I’ve never enjoyed musicals. In fact, if I’m ever captured by enemy forces, a marathon of film musicals would be more effective at getting me to talk than waterboarding. I’m passionate about films. I love music. Common sense says that I’d love a combination of the two.
It may be a stereotype, but I’ve found that that most men just don’t like musicals. Blame societal pressures or gender conventions, but much like multi-level marketing companies, musicals just don’t seem to be our thing. As someone who possesses both X and Y chromosomes, I think I can speak for most men as to why: we favor logic over emotion.
Even as a kid, I didn’t understand how or why a group of strangers could or would come together to dance and sing the words to a song they’ve never heard. It’s a concept I still can’t get my head around. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for a lot of things, but that shit is a step too far.
The thing is, it is possible for men to enjoy musicals. I know that’s a pretty bold statement considering the hypothesis I just floated out there, but hear me out. If the accepted definition of what classifies a film as a musical wasn’t so narrow, the genre would appeal to far more men.
According to this idiotic defintion, for a film to be a musical, it must “include singing and/or dancing as an important element and also involves the performance of song and/or dance by the main characters.” This interpretation of what is and is not a musical disqualifies films “that include an occasional musical interlude” or those that may feature “a continuous soundtrack” but “has no performances by its ensemble cast.”
This definition doesn’t cut it. At least not for guys who hate musicals. To find ten musicals men are going to like, we need to think out of the box and consider any film in which music plays an indelible part is a musical. That’s it. Simple, right? If songs play a role equally as important as the film’s stars or propel the story forward in a way that couldn’t happen otherwise,how can it not be a musical? Does this mean that characters can’t sing and dance and prance? Not necessarily. What this definition does say is that the films’ characters aren’t required to sing and dance and prance. Got it?
The Blues Brothers (1980)
In addition to The Blues Brothers being one of the best musicals ever made, it’s also probably the best religious movie ever made — they’re on a mission from God, after all — and the only watchable film based on Saturday Night Live characters. After being released from prison, Jake Blues reunites with his brother Elwood, to save the orphanage the two grew up in from closing, by raising money to pay off the home’s debt. Their plan involves putting their old band back together, but runs afoul of Nazis, country musicians, and even the entire Chicago police force, forcing the group to take even further drastic actions to deliver the money on time. Action, irreverent humor, outstanding musical performances by everyone from Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles to James Brown and The Blues Brothers themselves, make the film’s 2-hour, 28-minute runtime fly by.
Stand-out songs: “Shake a Tail Feather” by The Blues Brothers with Ray Charles, “Think” by Aretha Franklin, “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway
La La Land (2016)
When it comes to the textbook definition of musical, La La Land falls squarely in the genre. When I watched it in the theater, the first dance number had me worried. By the third dance number, though, things had ventured far enough away from the typical musical fare for me to enjoy the film. Sebastian and Mia are both floating through Hollywood in pursuit of their dreams. This shared drive to reach their goals and realize their individual passions (a jazz club and successful acting career, respectfully) not only bring them together as a couple but, after when the success they worked so hard to achieve arrives, ultimately set them at odds. Yeah, I know. It sounds girly. But it’s not. At times it’s beautiful and sad and funny; the one thing the film isn’t is dull or overly saccharine. I’m not surprised at all La La Land was named Best Picture of 2016 by the Academy. Oh, wait…
Stand-out songs: “City of Stars” by Ryan Gosling, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” by Emma Stone, “A Lovely Night” by Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone
Dirty Dancing (1987)
For years I’ve had a theory that every woman my age — at some point in their life — has had Dirty Dancing at the top of their favorite films list. My sister used to watch it daily growing up. That is until the VCR tape snapped from repeated playing. There’s loads of dancing (if the film’s title hadn’t given that away, already) and a bit of singing (most of it that awkward Kellerman’s song at the end of the film), but it’s the soundtrack that’s center stage here, baby — well, because nobody puts Baby in a corner. A few standout contemporary tunes written for the film combine with period-accurate tracks from the 60s play just as an essential part in the film as stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (who reportedly hated each other offscreen). Unhappy that her parents have decided the family should spend the summer together at a resort in the Catskills, Baby meets the resort’s rebellious dance instructor. Soon the two are partners, both on the dance floor and in the sack, and Baby’s father forbids the relationship. Baby, however, has learned a thing or two about rebelliousness and she’s not about to miss out on the last dance of the summer.
Stand-out songs: “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen, “She’s Like the Wind” by Patrick Swayze, “Love Man” and “These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
Baby Driver (2017)
Coincidentally, this is the second film on the list to include a lead character named Baby. That one-legged kid in The Fault in Our Stars plays a young (and probably autistic) music-loving getaway driver who works for a criminal mastermind named Doc. With the perfect soundtrack crafted for every action-filled heist, Baby ensures his team of violent, bank-robbing accomplices escapes law enforcement without a trace. When he falls in love and decides to leave his life of crime behind him, he realizes that he may already be in too deep to escape.
Stand-out songs: “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Unsquare Dance” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
The Bodyguard (1992)
Sure the synthesizers are a bit distracting when you listen to the songs on their own now, but in 1992, Whitney Houston was unstoppable. And what guy hasn’t wished he was Kevin Costner? He’s a real man’s man, kind of like Mel Gibson without the race issues. It’s also probably mandatory to include the movie with the best-selling soundtrack album of all time among the best musicals. The film’s story concerns a pop star who begins to receive disturbing threats from an obsessed fan. After the stalking escalates, her team employs a former secret service agent as her full-time bodyguard. The Bodyguard is a perfect date-night film: there’s enough action and suspense to appeal to men and a love story that’s sure to appeal to women, or to those who like that sort of thing.
Stand-out songs: “I Will Always Love You,” “I Have Nothing,” and “Run to You” by Whitney Houston
Team America: World Police (2004)
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, better known as the creators of South Park and The Book of Mormon, are the creative force behind the best film to ever feature singing, sexing marionettes. In fact, the entire cast is populated by puppets on strings. And while many critics consider the earlier South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut to be a superior film, Team America: World Police has an offensive charm that’s all its own. The “Team America” of the film’s title refers to a heavily-armed, highly trained military force that must attempt to thwart Kim Jong-il from orchestrating a global terrorist plot. Not only must the team battle the North Korean dictator, but they must also face off against F.A.G., the Film Actors Guild, a group of Hollywood liberals vehemently opposed to Team America’s policing of the world. Be warned, while it’s hilarious, it’s an equal-opportunity offender and takes delight in skewering every sacred cow.
Stand-out songs: “Everyone Has AIDS,” “America, Fuck Yeah,” and “I’m So Ronery” by Trey Parker,
School of Rock (2003)
I’m a firm believer that Jack Black has only appeared in two films he hasn’t completely ruined: High Fidelity and School of Rock. In this one, he plays down-on-his-luck Dewey Finn. Desperate for cash, Finn masquerades as a substitute music teacher at an exclusive prep school and decides to enter his students in a Battle of the Bands competition after seeing them perform in music class. He introduces the kids to the history and songs of rock and roll but has to hide his intentions and real identity from the students, their parents, and the school’s uptight principal. AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, The Doors, Cream, Black Sabbath… they all appear in the film in one way or another, and Jack Black’s manic energy and overacting seem to fit the character of Dewey Finn perfectly. The same, however, can not be said of Black’s performance of Carl Denham in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. That, however, is a discussion/rant best saved for another time.
Stand-out songs: “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks, “School of Rock” by School of Rock
Dick Tracy (1990)
For some unknown reason, movie studios continue to produce films based on comic franchises. I mean, how many times will the public be forced to sit through another version of Spider-Man or Superman? Arguably the best comic-to-film of all time, though, is Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. There’s so much to love in this film, set in the 1930s and featuring a fantastic cast that includes Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, Kathy Bates, and even Dick Van Dyke. First, there’s man’s man Warren Beatty, who everyone knows gets more ass than a toilet seat, playing Dick Tracy. For those of you who have never seen it, Tracy is a crimefighter intent on dismantling the city’s crime syndicate. Then there’s Madonna, at the height of her Madonna-ness, before she got all weird and started speaking with a British accent and started popping out kids with random guys. She plays sultry, femme fatale Breathless Mahoney, the singer at Club Ritz nightclub. The music is excellent (and managed to earn Stephen Sondheim an Oscar for Best Song) but the film, which is criminally underrated and commonly overlooked, is even better.
Stand-out songs: “Sooner or Later” and “More” by Madonna.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
The original, not the disastrous Johnny Depp and Tim Burton remake from 2005 (though that film chose to stick with the book’s original title Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). By now, everyone should be familiar with the story, so I’ll give you a spoiler-free Cliff’s Notes version: eccentric confectioner announces worldwide contest in which five people will win a tour of his secretive chocolate-making facility; millions begin a frantic search for the contest’s “Golden Tickets,” including a poor kid named Charlie; four other children find tickets before Charlie locates the last one; a tour of the factory commences, and its more fantastic and magical than anyone could have guessed. Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka, and by that I mean Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka. Besides the first film just being a better film, Wilder’s performance so brilliantly embodies the character of Willy Wonka that no actor could have been successful playing the role in a remake of the film. Plus, there’s no weird pedophile vibe in the Wilder portrayal.
Stand-out songs: “(I’ve Got A) Golden Ticket” by Jack Albertson, “The Candy Man” by Aubrey Woods, “Pure Imagination” by Gene Wilder
American Graffiti (1973)
The ultimate musical that’s not a musical. That stupid article I referenced earlier actually says American Graffiti isn’t a musical because “while featuring a continuous soundtrack of rock oldies coming from car radios in the nostalgic world of the story,” the film “has no performances by its ensemble cast.” There are so many soon-to-be celebrities packed into this film that watching it can quickly turn into a game of who’s who. What’s amazing, though, is with all of the talent they’ve put in front of the camera, the music really takes the starring role. Set over a single night in 1962, there’s rarely a scene in the film in which music isn’t present. In fact, the studio spent so much on music that there was no money left for a traditional film score.
Stand-out songs: Too many to list