pies. Showcasing astounding production value, unparalleled atmosphere, and bloody brilliant songs, “Sweeney Todd” further proved that the movie musical was back with a vengeance.

#8: “La La Land” (2016)

Although the genre has returned in a big way, most movie musicals these days are adaptations of Broadway classics. “La La Land” is a diamond in the rough, standing out as a modern movie musical that was made entirely from scratch. Although director Damien Chazelle borrows heavily from Hollywood’s golden era, his magical film still manages to be a beacon of originality, complete with magnetic music, infectious choreography, and a setting that feels alive. At the center of everything are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as a couple of star-crossed lovers with big dreams. Winning seven Golden Globes and six Oscars, “La La Land” inspired the fools who dream, and will do so for years to come.

#7: “Beauty and the Beast” (2017)

The 2017 live-action adaptation of the beloved animated classic had a lot to live up to. However, director Bill Condon – no stranger to bringing musicals to the silver screen – brought together a cast of both Hollywood greats like Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson, and Broadway mainstays like Josh Gad and Audra McDonald. The result was nothing short of magical, becoming the highest-grossing live-action musical ever. With new songs from Alan Menken and Tim Rice, along with vivacious versions of treasured songs like “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston,” this “tale as old as time” was accepted by audiences young and old with open arms.

#6: “Once” (2007)

It might be a musical, but “Once” takes an unconventional approach to the genre. The characters don’t just spontaneously break out into lavish production numbers. The way director John Carney weaves music into the narrative feels incredibly natural, telling a believable love story about two struggling musicians. The result is one of the most poignant and uplifting movie musicals you’ll ever experience. At least one song is guaranteed to hit you hard, whether it’s “When Your Mind's Made Up,” “If You Want Me,” or the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly.” Described as the little movie that could, “Once” received universal critical acclaim, became a box office success, and inspired a Tony Award-winning stage adaptation.

#5: “Chicago” (2002)

Director Rob Marshall injects “Chicago” with a dreamlike ambiance, energetic choreography, and “all that jazz.” The world is a musical through the eyes of Roxie Hart, an aspiring performer that’ll do anything to be a star. Roxie takes center stage when she murders her lover in cold blood and a slick lawyer tap-dances to her defense. In addition to being a blast from start to finish, “Chicago” provides clever commentary on how a criminal can become an overnight celebrity. As Roxie inevitably learns, however, every celebrity criminal’s fifteen minutes of fame are numbered. The first musical to win Best Picture since 1968’s “Oliver,” it’s safe to say that “Chicago” hit all the right notes.

#4: “Hairspray” (2007)

Of all the musicals on this countdown, “Hairspray” is the one that’s most likely to leave you shaking, shimmying, and smiling long after the credits roll. You probably wouldn’t expect this to be a feel-good movie given its subject matter, which revolves around prejudice in 1960s America. While “Hairspray” does possess a heavy message regarding civil rights and acceptance, it also bounces off the walls with uproarious comedy, bubbly songs, and lovable characters. The cast is uniformly excellent, featuring the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and Queen Latifah. Of course it’s Nikki Blonsky and John Travolta that bring down the house as Tracy and Edna Turnblad, never missing a single beat.

#3: “Moulin Rouge!” (2001)

Often cited as the movie musical that resurrected the genre, “Moulin Rogue” arguably paved the way for all the other films on this list. Baz Luhrmann’s musical extravaganza blew audiences away back in 2001, packing jaw-dropping sets, hyper choreography, and over-the-top costumes into every shot. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are simply spellbinding as poet Christian and courtesan Satine. Their love story for the ages is conveyed through a spectacular soundtrack with a perfect mix of timeless love songs and contemporary hits. “Moulin Rogue” will have you dancing on air one second and crying a river of tears the next. Either way, it’s impossible not to get sucked in by the film’s boundless beauty.

#2: “Rent” (2005)

Modern movie musicals are known for attracting celebrities that have star power in spades, but limited singing range. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with Chris Columbus’ adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s musical phenomenon. As a matter of fact, the film version of “Rent” reunited six main players from the original Broadway cast. Of course, a few welcome newcomers were also brought on board, with Rosario Dawson particularly hitting it out of the park as Mimi. While it wasn’t the biggest critical or commercial success upon release, this film wonderfully encompasses the stage production’s raw humanity. If you’re a Renthead, chances are you’ve seen the movie five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred times.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
• “Across the Universe” (2007)
• “Dreamgirls” (2006)
• “The Last Five Years” (2014)

#1: “Les Misérables” (2012)

Making its stage debut in 1980, the musical version of Victor Hugo’s classic novel didn’t reach the silver screen until 2012. For the longest time, many deemed this sung-through musical as unfilmable. In the end, though, director Tom Hooper delivered a triumphant adaptation that fired on all cylinders. Epic in scope and overflowing with grandeur, “Les Misérables” features one applaud-worthy moment after another. The highlight is Anne Hathaway's rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” which she performed in one uninterrupted take. Having the performers sing live on set only added another layer of authenticity, amounting to a movie musical that’ll stick with you walking out of the theater and at least “one day more.”

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