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Sing Along or Be Gone?

8 Musicals Adapted from Stage to Screen

By Zelda Kimble


I’m a big lover of all things live theatre, but also have a passion for film. Plenty of musical productions transition to the big screen, some more successfully than others. I've ranked eight of the most popular stage-to-film adaptations of the past 20 years, from must-view-sing-along to don’t-even-bother. And, please don’t get miffed that Hamilton didn’t make the list, it’s not really a movie adaptation—it’s amazing...but, it's a filmed theatre production, not a movie.

#1 Dreamgirls (2006)

Directed by Bill Condon

A beautiful, moving show, but the film takes it above and beyond the limitations of a live production. With powerhouse vocals from Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson, the songs are transformed from good to truly spectacular. Stunning costumes and visuals make the movie soar.


#2 Chicago (2002)

Directed by Rob Marshall


The film version of this wildly popular musical really takes the source material to the next level. Each of the iconic numbers, including the powerhouse Cell Block Tango sequence are larger than life and visually impeccable.  Outstanding costumes and sets, as well as a film style that respects the theatricality of stage makes for a breathtaking watch.


#3 Mamma Mia! (2008)

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd


Is this a very cheesy musical? Absolutely. Is the movie just as cheesy? Definitely! But it’s got a super-star cast that includes Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and many many more big names. It takes place on a gorgeous little island in Greece, and it’s just simply a good time.


#4 Sweeney Todd (2007)

Directed by Tim Burton


Horror lovers rejoice! This spooky tale of murder and cannibalism is a perfectly macabre musical movie. While Director Tim Burton’s visuals are iconic, the film version is slightly more campy than the dark stage version. But a fun, creepy watch nonetheless.


#5 Hairspray (2007)

Directed by Adam Shankman

Of all the films on this list this is the one that most feels like you’re watching a stage production. The dance sequences and sets pay a loving homage to live theatre. The film is perfect for children who will love the bright colors and classic soundtrack.


#6 Les Miserables (2012)

Directed by Tom Hooper


Taking on a beloved, blockbuster musical must have been a difficult undertaking. Unfortunately this film adds nothing to the stage version, and some of the magic is lost in translation. The actors are all very talented (see Amanda Seyfried in Mama Mia!), but hardcore live theatre fans (myself included) were left unimpressed with Hollywood’s rendition of this classic.


#7 Into The Woods (2014)

Directed by Rob Marshall

Rob Marshall did a great job with Chicago, with this, not so much. Steven Sondheim’s lyricism loses some of its sparkle in this surprisingly dark rendition of a show that’s mainly performed in high school theaters. The film is forgettable and oddly bleak for a fairytale.


#8 Cats (2019)

Directed by Tom Hooper


Who let this film get made? The CGI furry cat bodies are creepy and the incredible cast is severely beleaguered by the nonsensical narrative. I have spent many sleepless hours wondering exactly how much money they paid Dame Judy Dench, and exactly what kind of catnip they gave Sir Ian Mckellen to get them to agree to this fever dream of a production. So many choices went into the making of this movie, and almost all of them were wrong. The musical is weird, but can be charming on stage. The film does it no favors.

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