Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Maybe you’ve seen The Sound of Music one too many times. Maybe you get tired of the same old storylines and cliches. Or maybe you just can’t take people bursting into song seriously. Whatever your issue may be, hating musicals is more than valid, and this is coming from a former theatre kid. While I can’t help you suddenly appreciate Roger and Hammerstein (admittedly, I hate them too), I can offer some movie musical titles that may appeal to you even if musicals just aren’t your thing.
1. Little Shop of Horrors (1986): Set on a street called Skid Row, this is a story about a shy flower shop assistant who discovers a mysterious plant with an appetite for human flesh. Sounds ridiculous? It kind of is. However, with a fast paced plot that never takes itself too seriously, catchy music, and a stellar cast (including a cameo from Bill Murray), somehow it just works.
2. Fiddler on the Roof (1971): Based on the book by Joseph Stein, Fiddler on the Roof is the story of a poor milkman named Tevye and his family of five daughters living in a Jewish community in Russia. While it’s not exactly untraditional or offbeat, I’ve always found it more likable than other classics simply because it stands out by rising above its status as a musical, additionally serving as a realistic and respectful look at a culture. It tackles themes of love, oppression, and family, while also having a clever script and complex characters.
3. Labyrinth (1986): Labyrinth (directed by the brilliant Jim Henson) is about a young girl named Sarah who accidentally gives her baby brother to the goblin king, and her journey through a giant maze to get him back. Featuring a pit of hands, monsters with detachable heads, an MC Escher inspired scene, and a It’s weird, and over the top. However, if you’re into that sort of thing, chances are you’ll absolutely love it. Oh, and David Bowie both did the music for it AND stars as the goblin king, so if that doesn't intrigue you, I don't know what will.
4. Crybaby (1990): Starring a young Johnny Depp in the title role, Cry-Baby is the story of a proper schoolgirl named Alison who falls in love with a greaser, causing tension between the “drapes” (the teen delinquents) and the “squares” (the rest of the world). Being directed by John Waters it is like many others on this list) extraordinarily campy, but in the best way possible. There’s also something charmingly bizarre about it, from the opening scene being people in line for vaccines to the ending where *minor spoiler* everyone sheds a single tear in honor of Cry-Baby.
5. Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): Possibly the biggest cult classic of all time, with a devoted fan base and countless rituals surrounding it, Rocky Horror Picture Show doesn’t even feel like a movie, it feels like an experience. Explaining the plot doesn’t entirely do it justice either, but in a few words, it's about a straight-laced couple, Brad and Janet, who stumble upon the mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. While it’s hard to put a finger on what makes it so great, whether it be the banging music (such as the legendary “Timewarp”), the iconic characters, or just the chaotic sexy energy of the movie, there’s no denying that it’s a must watch.
6. The Muppet Movie (1979): While yes, there are countless Muppet movies, and yes, chances are you’ve already seen this one, it’s definitely worth revisiting. The origin story of how the gang got together; it’s simple, sweet, and uplifting without being cheesy. It will definitely make you laugh, it might make you cry (if you are like me and find Gonzo’s song about going back to the sky extremely moving, that is), but most of all it will make you happy. There’s really not a lot that I can say about this one, except it’s worth watching again and if for some reason you haven’t yet, watch it as soon as possible.
7. Moulin Rouge (2001): Loud, flamboyant, and hyper emotional, it's surprising how accessible this one is. Starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor and directed by Baz Luhrmann, Moulin Rouge is the story of a young writer who falls in love with a beautiful showgirl. With extreme cinematography and brightly colored costumes set to a soundtrack consisting of remixed iconic pop songs, it is, in a word, glorious. What sets it apart from typical musicals is its refusal to be tame or reverent, making it a wild ride from start to finish.
8. Sing Street (2016): Set in 1980’s Dublin, it's a simple story about a boy starting a band to impress a girl. Being a coming of age film, it features tropes such as struggling to fit in, finding your friends, and rebelling with music, which are executed earnestly and realistically. Because it’s not one where people burst into song for no reason, I was on the fence on whether it really qualifies as a musical but there are musical numbers with music original to the film as well as realistic but endearing scenes of people dancing just for the fun of it. As a whole, it’s understated yet fun, unrefined yet touching, naturally, I highly recommend you give it a shot.