It is one thing to take a beloved stage musical and successfully adapt it for the silver screen—and it’s a feat that’s given us everything from West Side Story to Chicago to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But it is another still to build both the story and the music from the ground up, as writer-director John Carney has done since his 2007 musical hit Once, which tells the folk-infused tale of two buskers in Dublin. Carney’s new musical jaunt, Sing Street (April 15), employs the same setting but rewinds the clock to the 1980s, when Carney’s teenaged protagonist Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) tries to win over a girl (Lucy Boynton) with the oldest trick in the book: impressing her with the epic coolness of his band.
Though its sweetness and new wave-inspired nostalgia are all its own, Sing Street joins a long list of musical movies for which the original music they introduced was integral to the stories they told. From Dorothy’s pining for the place beyond the rainbow to Eminem’s urgent need to lose himself in the music, here are some of the most memorable melodic tales ever told on the big screen.
Write to Eliza Berman at email@example.com.
Crazy Heart (2009)
The Dude can sing. Jeff Bridges’ turn as a troubled country singer earned him his first Oscar, and the movie’s T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack scooped up several Grammys. Bridges’ singing voice is matched only by his ability to bring vividness to the character, and he’s joined in his transition to songman by costars Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell, who also do their share of crooning.
Made on a shoestring budget in three weeks’ time, the film that put John Carney on the map charmed viewers with its tale of two lonely musicians who make beautiful songs together despite the personal troubles that plague them. With a soundtrack penned largely by Glen Hansard, who stars in the movie, Once earned $20 million on its $150,000 budget and an Oscar for Hansard and costar Markéta Irglová and inspired a Tony-winning stage adaptation.
8 Mile (2002)
Eminem’s semi-autobiographical drama is, as Roger Ebert described it, a “rags to slightly better rags” tale, a hard-won reassurance that hard work can get you somewhere better than where you were, if not all the way to the top. It won the rapper not only an Oscar for Best Original Song for “Lose Yourself” and a top spot on the music charts, but critical approval for his presence as an actor. It also won its featured song, deservedly, a spot on countless high school basketball teams’ warmup mixes.
That Thing You Do! (1996)
If there’s one thing That Thing You Do! shares in common with its writer, director and star Tom Hanks, it is this: supreme likability. The story of a one-hit wonder pop group in the 1960s bounces along thanks to an original soundtrack that captures the buoyant joy of that era’s popular music. As down-to-earth drummer Guy Patterson, Tom Everett Scott, hiding behind his drummer shades, won over not only audiences, but also—and way more importantly—Liv Tyler.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Rob Reiner’s satirical rock-umentary is as funny as it is because it is so close to honestly depicting the world it so deftly mocks. But in between its spot-on music doc tropes—the meddling girlfriend, the unwarranted arrogance, the misplaced value on volume—are songs as catchy as they are ridiculous. In addition to priming much of the cast of Christopher Guest’s future mockumentaries, This Is Spinal Tap leaves audiences with the reminder than when all else fails, simply turn it up to 11.
Purple Rain (1984)
If you think of your favorite Prince song, there’s a half-decent chance it was written for Purple Rain. The last movie to win an Oscar for Best Original Song Score (a now defunct category), its soundtrack counted among its hits “When Doves Cry,” ‘Let’s Go Crazy” and the title track “Purple Rain.” It’s a love letter to the musician’s hometown of Minneapolis, a significant chapter in his musical development, a feat in the cinematography of live performance and, as much as anything, proof that ruffles can be sexy when wielded properly.
We may not live forever, and we may never learn to fly, but that’s not what Fame‘s all about anyway. Irene Cara and her fame-hungry classmates are deeply moved by the music that pulses through them, and that feeling translates effortlessly to audiences. The movie swept up a bevy of awards for its music, but its most unforgettable scene is surely its final one, in which (spoiler alert) the students’ bodies are sung so electric that they have no choice but to cause the most joyful traffic jam New York City has ever seen.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Charlie may have been the star of the book—Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—but Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka stole the movie. Dahl himself was not particularly pleased with this development, but it’s left the rest of us with the indelible image of a purple-coated Wilder encouraging bright young children to use their imagination while quenching their insatiable hunger for sugar.
Mary Poppins (1964)
Mary Poppins brought Julie Andrews her first major film role and an Academy Award, and it brought the rest of us the nanny we never knew we needed. Adapted from P.L. Travers’ books, the Disney movie nabbed five wins of its 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Original Music Score and Best Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”). It also gave children free reign to swallow questionable amounts of sugar and excellent fodder for spelling bees.
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
The American Film Institute ranks it as the fifth greatest American film of all time, and it’s inspired many a puddle-splashing dance routine. Though Singin’ in the Rain was met with only modest accolades upon its release, the sweet story about the birth of talkie films is now a cherished favorite among contemporary critics. Aside from the unending charm brought by leading men Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor and the impressive dancing skills Debbie Reynolds picked up in preparation for the film, it’s also a reminder of a movie’s ability to make you feel, quite simply, very, very good.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
One of the most quoted movies in the history of cinema—not to mention the bearer of some of the movies’ flyest sequin slippers—the 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel also brought us one of the most wistful bedtime lullabies ever written. With its Oscar for Best Original Song for Judy Garland’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and its anthem celebrating the elimination of witches (the bad kind), The Wizard of Oz is one of the movies’ most beloved sing-alongs.