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    8 Movies That Got Musicals Right And 7 Movies That Did Them Dirty

    Not every musical adaptation is like Cats.

    1. Fab: Mamma Mia (2008)

    Universal Pictures

    I didn't know I needed to see Meryl Streep singing and dancing until this film. The rest of the cast is equally spectacular, making for a movie that is fun and full of heart. There's a reason it got a sequel; this movie is the equivalent of drinking a margarita on the beach. It perfectly captures the spirit of both the musical and ABBA.

    2. Drab: Cats (2019)

    Universal Pictures

    If Mamma Mia is a margarita on the beach, Cats is a mug of microwaved diet soda in a junkyard.

    To be fair, Cats is a weird show already. I'm not sure it's possible to make a good adaptation given the focus on costumes and dance in the stage musical. Even so, the star studded cast and weird sexual undertones made this movie a particularly strange adaptation. Let's just say that the reviews weren't glowing.

    3. Fab: Les Misérables (2012)

    Universal Pictures

    Personally, I feel that musical adaptations should be authentic to the stage musical while also adding something new, and I think this film does that. It preserves the tone and musical integrity of the show while using the cinematic techniques to give us a much more intimate look than the stage show does. Plus, the acting is amazing and the live singing makes the songs feel much more emotionally resonant.

    4. Drab: Hairspray (2007)

    New Line Cinema

    I love Zac Efron, and I love him in this, but I just don't love the movie as a whole. It isn't quite as authentically fun as the original, and it relies too heavily on Hollywood stars. This makes it hard to get lost in the story, because I don't quite buy any of them as the characters. The song cuts (such as "The Big Dollhouse") and changes (Link and Tracy not even being together during "Without Love"!!) also take away from one of my favorite stage musicals.

    5. Fab: Chicago (2002)

    Miramax Films

    Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger are marvelous in this film. What I love most about musicals are that they're larger than life, theatrical, and flashy. Chicago manages to perfectly capture that spirit instead of trying to make the story too Hollywood. The dancing, costumes, makeup, and singing are wonderful, and overall this film is just a lot of fun!

    6. Drab: Into the Woods (2014)

    Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Listen, you won't ever hear me say a bad word about Meryl, and she's great in this. But again, there are way too many stars to get lost in the story. It feels too much like a Hollywood blockbuster and not enough like the musical so many performed and saw as kids.

    7. Fab: Phantom of the Opera (2004)

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    The main draws of the musical are its amazing sets and effects. While we don't get that in the movie, the movie version makes what can be a difficult to understand musical (it is opera, after all) into a much more accessible version. The costumes and sets are still spectacular, and the singing is amazing (hot take: Gerard Butler sounds good to me!!).

    8. Drab: The Last Five Years (2014)


    Anna Kendrick is cute in this, but The Last Five Years just really doesn't work as a movie. The show is really more of a very long duet, and seeing it filmed makes the timelines somehow more confusing than in the musical. It distracts from the charm of our two leads, who actually do a pretty good job in playing Jamie and Cathy.

    9. Fab: The Sound of Music (1965)

    20th Century Fox Studios

    The Sound of Music stage show holds up surprisingly well after all these years, and so does the movie. Julie Andrews perfectly embodies the spirit of Maria, and her voice is like an angel's. Perfectly cast, acted, filmed, and sung, this movie is just timeless.

    10. Drab: Rent (2005)

    Sony Pictures Releasing

    This was one of my favorite movies growing up. But if I'm being really honest with isn't the best adaptation. They cut a ton of songs (most notably,

    the second half of "Goodbye Love"), which doesn't help. Onstage, the musical is much more intimate, immersive, yet somehow still rough around the edges, and it just doesn't quite translate onscreen.

    11. Fab: Grease (1978)

    Paramount Pictures

    Yes, Grease is dated. The messages are questionable. But as an adaptation of the stage musical (which has been a favorite for high schools productions for decades), this movie can do no wrong. John Travolta and Olivia Newton John's singing, acting, and costumes truly make this an iconic film, whether or not you like the musical itself.

    12. Drab: Rock of Ages (2012)

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    The Rock of Ages stage musical is really more of a concert. So much of its appeal is that it's live. Like many of the others on this list, it just doesn't really work as a movie. The music is auto-tuned and cheap, and the whole thing feels a bit too cheesy for film.

    13. Fab: Sweeney Todd (2007)

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    Tim Burton was the perfect choice to bring this macabre yet fun show to life, and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter have never been better cast. The singing isn't always amazing, but the acting, style, and tone of the musical are so well captured in the film that it almost doesn't even matter.

    14. Drab: Annie (2014)

    Sony Pictures Releasing

    Annie is not a musical that necessarily needed to be updated, and this version is really more of a loose adaptation. Part of the appeal of Annie is its ensemble cast of kids, and this movie loses that by taking out the orphanage aspect. Also, maybe it's just that I don't really like Cameron Diaz (except for in the cinematic masterpiece The Holiday), but casting a 2000s rom-com lead as Hannigan seems like a confusing decision.

    15. Fab: Dreamgirls (2006)

    Paramount Pictures

    I've said a lot of negative things about using movie musicals as star vehicles, but Dreamgirls is one example where it works. First of all, it's perfectly cast. Yes, it's hard to see Beyoncé as anyone other than Beyoncé, but her character in the film is not much of a reach. Second of all, the singing and acting are both actually good. Jennifer Hudson's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" rightfully won her an Oscar, and "Listen" is literally my favorite Beyoncé song. This film reminds us of the talent of its stars while still feeling organic and true to the musical.

    There are plenty of musical adaptations coming out soon, like In the Heights – here's to hoping that Hollywood gets its adaptations right more often than not!


    Oops, this post originally said Cats was released in 2009, but obviously it was 2019. Finger slip!