Special Report

The Best Musicals of All Time

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Musicals are strange creations in the world of cinema. Their plots are often told with as much dialogue as music and an extra layer of suspension of disbelief is needed when intense scenes break down into all characters, friends and enemies alike, joining in together for song and dance. Despite all this, the greatest musicals are some of the most cherished creations in all of entertainment. They pull on heartstrings in ways that other movies just can’t do.

The films on this list fall into many different musical subgenres including comedy, romance and action. The Marx Brothers appear numerous times for their wacky comedies from the early days of movies with sound. “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” tells the fantastical tale of a young boy’s adventure into the strange world of an eccentric candymaker. 

There are also numerous movies about life in the entertainment industry and putting on stage musicals. But the most common theme of all is love. Several of the plots are about impossible or forbidden love and inevitable tragedy. Others are much warmer stories that leave viewers with hope and feelings of levity. Many of these classics are some of the greatest love stories in movie history.

Most of these films are in English and from the United States and United Kingdom. However, several of the top-rated films are Hindi-language movies from India and a few in French make the list. Musicals have played an important role in both cinema and music, pushing both mediums to new heights and creating timeless tales that hold up even today. (The 30 most inspirational movies of the last 100 years)

Click here to see the best musicals of all time

To determine the best and worst musical movies of all time, 24/7 Wall St. created an index based on each film’s Rotten Tomatoes average critic rating, Rotten Tomatoes average audience rating, and Internet Movie Database average user rating. To be considered, each film needed to have at least 10,000 total user ratings between IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes and 10 approved Tomatometer critic reviews. The “best” films had to have been classified as a musical or music film by IMDb and all the “worst” films fell only under musical. The “notable song” listed for each musical is either the film’s biggest single, a song that is culturally significant, especially important to the film, or especially popular.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

25. All That Jazz (1979)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.9 (30,260)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86 (11,786)
> Tomatometer score: 87
> Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer

“All That Jazz” is a semi-autobiographical musical that tells a semi-surreal tale of director and writer Bob Fosse’s manic experience trying to edit his film “Lenny,” while also staging the Broadway musical “Chicago.” The film follows womanizer and workaholic theater director Joe Gideon as he tries to stage a play and edit a film. He struggles to find balance as his lifestyle takes a toll on his health and relationships. One critic said, “All That Jazz is one of the most self-indulgent movies ever made-but blessedly so.”

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Source: Courtesy of Eros Worldwide

24. Devdas (2002)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.6 (40,744)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88 (18,651)
> Tomatometer score: 89
> Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff

Based on a 1917 novel of the same name, “Devdas” is an Indian Hindi-language film about forbidden romance in early 20th century India. Devdas is a young man that’s returning home from studying in London after a decade. He wants to marry his childhood friend Parvati but his parents forbid it because they do not approve of her lineage. Devdas falls into alcoholism and takes up residence at a brothel but remains in love with Parvati. At the time, it was the most expensive Indian film ever made.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

23. A Star Is Born (1954)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.6 (17,201)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 81 (9,282)
> Tomatometer score: 98
> Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford

The 1954 film is actually the second – and highest rated – of four adaptations of “A Star is Born.” Most recently, it was remade in 2018 starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. In the 1954 edition, Judy Garland stars as aspiring singer Esther Blodgett who unexpectedly meets former star singer Norman Maine. Norman’s career is on the decline, but he sees something in Esther and helps get her a shot at making it big. Upon release, the three-hour film was massively popular and Hollywood Reporter described it as “the perfect blend of drama and musical – of cinematic art and popular entertainment.”

Source: Courtesy of United Artists

22. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 8.0 (41,854)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 92 (52,591)
> Tomatometer score: 83
> Starring: Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon

“Fiddler on the Roof” is a musical based on the short stories of “Tevye the Dairyman” by Sholem Aleichem. Teyve lives in the Pale of Settlement in Imperial Russia around the beginning of the 20th century. The story follows the man as he tries to maintain his Jewish cultural and religious traditions in a rapidly changing world. Meanwhile, he must deal with violence and harassment from the Russian military because of his religion.

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

21. The Music Man (1962)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.7 (16,848)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 85 (30,561)
> Tomatometer score: 94
> Starring: Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold

Professor Harold Hill is a con man who’s come to River City, Iowa to scam the locals. He disguises himself as a band director and plans to convince the town’s residents to pay him to create a marching band for local boys. To carry out his scheme he tries to seduce Marian Paroo, a librarian and piano instructor. Time and time again as he’s about to be exposed he uses music to distract from his deceit. The film was a big hit at release and remains a classic to this day.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

20. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.8 (190,643)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87 (878,126)
> Tomatometer score: 91
> Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear

Take a wild and strange ride into the mad creations of candymaker Willy Wonka, based on the Roald Dah’s children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Gene Wilder stars as the eccentric Wonka, who’s opened his factory to five lucky children that have found golden tickets packed in with chocolate bars. The movie follows the group of children and their parents on their journey through the factory, often with disastrous consequences. Upon release, the film didn’t do great but has grown in popularity over the years.

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Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

19. The Band Wagon (1953)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.5 (10,957)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 82 (4,700)
> Tomatometer score: 100
> Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray

“The Band Wagon” follows an aging singer who hopes a big Broadway show will restart his career. Several of the songs from the film became massive hits, including “That’s Entertainment!” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Commercially, the film didn’t do amazingly upon release but has evolved into a classic. One critic simply said, “on the whole it’s one of the best musicals ever made.”

Source: Courtesy of Yash Raj Films

18. Veer-Zaara (2004)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.8 (51,393)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88 (16,189)
> Tomatometer score: 92
> Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukerji, Kirron Kher

“Veer-Zaara” is the second Indian Hindi-language musical to make this list. The romantic drama is set in India and Pakistan and follows two star crossed lovers as they are drawn to one another despite political, cultural and familial barriers. Upon release, the film was praised by critics for a number of reasons including its delicate portrayal of the complicated relationship between India and Pakistan. One critic said, “Veer-Zaara is so arresting, its scenes so full of beauty and colors, that the three hours go by almost too fast.”

Source: Courtesy of Allied Artists Pictures

17. Cabaret (1972)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.8 (52,484)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87 (36,139)
> Tomatometer score: 93
> Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey

“Cabaret” is set in 1931 Berlin, as Germany’s Weimar Republic begins to unravel, and the Nazi party grows in power. American Sally Bowles performs at a local club and soon meets English writer Brian Roberts, who has just arrived in the city. The two begin a complicated relationship as the country comes under the grip of fascism. The film documents the rapid rise of the Nazis and how it changed every facet of life, transforming the once lively and bohemian atmosphere into one of fear, violence and repression.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. A Day at the Races (1937)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.6 (13,601)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89 (9,161)
> Tomatometer score: 94
> Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Allan Jones

The comedy follows Judy Standish as she tries to save her financially troubled sanitarium (old fashioned medical facility) from a wealthy banker who wants to turn it into a casino. Judy convinces one of the wealthy patients to help finance the place by hiring a doctor that the patient believes to be a renowned medical expert. However, Dr. Hackenbush is actually a horse doctor. One critic said “A Day at the Races brings us the Marx Brothers at their best.”

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

15. Horse Feathers (1932)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.6 (12,475)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86 (8,114)
> Tomatometer score: 97
> Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, The Marx Brothers

Another film by the Marx Brothers, “Horse Feathers” is a comedy about a college football game between fictional Darwin and Huxley Colleges. To win the game, the president of Huxley College attempts to recruit professional football players to join his school’s team. However, a misunderstanding leads him to recruit two local bootleggers. In turn, they must enroll as students at the school which rapidly creates problems and chaos. Time Out said, “The Brothers have never been so chaotic or so aggressively funny.”

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Source: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

14. Swing Time (1936)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.6 (13,183)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86 (7,408)
> Tomatometer score: 97
> Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, Helen Broderick

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers co-starred in several musicals, and this is the first of two to make the list. John “Lucky” Garrett (Astaire) is a dancer and gambler who’s set to get married. However, members of his dance group intentionally derail the marriage to keep him focused on dancing. Soon after, he meets Penny (Ginger Rogers) and ends up taking dance lessons from her to apologize for a misperceived theft. Several dance critics consider “Swing Time” to have some of the greatest choreographed dance scenes in musical history.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros./Seven Arts

13. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.7 (9,546)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84 (4,469)
> Tomatometer score: 98
> Starring: Catherine Deneuve, George Chakiris, Françoise Dorléac, Jacques Perrin

Originally, “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort,” the film is a French musical comedy set in the French seaside town of Rochefort. The plot follows two twin sisters as they navigate love, life and a desire to leave the town where they have lived all of their lives. An annual carnival comes rolling into town and the sisters soon strike up relationships with two carnies and a host of other characters along the way.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

12. Animal Crackers (1930)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.5 (14,262)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89 (10,264)
> Tomatometer score: 96
> Starring: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, The Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers make the list again. This time the plot revolves around a high society party in Long Island, New York, and a special painting. Renowned explorer Captain Geoffrey has recently returned from an expedition in Africa and brought with him a rare and expensive painting. However, two separate groups of guests scheme to replace the painting with fakes for very different reasons. One critic called it “more brilliant fun from the Marx Brothers.”

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Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

11. Duck Soup (1933)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.8 (59,035)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91 (36,459)
> Tomatometer score: 91
> Starring: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx

In “Duck Soup” the Marx Brothers star as leaders and spies of the two rival fictional countries of Freedonia and Sylvania. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Max) is the newly installed leader of the struggling nation of Freedonia. A wealthy benefactor insisted she would only help the country financially if Firefly was leading it. Meanwhile, Sylvania is plotting and scheming to annex Freedonia. A critic at Time Out summed it up saying “genius just about covers it.”

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

10. In the Heights (2021)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.4 (37,926)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 94 (2,826)
> Tomatometer score: 94
> Starring: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera

Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, “In the Heights” is based on a stage musical of the same name also by Miranda. The story follows several characters in the predominantly Dominican American New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. The characters must navigate the challenges of life in their rapidly changing neighborhood and beyond. The film was released both in theaters and for streaming on HBO Max after a yearlong delay due to the pandemic.

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Source: Courtesy of Yash Raj Films

9. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.4 (47,685)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88 (28,908)
> Tomatometer score: 100
> Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan

“K3G” as it’s also known, is an Indian Hindi-language musical about the challenges a family faces when their adopted son marries a girl from a lower caste. Yash is a billionaire and patriarch of a prominent Delhi family, whose adopted son Rahul goes off to study abroad and falls in love with a girl from a very different socioeconomic background. Rahul’s love tears the family apart and Yash’s biological son, Rohan, sets out to bring everyone back together.

Source: Courtesy of United Artists

8. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.6 (43,629)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89 (50,463)
> Tomatometer score: 98
> Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, The Beatles

“A Hard Day’s Night” is a fictional account of 36 hours in the lives of The Beatles during the height of their fame. The comical adventure involves the members of the group constantly running from adoring fans, managing Paul McCartney’s troublemaking grandfather, and navigating professional obligations. The film is filled with music by the group, and they released an album by the same name a few days after the film premiered.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

7. That’s Entertainment! (1974)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.7 (4,990)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86 (5,365)
> Tomatometer score: 100
> Starring: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Peter Lawford

“That’s Entertainment” is a compilation film that was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios to celebrate their 50th anniversary of making movies. The retrospective film includes a number of musical performances from over the years and archive footage from movie productions. MGM created some of the biggest musicals during its prime, including “The Band Wagon” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” The film also has several segments where the studio’s stars like Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire and Elizabeth Taylor reminisce over the good ole days.

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

6. My Fair Lady (1964)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.8 (91,594)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90 (187,115)
> Tomatometer score: 95
> Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White

Audrey Hepburn stars as Elizabeth Doolittle, a London flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins to learn to speak like a high society lady. The movie was adapted from a successful stage musical of the same name that in turn was based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play “Pygmalion.” The film won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director.

Source: Courtesy of Landau Releasing Organization

5. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.8 (26,072)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87 (9,879)
> Tomatometer score: 99
> Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel

The French-language musical was a collaborative effort between French and West German studios. The plot follows two lovers in the French city of Cherbourg and all the dialogue is delivered in song. Genevieve and Guy fall in love but are torn apart when Guy is drafted to fight in the Algerian War for France. The two intermittently correspond by mail but everything has changed by the time he returns from war. The film’s music was scored by composer Michel Legrand and would help launch his illustrious career.

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Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

4. A Night at the Opera (1935)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.9 (32,028)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91 (20,300)
> Tomatometer score: 97
> Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kitty Carlisle

“A Night at the Opera” is the highest rated Marx Brothers film and was the first film the group made for Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer. The comedy revolves around a wacky assortment of characters played by the brothers as they attempt to help a young singer win over his crush. The movie was a massive hit upon release and has been selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Source: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

3. Top Hat (1935)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 7.8 (18,597)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90 (9,865)
> Tomatometer score: 100
> Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes

“Top Hat” is a screwball comedy or a comedy that satirizes traditional love stories. Fred Astaire plays American tap dancer Jerry Travers, who falls in love with Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) at first sight. Jerry pursues Dale across Europe but all along she mistakenly believes that he is her friend’s husband Horace. Music for the movie was written by composer Irving Berlin and several songs including “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” and “Cheek to Cheek” are now considered classics.

Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

2. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 8.1 (110,059)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 93 (19,764)
> Tomatometer score: 95
> Starring: Aamir Khan, Raghuvir Yadav, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley

“Lagaan” is the highest rated Indian Hindi-language musical on this list and the second-best musical of all time. It is the rare sports musical, set in India during British colonialism. A small village is struggling with heavy taxation from the British Empire and an extensive drought, and a British military officer challenges the village to a game of cricket, promising that if they win, they will not have to pay taxes. With no other option, the villagers attempt to learn the game. Roger Ebert called it “an enormously entertaining movie, like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and yet completely familiar.”

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Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
> IMDb average rating (out of 10): 8.3 (230,858)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 95 (138,734)
> Tomatometer score: 100
> Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen

The highest rated musical of all time follows three Hollywood stars in the 1920s as they transition from silent films to ones with sound. The scene where Gene Kelly literally sings in the rain is magical and considered one of the best scenes Hollywood has ever created. The film is an optimistic and light take on life and love. It is another Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production but did not do fantastically upon release. However, years later, it is considered an absolute classic. One critic called it “one of the shining glories of the American musical.”

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