The world of cinema has always been a good source of inspiration to create stage musicals. Sometimes the transition is magical and evolves the fictional world to a higher level. And then there are some that were great tries, but the movies are still the superior medium. It seems to be the smaller the movie, the better the musical. It’s not true in all cases, but when movies are very well known and beloved, it can be tough to sway people to watch them in a different format. Regardless, movies will always be a constant source of musical inspiration, whether they be the good, the bad, or the ugly. Hey, there’s an idea…
It is difficult to condense this list to fifteen, and if this were a list ranking the quality of the actual musicals it would look a lot different. That list would definitely include Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Hairspray (1989), Bring It On, Kinky Boots, The Full Monty, and Once, just to name a few. All great movies on their own accord, but somehow the musicals made them even better. However, in this case, it's just about the films themselves. Here's a look at 15 of the best movies that transitioned onto the stage, even if the result was less than stellar.
15. Waitress (2007)
An underrated gem of a romantic comedy, Keri Russell stars as Jenna, the titular waitress who finds herself pregnant and in an unhappy marriage. Her life gains some excitement when she falls into an affair with her OBGYN (Nathan Fillion). The film co-starred the film’s writer, Adrienne Shelley, who was tragically murdered before the film’s release. HBO has a documentary entitled Adrienne about her story.
The musical, written by Sara Bareilles, was a huge hit on Broadway. It premiered in 2016 and lost the Tony Award to a little show called Hamilton.
14. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
A fantastic comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as con men on the French Riviera. Their latest mark, played by Glenne Headly proves to be their biggest challenge yet. It is a remake of the 1964 film, Bedtime Story starring Marlon Brando. It was also remade in 2019 starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.
The musical premiered in 2004 and scored ten Tony nominations for its Broadway debut. It only won one for Norbert Leo Butz for Leading Actor in a Musical.
13. The Lion King (1994)
A 1994 box office juggernaut, Disney’s The Lion King featured the voices of James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and Ernie Sabella, just to name a few. Inspired by Hamlet, the world fell in love with Young Simba as he is forced to find his strength in defeating his Uncle for the throne after the untimely death of his father the King.
Since the film is animated, taking it to the stage was a huge undertaking. Done with puppetry and actors in animal costumes, the innovative musical won Tonys including Best Musical in 1998.
12. Mean Girls (2004)
Mean Girls is a 2004 comedy written by Tina Fey based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman. It’s a dark comedy taking a look at how vicious high school girls can be. The movie has become a cult classic over the years and stars Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, and Amanda Seyfried.
The musical version, also written by Fey, debuted in 2018. Despite being nominated for 12 Tony nominations, the show took home no trophies.
11. Shrek (2001)
Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy star in this classic comedy about an ogre who falls in love with a princess. Murphy steals the show as Donkey, but don’t sleep on the performance of John Lithgow as their nemesis Lord Farquaad.
Another challenging undertaking is transforming an animated movie to the stage, but the music is charming. In addition, the actor playing Lord Farquaad does the entire show on his knees. The show premiered in 2008 on Broadway and a recording of the Broadway show is available on Netflix for streaming.
10. Legally Blonde (2001)
Reese Witherspoon’s career was already thriving, but her role as Elle Woods shot her into superstardom. A fantastic romantic comedy about being misjudged because of your looks, Elle refuses to be defeated by anyone without compromising who she is as a person. Enrolling in Harvard Law School in hopes to reunite with her ex-boyfriend, Elle discovers she’s not only smart but also that she deserves much more than her ex.
The stage musical premiered in 2007 and even spawned the reality show, Legally Blonde: The Musical - The Search for Elle Woods on MTV to cast for the new lead in the Broadway show.
9. The Band’s Visit (2007)
A critically acclaimed Israeli film about a group of Egyptian musicians who wind up entertaining a group of townsfolk in the middle of nowhere when their bus gets lost in Israel. The film won 8 Ophir Awards (The Israeli equivalent of the Oscar) including Best Film of 2007.
The 2017 Broadway production was a huge hit and wound up winning 10 Tony’s including Best Musical, Leading Actor in a Musical (Tony Shalhoub), and Leading Actress in a Musical (Katrina Lenk).
8. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Falling in love with this film is a tale as old as time. It was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Town outcast Belle tames the Beast’s fiery heart as she shows him that kindness is a much better way to live. In 2017, a live-action remake was made starring Emma Watson as Belle.
The stage musical opened on Broadway in 1994 starring Susan Egan, Terrence Mann, Gary Beach, and Tom Bosley. It was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning only one for Best Costume Design.
7. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
This film is based on the true story of a con man, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the FBI Agent (Tom Hanks) who was determined to bring him down. It is a fun, fast-paced action comedy with stellar performances by the aforementioned as well as Christopher Walken who was nominated for an Oscar.
The musical was a critical hit starring future Tony Winner Aaron Tveit as Frank Abagnale, Jr. And Norbert Leo Butz took home another Tony for Best Actor for his portrayal of Carl Hanratty. Despite its critical success, it ran on Broadway for less than six months.
6. Billy Elliott (2000)
Imagine being the son of a miner in a small town in Northern England in the early 1980s and all you want to do is dance. This is the story of Billy Elliott (Jamie Bell) and the only thing that makes him happy is ballet. It’s hard not to be swept up in this story and the final scene is guaranteed to take your breath away.
The stage musical with music by Elton John premiered on the West End in London in 2006 and on Broadway in 2008. It won the Tony for Best Musical and for Best Actor in which all three young actors playing Billy were given the award.
5. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
An all-time classic film about the rise and fall of a silent film star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Norma has had difficulty with reality as she has watched her star fade. An aspiring screenwriter, Joe (William Holden) tries to take advantage of the situation to further his career which ends up with him floating in a pool. The film also features cameos from Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, and Hedda Hopper, all playing themselves.
The stage musical opened in London in 1994 and on Broadway in 1995. It won the Tony for Best Musical, Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Glenn Close), and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (George Hearn).
4. The Producers (1967)
Zero Mostel and Gene Hackman star as two producers who come up with a million-dollar idea: buy the worst script possible, sell all the proceeds 100 times over, and when it flops, the producers pocket all the money. Here’s the problem, what if the worst script ever becomes one of Broadway’s biggest hits? This 1967 classic by Mel Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and is a must-see.
The Broadway Show was a huge hit. It won 12 Tony Awards which made it the most decorated musical in Broadway history.
3. Groundhog Day (1993)
One of Bill Murray’s best comedies to date, Groundhog Day is a comedy in which poor Phil Connors (Murray) is stuck in a time loop. He has arrived in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day celebration (yes, it’s a real thing) and he is less than enthusiastic. What will it take to get him out of this day and this loop? Maybe if he were to learn some life lessons and treat people better, he’ll wake up out of his nightmare.
The musical didn’t fare as well. With original music by Tim Minchin, it opened in London in 2016 and on Broadway in 2017. In New York it only ran for five months.
2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
It’s the classic story of King Arthur and his quest for the holy grail with a Monty Python twist. On the way, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table will encounter such challenges as Knights who say Ni, killer rabbits, and cave monsters, just to name a few. But even if you know how it ends, you’ll never see the story told quite like this.
The musical version, Spamalot, was a huge hit on Broadway premiering in 2005. Starring Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, and Sara Ramirez, the show won the Tony for Best Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Ramirez.
1. Rocky (1976)
Considered one of the best films of all time, it is the story of local boxer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who is selected to fight the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). It may seem like a simple retelling of David vs. Goliath, but it’s hard to not fall in love with the grit of Rocky and 1970s Philadelphia. This was the first movie in a franchise that spurned eight sequels to date, but it’s the original that set the stage. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and took the Oscar home for Best Picture of 1976.
It may be one of the best movies of all time, however, it was not one of the greatest musicals of all time. The ending fight scene was incredibly technically intricate and impressive, but the musical only ran for six months on Broadway in 2014.
Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' is the latest example that you don't need a background in musicals to direct a great one.