There’s a rich history of musicals at the Academy Awards—in 93 years, 10 of them have won Best Picture Oscars alone. From An American in Paris and The Sound of Music to West Side Story and Chicago, there’s always been an audience for epic stories told through song and dance. At their core, these are stories of love, family, loyalty and connection—because sometimes there’s nothing better than music to communicate what it means to be human. It’s impossible to sum up the greats in just one list (The Music Man! Dreamgirls! Singin' in the Rain!), but here are a few to get you started. Share your own list with us at @theacademy on Twitter.
It’s a modern-day Romeo and Juliet story, but set in New York City with street gangs. When one gang’s member falls for a rival’s sister, the turf wars get complicated. West Side Story received 10 Oscars (of its 11 nominations), including Best Picture, breaking a record for the number of awards won by a musical. Rita Moreno also took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her take as the no-nonsense Anita, the first for a Latina actress. Of the experience, she recalls, “The fact that there was a person playing a puertorriqueña in a huge, successful musical was enough for a lot of Hispanics—not just Puerto Ricans—in this country to be thrilled to pieces.” In December, Steven Spielberg debuts his take on the film; Moreno will play a new role this time around.
This George Cukor film stars Audrey Hepburn, although some argue it should’ve been Julie Andrews, who played the role of Eliza Doolittle onstage before the film was ever made. (Did you know: Hepburn’s singing voice is dubbed in the final movie.) The My Fair Lady that could’ve been sometimes obscures the popularity of the film itself. What we have here is the story of a professor (played by Rex Harrison) who believes he can transform working girl Doolittle (Hepburn) into a member of high society, and the complicated relationship that ensues. Visually and musically, it remains one of the prime examples of a perfectly executed musical. My Fair Lady received eight Oscars, including Best Picture. (It was nominated for 12.)
This John Williams-scored, Norman Jewison-directed musical follows a Jewish peasant in Russia who’s committed to marrying off his daughters. To do so, he consults a matchmaker—and God. This Broadway adaptation gave us a number of classic songs, including “If I Were a Rich Man,” “To Life” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” And its themes of fatherhood, family and politics have kept it top of mind for decades since. It was nominated for eight Oscars and received three.
This eight-time Oscar-winning musical recounts the love triangle between cabaret singer Sally Bowles (played by Liza Minnelli), academic Brian Roberts (Michael York) and wealthy playboy Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), set against the backdrop of Nazi-era Germany. It also happens to be one of three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell’s favorites. “The silhouettes, the Fosse choreography, everything about it was just amazing, especially the green nail polish! All the things that really struck me as a young teenager,” she says.
The hills are alive … In pre-WWII Austria, Julie Andrews becomes a governess to the seven children of a widowed naval captain—the Von Trapp family—and the rest is musical history. With her, she brings song, levity and a sense of fun that the children so sorely need. The film followed the release of Mary Poppins by just six months, making Andrews a household name. As Lea Salonga (the singing voice of Princess Jasmine, Mulan and more) recalls of the beloved musical, “Julie Andrews is everything. I think that might have been one of the first movie musicals I really saw and fell in love with.” The Sound of Music received five Oscars of its 10 nominations, including for Best Picture.
If you’re one to consider animated musicals as part of this bunch, it would be wrong not to include Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. (It won Best Original Score and Song.) The film proved that animation was just as worthy of praise as any great live-action film. As producer Don Hahn recalls, “Getting the Best Picture nomination was like the U.S. hockey team beating the Russians. That’s what it felt like.”
Damien Chazelle’s musical follows Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), two artists who fall in love, but find their relationship at stake as their dreams become realized. Sure, there was Envelopegate—but let’s not forget, La La Land received six Oscars, for Directing, Best Actress, Original Score, Original Song, Cinematography and Production Design. Watch as Chazelle becomes the youngest filmmaker to win the directing award.