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La La Land and Oscar's History with the Movie Musical
With 14 Oscar nominations, Damien Chazelle's hit musical La La Land has already made history — tying All About Eve and Titanic with the most nods amassed by a single film.
It's poised to continue making a run in the history books if it wins — becoming the first movie musical to nab Best Picture in 14 years and the first movie musical in nearly six decades that wasn't adapted from a stage musical.
La La Land is just the latest in a long tradition of movie musicals that have caught Oscar's fancy: Here's a tour of the 10 movie musicals that have won Best Picture.
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The Broadway Melody (1929)
The first "talkie" to win the Oscar for Best Picutre was 1929s The Broadway Melody — representing a huge step forward in the industry and for movie musicals. MGM's first musical, its success would pave a path for some of the big-screen's best movie musicals like The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis and Singin' in the Rain.
Featuring music by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, The Broadway Melody starred Anita Page, Bessie Love and Charles King as vaudville performers and songwriters trying to get their big break on the Great White Way.
It beat out dramas like Alibi, In Old Arizona and The Patriot — and one musical, Hollywood Review — in what was only the Academy's second annual awards.
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The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Following the life and career of Ziegfeld Follies creator Florenz "Flo" Ziegfeld Jr., the extravagant The Great Ziegfeld took home Best Picture at the nineth annual Oscars — beating a whopping nine nominees including Anthony Adverse, Dodsworth, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, The Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities, and fellow musicals San Francisco and Three Smart Girls.
Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy and Best Actress winner Luise Rainer, the film is packed with grand musical numbers and extravagant costumes. It spawned two sequels — 1941's Ziegfeld Girl (with James Stewart and Judy Garland) and 1946's Ziegfeld Follies (directed by Garland's husband and Liza's dad, Vincente Minnelli).
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Going My Way (1944)
The movie musical hit its stride in the 1940s. But 1944 saw only one movie musical nominated for Best Picture: Going My Way, which went up against dramas Double Indemnity, Gaslight, Since You Went Away and Wilson.
It was the highest-grossing film of the year, and launched a musical career for its star Bing Crosby — who played a priest in a troubled New York City parish. The film was such a success, Paramount Pictures followed it up with a sequel the next year called The Bells of St. Mary's.
In addition to being one of the 10 movie musicals to claim Oscar's biggest prize, Going My Way is also considered one of very few comedic films to earn the Academy's highest honor.
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An American in Paris (1951)
The '50s were the last decade of the classic Hollywood musical, and there was no bigger star than Gene Kelly — who took home an honorary Oscar (his only) for his triple-threat talents in An American in Paris.
The musical masterpiece, about two friends who fall for the same Parisian woman, features a score by George Gershwin with classic songs like "Embraceable You," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "I Got Rhythm" and " 'S Wonderful." It's best known for its breathtaking 17-minute final ballet sequence that reportedly cost half a million dollars to produce.
Nominated alongside A Streetcar Named Desire, A Place in the Sun, Decision Before Dawn and Quo Vadis, the film took home six Academy Awards but lost two including one for director Vincente Minnelli. It was adapted for the stage in a 2015 Broadway musical.
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Vincente Minnelli may have lost for An American in Paris, but he picked up an Oscar for directing 1958's Gigi — which would set records with nine overall wins, including Best Picture. It beat out Auntie Mame, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones and Separate Tables.
Billed as "A New Fair Lady," the film brought Broadway songwriters Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe to the big screen after their 1956 musical My Fair Lady had swept the Tony Awards. Their 14 original Gigi songs spurred hits like "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and "The Night They Invented Champagne."
Based on Colette's 1944 novella of the same name, Gigi tells the story of an unlikely courtship between a young girl (Leslie Caron) and a wealthy Parisian playboy (Louis Jourdain). It was adapted for the stage in 1973, and again in 2015 in a production starring Vanessa Hudgens.
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West Side Story (1961)
By the '60s, musicals were big business – resulting in four Best Picture winners including 1961's West Side Story, which took home 10 Oscars and beat out Fanny, The Guns of Navorone, The Hustler and Judgment at Nuremberg.
Adapted from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's 1957 Broadway musical, itself based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the film tells the tale of star-crossed New York City lovers from opposite sides of their neighborhood. Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Rita Moreno starred, with Jerome Robbins co-directing (and recreating his iconic finger-snapping choreography from the stage).
Earning 10 of the 11 awards it was nominated for — the most of any movie musical until then — West Side Story received high praise from critics and audiences alike, becoming the second-highest-grossing film of the year. Today it is still considered one of the gold standards in stage-to-screen transfers.
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My Fair Lady (1964)
It took less than 10 years for Lerner and Loewe's hit 1956 stage musical My Fair Lady to make the jump to the big screen. Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 stage play Pygmalion, it tells the story of arrogant phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) who sets out to turn a poor Cockney flower seller named Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) into a proper English high-society woman.
The film won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, triumphing over Becket, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Mary Poppins and Zorba the Greek.
Harrison also picked up a Best Actor trophy for the film, reprising his role from the original Broadway show. Hepburn famously wasn't nominated for Best Actress — the award went to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins. It was ironic considering Andrews originated Eliza Doolittle on Broadway, opposite Harrison.
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The Sound of Music (1965)
Julie Andrews may have missed out on My Fair Lady, but she later scored what would become one of the most iconic roles of her career in The Sound of Music — the 1965 film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1959 Tony-winning stage musical.
She played Maria, a young Austrian nun-in-training who becomes the governess to the seven children of a retired naval officer (Christopher Plummer).
The film was the highest-grossing of the year, and despite mixed critical reviews, it would take home five Oscars including Best Picture. The competition? Darling, Dr. Zhivago, Ship of Fools and A Thousand Clowns. (Andrews would lose Best Actress to Darling's Julie Christie.)
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The last of the '60s big-screen musicals to nab the Best Picture title was Oliver! — which would take home six awards at the 41st Academy Awards including one for director Carol Reed and an honorary one for choreographer Onna White.
An adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel Oliver Twist, Lionel Bart's stage musical originally premiered in London in 1960 and Broadway in 1963. The film starred Mark Lester as the titular orphan, Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger and Ron Moody as experienced thief Fagin (Wild and Moody were both Oscar-nominated).
Oliver! beat The Lion in Winter, Romeo and Juliet, Rachel, Rachel and one other movie musical for Oscar's top prize —Funny Girl. While Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's musical didn't clinch the title, the film did score its star Barbra Streisand a Best Actress win — in a historic tie with The Lion in Winter's Katharine Hepburn.
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Though Hello, Dolly! (1969), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Cabaret (1972), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Moulin Rouge! (2001) all received Best Picture nominations, another movie musical wouldn't take home the Oscar until Chicago in 2003 — the art form all but vanishing from cinemas after a string of flops in the '70s and '80s.
Directed by Rob Marshall, the film is an adaptation of John Kander and Fred Ebb's 1975 stage musical about two murderous women in the 1920s whose crimes lead to their celebrity (its 1996 Tony-winning revival is still playing on Broadway).
Chicago won six Oscars, including one for star Catherine-Zeta Jones (Renée Zellweger, John C. Reilly, and Queen Latifah were all Oscar-nominated for their performances — while star Richard Gere, who won the Golden Globe for his role, was one of the year's biggest snubs).
It beat Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Pianist.
In the years between Chicago and La La Land's release, only 2012's Les Misérables was able to score a Best Picture nomination. For fans of movie musicals, here's hoping the gap to Oscar glory narrows in years to come.
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