The release of Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages seems to be a reminder about the existence and success of film musicals, a long-lasting tradition in Hollywood filmmaking. Indeed, in the last few decades, some of the most-talked about movies in terms of financial success and entertainment qualities have been musicals. So, let’s have a look at some musicals, released in recent years, and see if Hollywood executives were right to count on their success.
Let’s start with the one, which seemed to have triggered them all. Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (a tragic love story set during the Bohemian Revolution in Paris) was successful at the box office and critically: it received eight nominations from the Academy that year, becoming the first musical to be nominated for a Best Picture Award in a decade. Still, despite the spectacle it gave to its audience, it approached the musical genre in a different way. Instead of having its own original score, it adapted already popular songs and appropriated them into the story.
A year later, Rob Marshall’s stylish take on a Fosse musical, Chicago, became yet another success. The film received thirteen Academy Award nominations, winning six, including an Oscar for Best Picture that year. Chicago’s dark characters reminded the audience that musicals are not only about struggling dancers or high school students. Apparently, there was still place for the ladies of Murderess’ Row.
Of all recent musicals, this one seems to be a wonderful mixture of stage and screen magic probably because it is based on both a film and a musical of the same name. Although it wasn’t completely unnoticed during the awards season (it received four Golden Globe nominations), it never managed to fully draw the audience’s attention to itself, but it definitely did what it was meant to do: it entertained.
Another screen adaptation of both a stage musical and a film of the same name was Shankman’s Hairspray, a very successful musical connected to hair products with three Golden Globe nominations. However, this was not just a colourful story with funny characters and great music; it also alluded to the issue of segregation in American society at the time, revealing that musicals could approach serious topics in their own way.
When it was announced that Tim Burton had undertaken the task of transferring this stage musical to the screen, it didn’t really seem to be much of a surprise, since he had been waiting for the opportunity for years. I mean, who would be better than Tim Burton with his distinctive style to bring the ominous tale of Sweeney Todd to the screen? The film turned out to be a critical success, when it received three Academy Award nominations, including one for Johnny Depp.
With the release of Les Miserables, directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) it seems that Hollywood is once again turning to the musical for commercial and critical success, as the release date is suspiciously close to the Academy Awards. All we have to do is wait and see if Hollywood studios will be right this time.