The 8 best musicals of all time
There’s nothing quite like a musical to lift your spirits.
Throughout history, musicals have brought us together, shed light on key issues, and stirred our emotions. Plus, they’ve been responsible for some of the catchiest songs in history—just look at Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
As we all find ourselves with more time on our hands, chances are you’re wondering which musicals to binge-watch in the coming months. We’ve pulled together a list of the best musicals from history, as well as some video clips of their most iconic songs, to get you dancing, singing and laughing away.
1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Perhaps the most well-known musical of all time, Singin’ in the Rain was released in 1952, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Set in 1927, the musical rom-com stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds as they navigate the panic descending on the film industry as it moves from silent films to the “talkies”. While the song features plenty of hits, including Good Morning and Make ‘Em Laugh, it’s this scene that really captured hearts around the world:
The musical was released to widespread acclaim: Donald O’Connor won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, while Betty Comden and Adolph Green won the Writer’s Guild of America Award for their screenplay. However, over the years Singin’ in the Rain has reached legendary status among critics and fans, and is often regarded as the greatest musical film ever made.
2. Hairspray (2007)
Hairspray has seen many adaptations over the years. Originally a 1988 comedy film of the same name by John Waters, the musical was brought to Broadway in 2002 by Mark Shaiman. It eventually made it to the big screen in 2007.
Starring John Travolta, Nikki Bonsky, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken and Michelle Pfeiffer, the Hairspray movie follows optimistic teenager Tracy Turnblad as she chases her dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show. After appearing on the show, she becomes an overnight celebrity and campaigns to make the show more inclusive of African-Americans.
The Broadway musical won eight Tony Awards in 2003, including for Best Musical, while the movie was nominated for multiple Golden Globes, Grammys, and People’s Choice Awards. There are plenty of songs to love in the musical, from Mamma I’m a Big Girl Now to Cooties.
However, one of the catchiest numbers has to be You Can’t Stop the Beat:
3. Mamma Mia (2008)
When you turn ABBA’s hit discography into a musical, you’re almost guaranteed a hit. Mamma Mia is a musical based on the songs of ABBA, and was composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, who were former members of the band.
Both a stage show and a film, the musical debuted in 1999 before being turned into a movie in 2008. The movie stars Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, a bride-to-be and the daughter of single mother Donna (Meryl Streep). Since she was young, Sophie has never known who her father is but longs for him to walk her down the aisle. To the dismay of her mother, she secretly invites three men to her wedding (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård) in the hopes that one of them could be her father.
Nominated for two Golden Globes, a Grammy and three People’s Choice Awards, Mamma Mia is filled with classic ABBA numbers including Super Trouper, Dancing Queen and, of course, the title song:
A Broadway musical with music, lyrics, and a book written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton premiered in 2015 and tells the story of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
The musical draws inspiration from the 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow. Hamilton draws inspiration from hip-hop, R&B, pop, soul and traditional show-style tunes. The show is also well-known for casting people of color as the Founding Fathers.
Hamilton has received near-universal critical acclaim and has racked up eight Drama Desk Awards, 11 Tony Awards, and even a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. However, tickets to Hamilton are notoriously difficult to come by and sell for more than $500 a pop.
If you can’t score tickets, you can still enjoy some of the cast’s performances on YouTube:
5. Les Misérables (2012)
Musicals don’t just get us tapping our feet – they’re also educational and inspiring. Les Misérables is a historical period musical based on the (very lengthy) 1862 book by Victor Hugo. Les Misérables has opened in theaters around the world, and was released as a movie in 2012.
Taking place in France during the 19th century, the musical tells the story of Jean Valjean who, while being hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole, agrees to care for a factory worker’s daughter.
While the stage show has been a hit, it’s the film that made waves around the world, winning three Academy Awards for Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway’s role as Fantine. And with this stunning performance below, it’s not hard to see why:
6. Mary Poppins (1964)
We all wish we had a nanny like Mary Poppins. An American musical film released in 1964, Mary Poppins tells the story of a magical nanny who takes kids on a series of fantastical adventures with her friend Bert.
Starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the film won five Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for Chim Chim Cher-ee. And let’s not forget, the musical basically invented a new word with the hit Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious:
7. Grease (1978)
Released in 1978, Grease stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in a high school love story about a greaser, Danny Zuko, and good girl Sandy Olsson. A commercial and critical hit, Grease was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, as well as multiple Golden Globes.
With a catchy tune and the natural charm of its two stars, Grease went on to become the highest-grossing musical film of all time – and the Grease soundtrack was even the second best-selling album in the US. There are plenty of songs to love in this series, but our favorite has to be You’re the One That I Want.
8. The Sound of Music (1965)
The second movie on our list starring Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music opened in cinemas in 1965 and was based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
The film takes place in 1930s Austria, following a young Austrian woman sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower to be the governess of his seven children. After filling the family with love and music, she marries the officer and with the children try to survive Nazi rule.
Alongside Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music is widely considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, and won five Academy Awards that year, including Best Picture. The list of awards goes on and on, and it’s clear why: with songs like Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, and My Favorite Things, the film fills everyone with the sound of music.