Yes, I know, the title is a clickbait-y one, but before you close the page down / begin planning my downfall, below you’ll find mini-reviews of the fifty best most unconventional musicals ever made, all of which are worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre. Hopefully this will include a few that even those who adore musicals won’t be aware of too, and though there are undoubtedly some familiar names (how could a list like this not include The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Little Shop Of Horrors?) perhaps there’ll be a few which are new to you, like the sci-fi madness of the black and white musical The American Astronaut, the Czechoslovakian western parody Lemonade Joe, or the gloriously odd but lovable snooker based comedy Billy The Kid Vs. The Green Baize Vampire.
50) Peau d’Ane aka Donkey Skin (1970)
A musical by Jacques Demy based on an old fairy tale where when the Queen dies she makes her husband the King (Jean Marais) swear he will only remarry when he finds someone more beautiful than she was – which he fails to do, until he notices how hot his daughter (Catherine Deneuve) is. Oh those wacky French types, and worryingly the daughter is considering it until she’s talked out of the idea by her fairy godmother, who suggests she makes a series of supposedly impossible requests that the King unfortunately manages to grant, so she runs off and lives as a scullery maid in some far away locale. It’s a strange situation where the first half only has a couple of songs, but the second is packed with them, and is all the better for it as they’re wry and mostly very funny. Much of the imagery is quite beautiful and / or fucking weird, and it’s a film that is extremely memorable, albeit one slightly lacking in substance, and if the first half had as many songs as the second did I might even rate it as a bit of a classic. But it doesn’t, so I don’t.
49) Pufnstuf (1970)
Fun children’s musical where young Jimmy (Jack Wild) finds a magic talking flute called Freddy (voiceover superstar Don Messick) and travels to “Living Island” where Mayor Pufnstuf and his pals hang out. Unfortunately a witch wants the flute and so nicks it, and it’s up to Jimmy and co to rescue the flute, and then later rescue PufnStuf himself when he’s kidnapped and potentailly going to be eaten at the witch’s convention which includes roles for Mama Cass and Martha Raye. It’s very daft and very silly and I liked it a lot, but frustratingly there’s half an hour in the middle which is song free and simply because of that it doesn’t get a higher spot
48) Viktor und Viktoria (1933)
A German musical comedy from Reinhold Schünzel the very hammy actor Viktor occasionally performs in drag but one night when ill he gets newcomer Susanne to pretend to be a man dressed up as a woman and is a big hit, so much so that soon she’s touring Europe with Viktor in tow. But both fall for members of the opposite sex which might just bring their scheme to an unfortunate end, in this often very funny film, it sags a little after twenty minutes but the last fifty is a return to form, and the daft songs and ridiculous plot make this quite the charming thing.
47) Sextette (1978)
Mae West, Timothy Dalton, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Tony Curtis, Regis Philbin and Alice Cooper all in the same movie from the director of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? No, it’s not some fever dream but a seventies musical based on a play written by West where she’s much loved movie star Marlo Manners, who has just married Sir Michael Barrington (Dalton) and the coverage is akin to a royal wedding, but their night of wedding bliss doesn’t occur when he has to prove he’s not gay to the press (and yeesh, that aspect hasn’t aged well) while Marlo is involved in some spying for the government as yes, this is really odd plot wise. Almost every line West delivers is a dodgy innuendo or pun, it’s packed full of ridiculously contrived scenarios and laughably poor overacting, the song and dance numbers are cheesy at best and it’s one of those movies that with my film critic hat on I’d rate poorly, but I enjoyed the insanity of it all a lot and so it just makes the list.
46) Long Live Ghosts (1977)
Offbeat kids musical from Lemonade Joe director Oldrich Lipský where a bunch of kids want to take over the ownership of a local castle while one of their teachers wants to turn it in to a mushroom farm, and then discover that it is haunted by a four hundred year old Knight and his daughter Leontina. It’s a silly old thing but incredibly charming, the songs are basic but often quite funny, and the only real issue is that lacks a strong narrative, otherwise it’s extremely endearing stuff.
45) Best Summer Ever (2020)
A bunch of kids have the best summer ever but now it’s over will the love story between Sage and Tony survive, and will he be able to come clean and admit that he doesn’t want to be a football player and secretly loves dancing and singing? A bright, smart, fun comedy, it’s usp is that about half of the cast have disabilities but it never references this and just plays out as an upbeat rom-com, the songs are sometimes a bit cheesy but they’re also often pretty funny, and while it might not be the most original story it has a knowing sense of humour and plenty of charm, and if you like musicals and hate this it’s because you despise disabled people you monstrous cunt you.
44) Stingray Sam (2009)
Hour long sci-fi musical from the director of the excellent The American Astronaut, Cory McAbee, this is a sort of space western where two men have to rescue a young girl and reunite her with her carpenter father, in what’s an often absurd and often silly but rarely less than delightful work, it’s a shame a couple of the songs aren’t a bit longer but otherwise this is great, with some very funny narration from David Hyde Pierce making it all the more memorable.
43) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Poor old Jack has lost his passion for terrifying others at Halloween, but after discovering the existence of Christmas he plans to hijack it and bring joy to the world. Of course it all goes wrong and a very disturbing time is had by all, as predicted by the very horny Sally who is desperate to jump Jack’s bones. Ahem. Sorry, couldn’t resist. It’s beautifully designed, looks amazing in general, has a fun script and the songs are likeable, but only a couple fall in to the “Hey, I want to listen to that when not watching the movie” category.
42) Office (2015)
A co-production between Hong Kong and China, this is a visually impressive musical dramedy about the collapse of the financial markets in America and the effect that has on a company in an unnamed Asian city. Which might not sound like the stuff of hilarity but the first two thirds are a light-hearted affair about status, ambition, and identity, along with hints of romance between the two leads, and the songs are really enjoyable, mostly short but definitely sweet and very funny pieces with memorable lyrics, a drinking song about ambition and an ode to hometown life being my favourites. When it takes a more serious turn in the final third it definitely becomes a lesser work, and the ending feels a bit rushed, but the first eighty minutes are so strong it’s still a must see for musical fans.
41) Cry Baby (1990)
This is an odd sort of musical, there’s four numbers where the cast burst in to song out of nowhere, all in the second half of the movie, but the rest of the time the songs are sung on stages as part of a band. And it’s a slight shame there’s not more traditional musical moments as the ones present are easily the highlights of the movie, or that’s what I thought anyhow, though being musical obsessive may mean I can’t be trusted on that front. Either way it’s still extremely enjoyable, a very flimsy but very fun John Waters flick set in the 1950s where redneck Johnny Depp falls for posh girl Alison (Amy Locane) in this class clash comedy that’s sometimes slightly pantomime-esque, though that’s not too its detriment, and which has a great number of very quotable lines in it.
40) Annette (2021)
Deeply odd musical from Holy Motors director Leo Carax and Sparks duo Ron and Russell Mael, where stand up comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) dates and then marries opera singer Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard) and then is pretty much responsible for her death while at sea. Their child Annette (a weird mix of cgi and puppetry) is a wunderkind though, and he takes her on tour with a never named famous conductor (The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg) who had a relationship with Ann before she got together with Henry. It’s one of those musicals where almost all the dialogue is sung but there aren’t many conventional songs (though there are a fair few I suppose, just often quite short) and at two hours and twenty minutes it’s overlong, there were times when I was captivated, times when I was slightly confused (the cgi is oddly poor, and when we eventually see Annette as a real life girl the performance is stunning so I found myself wishing they’d used her more) and slightly frustrated as there’s the occasional bit which is a bit on the nose or obvious and given what he does in the movie I’ve concerns over how sympathetic it is to Driver’s character, but at the same time there’s a lot here which is quite unique and there were elements I loved.
39) The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X (2012)
Sadly nothing to do with the drummer from the much loved Britpop band Kenickie (and yes, that is a very obscure joke, thank you) but this is an extremely endearing black and white musical about an alien criminal whose punishment is to live on earth. It’s a little short on songs and slightly weak in the middle but otherwise it’s damn charming, and despite its minor faults I’ve definitely got a soft spot for it, and it’s a musical I find myself revisiting on a regular basis.
38) Love, Life And Goldfish (2021)
A Japanese musical where snobbish bank clerk Makoto Kashiba (Matsuya Onoe) is sent from Toyko to work in a small town in the middle of nowhere after shouting at his boss, initially hating life there until he falls for shy piano player Yoshino (Kanako Momota). It’s sort of a romantic comedy except the big twist is that he doesn’t end up with the girl, but comes away with something more important when he discovers how to stop being such an uptight twat. Perhaps it could have benefited from a slightly more complex plot (and a bar owner who fancies him is kind of forgotten about by the end) but it’s visually impressive, the songs are really great, and though it’s a simple tale it’s charmingly told.
37) Raggedy Ann and Andy – A Musical Adventure (1977)
Bizarre musical about a bunch of toys who gain sentience when their owner is out of the room, when she gets a new doll, Babette, the other toys are happy to welcome her in to their lives, but the pirate captain kidnaps her and so it’s up to Raggedy Ann and Raggendy Andy to save her. This involves a great deal of strange madness, including becoming friends with a hallucinating camel, having to escape from a being made up of sentient sugar based products, and being captured by the King Of Looney Land who is tiny but will grow in size if made to laugh. It’s delightfully strange, very imaginative, and though the songs are mostly simple numbers they’re enjoyable too.
36) The American Astronaut
A second entry on the list for Corey McCabe, he has only made a few films but I really wish he’d make more as I love his sense of humour and the visuals he creates too. Set in a future where space travel is grim and grimy our lead hero is trying to get rich in a scheme which involves a visit to the all female planet of Venus, among others. It’s a really weird mix that shouldn’t work but is an enormous amount of fun, and it’s the kind of low budget oddity that I wish was made much more often.
35) The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)
A very, very offbeat Australian musical comedy about a superhero returning from years of drunken obscurity, in certain ways it’s all a bit of a mess but for some reason that makes me like it all the more, as it’s a fascinating clash of different styles of comedy that don’t always sit well together, but taken in isolation are really interesting and often very funny. There’s only three really strong songs but Christopher Lee’s final number where he attempts to get recovering alcoholic Captain Invincible drunk again is fucking amazing and in my humble opinion it’s genuinely one of the greatest scenes in comedy history, with Lee delivering every line with glee. In short: It’s one of those time when flawed ambition is still a beautiful thing.
34) Love Songs (2007)
French musical about Ismael, Julie and Alice who are in an a relationship together, because of course they are, but then Julie dies of a heart attack and misery ensues. Except that it’s filled with charming and engaging songs as Ismael and Julie’s family try to carry on their lives, and deal with the grief they feel. The songs are lyrically fascinating, and sound great too, and this was an unusual musical that I ended up liking an awful lot.
33) Zero Patience (1993)
A Canadian musical all about the first person who supposedly spread AIDS around North America which sees should be dead Victorian sexologist Sir Richard Francis Burton investigate the matter, initially exploiting the story of Patient Zero, until he meets and then falls in love with his ghost. I’ve loved this for many years and it’s one of those films which just becomes better with each viewing, the songs are very early nineties sounding but lyrically they’re all great (with one from the perspective of two singing bottom’s a real stand out), the moral message important, and it’s a sweet and enormously affecting film.
32) Repo – The Genetic Opera (2008)
So this alternative rock musical certainly is something. Indeed it’s a lot of things, most of which are strange and bemusing, as it’s a vaguely camp sort of goth opera set in a grim dark future where organ transplants are all the rage. Unfortunately it’s an expensive procedure, and one evil corporation runs the whole thing, and if you don’t keep up repayments then they’ll send a repo man to rip out the organ, no matter where or how vital it is to stay alive, so this is occasionally gory as well as funny. It was the cast which drew me to it, as it stars not only Anthony Head, but also Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton and the latter is actually quite good too, though the rest have the more interesting roles and are the reason it’s so worth watching.
31) Colma The Musical (2006)
An exceedingly low budget musical, this is about three friends who have graduated high school and don’t know what to do with their lives. It’s shot with a digital camera and doesn’t look that great alas but the songs are really beguiling, the performances strong, and the script impressed in general, and even though some of the characters are twattish at times the film’s very aware of this. I wasn’t completely won over by the ending but as a whole this is definitely impressive given the minuscule budget.
30) The Toxic Avenger Musical (2018)
A professionally shot version of the London stage production of this musical about a poor kid who’s dipped in toxic goo and then seeks revenge, it starts off a little grubbily (mirroring the film with its crude sense of humour) but then gets smarter and funnier as it goes along, with the songs improving too. After the first twenty minutes I had some reservations as to how much I’d like it but it really does become a big old ball of fun, and the final thirty minutes are especially great.
29) Tokyo Tribe (2014)
From Sion Sono, the director of the amazing Love, Exposure, comes this rap based musical about a bunch of gangs fighting over territory, power, women and all that jazz in a near-ish future. It’s stylishly shot and a film I fell for extremely quickly, sure it lacks substance and so feels hollow in places but there’s so much going on here to make you mostly forget that, plus this is the kind of film where the villain’s son has a red room containing living naked human furniture and that’s one of the more standard scenes, so it’s without doubt a rather unforgettable work.
28) The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
An early effort from Brian DePalma, it’s a ridiculously silly but incredibly enthralling musical which mixes Faust and The Phantom of the Opera together with aplomb as a disfigured composer writes some songs which end up being stolen by a record producer, leading our poor old lead character to enact a terrible revenge upon him. The songs are what you might describe as an acquired taste (albeit one which matched mine perfectly) but visually there’s lots of extremely peculiar yet very funny scenes that will remain in your memory for a long old time.
27) The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Takashi Miike’s responsible for more insanity on the silver screen than 99% of directors but this 2001 effort is a rare boisterous piece which wouldn’t leave you psychologically distressed for months afterwards. Not that it isn’t quite morbid as a family of unusual individuals open a guest house where through no fault of their own none of the guests leave alive, which leads to them having something of a zombie problem, but it has got a fantastic sense of humour and though I wouldn’t describe any of the songs as earworms many of them are rather winning and then some.
26) The Fox Family (2006)
Korean madness about a family of foxes who can transform in to humans, who then run a circus. They’re waiting around for some super special event where if they eat human livers they’ll get to become like us, and so kidnap four people, but unfortunately the cops are suspicious and everyone might not get the happy ending they’re hoping for. As you might have guessed from the above it has a deranged sense of humour, but it really is a delight, there aren’t enough songs but otherwise this is a fantastic flick, frequently hilarious and also quite sexy without being exploitative.
25) 8 Femmes (2002)
Filmed like a technicolour fifties Hollywood extravaganza there are few films that are so delightful, unique, and consistently surprising to watch as Francois Ozon’s 8 Femmes. A real mix of genres, what starts of as a seemingly conventional murder mystery soon becomes far more complex as each character reveals hidden depths, and each bursts in to song. From downbeat cravings for love to jokey but ridiculously fun upbeat pieces, all are fantastic, and out of all of the amazing cast only Catherine Deneuve looks a little uncomfortable singing.
24) Stilyagi (2008)
Aka Hipsters, this Russian musical is a visually impressive beast, as Mels (young Conan O’Brien lookalike Anton Shagin) meets Polza (young Carey Mulligan lookalike Oksana Akinshina) and is so blown away by her that he starts dressing like a hipster / dandy, learns the saxophone and hangs out with a new crowd. But this is Russia in 1955 and not everyone approves of these crazy kids, and real life crashes home towards the end, though just when it looks like the ending will disappoint it pulls off a fantastic finale which celebrates those with a passion for music. Narrative-wise it’s a little simplistic, but it’s a sumptuous, seductive affair and if you’re a fan of musicals you’ll most likely be won over by it.
23) Passing Strange (2009)
Spike Lee filmed version of the Broadway stage show, it’s a biographical tale heavily narrated by a guy called Stew (also the writer of the show) which is all about a kid (known only as Youth) who struggles with life in LA and so heads to Europe, (or Amsterdam and Berlin at least) and learns more about himself and the world and the very different kinds of culture, people and kinds of families that exist. It’s a smart, funny affair, almost constantly sung piece with very little spoken dialogue, and though initially the music / songs sound similar it becomes more and more diverse as Youth meets different individuals. And it’s great. Really fucking great, and even though the ending didn’t quite work for me it’s a very minor issue in what’s a really fantastic musical.
22) Sita SIngs The Blues (2008)
An adaptation of a tale from ancient Sanskrit epic Ramayana, it’s told in an affectionate manner as a couple of narrators chat away while every so often the story features Sita lip-synching to songs by 1920’s singer Annette Hanshaw, and we also get short glimpses in to director NIna Paley’s own life which reflects the story of Sita. And it’s pretty fantastic, visually playful and impressive, and brimming with charm.
21) On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)
I love Barbra Streisland’s musicals but most of them are pretty mainstream material and so don’t feature here, but this is a really bizarre effort where she wants to give up smoking and so goes to see a professor at a university who specialises in hypnotism, only for him to discover she had a crazy past life romance in Victorian England. Naturally he thinks it must be some kind of mad scam at first and is deeply sceptical but after a while finds himself enamoured by her tale, and the woman that she used to be, even though she’s engaged to be married and likes to flirt with her former brother-in-law Jack Nicholson. So yeah, it’s a weird old story and then some but the songs are superb, Streisland’s excellent in the lead role, and it’s bursting with charm.
20) Absolute Beginners (1986)
Set in Soho in the late fifties and about the perils of fame, with a subplot concerning the racial tensions of the time, I saw it when it first came out but had forgotten (and was surprised by) how many times the N word is used in the film, I had no memory of that aspect of the film at all but by exploring such a complicated subject it makes the film all the more powerful and for once usage of such a word isn’t exploitative (which I really wish Tarantino would take note of). On the downside considering how good she is Patsy Kensit’s not in it enough, but bar that it’s an excellent movie which didn’t deserve to be flop in the way it did, especially as many of the songs are exquisite.
19) Enthiran (2010)
A crazy, crazy, crazy Bollywood movie from 2010 about a Doctor who builds a sentient robot, Chitti, who falls in love with the Doctor’s girlfriend, and then sadly for all involved is turned evil by a rival professor. It’s very funny, the action scenes are sublime, but at three hours it’s easily half an hour too long and sags badly in the middle, and some of the songs go on for longer than they should. Which is a real shame as the first and last hours are a delight, and there’s a huge amount to love about the film.
18) God Help The Girl (2014)
Aka Twee Indie Band: The Movie, as this musical written and directed by Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch sees a trio form a band in Glasgow and romance may possibly take place between some of them. The way it deals with anorexia and mental illness upset some critics but it worked for me personally (and I’m as mentally ill as they come!) and my only complaint is that sometimes the lead male is a bit too limp and occasionally pretentious. Otherwise it’s a movie I loved enormously, mainly as Emily Browning is truly fantastic in the lead role and Hannah Murray is almost as good, and the soundtrack is outstanding, it’s a film which packed full of gorgeous slice of pop loveliness that are stunning from start to finish.
17) The Apple (1980)
Absolutely mental musical that is technically awful but also amazing. The songs are lyrically insane but ridiculously catchy, and the plot’s deranged, being a mix of the tale of the garden of eden and a parable warning of the perils of fame as a duo want to become famous but their involvement with the head of a music company leads to much misery. The acting’s all over the place, and some of the dialogue will make you wince, yet despite this I loved it an enormous amount, and the ending has to be seen to be believed, and even then you might not do so.
16) Emo: The Musical (2016)
This is a superb modern musical, an Australian 2016 effort that’s very alluring, appealing and amusing, as a depressed emo type moves to a new school and falls for a Christian girl whose friends truly don’t approve of their relationship. While it’s often tongue in cheek it’s also a sweet, knowing and smart affair and full of fantastic songs which made me smile from ear to ear, with one song about whether Jesus would have been an Emo being beautifully funny, and if you’re in the mood for something all rather lovely and heartwarming it’s a must see.
15) Dil Se.. (1998)
I googled best Bollywood musicals and this came up in a number of lists, but bar that I went in knowing nothing about it and fuck me, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The first two thirds plays out as a romantic comedy with some visually stunning song and dance numbers (the one involving a big old bunch of elephants impressing me the most, but all of them are among the best I’ve seen) albeit one with a slight edge, as Amar works for Radio Free India and falls for Meghna, who clearly has issues and their relationship never blossoms. Yet just as Amar is set to marry another woman via an arranged marriage Meghna comes back on the scene, and the film takes a dark, often brutal turn, it totters on the edge of melodrama in a couple of places but manages to just about avoid it, and offers a nuanced take on why Meghna acts the way that she does, while the ending is one of the most unforgettable I’ve ever seen, and it’s a film I’m really glad I went in knowing pretty much nothing about as otherwise it’s impact would have definitely been diminished.
14) Om Shanti Om (2007)
Back in the 1970s Om (Shah Rukh Khan) is frustrated that he’s only an extra but after sort of becoming friends with lead actress Shanti (Deepika Padukone) he dies when her shit of a husband traps her in a burning building and he tries to save her. Thirty years later and Om is reincarnated as the son of a famous actor and is now a big celebrity, and so an arrogant so and so, but when his latest film takes place in the building where he died he starts to get flashbacks to his previous life and quickly remembers who he used to be, before hatching an elaborate revenge upon Shanti’s husband. It’s a bright, fun, crazy affair, with some superb song and dance sequences, a strong plot, and this mixture of homage to and parody of Bollywood is enormously endearing.
13) The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1973)
What can be said about Rocky that hasn’t been uttered before? I’m not sure anything as it goes, and though some feel it hasn’t aged well, they’re wrong, and I’m firmly in the camp that this is delightfully inventive and smart fun with a great central message when it comes to exploring your sexuality, while also containing some superb performances from the likes of Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Tim Curry. Best of all are the songs though, there’s not a dud within the running time and the majority are earworms that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
12) Tommy (1975)
If there’s a more bizarre musical out there than I’ve not seen it, and at the last count I’ve seen over 184. Tackling a number of subjects including what might happen if you’re psychologically fucked up at a young age, the nature of religion and those who exploit it, horrendous parenting, sexual abuse, and drugs (with Tina Turner turning up for an amazing number before sadly fucking off again) it has a lot to say and does so with panache. The final third is a bit drawn out and it could be accused of being a little misguided when it makes light of some pretty grim subjects, but elsewhere it’s astonishingly inspired and breathtakingly bizarre, and it’s a musical I love a great deal.
11) Reefer Madness (2005)
A sort of adaptation but mostly parody of the infamous 1930’s anti-marijuana propaganda piece, this is one of the finest musicals ever made and deserves to be seen by far more people than currently have. All of the cast are excellent but Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming and Ana Gasteyer deserve a great deal of kudos for making this all round silliness so much fun, the songs are all superb (Mary Lane and the one Jesus belts out especially) and it’s incredibly funny too.
10) Dougal And The Blue Cat (1970)
A feature length version of the tv show, this sees Dougal disturbed by the arrival of an unusual blue cat, everyone thinks he’s mad but he’s soon proven right. There’s lots of very funny lines and all round daftness, and the songs are very charming, with Florence’s dungeon lament being the highlight for me, which sees all of the characters in tears in a scene I can imagine distressing quite a few kids when it originally came out, and the film as a whole is an oddly beautiful affair which contains some gloriously surreal scenes.
9) Billy the Kid and The Green Baize Vampire (1987)
I’m amazed this isn’t a really high profile cult classic given how strange yet oddly lovable it is, but also that it’s from the director of such jolly flicks as The Firm, Made In Britain and Scum. IMDB describes it as a comedy horror musical but the horror thing is completely misleading, not a drop of blood is spilt in the movie and while there’s a very slight supernatural element to proceedings it’s less disturbing than the Lady and The Tramp, essentially being Rocky for snooker fans. Who also enjoy musicals. And it’s the songs that make this bizarre oddity such a fun film, while not all quite work it has a surprisingly high hit rate, Phil Daniels (as a snarky Jimmy White type) turns out to have a lovely singing voice and Alun Armstrong camps it up as someone so obviously based on Ray Reardon I’m surprising he didn’t sue them. Now I can certainly see why some might not like it, and it’s an imperfect beast, some of the acting wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Only Fools and Horses and certain scenes between Daniels and his manager feel like a bad grungy channel four eighties sitcom, yet in the context of this ridiculous film it all serves to make it more endearing and though it’s undoubtedly an oddity, it is an incredibly enjoyable one.
8) Pennies From Heaven (1981)
As you might expect from a screenplay by Dennis Potter this is often darkly bleak stuff, though I imagine quite a few people were caught off guard as it stars Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. Martin’s great when it comes to miming and dancing but I’m not quite sure about his more dramatic moments, and it’s an uneven performance compared to the rest of the cast, but fortunately this is only a minor issue and more than made up for by the impressively inventive song and dance sequences, 90% of which are incredibly fun stuff. As well as Peters knocking it out of the park Christopher Walken’s also especially fun / sexy, and it really is a feast for the eyes and ears, as lazy critics used to say.
7) PK (2014)
A Bollywood sci-fi rom com which also works as a smart and funny satire of organised religion, in it an innocent and naive alien is trapped on Earth and eventually ends up meeting a sympathetic tv producer, and his character is used to explore the absurdities of life. The songs are strong (though “Love is a Waste Of Time” is the only stand out) and while it’s a little over sentimental in places it completely won me over by the end and though initially I thought that at two and a half hours it might be overlong it turned out to be one of those films I didn’t want to end, as I could spend my life happily in this universe.
6) The Suicide Shop (2012)
An animated musical comedy from Patrice Leconte, director of The Hairdresser’s Husband and Monsieur Hire it’s vaguely like a French Addams Family but where a deranged family run a shop which sells everything you need to help you commit suicide, from poisons to rope to samurai swords, but then a third, happy, child is born to the couple and their world is thrown in to disarray. Its got a magnificent selection of songs, a dark but also daft sense of humour, and for me is one of those “Where have you been all my life?” kind of films – it even made me think that suicide might not be a good thing, and it’s a rare day where such thoughts feel believable!
5) Lisztomania (1975)
Many consider Tommy to be Ken Russel’s best musical but they’re wrong and should apologise for spreading false truths, as this is very slightly better, a big old bag of mental lunacy that’s absolutely brilliant throughout and doesn’t suffer from the slightly flawed ending that Tommy does. Telling the story of the life of Franz Liszt and based on a kiss and tell novel written by a former lover, sure, there’s the odd vaguely dodgy moment and Ringo Starr’s never going to win an Oscar for acting, but I was enormously enamoured by so much of the imagery and ideas in it, along with the score as well, and it’s a film that once seen will stay with you for, well, the rest of your life most likely and possibly even after it too.
4) Lemonade Joe (1964)
This Czech musical western is a right old bizarre thing, as it’s essentially an extremely odd battle between a lemonade seller and a bar owner in the wild west, with a slither of romance thrown in for free. Like most sane people I normally hate Westerns but this is an absolute pleasure, the script is extremely witty, there’s some sharp and smart satire of western ways and capitalism in general, and it contains one of cinema’s best ever bad guys. It’s shot using strong primary colours too, so it looks incredibly beautiful, and oddly modern, while the songs are shockingly charming, it’s playfully filmed and has the most absurdly daft happy ending I’ve ever seen.
3) Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
The best zombie comedy horror yet made, and yes, I do count Shaun Of The Dead among that list, as it’s one of the most charming films ever made. A Christmas set affair, our leading lady Anna is struggling a little with life and her best friend is struggling with the fact that he’s madly in love with Anna, but soon that’s the least of their problems as a zombie apocalypse breaks out. The two leads are remarkably good, as is Paul Kaye as the villainous headmaster and Mark Benton as Anna’s loving father, the script is packed with beautifully funny moments while the songs are of the kind you’ll find yourself humming for years to come, if not breaking out in to when walking along the road.
2) Citizen Dog (2004)
A musical romcom from Thailand, in it Pod (Mahasamut Boonyaruk) is a simple country boy but after losing a finger in an accident he quits his factory job and becomes a security guard, and that’s where he meets Jin (Saengthong Gate-Uthong) and falls madly in love with her. With its brightly lit strong colours and magical realism it reminds of Amelie though this has its own unique sense of humour and tone, and unlike the film version of Amelie it contains some truly lovely songs, which are a mixture of the utterly affecting and greatly amusing. It’s one of those “Everything and the kitchen sink” films when it comes to playing around with ideas, and pulls all off seemingly effortlessly somewhat amazingly.
1) Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)
You may be a little disappointed to see such a mainstream(ish) musical in the top spot but this for me is the best movie musical there is full stop, cult or not. A twist on the old Faustian Pact tale when poor old Seymour is given a shot at fame in exchange for a tiny bit of murder, he can’t resist but alas the mean green mother from outer space that is Audrey II soon makes him regret his decision, even if those who die probably deserve it (or definitely do in the case of Steve Martin’s amazingly twisted dentist Orin Scrivello, DDS). Every single character in it is frickin’ adorable even if a couple are technically extremely evil, the script is packed with an insanely impressive amount of funny lines, and it’s a shockingly tight piece too, there’s not a single second that could be cut from the running time. For the record I’m fonder of the director’s cut where the plants take over the world but that probably says more about me than the film itself, and it’s a rare example where both versions are a real pleasure. Every single song from the film should have been released as a single and then been in the top spot for months on end, they’re ridiculously adorable and though I first saw the film thirty years ago I still find myself singing them on a regular basis. So if you’ve somehow never seen this, well, do so. Now. Okay? Good.
Cut From The List!
The following films were on the first version of this list, and though they no longer make my person top 50 they’re still worth checking out.
The Devil’s Carnival (2012)
A musical anthology set in hell this should be my ideal film (and I’m a big fan of Repo The Genetic Opera from the same director) but while stylish and well performed it’s a slightly erratic piece and a couple of the songs are irritating, so your mileage may vary with it. But it definitely has its moments, visually it’s often impressive, and some of the songs are really fun, so it could be worth seeking out if it sounds like your cup of tea.
A soft porn version of the fairy tale if you’re not in to the tacky nudity element (and who could blame you) then it may not be the film for you, but bar the sex scenes this is actually a pretty decent musical. The only problem is there aren’t enough songs (8 at a guess) and too much dull 70’s titillation, which is a shame as the songs are pretty funny and well produced and it moves at a decent enough pace.
Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
The first time I saw this I hated it with a passion, rating it just 1 out of 10 on imdb, but given how many people I know like it I thought I should give it a second go and can’t quite understand why I originally had such issues with it. Sure it’s amateur-ish in the extreme and often childish too, but it was a student film made with a budget of about ten pence so that’s probably to be expected, and it is quite funny in places as our hero tries to lead a group across America but keeps getting lost, and a fair few of the songs are bloody fun stuff, the ones Packer sings about his horse Leanne especially. There’s the odd dodgy joke and it loses its way for a bit once the cannibal element is introduced but overall I’ve gone from hating it to being rather fond of it.
This was listed as one of the best cult musicals on a website I tend to trust but it’s not really a standard musical, just a movie about a band who happen to perform about five songs during the running time, so I have to confess to being slightly frustrated on that front. It’s a mostly fun affair though about an unknown band who produce specific sonic vibrations that can cure the disease an alien race is suffering from, and so a slightly creepy extraterrestrial called John Williams (Roy Dotrice) is tasked with tracking them down, and a mix of half weird sci-fi silliness and half PG rated sex comedy, which is likeable material and often quite funny.
Nudist Colony of the Dead (1991)
A 1991 horror comedy musical film which was shot on Super-8 film and only cost $35,000, boy can you tell! I watched a supposedly remastered version but the quality is still shockingly poor, with it often looking like a pirated vhs cam copy of a 70s film, but despite all of that it is fairly amusing in places, its deliberate cartoonish feel has a mild charm, and the only topless nudity doesn’t feel overtly gratuitous. I mean it’s definitely gratuitous, how could it not be, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable watching it and though the songs are largely quite simple they’re oddly upbeat, which makes them quite endearing, even if lyrically they’re occasionally weak. On the downside it’s disappointingly and worryingly racist in places – with two antisemitic jokes and the sentence “coloured guy knocking at back door” uttered within the first twenty minutes, but I don’t think it’s intentionally mean, just misjudged. A shame though, as it means I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it to people.
Voyage Of The Rock Aliens (1984)
Pia Zadora and Craig Sheffer star in this very eighties sci-fi comedy musical where a bunch of aliens in a guitar shaped spaceship are supposedly on a scientific mission but after having heard rock music they’re desperate to find out which planet it came from, and that leads them to visiting Earth and the small town of “Speelburgh” where they get up to all manner of silly hijinks. This is about as daft as comedy got in the eighties but it’s mostly very enjoyable, a lot of the songs are short bursts of endearing ridiculousness and a couple of them are even quite catchy, but it loses a couple of points due to having a very disjointed and sightly disappointing ending.
Bang Bang Baby (2014)
A right old oddity and then some, this Jane Levy starring musical is kind of like a very early Coen Brothers film where a woman imagines that she’s dating a famous Hollywood crooner but then a mysterious pink mist descends on the town causing people to become mutated, the songs aren’t anything amazing but they’re fun enough and it’s nicely shot and acted. The problem I have with it is that her hallucinations are a response to a traumatic event towards the beginning of the film, so the lighthearted tone (at least until the end) is a strange choice and I’m not sure what to make of it all, but if you like musicals you should definitely give it a shot.
Shock Treatment (1981)
A sort of sequel to The Rocky Horror Show where Brad and Janet are in the audience for what looks like a wholesome small town tv show, but naturally it’s more disturbing than it initially appears and soon Brad is carted off to a mental hospital and spends most of the film drugged up and tied up, and Janet’s made in to a huge star, one who increasingly has no time for poor old Brad. A fair few of the original cast are back but in different roles, and newcomers Barry Humphries, Ruby Wax and Rik Mayall are also along for the ride, but it’s a slightly flimsy affair, there’s some satire of the media, fame, the mental health industry, consumerism and masculinity, but it feels a little mild, and though the songs are often fun (Shock Treatment, Lullaby and Bitchin’ In The Kitchen being the ones I found most memorable) there’s nothing even close to the songs found in O’Brien’s much loved first musical. Indeed if you compare it to that it comes off wanting in the extreme, but if you pretend Rocky doesn’t exist it fares better.
Ralph (Dean Cameron) and his mom Phoebe (Tony Basil) are vampires, and slightly rubbish ones at that, in this truly bizarre film that contains a complicated plot concerning a romance between Ralph and Mona (Tawny Fere) which takes place every 22 years, but each time a pirate comes along and fucks things up, only for Mona to be then reincarnated. This time Ralph is determined to save her, though the extremely camp video director and “Death Park” owner Stanley (Thomas Dolby) has other plans, and will Mona want to fuck a vampire, anyhow? It’s one of those musicals where the majority of the songs are performed on stage with a band present annoyingly, but a couple aren’t at least, and nearly all of them are dumb but fun pop numbers with insanely idiotic but quite funny lyrics, and as this is a film the lead character gets hit by a car but carries on singing a song it’s impossible to dislike, even if this is a weird, cheesy and often plain ridiculous movie.
Forbidden Zone (1980)
A low budget DIY sci-fi fantasy musical which is beyond crazy but also a little puerile, and unfortunately occasionally a bit racist and homophobic, while women are treated poorly too. It’s a shame as otherwise this is a mad old thing which co-stars Danny Elfman and was written by his brother Richard, and it’s quite unique and beautifully designed, the songs are catchy (if throwaway) and there’s a lot of pretty funny scenes in it, but due to the aforementioned shittiness it can’t be wholeheartedly recommended.
Alice In Wonderland – An X-Rated Musical (1976)
Well this is quite the oddity, as yes it’s another porn musical, but this one’s shockingly hard core and contains full on penetration in it and everything. I hear three minutes of it were originally cut out to get an R rating (which led to the film grossing $90,000,000 worldwide according to wikipedia) but even without those scenes it must have been pretty full on. The sex is also occasionally a bit creepy (Alice has to be persuaded each time before exploring a new sexual act) which is frustrating as bar that there’s a lot to like about the film, many of the songs are really great and the dialogue is fairly smart and knowing at times plus there’s a few silly gags including one which breaks the fourth wall which made me laugh hard. I wish there was a 50 minute version of this without all the porn as then it’d be something I could recommend to all, but there isn’t, so I sadly can’t.
Stage Fright (2014)
A mostly very likeable comedy horror musical, it doesn’t always quite work as it felt like it wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be, as sometimes it’s very cartoonish but in other places it wants to be taken sincerely, and the two styles don’t always mix. There’s a lot to enjoy about it though, including many of the songs, so I’d definitely recommend seeking it out, even if it’s not exactly a perfect movie. Oh, and it’s worth sticking around for the end credits too, where they have a great song about whether you’ve pirated the movie or not.
The First Nudie Musical (1976)
A very seventies musical comedy where to save his studio and hopefully make a return to making proper films Harry decides to make a porn musical, but is forced to use a first time director who has no idea what he’s doing and they’ve only two weeks to write and shoot the whole thing. It’s actually a fairly funny semi-satire of the film industry, there’s lashings of silliness and though the songs are short many are pretty funny, and it’s just once again a shame there’s quite so much nudity as otherwise this could have been a mainstream hit.
This box office flop is a weird and odd and misjudged movie yet it’s still all rather amusing despite being such a strange piece. Indeed that’s probably why I liked it so much, it’s such a mess of a film and yet quite endearing as Robin Williams mumbles his way through the film as Popeye, Shelly Duvall squeaks and squeals as a surprisingly feisty Olive Oyl, and Paul L Smith makes for a perfect and very surly Bluto. The songs are often quite downbeat, the action is over the top yet not that funny, and the dialogue is a mixture of the very amusing and the curiously absurd, and it all makes for a unique movie that I can understand why some hate but which I was ultimately rather fond of.
Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers? (1970)
This romantic comedy thriller musical from Hong Kong sees a bunch of teenagers stranded on an island with a sexy woman who might be a mental murderess, or she might just be swell, we just don’t know. A lot of the songs are pretty bland but their mundane repetitive lyrics often make them somehow amusing, and there are two or three which are genuinely decent at least. Unfortunately the ending’s a bit rushed and slightly rubbish, but in general it has an unusual charm which I was mostly won over by.
Were The World Mine (2008)
Timothy’s an openly gay student at an all boy’s school who are putting on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but other members of the faculty and a homophobic student complicate matters, and then life becomes odder when Timothy invents a love potion which he uses to turn the whole (or at least some) of the school / town gay. An American indie musical which looks (and feels) like it was made in the early nineties, there’s some problems when it comes to the issues of consent but it means well, and does at least address it at the end. It’s also a little slow, and slightly lacking in songs (and some of the ones we do get are way too short) but it at least has some great performances (including Twin Peaks’ Wendy Robie as the drama teacher), the script is strong and the second half’s largely pretty fun.
Just Imagine (1930)
A sci-fi comedy musical set in the far, far future of 1980, where everyone has a flying plane, the government decides who marries who, and a man is brought back from the dead after fifty years of being a corpse. He ends up hanging around with J-21 and RT-46 (because no one has names in the future) with the former in a complicated love triangle, and after that goes wrong they fly to Mars and meet some very strange inhabitants of the planet. It’s bizarre stuff indeed but very charming, with quite a few smart gags in amongst the slapstick and daft puns and though the songs aren’t that inventive they’re warm and appealing.
Romance and Cigarettes (2005)
John Turturro directed this musical with a quite frankly amazing cast which includes James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Kate Winslet, Mary-Louise Parker and Eddie Izzard, where a husband cheats on his wife and then must choose between her and his mistress. It’s enormously entertaining throughout but as it’s a jukebox musical and doesn’t feature original songs I can’t rate it that that highly, which might seem harsh but I’ve issues with jukebox musicals and due to that it’s lucky to appear on this list at all(!), though if you don’t mind them (and the song choice is pretty superb) you may well like it even more than I did though.