15 Iconic Musicals That Defined 20th Century Cinema

Dan Pratt

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Musical movies have been a staple of cinema since the dawn of sound. In this post, we’re highlighting the 18 most iconic movie musicals of the 20th century, featuring unforgettable songs and dance numbers that have stood the test of time.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) mgm
Photo Credit: MGM Studios.

Filled with iconic performances, catchy tunes, and charming humor, Singin’ in the Rain is an absolute delight of a film. It is often celebrated for its commentary on Hollywood’s transition from silent films to ‘talkies,’ with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor delivering masterful performances.

The Sound of Music (1965)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

An irresistible blend of music and storytelling is created in The Sound of Music, an endearing story of a governess who brings music and love into the lives of seven children and their widowed father. The beautiful Austrian landscapes coupled with memorable songs like “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things” create a musical experience that continues to warm hearts.

West Side Story (1961)

Photo Credit: United Artists.

West Side Story is a modern Romeo and Juliet story set amidst New York gang culture. This film features powerful performances, an emotionally charged plot, and a memorable score by Leonard Bernstein, which explores social issues through its innovative dance sequences.

My Fair Lady (1964)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

A feast of wit, elegance, and wonderful music, My Fair Lady centers on the transformation of a working-class girl into a high society woman, led by Rex Harrison’s charismatic professor Henry Higgins. Audrey Hepburn’s iconic performance, coupled with memorable songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night,” ensures this film’s timeless appeal.

Mary Poppins (1964)

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Productions.

A magical performance from Julie Andrews brings Mary Poppins, a musical masterpiece from Disney, to life. Blending animation and live-action, this film enchants audiences of all ages with memorable songs such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “A Spoonful of Sugar.”

Grease (1978)

Grease Paramount Pictures
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Set in the 1950s, Grease captures the spirit of high school love and rock ‘n roll. The unforgettable soundtrack, filled with hits like “Summer Nights” and “Greased Lightnin’,” is brought to life by the electric performances of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Photo Credit: Warner Home Video.

Generations have been captivated by the magical journey to the land of Oz in The Wizard of Oz. This musical fantasy is brimming with memorable characters and unforgettable music, most notably Judy Garland’s iconic rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”

The King and I (1956)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Splendid visuals, captivating performances by Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, and iconic songs like “Getting To Know You” make The King and I a standout musical. This dazzling musical is based on the true story of a British schoolteacher who becomes the tutor for the King of Siam’s many children.

An American in Paris (1951)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

An American in Paris is a joyous celebration of music, dance, and romance, set against the backdrop of post-World War II Paris. Gene Kelly’s superb dancing and the beautiful music of George Gershwin, including an impressive 17-minute ballet sequence at the film’s conclusion, make this a must-see musical film.

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

The powerful portrayal of Jewish life in Tsarist Russia in Fiddler on the Roof weaves a touching story of tradition, change, and resilience. The profound narrative and unforgettable songs like “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man” resonate deeply with audiences.

Cabaret (1972)

Photo Credit: Allied Artists-ABC Pictures.

Set during the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Berlin, Cabaret stands out for its powerful depiction of the era. The film is renowned for Liza Minnelli’s Academy Award-winning performance and iconic musical numbers like “Money” and “Maybe This Time.”

Funny Girl (1968)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Funny Girl showcases Barbra Streisand’s enormous talent in her debut film role as Fanny Brice, the Broadway star. Streisand’s tour-de-force performance, combined with a fantastic score including “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” earned her an Oscar and helped make this film a classic of the genre.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Photo Credit: MGM.

Chronicling a year in the life of the Smith family as they anticipate the 1904 World’s Fair, Meet Me in St. Louis is a delightful musical. Judy Garland’s charming performance and classic songs like “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” make this film an uplifting watch.

Guys and Dolls (1955)

Photo Credit: MGM.

Iconic performances by Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra bring Guys and Dolls, a story of high-rolling gamblers and their romantic interests, to life. Its catchy score includes classic tunes such as “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

Oklahoma! (1955)

Photo Credit: RKO Radio Pictures.

The first collaboration of the legendary musical team Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma! tells a charming story of romance and rivalry in the American Midwest. Memorable music and spirited dance numbers fill the film adaptation of this Broadway smash hit.

The Music Man (1962)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

The Music Man is a feel-good musical that tells the story of a con man who plans to swindle the citizens of a small Iowa town. However, things take a turn when he falls for the town librarian. The film’s infectious tunes, like “76 Trombones” and “Till There Was You,” along with Robert Preston’s charismatic performance, make it a timeless classic.

A Star is Born (1954)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

In the 1954 version of A Star is Born, Judy Garland gives a powerful performance as a rising star, while James Mason plays a fading actor. The film offers a heart-wrenching look at## A Star is Born (1954) In the 1954 version of A Star is Born, Judy Garland gives a powerful performance as a rising star, while James Mason plays a fading actor. The film offers a heart-wrenching look at fame and love, accompanied by memorable songs like “The Man That Got Away.”

Oliver! (1968)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

The powerful musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” is portrayed in Oliver!. With memorable songs like “Consider Yourself” and “Food, Glorious Food,” combined with its portrayal of Victorian England, the film offers a balanced mix of memorable music and drama.