The jukebox musical is a special kind of musical. You still have the songs and the stories that are woven together, but the featured songs are of a particular type.
What exactly is a jukebox musical? In cinema, the jukebox musical is just a musical where most—or all—of the songs are well-known songs from an existing singer or band (rather than original music).
In other words, it's a film that acts like a jukebox of greatest hits, which are all played to a story that somehow brings it all together.
Film critic Andrew Sarris was among the first to use the term "jukebox musical" when he praised Richard Lester's 1964 film A Hard Day's Night as "the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals." (Ironically, that film is no longer considered part of the jukebox genre.)
These days, there are jukebox musicals for everyone. From old-school rock to world-renowned pop, here are my picks for the greatest jukebox musical movies of all time!
12. Rock of Ages (2012)
Directed by Adam Shankman
Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise
Comedy, Drama, Musical (2h 3m)
Like most of the movies on this list, Rock of Ages originated as a stage musical. The Broadway hit, which features numerous tracks from the 1980s, is all about commemorating classic rock and glam metal.
Adam Shankman's movie adaptation unfurls in 1987, where Sherrie (Julianne Hough) leaves her small town in Oklahoma to chase her rock star dreams in Los Angeles. Cue Guns N' Roses.
Sure, it's clichéd, but Rock of Ages prides itself on being a little goofy, with a Hollywood cast that feels almost satirical (including a Tom Cruise who's decked out in leather, fur, and groupies).
11. Across the Universe (2007)
Directed by Julie Taymor
Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson
Drama, Fantasy, History (2h 13m)
Julie Taymor's jukebox musical Across the Universe takes place during the Swinging Sixties, starting in Liverpool and moving across the pond to New Jersey where youngsters are more concerned with the Vietnam War than Liverpudlian guitar players.
Across these two countries, Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) join together in the "throes of young love," basking in a bohemian lifestyle that's devoid of society's rules.
As the band with the most number-one hits of all time, The Beatles have spawned their fair share of jukebox musicals. While Across the Universe isn't the most narratively impressive, it sure does look pretty, sound pretty, and comes with a bunch of fun celebrity cameos.
10. Rocketman (2019)
Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden
Biography, Drama, Music (2h 1m)
After Freddie Mercury's biopic Bohemian Rhapsody showed Hollywood studios that musician biography movies were in, Elton John decided to make his own. But this one isn't your standard drama.
Director Dexter Fletcher infuses Rocketman with a little razzle dazzle as Taron Egerton stars as the eccentric British singer, who spontaneously bursts into song and dance at any given moment.
Elton John's discography is woven throughout the movie, from his dull 1950s upbringing to his glittering stage performances.
Still not convinced to watch? Don't forget that Rocketman was the best-reviewed musical movie of 2019 by Rotten Tomatoes! Elton John's diamante outfits might be eye-catching, but it's Dexter Fletcher's directorial enthusiasm that truly shines.
9. Yesterday (2019)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino
Comedy, Fantasy, Music (1h 56m)
We have another jukebox musical featuring The Beatles, but this one isn't set in the 1960s.
Yesterday takes place in modern-day England, where Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is struggling to captivate an audience with his acoustic guitar. Then, one day, the darndest thing happens...
Following a bus accident, Jack wakes up to find that the world has totally forgotten all about The Beatles. So, his obvious next move? To pawn off all their songs as his own and get rich doing so.
Danny Boyle gets inventive with his filmmaking (as usual) to bring us a unique musical comedy that's perfect for anyone who likes The Beatles—or anyone who just loves to laugh in general!
8. Blinded By the Light (2019)
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Starring Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams
Comedy, Drama, Music (1h 58m)
After Beatlemania died down, there was finally some room for other rock musicians—like Bruce Springsteen, a heartland rocker who saw the genre as of utmost social importance.
Springsteen's songs really spoke to British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, whose feel-good story—of rising up against all odds and prejudice—was made into a musical: Gurinder Chadha's Blinded By the Light.
Viveik Kalra stars as the son of Pakistani migrants in 1980s Luton, who's inspired by Bruce Springsteen's music projected across the street and ends up writing poetry and chasing his dreams.
7. Sing (2016)
Directed by Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane
Animation, Comedy, Family (1h 48m)
Sing is the only animated film on our list, but it's a good one! Whatever you do, don't pass this one over just because it looks for kids.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, and Taron Egerton, Sing's anthropomorphic characters are just lovely to watch.
In the fictional city of Calatonia, animals band together to save a failing theater—by competing in a singing competition.
The musical soundtrack to Sing includes everything from David Bowie to Stevie Wonder, from The Spencer Davis Group to Ariana Grande. It's literally for everyone!
6. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo
Drama, Musical, Romance (2h 7m)
Director Baz Luhrmann is all about glamour and parties, as we've seen in his other films like The Great Gatsby and Elvis. But in 2001, the Australian filmmaker took to cabaret with Moulin Rouge!
The eponymous Parisian theater sets the stage for Satine (Nicole Kidman) to swing around and seduce men. What she doesn't expect is to fall in love with the unassuming writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) who's eager to become a bohemian.
Fun fact: Moulin Rouge! is the final film in Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain Trilogy, which includes Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Romeo + Juliet (1996).
5. All That Jazz (1979)
Directed by Bob Fosse
Starring Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking
Drama, Music, Musical (2h 3m)
What's jazz without work, pain, and love? Sweating trumpeters growing faint with each solo is the hallmark of great jazz music, and it's a dizzying feeling that Bob Fosse can no doubt relate to.
Bob Fosse worked double time back in 1975, trying to edit a movie while staging Chicago on Broadway. That struggle then became the inspiration for All That Jazz.
The semi-autobiographical tale retells a fictionalized version of Bob Fosse's chaotic career, and it went on to win the Palme d'Or and four Academy Awards. All that work certainly paid off!
4. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston
Biography, Drama, Family (2h 6m)
George M. Cohan is widely remembered as "The Man Who Owned Broadway" and his contributions to theater even earned him a statue in Times Square! What better subject to make a musical about?
And so we got Yankee Doodle Dandy, a black-and-white jukebox classic, directed by Michael Curtiz in celebration of Cohan's life.
This is a feel-good, family-friendly musical biography that simply serves to entertain in the same way Cohan did for millions of fans.
Though the film's musical numbers aren't as well-known today, Yankee Doodle Dandy is still a fun movie that's worth watching, especially if you're a theater fan who's interested in industry history.
3. Mamma Mia! (2008)
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried
Comedy, Musical, Romance (1h 48m)
Try to name a more popular jukebox musical film from the 21st century. I bet the first—and likely only—film to come to mind is Mamma Mia!
No surprise seeing this one turned to film, given that Mamma Mia! was originally a successful stage play and a book before Phyllida Lloyd transported us to the lush Greek island of Kalokairi on the big screen.
The film's ensemble cast sings along to ABBA hits in the run up to Sophie's (Amanda Seyfried) wedding day. What Sophie hasn't told her single mother (Meryl Streep) is that she's invited all three of her possible dads...
A wedding is the perfect event for Mamma Mia! to center itself around, as ABBA has long been the go-to wedding party pick for drawing those drunken nights to a close. Next up: Dancing Queen!
2. The Blues Brothers (1980)
Directed by John Landis
Starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cab Calloway
Action, Adventure, Comedy (2h 13m)
Kids these days might not know The Blues Brothers the same way they know Mamma Mia!, but most adults surely do!
John Landis's musical comedy film started as a sketch on Saturday Night Live before going on to become an 80s cult classic.
In The Blues Brothers, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as the blood brothers who try to raise money for an orphanage by reuniting their R&B band. The key word here? Try.
The bluesy Chicago soundtrack features tunes from legends like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker, making The Blues Brothers the perfect mix of humor, blues, and culture.
1. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds
Comedy, Musical, Romance (1h 43m)
"I'm singin' in the rain / Just singin' in the rain!" Is there a chirpier song around? No wonder Gene Kelly was swinging around a lamppost to it (which is now one of the most parodied scenes in movie history).
Singin' in the Rain stars Gene Kelly as a silent film star whose career is put under strain with the advent of "talkies" (i.e., movies with sound and image synchronized).
Gene Kelly also co-directed Singin' in the Rain with Stanley Donen, creating one of the earliest examples of the old-fashioned jukebox musical movie, which is now widely regarded as the greatest musical film of all time.
Although it's now a national treasure in hindsight, Singin' in the Rain was only a modest box office success upon release.