From Theaters to The Big Screen: 5 Musicals Turned into Successful Movies

Throughout the years, Hollywood has made a tradition out of turning Broadway musicals into successful movies. They didn’t always succeed, as it is not simple to easy the exigent theater audience, but oftentimes, the adaptations were praised and rewarded with prestigious awards.

The musical movie genre is not for everyone, that is for sure, but fans are always looking forward to what directors are making of their favorite plays. And, with the new adaptation of Cats coming out in December this year, a reminder of the most famous and well-received movie adaptations is much necessary.

West Side Story (1961)

The list could not start with any other movie than West Side Story, a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, reimagined to take part in New York. The rivalry between two gangs, the white Americans Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, challenges the feelings developed by the two main characters, Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood). Despite being part of rivalry gang bands, the two meet and fall in love during a dance, where the bands dispute neighborhood control. The couple goes through a series of challenges, similar to those of Romeo and Juliet, to try and protect their love.

The movie was incredibly well received by both the public and the critics, receiving numerous acclamations. It was often called a cinema masterpiece and it is believed to be the best Romeo and Juliet adaptation ever to see the big screen. The movie was nominated for 11 Oscars and won 10 of them, remaining, to this day, the musical with the most Academy Award wins.

Now, 58 years later, a remake was announced to be released on December 2020, directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler as Tony and Maria.

Annie (1982)

Amongst the most loved musicals of all time, Annie won everyone’s hearts by telling the story of Annie (Aileen Quinn), an orphan from New York, who is sent to live for a week with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Albert Finney). Throughout the movie, Annie aims to teach Oliver a thing or two about love, family, and life in general. Despite being an orphan, Annie is sure her parents will return for her and Warbucks even sets up a $50,000 reward to whoever finds her parents, which is the trigger of the entire story.

Annie is amongst the most popular musicals and is still widely played on stage even to this day. In 2017, Piccadilly Theatre in London revived the play, with Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood starring as Miss Hannigan, the cruel manager of the orphanage. The return of Craig in Annie the Musical happened after his success in the same role in the 2015-2016 UK and Ireland tour of the play.

Chicago (2002)

Believed to be the musical that revived the genre, Chicago is set during the Jazz Age and tells the story of Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Roxie (Renée Zellweger), two women who meet in jail, while awaiting trial for murder. Before going to jail, Roxie idolized Velma, who is a performer at a theatre in Chicago. When she meets her in jail, she tries to befriend Velma, but it does not go as planned. Through manipulation, the two try to outperform each other, as they await trial.

The movie was incredibly well received by the public, as well as by the critics. The actors received numerous acclaims for their performances. The Daily Telegraph in the UK even called the movie “The best screen musical for 30 years.”. The movie, along with Moulin Rouge! is believed to be responsible for reviving the genre for the big screen, as following their success, multiple Broadway adaptations started emerging.  

Chicago won six Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones), two BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes.

Dreamgirls (2006)

After Chicago revamped the genre, there was an explosion of musicals hitting the big screen. Unfortunately, not many of them were successful. This was until Dreamgirls came to play. Although the story is fictional, it takes its inspiration from a notorious record label, Motown and the notorious female singing group The Supremes, arguably America’s most successful vocal group. The movie stars a number of big names, including Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé and Eddie Murphy and marks the acting debut of Jenifer Hudson, a former contestant of American Idol

Dreamgirls tells the story of The Dreams, a girl group from Detroit and the evolution of American R&B music through the 60s and 70s. The group consists of three singers, Deena (Beyoncé), Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) and their rise to fame under the wing of their manager, Curtis Taylor Jr (Jamie Foxx).

The movie was well received by the critics, many of them, naming it amongst, of not the best movie of 2006. Even Oprah telephoned Hudson during her television show to tell her that her performance was transcendent. The movie received two Academy Awards, one BAFTA Award and three Golden Globes.

Les Misérables (2012)

The musical was first played on stage in 1980 and was awaiting a movie adaptation ever since then. It took 22 years for it to happen, but Les Misérables took the world by storm when it finally premiered. The story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who broke his parole and decide to start a new life, now being a reputable factory owner. Fantine (Anne Hathaway), one of his workers, is dismissed after the factory foreman finds out she has an illegitimate daughter named Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). The story follows the life of the three characters throughout 19th century France.

Critics praised the cast for their spectacular performances, but the overall critical response was not as favorable as it was anticipated. The live singing, although heavily promoted, received mixed responses from the critics. Despite this, the movie still managed to win three Academy Awards, including one for Best Supporting Actress, for Anne Hathaway’s flawless performance. The movie also received four BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes.

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