'West Side Story' at 60: The 10 best films based on musicals

Kino. West Side Story, USA, 1961, Regie: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, Darsteller: George Chakiris, Eliot Field, Tucker Smith, Russ Tamblyn, David Winters. (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)
It is 60 years since the original film adaptation of West Side Story. (Getty Images)

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The Hollywood hills are alive… with the sound of musicals.

It’s been a bumper year for musical adaptations on the big screen.

We’ve had In The Heights, based on the stage show from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who gave the world Hamilton.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a coming-of-age movie about a teen dreaming of becoming a drag queen, is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Dear Evan Hansen, the movie adaptation of the hit US stage show, arrives on UK screens later this month.

And finally, the big one, Steven Spielberg’s eagerly awaited stab at West Side Story, hits cinemas in December.

Ariana DeBose as Anita in 20th Century Studios' West Side Story (Disney)
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of West Side Story hits cinemas in December. (Disney)

Delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new West Side Story’s release will coincide with the 60th anniversary of the original film.

Read more: Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story drops trailer

The classic 1961 film, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, was a reworking of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name.

Exactly six decades after its release on 18 October, 1961, there is no better time to look back on the greatest movies based on musicals.

1. West Side Story (1961)

Actress Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in a scene from the movie
Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in a scene from 1961's West Side Story. (Getty Images)

It's the story of Tony and Maria and the Sharks versus the Jets as Romeo & Juliet lands on the Upper West Side of 1950s New York, all soundtracked by wonderful songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Even Spielberg will have to go some to match this.

Best song: America

Shop: West Side Story in concert tickets

2. Grease (1978)

1978:  Left to right: actors Jeff Conaway, Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta and Stockard Channing walk arm in arm at a carnival in a still from the film, 'Grease' directed by Randal Kleiser.  (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Grease was the word in 1978. (Getty Images)

The movie became such a phenomenon it's easy to forget that Grease was on the stage before the screen. The performances (John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John throw everything they have into Danny and Sandy) are brill and the music is irresistible, even if (whisper it) Grease 2 is just as good.

Best song: Summer Nights

3. Guys And Dolls (1955)

British actress Jean Simmons and American actor Marlon Brando on the set of Guys and Dolls, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando in Guys And Dolls. (Getty Images)

Someone had the bright idea to hire renowned crooner Frank Sinatra for a musical adaptation and make mumbling Marlon Brando do most of the singing, but somehow it works brilliantly.

Best song: Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat

4. The Sound Of Music (1965)

Julie Andrews portrays Maria von Trapp in a scene from the popular movie musical of 1965, The Sound of Music. Acting as the governess, she sings to her charges while sitting in a pasture.
Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp in The Sound Of Music. (20th Century Fox)

Personally, I prefer Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, in a movie based on a book series not a musical, to her work as Maria von Trapp, but there's no denying the power of this terrific tale of nuns and Nazis.

Best song: Do-Re-Mi

5. Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)

Ellen Greene, Steve Martin and Rick Moranis in a scene from the film 'Little Shop Of Horrors', 1986. (Photo by The Geffen Company/Getty Images)
Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, and Rick Moranis in Little Shop Of Horrors. (Getty Images)

Every comedian of the 1980s – Rick Moranis, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Jim Belushi and Bill Murray – seems to turn up in this dark comedy, but the show is stolen by Steve Martin's deranged dentist, who ends up as plant food for the murderous Audrey II.

Best song: Dentist!

6. Oliver! (1968)

Mark Lester asks for more in Oliver! (Columbia)
Mark Lester asks for more in Oliver!. (Columbia)

Please, sir... can we have some more of this grim and great movie musical that brought Fagin, Bill Sikes and the Artful Dodger to the big screen.

Best song: Oom-Pah-Pah

7. Cabaret (1972)

A poster for Bob Fosse's 1972 drama 'Cabaret' starring Liza Minnelli. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
A poster for Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli. (Getty Images)

Liza Minnelli sizzles as Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse's absolute classic, set in the seedy surroundings of 1930s Berlin's Kit Kat Klub.

Best song: Willkommen

8. My Fair Lady (1964)

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 24: Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in
Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. (Getty Images)

The original stage production, itself based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, featured Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, but Audrey Hepburn took the role for the movie, perhaps the most unlikely cockney flower-seller in film history. She was dubbed for the songs by Marni Nixon.

Best song: I Could Have Danced All Night

9. Les Misérables (2012)

Anne Hathaway in 'Les Misérables'. (Credit: Universal)
Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for her performance in Les Misérables. (Universal)

Do you hear the people sing? Not above the warblings of some of Hollywood's finest. Musicals veteran Hugh Jackman does Jean Valjean justice, Anne Hathaway walked off with an Oscar despite only being in the film for about 10 minutes and Russell Crowe... well, he tries his heart out.

Best song: Who Am I?

Shop: Les Misérables theatre tickets

10. Mamma Mia! (2008)

'Mamma Mia!'. (Credit: Universal)
Meryl Street leads the charge in Mamma Mia!. (Universal)

If Russell Crowe's singing style was slightly unpolished, he's Andrea Bocelli compared to Pierce Brosnan belting out Abba's SOS, a musical cry for help if ever there was one. But it doesn't matter, the film is so much fun any actual musical talent from its cast is deemed totally unnecessary.

Best song: Dancing Queen

Shop: Mamma Mia! theatre tickets

Watch: Stephen Sondheim teases 'surprises' in new West Side Story