Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone Dance together with an LA backdrop

Phoenix Explores: Musical Film

From 'The Jazz Singer' to 'La La Land', explore 90 years of musical films with this FREE resource that provides viewing recommendations and suggested reading to help you on your journey through this enduring movie genre.


Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone Dance together with an LA backdrop

La La Land (12A)

Damien Chazelle’s multi award-winning 2016 film opens with a fabulous freeway-set musical number that will make you want to stand and applaud.

Available to rent on BFI Player

Singin' in the Rain (U)

Gene Kelly’s masterpiece, co-directed with Stanley Donen, features arguably the most iconic song and dance routine in the entire musical film genre.

Available to rent on BFI Player

The Gold Diggers of 1933 (PG)

“We’re in the Money” claims a coin-covered Ginger Rogers in Mervyn Leroy’s Depression-era story about four showgirls, which mixes spectacular Busby Berkeley dance numbers with sex and politics.

Available to rent on BFI Player
Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in On The Town

On the Town (U)

Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s co-directorial debut follows three sailors on shore leave for 24 hours in New York, and they’re determined to make the most of it!

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video
Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (PG)

Hugh Jackman is on fine vocal form as PT Barnum in this 2017 crowd-pleaser. Pure, unadulterated Hollywood entertainment.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

Little Shop of Horrors (PG)

Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and Ellen Greene star in this classic ’80s comedy musical about a mild-mannered florist whose exotic new plant turns out to be a man-eater.

Available to rent on BFI Player


A genre is born: How moviegoers first fell in love with the musical
Pamela Hutchinson, bfi.org.uk, 30.10.19

At the end of the roaring 20s, the arrival of talkies gave birth to a whole new genre. This is the little-told story of a Hollywood gold rush, and how song-and-dance movies first came to rule the box office.

The Sound of Film Musicals: How Songs Shaped Showbusiness on the Silver Screen
Martin Chilton, udiscovermusic.com, 3.1.20

Film musicals are one of the most quintessentially American art forms, and one that was eventually exported around the world. Westerns originated from dime novels about cowboys, but musicals developed in tandem with Hollywood itself. Over the past 90 years, this cinema genre has celebrated freedom, self-expression and the pursuit of dreams down life’s yellow brick road.

The Musical Film: Capturing the Magic of the Stage on the Screen
Michael Hoffman, cinemablography.org, 1.4.14

Without a doubt, one of cinema’s most unique genres is the musical film, which primarily utilises song and dance routines to advance the narrative. Considering the inherent theatricality of the musical film, more often than not, these movies tend to be adapted from the stage to the screen. With that said, the musical film intrinsically contains some very unique challenges regarding its presentation.

‘La La Land’ and the History of the Screen Musical
Joe Ursell, intofilm.org, 13.1.17

Harking back to classical Hollywood whilst simultaneously updating the genre for the modern world, La La Land is a lavish, romantic musical directed by Damian Chazelle, who previously made Whiplash. It is the simple story of two people pursuing their dreams in the intoxicating and ruthless city of Los Angeles. Both are struggling in their respective fields until a series of chance meetings causes them to fall in love – an event which might just bring about a change in their fortunes.

All That Glitters: The Restless Art of the Movie Musical
Pamela Hutchinson, Sight & Sound, 13 December 2019

Often dismissed as cosy and conventional, the film musical has actually been a defiantly radical form since its very beginnings, embracing difficult subjects and championing diversity as it shatters traditional narrative structures with its extravagant experimental spectacles.

Top 10 Musicals
Guardian Film Blog, 3.12.13

Musicals have been tap dancing their way into moviegoers’ hearts since the invention of cinema sound itself. From Oliver! to Singin’ in the Rain, here are the Guardian and Observer critics’ picks of the 10 best.

Gold Diggers of 1933, Mervin LeRoy
John Greco, Twenty Four Frames, 9.3.09

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy with songs by Al Rubin and Harry Warren and choreographed by Busby Berkeley (in the credits he is listed as dance director), Gold Diggers of 1933 was the second of Warner Brothers three 1933 backstage musicals, all reflecting the depression though none as directly and straight forward as this one.


The American Film Musical
Rick Altman (Indiana University Press, 1987)

Contemporary Musical Film
Beth Carroll (Edinburgh University Press, 2017)

The Hollywood Film Musical
Barry Keith Grant (Blackwell, 2012)

Singin’ in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece
Earl Hess and Pratibha Dabholkar (University Press of Kansas, 2009)

100 Film Musicals
Jim Hillier and Douglas Pye (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)

The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film and Television
Thomas Hischak (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Musicals: Hollywood and Beyond
Bill Marshall and Robynn Stilwell (Intellect Books, 2000)

The British Musical Film
John Mundy (University Press, 2007)

The Musical: Race, Gender and Performance
Susan Smith (Wallflower Press, 2005)

The Films of the Thirties
Jerry Vermilye (The Citadel Press, 1982)

Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy
Janet Wasko (Polity, 2001)

Singin’ in the Rain
Peter Wollen (2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)