It would be difficult to have missed the fact that Broadway and West End smash-hit musical Hamilton has dropped on Disney+. The Pulitzer Prize-winning show has managed to tap into – if not lead – the cultural zeitgeist since it first premiered off-Broadway in 2015.
As the hottest ticket in town allows more and more of us to be in the room where it happens, with a specially-filmed version, what other movie musicals are available to watch via streaming services or digital download? And why might a “Hamilfan” enjoy them?
Below are our picks of the best movie musicals from the past 85 years, available to watch now, that have entertained millions with their excellence.
West Side Story (1961) - Netflix
West Side Story is one of the greatest musicals ever written. Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it began its life on stage – like Hamilton – before being adapted for the screen garnering ten Oscars. The music is pulsing, vibrant and iconic, with songs from industry titans Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim that permeated pop culture (‘Tonight’, ‘I Feel Pretty’, ‘Maria’). But West Side Story also sought to confront social issues and racial tensions in its depictions of New York gang warfare between rivals, the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks.
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This is particularly evident in the show-stopping number ‘America’ with its biting lyrics including, “Life is alright in America, / If you’re all-white in America”. The awareness in songs like this seems to lead the way, almost 60 years later, for the triumphant reception of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular line from Hamilton, “Immigrants – we get the job done”, as well as the genuine representation of a diverse cast for which 1960s Hollywood, disappointingly, wasn’t ready.
Jersey Boys (2014) - PVOD
Another smash-hit stage show turned movie musical, Jersey Boys charts the tumultuous lives and careers of the founding members of The Four Seasons. Director Clint Eastwood shepherded this jukebox musical onto the silver screen, and was blessed with the dual strengths of an eventful storyline (the mob is never far) and a run of famous songs, including ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)’.
Just as with Hamilton, instead of the big, belting musical theatre numbers it’s a more popular genre of music from the charts (albeit it from back in the day) that powers this musical. And just as with Hamilton, it’s certainly a musical that self-professed non-musical fans can enjoy.
Les Misérables (2012) - PVOD
For those who find Hamilton’s historical roots fascinating, a hop across the Atlantic and a few decades later is Les Misérables. The longest-running musical in the West End’s history surely needs little introduction, but its period setting and political backdrop certainly provide some similarity to Hamilton. Symphonically-speaking though, Les Mis is of a more traditional, orchestral persuasion – although, like Hamilton, it’s entirely sung-through and Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s songs are considered among the best ever written for a musical.
Director Tom Hooper’s 2012 movie adaptation sought a more gritty and visceral feeling, with its starry cast, including the likes of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne, singing – and recording – their songs live on set.
Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again (2018) - Netflix
Another very popular jukebox musical of chart-topping pop songs – this time from ABBA’s back catalogue – both Mamma Mia! films have been very well-received, just like the still-running West End musical that debuted back in 1999.
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Aside from a pedigree of popular-style songs and high levels of success, there’s not much else to link Hamilton to either Mamma Mia! or Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again. The storylines are flimsy in comparison, but it doesn’t really matter: you’re here to enjoy the Meryl Streep-led cast, the idyllic Greek island life and, of course, mega-hits like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Take a Chance on Me’, ‘Super Trouper’ and, of course, ‘Mamma Mia’. Both exude escapist fun, but the sequel might just edge it for throwing icon Cher into the mix.
Top Hat (1935) - BBC iPlayer
In the same way that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s talent and skill is obvious to anyone watching the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton, Top Hat showcases a team of musical masters at work in the 1930s. It’s one of the best films of dancing double act Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ ten together. It’s also directed by their frequent collaborator Mark Sandrich, and boasts songs from the legendary Irving Berlin.
With a charming screwball-esque storyline, fun supporting turns from Astaire/Rogers stalwarts Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, striking Art-Deco sets and gorgeous choreography, it’s easy to get swept along as Fred and Ginger dance ‘Cheek to Cheek’.
Moana (2016) - Disney+
The next high-profile project of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s to be released after the initial success of Hamilton was Disney’s animated musical Moana. Miranda was a co-writer of its songs, which include the Oscar-nominated ‘How Far I’ll Go’. His touch is evident, especially in demi-god Maui’s rap verse of ‘You’re Welcome’ and the fun rhymes and rhythms of evil crab Tamatoa’s tune ‘Shiny’.
Read more: Explaining the hype behind Hamilton
Moana is also a visual feast, with its state-of-the-art animation, Disney’s signature attention to detail and the stunning Polynesian setting. Add an empowered heroine and a couple of animal sidekicks, and what more do you need?
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015 – 2019) - Netflix
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is actually a TV musical, rather than a movie musical, with four seasons of the show available to stream on Netflix. Despite an easily-dismissed title Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical, satirical whirlwind of social commentary that pushes boundaries with its format, particularly in its portrayal of mental health issues and female sexuality. Lead Rebecca Bunch (Rebecca Bloom) is a hotshot, Ivy League-educated lawyer who ups sticks from New York to West Covina, California in search of happiness and maybe, just maybe, in pursuit of a rekindled romance with her summer camp boyfriend…
The show serves up realness, alongside heightened musical theatre numbers with titles such as, ‘Let’s Generalize About Men’, ‘The Sexy Getting Ready Song’ and ‘Don’t Be A Lawyer’. Lin-Manuel Miranda is not the only one writing witty, relevant lyrics.
Dreamgirls (2006) - Netflix
Starting off as a Broadway musical, Dreamgirls is heavily inspired by the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes at Motown Records, and stars Beyoncé Knowles, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose as the central Dreamettes/Dreams trio. As well as charting the development of R&B music, Dreamgirls doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that black artists faced while trying to make it during the 60s, as well the corruption that lurked in the music industry.
Just as Hamilton relies on hip hop, R&B and soul, Dreamgirls celebrates the distinctive sound of Motown – and the black artists that created it. The movie also makes room for the classical musical theatre showstopper ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’.
Enchanted (2007) - Now TV, Sky Cinema Pass
Overlooked to a near-criminal degree, Enchanted has never enjoyed the mainstream popularity of other Disney hits. A fun upending of the studio’s usual fairy stories, this time Disney princess Giselle accidentally departs the animated utopia of Andalasia for the bright lights and rat-infested apartments of real-life New York City.
Just as Hamilton breaks the mould with musical theatre, so too does Enchanted, going against what we’ve come to expect from Disney. With fun nods to other Disney tales and tropes, send-up songs from Disney regulars Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, and a winning turn from Amy Adams – who pitches Giselle just right – it’s hard to resist.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) - Disney+
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a rather unusual adaptation of a Dickens novel, just like Manuel forming the basis of his show around Ron Chernow’s hefty biography of Alexander Hamilton.
Michael Caine’s decision to play Ebenezer Scrooge straight, even though he is surrounded by Muppets (including singing vegetables), makes the film. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, Fozzie Bear and Sam Eagle are all present and correct as major characters in this very, um, English story. The songs, from ‘Scrooge’ and ‘Marley and Marley’ to ‘It Feels Like Christmas’, are earworms, and this musical whips along the well-trodden narrative at a cracking pace. It’s a film adaptation of A Christmas Carol that has yet to be bettered.
Flashdance (1983) Now TV, Sky Cinema Pass
Technically, Flashdance isn’t a full-on movie musical as none of the characters sing – but music is intrinsic to its identity, from the Oscar-winning title song, used in the film’s famous audition scene, to the rest of the 80s hits that comprise its soundtrack.
Dance is the major thread of the movie, as Pittsburgh welder Alex (Jennifer Beals) aspires to a career as a professional dancer but struggles with her lack of formal training. As with Hamilton, Alex is a protagonist willing to work her up from nowhere to pursue her dreams – there’s just a lot more body glitter involved.
The News Boys/Newsies (1992) - Disney+
This cult movie musical gained much of its popularity long after it was first released – and a recent, successful stage adaptation certainly hasn’t harmed that. With a cast headed up by a young Christian Bale, and featuring Robert Duvall, Bill Pullman and Ann-Margret, The News Boys (better known as Newsies for its US release) has a dollop of 90s nostalgia alongside its gutsy choreography and stirring music by Alan Menken.
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It’s another musical with an historic American setting and social conscience, tackling real-life events, although this time it’s 100 years after most of Hamilton. The newsboys’ strike of 1899 forced publishing magnates Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to consider fairer treatment towards their newspaper hawkers.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Netflix
The Wizard of Oz is probably the most renowned movie musical of all time, and, with ‘Over the Rainbow’, features one of the most famous songs ever written. Although by no means the first movie musical (1927’s The Jazz Singer has that honour), it heralded the dawn of a golden age of movie musicals that would run for the next twenty years. Many of these musicals came out of MGM Studios and were helmed by lyricist-turned-producer Arthur Freed, who was – kind of – his generation’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, given the influence he held over shaping the American musical during his career.
Although cheesy and dated in places, The Wizard of Oz is still considered one of the best films ever made – and a piece of Hollywood movie-making history. It also shot its young lead, Judy Garland, to stardom and cemented her place in movie musical history.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - Disney+
“What’s this?” Other than another of Tim Burton’s gothic, ghoulish wonderlands, The Nightmare Before Christmas features a composer and lyricist singing his own songs, just like Lin-Manuel Miranda. Danny Elfman stepped in to provide the singing voice for main character Jack Skellington, and pulls off a charming performance. It’s one that he’s returned to numerous times since at live events.
Again, there’s much to admire about The Nightmare Before Christmas for musical non-enthusiasts, from its unusual subject matter to its beautiful but macabre animation and rather dark story.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) - Now TV, Sky Cinema Pass
For most, Singin’ in the Rain is *the* classic movie musical masterpiece. If you’re looking to expand your horizons in the genre, this one is essential viewing. Another from Arthur Freed’s unit at MGM, it stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds and doesn’t put a foot wrong. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s decision to match their story with the 1920s origins of many of the Freed songs they were using meant Hollywood was introduced to a glorious retrospective on the troubled transition to “talkies”.
From Donald O’Connor backflipping off a wall, to Debbie Reynolds dancing so hard in the ‘Good Morning’ scene that her shoes filled with blood, Singin’ in the Rain provides the very best of everyone’s talents. Plus it has one of the most iconic dancing – and singing (in the rain) – sequences in cinema.
Hamilton is streaming on Disney+.