You either love musicals or you don’t. There’s something weird about characters breaking into song and dance in the middle of a conversation with little or no notice. Sure, there are exceptions for those of us who don’t enjoy musicals. Movies like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Little Shop of Horrors” can be hard not to love. Perhaps because they embrace the silliness of it all and have a certain charm that has endured for years. Musicals can mostly feel repetitive.
When it comes to non-musical films embracing song and dance for a particular scene, it can be more tolerable. Music is a part of our everyday life. Music brings people together. It makes living life that much easier in times of pain or joy and everything in-between.
It’s natural, then, for characters in movie world to love music as well, whether it’s singing along to a popular song to undercut their inner emotions, or watching a musical performance that has some relevance to the storyline. There’s so much that can be done with singing from the emotional and touching to the silly and humorous.
Musicals were the bread and butter for Hollywood studios for years. And while they aren’t as popular as they used to be, they still live on, on stage and in some form of non-musical movies.
20. Wayne’s World (1992) – Bohemian Rhapsody
It should be a general rule of friendship that you have to sing along to your favorite songs at the top of your lungs whenever you’re driving anywhere with friends. Especially when a Queen song is playing. And if you’re metalheads, then passionate head-banging is a must.
Based on the classic Saturday Night Live sketch and catapulting Mike Myers into Hollywood with his debut film performance, “Wayne’s World” more than lived up to the hype. The opening scene set the tone for what was coming, with a simple car ride that introduced characters and the type of shenanigans that would follow.
Kicking off with the rocking section of the classic Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you know from the start that these are rock fans who are all about the music. From this scene alone, everyone was assured that “The Blues Brothers” wasn’t the only SNL spinoff that could be a movie success.
19. The Mask (1994) – Cuban Pete
Jim Carrey totally owned the year 1994 with the release of three box office hits “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Mask.” While all three of those films are classic Carrey, “The Mask” is the film that fits perfectly with his style of comedy.
As the Mask is surrounded by a barrage of police officers determined to put an end to his spree of insanity, he starts singing “Cuban Pete” to diverge their attention. In no time at all, everyone is singing and dancing along to the song thus giving him a chance to give them the slip.
A scene that’s totally outrageous, which is saying something for a film filled with them. “The Mask” is a live-action cartoon extravaganza in which Carrey completely immerses himself. Too bad it didn’t work out so well when he played the Riddler in “Batman Forever.”
18. Beetlejuice (1988) – Day-O (The Banana Song)
Tim Burton’s fantasy/comedy featured Michael Keaton playing the diabolical ghost Betelgeuse. Before Betelgeuse is hired, Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are ghosts trying to make sense of their new lives and the art of scaring people.
The husband and wife try to scare away the new owners of their house. They resort to possessing the guests to sing and dance along to Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O”. Their effects, however, would prove futile as the guests would need a more twisted mind to scare them away.
The film is overflowing with creativity and originality, but the dinner scene takes the cake. From the dance moves and choice of the song, it would become one of Burton’s most famous and memorable scenes.
17. Shaolin Soccer (2001) – Shaolin Kung Fu Hao Yeah
Stephen Chow’s hilarious martial arts comedy sees Chow playing Mighty Steel Leg, a Shaolin Kung Fu master who wants to spread the art to the masses. Before coming to the idea of using the biggest sport in the world, he tries a variety of methods that all fail horribly. One of them is a terrible song about Shaolin Kung Fu performed in front of a disinterested crowd in a bar.
As he performs the song with his Shaolin brother Iron Head, the two of them can barely keep a straight face and keep arguing over the song’s lyrics while performing. Pretty soon, bottles start flying as the crowd is offended by how terrible the song and lyrics are.
As Iron Head says to Mighty Steel Leg as the validity of their names is tested with violence, the lyrics are too intellectual for drunks to understand. Either way, the song is quite catchy.
16. Young Frankenstein (1974) – Puttin’ On the Ritz
Mel Brooks’ classic comedy horror is filled with many wild and wacky scenes that parody and pay homage to horror films. The craziest scene, aside from the Monster’s encounter with Gene Hackman’s blind priest, is the musical number performed by man and beast.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and the Monster put on a musical performance of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in front of an elegant crowd. Things go well at first as the Monster follows commands with his moves and growls on cue. When the stage light bursts, however, the easily sacred creature goes on a rampage.
The scene (and the entire film, in fact) is sold by the excellent performances by Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle. It’s a classic performance of a classic song in a classic film with a hilarious twist. “Young Frankenstein” would eventually make its way to Broadway.
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Daisy
While Arthur C. Clarke was working with Stanley Kubrick on the script for this visionary sci-fi epic, he visited Bell Labs and saw one of the earliest mainframe machines built. There he saw and heard the IBM 704, which is the first computer to sing. The song it sang was “Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two)” by English composer Henry Dacre.
After HAL malfunctions and goes all psycho on the crew members of Discovery One, Bowman is forced to take him apart. Knowing the end is coming, HAL remembers his earlier days where his creator sang him the song and starts singing his heart out.
A chilling scene that’s ironically emotional and slightly creepy. HAL goes out memorably in a performance that all computers and auto-tuned pop stars are measured against.
14. High Fidelity (2000) – Let’s Get It On
The world at large was introduced to Jack Black from his scene-stealing, breakout performance in “High Fidelity.” And if you were to pinpoint the exact scene that made Black a star, it would be his cover of Marvin Gaye’s hit single “Let’s Get It On.”
Performing with his band that’s going through a few name changes, “Sonic Death Monkey” to “Barry Jive & the Uptown Five,” Black leads the band with this fun performance. He’s cocky, soulful, hilarious, and has a surprisingly good singing voice. He brings his own style to the Marvin Gaye classic, crooning with passion and charisma. He’s so entertaining that you wish the scene was longer.
This would no doubt be a warm-up for his future role in “School of Rock” and the many arrogant characters he’d go on to play that you’d still love.
13. Almost Famous (2000) – Tiny Dancer
While Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age dramedy involving an up-and-coming rock band struggling with success has a lot of musical performances, it’s not a musical, per se. Following fictional band Stillwater on tour as they perform for screaming fans across America, it’s ironic that the most memorable scene comes from a musical performance that doesn’t take place on stage.
As tensions run high on the tour bus threatening to break up the band, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” plays on the radio, and one by one everyone starts singing along. By the time the chorus comes along everyone’s singing passionately and there’s peace and harmony (for the time being). Everyone remembers why they love what they do and why they love each other. Everything is forgiven.
It’s the perfect scene that shows the power of music and how it can bring people together even when they’re falling apart.
12. Blue Velvet (1986) – In Dreams
“Blue Velvet” starts off pretty restrained until Dennis Hopper’s Frank shows up. By the time we reach Dean Stockwell’s Ben, things become purely Lynchian. Simple pop songs are turned into something more sinister: first, Bobby Vinton’s song where the film gets its name, and then Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.”
Taking Kyle MacLachlan’s Jeffery on a night out on the town (Frank style!), he and the audience are treated to a weird yet mesmerizing performance by Stockwell. Playing a pale, pansexual pimp, who Frank Booth’s party (and hostages) come for a brief stopover. Stockwell oozes with charisma and coolness. By the time he starts crooning “In Dreams” we don’t know what to make of it. Exactly, what kind of suburban town is this?
If you listen to the lyrics, you start to understand exactly why Frank is touched by the performance. The lyrics speak of longing for someone and dreaming about being with them. Lyrics that fit perfectly with Frank’s character and some of the themes of the film.
11. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – The Edge of Night (Pippin’s Song)
Based in parts on Tolkien’s poem “A Walking Song” from the novel, “The Edge of Night” is brought to the screen by Billy Boyd. For better, the film cut down on the many songs that appear in the novel, but the filmmakers chose wisely to incorporate them in select moments.
Denethor, the Steward of Gondor asks Pippin to sing him a song while he feasts. A reluctant Pippin emotionally sings him a tune while Denethor’s least favorite son Faramir goes on a futile mission on the order of his father. Faramir’s men are outnumbered and taken down by Orcs in Minas Tirith. An outcome many including Pippin saw coming, which influences the way he sings the song.
Sung beautifully by Boyd and devised on set by the actor, the scene stands as one of the highlights of the entire trilogy. A different tone than the many battle scenes, made more remarkable by the performance and song.