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    If You Dislike Musicals With A Burning Passion, Here Are 10 That May *Slightly* Change Your Mind

    Maybe give these a chance.

    I hate musicals. They make me angry. In almost every single case, musical films are syrupy sweet cheese affairs, discharging a sort of simultaneous blasphemy against sound and vision. The songs are made for infants – something to jangle to while you slap your mobile in the stupor of a post-feeding high. The depths of the lyrics don’t usually rise above the linguistic powers of street signs: follow the road; the parade is coming; time to get ready for the wedding. And the dancing! There’s never a good reason, it’s the cinematic equivalent of those poor sign-holders outside of cash-for-gold shops. Just jumping around to keep your attention on them! Yeah, sure, they got talent, I can’t dance like that, but why would I want to? I don’t need to go into a number celebrating my gig cleaning chimneys.

    The whole thing is like commercials selling candy to kids. Meaningless, seductive schmaltz meant to get you to think less and feel only superficially. For this reason, any reasonable society would do away altogether with the whole genre, to be used only in the most extreme cases of capital punishment. But there’s good reason to hold off on the ban (besides the 1st amendment, which because of musicals, I may need to revisit). See, every once in a while, cool musicals are made. Yes, it does happen. It’s almost always when the musical doesn’t use music like they use in musicals. Instead, they use good music. And instead of stories about lollipops and happy sailors, they use funny, weirdo, or awesome sick wild stories that drill into your brain and leave something behind you can actually use. So here’s a list of ten musicals you can watch without feeling the need to wield an ax in a shopping mall killing spree after you’re done. Enjoy.

    1. The Wiz (1978)

    Mabel King as Evillene the Wicked Witch of the West in the musical film The Wiz.
    Universal Pictures

    Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Lena Horn, Mable King, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell. Can you dig it? Yes, it’s based on the uber-hokey Wizard of Oz, but instead of Kansas, we’re in Harlem this time, baby. 

    The funky music is groovy, belted out by some of the most legendary vocals around at the time. The urban feel adds a sense of danger that transcends the fairytale pastiche in the Judy Garland classic. Add to that the fact that this version of the Emerald City was none other than the now-gone Twin Towers, and you get an unintended extra bit of reality hitting viewers right in the brainstem. This thing is creepy, soulful, and funny. Ease on down!

    2. Fantasia (1940)

    The demon Chernabog commanding dark forces from the Disney film Fantasia.
    Walt Disney Animation Studios

    Time to chill, sit back, and let Walt Disney take you into a midnight movie before there were midnight movies. Yeah, he made this animated classic for kids, but what kids can really trip out on classical music? The brute force of sequences like Rite of Spring and Night on Bald Mountain clobbers the senses with demons and dinosaurs, while bizarre surreal selections from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and The Nutcracker Suite transport the audience to an innocent brand of psychedelia. Would it be wrong to wonder if ol’ Uncle Walt was huffing on some turpentine when he dreamed this up? No way. It’s just too far out, man. Dig the visuals.

    3. The Blues Brothers (1980)

    Aretha Franklin singing with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in the Blues Brothers.
    Universal Pictures

    Oh, dudes...a super hip comedy with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd at the height of their funny powers, with rhythm and blues interludes from an unparalleled selection of soul masters? Need we say more? Cab Calloway, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and of course, the Blues Brothers band, loaded with session vets like Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn. 

    The dance numbers in the streets are a real party, not the usual stiff stagecraft scenes you’ll see from Rogers & Hammerstein adaptations. There’s also a taste of Chicago’s seedy underbelly that gives it an extra edge. It’s hilarious and makes me want to do crime (for legal reasons, that's a joke). Shake a tailfeather! I have seen the light!

    4. Black Orpheus (1959)

    The character of Death emerging in the film Black Orpheus.
    Janus Films

    Ready for an arthouse film that’s only a musical because it’s Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and there’s friggin’ music everywhere? This French-Brazilian adaptation of the Greek tragedy takes place in the colorful favelas that dot the city’s surrounding hillsides. 

    Unlike “normal” musicals where people break into song to tell the story, the music breaks in on the story, sometimes not caring what’s happening. This beautifully shot movie is mostly a parading party full of samba drums and erotic dancing, where death just happens to chase after a legendary singer’s one true love. There’s no sap in this movie and the reality and truth of the local poverty plays a huge role. The whole thing feels perfectly natural because once a year, the whole country really does become a huge outdoor concert that bulldozes right through love and loss. Even murder gets an awesome backbeat!

    5. The Boy Friend (1971)

    Fractal arrangement of synchronized dancers as seen from an overhead shot in the film The Boyfriend.
    MGM

    I almost skipped this one, but it’s just too weird. It’s a very British “musical-within-a-musical” about a theater girl brushing up against a stage career and the search for love. But who cares about any of that? This thing is visually wild and I'd imagine would be really harsh during an acid trip or something. Off-center director Ken Russell – the guy who made cult hits like Altered States and The Devils – seems to almost be making fun of musicals by squeezing out sets and numbers so bugged out and hallucinatory, you can only imagine what the stage crew was on. Fast forward past the boring story crap and groove on the wild eyeball attack. And it’s got Twiggy!

    6. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

    Close up of Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
    20th Century Fox

    Oh darling, if you can’t get behind this mad bit of silliness, then you are missing out. The ultimate cult classic movie about, um, a trans bisexual sex fiend mad scientist and his wild house full of freaks and space aliens and…a James Bond villain? Yes, really. Not only that but it’s Susan Sarandon’s and Tim Curry’s first starring roles – just wait till Tim’s Dr. Frank N. Furter seduces you. The over-the-top numbers are a full-fledged celebration of underground culture. Everything your mother warned you about is under one wacky roof that plays with horror tones, torch song tropes, and indomitable absurdity, all to a glam-rock vibe. It’s one hell of a shindig!

    7. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)

    Animated marching hammers in the film Pink Floyd: The Wall.
    MGM

    Oh, well, they can’t all be fun. This cinematic adaptation of the classic album renders to the screen all the grim musings Roger Waters composed for his band’s classic record. Child abuse, drug overdoses, and fascist genocide set the stage for this mind-breaking rock opera. Terrifying topics come to life as school children march into meat grinders, a rock star basically becomes Hitler (yikes), and parasitic visions of motherhood come to life. Not exactly Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, if you follow me. Laced within the dark vision are animated sequences based on Gerald Scarfe’s twisted illustrations for the album art. Absolutely nightmarish stuff and of course, the music rocks.

    8. Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979)

    The Ramones playing in a hallway in the film Rock 'n' Roll High School.
    New World Pictures

    Yay! It’s a punk rock movie starring The Ramones! And it’s totally dopey. The plot is absolutely musical magic. High school kids thwarted from rock and roll dreams by a square principal and administration. What a drag! But don’t worry. The sleazy side of the tracks will persist and persevere to the tune of Rockaway Beach’s finest degenerate minstrels. And because it’s The Ramones, the whole film feels nice and dirty and goofy and never once takes itself seriously. True story: the movie was produced by the king of B-movies, Roger Corman! Gabba-gabba-hey!

    9. Hair (1979)

    woman with an afro filled with butterfly clips sings while in a forest
    United Artists Pictures

    Hippies sleeping in New York’s Central Park, freaking out the squares, crashing rich folks’ parties, and protesting Vietnam, living like children of the land in the midst of a metropolis. The classic '60s style tunes are laced with shocking lyrics (“masturbation!”) and some moments that actually make you stop and think, like, about some heavy stuff. It’s funny, the music picks up the counterculture spirit nicely, and yeah, you might even care about what happens in the end. Despite its obvious exploitation of the subculture, the movie still captures something authentic about the flower power generation. Peace and love, children.

    10. Cry-Baby (1990)

    Johnny Depp shedding a tear in the film Cry-Baby.
    Image Entertainment

    The movie that made me love Johnny Depp. Thank god the ever-scandalous John Waters brought his gutter sensibilities to this jailhouse romp. The cast is loaded with trash culture icons like Iggy Pop, Traci Lords, and Pink Flamingos alumnus Mink Stole. True to style, the Prince of Filth turns the tables on flimsy movie morality and proves the outlaws to be more righteous than the upper crust society that thinks it’s better than everybody. Brilliantly funny, pushing the envelope of good taste, this film kicks and screams while it sings and dances. Get ready to root for the Wrong-Side-of-the-Tracks crowd!

    If you're someone who isn't a big fan of movie musicals, do you have any suggestions that kind of changed your mind about the genre? Feel free to drop them in the comments below!

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