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December 6, 2023


The end of this year brings the exciting musical-movie release of The Color Purple, whose potential is forecasted by the illustrious names of its producers, namely Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, and Scott Sanders (not to mention that cast). So, what better time to celebrate the mellifluous motion picture format?

As a seasoned and hardened* Army veteran (read: broken and dysfunctional), I am unashamedly a lover of well-done musicals, the film versions of which almost always allow for a more immersive experience than the neck-straining, “I wish I could get a drink,” chopped-up versions that can often occur on a live stage. Maybe it’s because I was born without any musical talent of my own, or maybe it’s because I am a hopeless romantic who enjoys the dreamlands created by such productions…no matter the reason, I think musicals are underappreciated works of art. I mean, how is it possible that an actor can be blessed with their unique thespian prowess and then, somehow, also masterfully perform dance routines and sing perfectly on key?! It’s crazy! We all have our strengths, I guess. At least I know how to cook a mean carbonara…shut up, Stanley Tucci!

Anyway, as is my style, I have created my own standards from which to accomplish the difficult task of cutting out some of the movies that fall into the genre. After all, Ray Kroc, the founder of modern-day McDonald’s, said “the quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” On second thought, scratch that… it just makes things easier, ok?! We are Bitesize Breakdown after all, so it makes sense to limit our selection to 10 rather than whatever ridiculous number that other lists try to hit just to do justice to every damn film ever made so as not to upset those who think their darling should have “definitely been included!” But I digress…

For our purposes here, the mimics of theatrical stage performances like Hamilton or Chicago are hereby disqualified. Productions like Pitch Perfect, Rocketman, Purple Rain, and A Star is Born are appreciated, but likewise eliminated as their primary protagonists are singers and, well, that’s just cheating. Finally, I’m eliminating everything that I dislike, which may be a bit too on-the-nose, but there it is.

The simplest standard is that this list comprises movies that I will watch repeatedly for years to come. As a man, born in the 80s and imperfect, I can appreciate the contributions of classics like Singin’ in the Rain, Sound of Music, and Mary Poppins, but what do I want to watch when I sit down on the couch tonight? What do I want my kids to watch, lest I feel the frustratingly familiar pain of having failed as a parent?

If you are new to musicals, or there is anything on this list you haven’t seen…or even if you are reminded of a film that you just haven’t seen in a while…I highly recommend putting one on after work. I believe there is a musical lover in all of us despite the popular need to “poo-poo” both musicals and country music, and if nothing else, it’s got to be better than scrolling through the ether for an hour, right?



I first thought it may have been the teenage timing of my initial run-through that attracted me to this musical so much. A household full of strong, fast-to-fight, and tough woodsmen brothers go to town from their homestead to find women to settle down with? Sold. I could fantasize about which brother I might be and which lady I might chase. Instead, I think it is the shocking antiquated morals of the film that really attract and fascinate without being offensive due to the romantic transformations that occur. The film’s colors pop brilliantly throughout, both literally and figuratively from the engaging story and lively music. Best of all, though, it somehow introduces ballet-style dancing, gymnastics, and tumbling without making the gritty brothers look absurd.



West Side Story was my personal gateway drug into the world of musicals. As an insecure young man that faced dangers real and imagined, this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet spoke directly to me. The story is classic, highlighted by forbidden love that results in Shakespearian tragedy and an ultimate re-evaluation of the characters’ immature prejudices. The sound design is masterful (proven by its Grammy-winning soundtrack), as it blends Latin sounds with traditional Broadway-style tones that coalesce to build constant and escalating suspense. I can still remember almost every word to “Jet Song” …*ahem*, moving on.



Set in early 20th century England, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is, admittedly, more of a children’s fantasy movie. An often flummoxed and struggling single father, played by an effervescent Dick Van Dyke, desperately attempts to make one of his fun inventions work in an effort to save the family from further poverty. Monkeyshines ensue when a wrecked champion race car is saved from the scrap heap. The whole family can enjoy this adventure that includes a motley crew of interesting villains, including the terrifyingly creepy “Child Catcher” (Sir Robert Helpmann). It is a “Truly Scrumptious” adventure!

7. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)


This shouldn’t take much convincing since The Wizard of Oz permeates throughout our history’s cultural conscience. It has had a presence in theme park attractions and preserved at prestigious museums, not to mention that it has been referenced, imitated, sequel-ed, adapted, re-released, and cartooned through the years. The Academy Award-winning “Over the Rainbow” is a well-known piece of harmonious magic, among the films’ many, that is actually part of the narrative instead of acting as a musical intruder, which can often happen. The fact that this film has so much widespread appeal more than 80 years after its first release really speaks for itself.

6. GREASE (1978)


I now recognize that there may be a pattern in my tastes. Yes, the tough guy is represented here too, along with his gang of friends, while he tries to “get the girl” in the classic sense. I won’t back down though, as this is so intrinsic to our society’s tribal nature and our search for love and acceptance. Grease hits on all of the above in a fun, funny, Fonzie-kind of way. The 50s era version of “bad-boy meets good-girl,” teenage angst, and out-of-control hormones are captured in a way that is timeless. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John shine throughout by way of their swaying hips and outstanding vocals.



Usually, when I get nervous about a ranking is when things start to get really controversially exciting, especially when it goes “classic, classic… what?!” Still, this musical easily stands out as one of the best stop-motion style animations of all time with Henry Selick directing a fantastically dark Christmas story written and produced by gothic-inspired phenom Tim Burton. The production aptly challenges the stereotypical nature of Christmas=Good and Halloween=Bad, and due to the musical’s release under Touchstone instead of Disney, its theme’s salute to self-awareness and self-discovery is recognized and celebrated from the start, letting its creepy freak flag fly! Having teenage children, tradition now dictates that The Nightmare Before Christmas is in our rotation of must-watch entertainment during the holiday season. 



Overall, The Greatest Showman received mixed reviews, but we don’t care, right?! This is about finding musicals that you want to watch tonight, and this one perfectly fits the bill. Hugh Jackman (a Broadway vet in his own right), along with the star-studded ensemble cast, guide us on a fantastical spectacle that mimics the circus tale it is trying to tell. It is a flashy account celebrating not only individuality and perseverance, but also inclusion. My kids will often play the soundtrack while dinner is being prepared, and we will all belt it out as if we were also on stage. It’s great!



Based on a children’s novel written by Roald Dahl, I love this story; so does everyone else as evidenced by its multiple remakes, including the upcoming Wonka, set to be released later this year. However, this version is by far the best of its ilk, even today. Gene Wilder was born to play Mr. Wonka, where his antics manipulate one's thoughts regarding the sometimes saccharine-leaning music to wonder if there might be an undertone of deception. It provides an imaginative underdog story where loyalty, family, and integrity are the watchwords.



Adapted from an already highly successful Broadway stage production, Fiddler on the Roof is a powerfully moving tour de force. The musical components are emotionally stirring as the film attacks wide-arching narrative themes of oppression, sacrifice, compromise, faith, poverty, political strife, community, and “TRADITION”! The cinematography and story-telling methods are groundbreaking, and if further convincing is somehow needed, it also happened to win three Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, and was the highest-grossing film of 1971…so there’s that. 

1. LA LA LAND (2016)


Ok, it might be blasphemy to put such a newcomer at the top of the list, but I do not care. I’m not putting Singin’ in the Rain on this list, just like I wouldn’t put Citizen Kane as my go-to number one movie of all time. Sorry, not sorry. This story has everything you could want from a musical: humor, romance, character, dancing, and beautiful music. Plus, it’s artistic without trying to be weird, and it finishes without a cliché ending. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone provide knockout performances, and we get insight into what it might take to actually “make it” in Hollywood. It fascinates at every level, and now that I am writing about it, I just want to go watch it again.

Photo Credits: Photo 1, 2, 3, 4, 9 - MGM Studios; Photo 5, 8 - Paramount Pictures; Photo 6 - Walt Disney Studios; Photo 7 - 20th Century Studios; Photo 10 - Lionsgate

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