If the predictions are correct and La La Land wins Best Picture Oscar tomorrow, Damien Chazelle’s movie will be the 11th musical in Academy Awards history to take home the highest honor of the year. With this in mind, here are the 10 musicals that have won the Best Picture Oscar.
The Broadway Melody – Harry Beaumont, 1929
The Broadway Melody marks a milestone in film history for different reasons: it was the first all taking musical, the first musical and sound film to win Best Picture and the first musical released by MGM, the studio whose name is inevitably a synonym of classic musical movies.
The Broadway Melody is a pre-code backstage musical that tells the story of Queenie and Hank, two vaudeville sisters who want to succeed in Broadway as singers and dancers. Eddie Kearns, Hank’s boyfriend, has promised them a part in the Broadway revue he is set to appear, but things get complicated when Eddie falls in love with Queenie.
Despite being a massive success in the late 20’s and 30’s (three more movies were later made by MGM using the same title and premise), the movie has not stood the test of time: there is little to no plot and both the acting are directing are bad. This is proof that the genre has evolved throughout the years and that Hollywood was still learning how to make musicals.
Academy Awards: 3 nominations, 1 win (Best Picture).
The Great Ziegfeld – Robert Z. Leonard, 1936
One of the best examples of MGM’s lavish musicals, The Great Ziegfeld is a fictionalized tribute to Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr, an American Broadway mogul known for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies.
The movie follows the ups and downs of Flo Ziegfeld, from the beginning of his career in the circus to his recognition as one of the best producers in Broadway.
At the time of its release, The Great Ziegfeld was considered one of the musicals ever made in Hollywood, and it is still praised as one of the most iconic examples of glamour and excess during the Golden Age of Hollywood (the number “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” alone cost almost 4 million 2017 dollars). However, is it still now seen as an excessively long film with a running time of three hours.
Academy Awards: 7 nominations, 3 wins (Best Picture, Actress, Dance Direction).
Going My Way – Leo McCarey, 1944
Based on a story by Leo McCarey and starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzerald, Going My Way was the highest-grossing picture of 1944. It was followed by a sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s, the most profitable film in the history of RKO (Going My Way was produced by Paramount).
The movie tells the story of Father O’Malley, an unconventional priest who is sent to the heavily in debt St. Dominic’s Church in New York City. His modern ideas collide with those of the very traditional Father Fitzgibon, who has been running the parish from 45 years.
Despite its old fashioned vibe, the film is still appreciated by the critics nowadays from its tenderness and charm. It is still a highly entertaining film for a wide audience. At the time of its release, Crosby’s performance was praised as the best of his career. Barry Fitzgerald, who portrayed Father Fitzgibon, was nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, which made the Academy subsequently change the rules.
Academy Awards: 10 nominations, 7 wins (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, Original Motion Picture Story, Song).
An American in Paris – Vincente Minnelli, 1951
Inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition of the same name by George Gerwhin, A American in Paris is considered one of the greatest movies ever made (ranked #68 at the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies).
After WWII, Jerry Mulligan, war veteran turned into an exuberant painter stays in Paris displaying his paintings in the streets of Montparnasse. He is spotted by a rich heiress, Milo Roberts, who becomes interested in him, while he falls in love with a French girl, who unbeknown to him is already engaged to one of his friends.
Holding a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie is still critically acclaimed nowadays for its imaginative timeless style and its exquisite dance sequences, in spite of a rather predictive plot.
You can find more info on the film in my article about La La Land’s musical movie references.
Academy Awards: 8 nominations, 6 wins (Best Picture, Set Decoration, Cinematography, Costume Design, Music, Screenplay).
Gigi – Vincente Minnelli, 1958
Based on the novella of the same name by Colette and produced by the iconic Arthur Freed, Gigi is considered the last great MGM musical. It is also the last original musical to win Best Picture in a year when the movie won a record-breaking nine Academy Awards (a record that would be surpassed a year later by Ben-Hur).
In the turn-of-the-20th Century Paris, Gaston Lachaille is a wealthy playboy tired of his lifestyle and the women he meets. His only happiness comes from the moments his spends with an old friend of his uncle Honore, Madame Alvarez, and her precocious granddaughter Gigi, who is training to be a courtesan. After going on a holiday together, Gigi’s aunt and grandmother discuss the possibility of Gigi becoming Gaston’s mistress, thus fulfilling their ambition for her.
The movie received a favorable response from the audience but mixed reviews from critics who praised for its visual style but lashed for the predictability of the plot. Holding just a 6,9 rating on IMDB, Gigi Is usually ranked amongst the worst Best Picture Oscar winners.
Academy Awards: 9 nominations, 9 wins (Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Set Decoration, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Score, Song).
West Side Story – Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins, 1961
Adapted from the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, West Side Story is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s ranked #51 at the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies ranking and holds the record for the most Oscars win for a movie musical (10).
West Side Story tells the story of the impossible romance between María and Tony, members of two rival gangs of New York’s West Side.
Both a critical and box office success (2nd highest grossing film of the year) upon its release, West Side Story is currently praised as one of the greatest movies ever made and features iconic numbers such as the Overture, Something’s Coming, Maria, America, I Feel Pretty and Somewhere.
You can find more information in the abovementioned article about La La Land’s references.
Academy Awards: 11 nominations, 10 wins (Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Set Decoration, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Score, Sound).
My Fair Lady – George Cukor, 1964
Based on the musical adapted from the 1913 stage play by George Bernard Shaw, My Fair Lady is one of Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic performances. With a budget of $17 million, the film was also the most expensive production at the time.
In Edwardian London, Professor Henry Higgins, a scholar in phonetics has the theory that accent and tone determine a person’s social prospects and that he could teach anyone to speak in a way that they could pass off as members of high society. To prove it, he decides to transform a Cockney-working class girl, Eliza Doolite, into a respectable elegant woman.
The movie is still considered one of the best musicals in history, with exquisite production design and great performances by both Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. It currently holds a 96% approval rate on IMDB.
Academy Awards: 12 nominations, 8 wins (Best Picture, Actor, Director, Cinematography, Set Decoration, Costume Design, Sound, Score).
The Sound of Music – Robert Wise, 1965
The Sound of Music is an adaptation of the 1959 Broadway musical of the same name, based on the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp. It was the highest-grossing movie at the time of its release, a record held until 1971.
The movie tells the story of Maria, a free-spirited young Austrian woman studying to be a nun in 1938 Salzburg, who is sent to the villa of the retired naval officer and widower Captain George von Trapp to be a governess to his seven children. Initially met with hostility, she ends up being loved by the children and the Captain himself, whom he marries. When WWII breaks in Austria, the family
Although initially met with mixed reviews, The Sound of Music is one of the most iconic musicals of all time, ranked #55 at the AFI’s 100 Years—100 Movies ranking. Julie Andrew’s performance is considered one of the best of her career and she has been associated with the role of Maria ever since.
Academy Awards: 10 nominations, 5 wins (Best Picture, Director, Sound, Editing, Score).
Oliver! – Carol Reed, 1968
Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, Oliver! is based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. It was the last movie musical to win Best Picture until 2003, when Chicago took home the highest honor.
Set in 19th Century London, Oliver Twist, a young orphan, escapes the orphanage where he is forced to live in inhumane conditions and goes to London, where he is joins a group of boys trained to be pickpockets led by Fagin and Bill Sikes.
Upon its release, Oliver! was unanimously acclaimed by critics and became the seventh highest-grossing film of 1968. The movie is still praised by modern critics, who see it as a timeless classic that appeals both children and older generations. It is unquestionably a great way to introduce children to the realistic novel by Charles Dickens, while keeping its original spirit.
Academy Awards: 11 nominations, 6 wins (Best Picture, Director, Musical Adaptation Score, Set Decoration, Sound).
Chicago – Rob Marshall, 2002
Based on the 1975 Broadway musical of the same name, the movie was the first (and only) musical to win Best Picture in the 21st Century (as of today). The musical itself is based on the 1926 play about two real-life Jazz-era murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner. At the time, Chicago was the highest grossing live action musical of all time, a record broken in 2008 by Mamma Mia!.
Set in Jazz-era Chicago, the movie follows the story of Roxie Hart, a housewife and aspiring starlet, and Velma Kelly, a famous vaudevillian, two murderesses who find themselves on death row and have to fight for fame in order to avoid death penalty.
Shot in a minimalist style reminiscent of the 1996 revival of the Broadway musical, Chicago has been unanimously praised by critics for its visual style, depth and performances. Both Chicago and Moulin Rouge are considered to be responsible for the re-emergence of the musical genre in the 21st Century.
Academy Awards: 12 nominations, 6 wins (Best Picture, Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing, Sound Mixing).
So now the question is, will La La Land join this list of iconic (and not so iconic) movie musicals? Will it make history as the second musical of the 21st Century to win Best Picture? Will it break the record for most Oscars wins by a musical? We’ll soon know the answer…