With across-the-board raves Damien Chazelle‘s musical romance “La La Land” enters this awards season an undisputed juggernaut. The picture, which has swept one audience after another off its feet, is on track to garner upwards of a dozen Oscar nominations, including bids for stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Collectively, our Oscar experts predict that “La La Land” is far out in front to win Best Picture. Should it prevail, it will be only the 11th musical to do so.
Let’s take a look back at the 10 other tune-filled films to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Then be sure to cast your vote for the best of the best in our poll at the bottom of the post.
The first tuner to win did so at the second-ever Oscar ceremony. Harry Beaumont‘s pre-Code “The Broadway Melody” was also the first sound film to win Best Picture. The highest grossing film of 1929, this MGM production was about a pair of sisters from the vaudeville circuit trying to matke it big time on Broadway, but matters of the heart complicate the attempt. It scored two other nominations as well, in Best Director and Best Actress (Bessie Love), but failed to win either, as Frank Lloyd (“The Divine Lady”) and Mary Pickford (“Coquette”) grabbed those respective prizes.
Seven years later, in 1936, another splashy, big-budget MGM release prevailed in Best Picture. Robert Z. Leonard‘s “The Great Ziegfeld,” a biopic of the Broadway showman Florenz Ziegfeld (played by William Powell) was one of the highest-grossing motion pictures of the entire decade. It received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Luise Rainer) and Best Original Screenplay (William Anthony McGuire). On Oscar night, the film mustered two additional wins beyond Best Picture, for Rainer (in her first of two consecutive victories) and Seymour Felix (in the short-lived Best Dance Direction category). Leonard came up short to Frank Capra, who scored his second of three career Best Director Oscars for “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.”
In 1944, another gigantic hit of a musical – the highest grossing film of the year – won Best Picture. “Going My Way,” directed by Leo McCarey (who’d won the Best Director prize in 1937 for “The Awful Truth”), was a superb vehicle for leading man Bing Crosby, who, from 1944 to 1948, was ranked the top box office draw in the world. Nominated for 10 prizes, this Paramount production about a youthful priest steamrolled on Oscar night, picking up seven, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Crosby), Best Supporting Actor (Barry Fitzgerald, who was also nominated in Lead for this role and would inspire a rules change to prevent such double nods), Best Adapted Screenplay (Frank Butler and Frank Cavett), Best Story (a category eliminated after the 1956 ceremony, won here by McCarey) and Best Original Song (“Swinging on a Star,” composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke).
Another MGM musical scored a Best Picture win in 1951, Vincente Minnelli‘s “An American in Paris.” Inspired by George Gershwin‘s 1928 orchestral composition, the film, which paired the actor and choreographer Gene Kelly in the title role with newcomer Leslie Caron, earned eight Oscar nominations. Despite stiff competition from starry dramas “A Place in the Sun” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “An American in Paris” won six races. Besides Best Picture, it took home Best Original Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner), Best Cinematography (Alfred Gilks and John Alton), Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, E. Preston Ames, Edwin B. Willis and F. Keogh Gleason), Best Costume Design (Orry-Kelly, Walter Plunkett and Irene Sharaff) and Best Musical Scoring (Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin). In the Best Director category, Minnelli fell to George Stevens, winning his first of two career Oscars for “A Place in the Sun.”
From 1958 to 1968, musicals would prove an especially powerful force to be reckoned with at the Oscars. During this period, five films in the genre scored Best Picture, four of them based on previous Broadway smashes.
The first of these was yet another MGM production directed by Minnelli, written by Lerner and headlined by Caron. “Gigi,” based on the 1944 novella by Colette, broke Oscar records at the time by going nine for nine. (The following year, “Ben-Hur” would shatter that record with 11 victories.) The wins for “Gigi” included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction (E. Preston Ames, F. Keogh Gleason, Henry Grace and William A. Horning), Best Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), Best Film Editing (Adrienne Fazan), Best Original Score (Andre Previn) and Best Original Song (“Gigi,” composed by Lerner and Frederick Loewe).
Three years later, in 1961, directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins sent audiences and academy members head-over-heels for “West Side Story.” Based on the Tony-winning 1957 Broadway musical, which was inspired by William Shakespeare‘s “Romeo and Juliet,” the film was an enormous critical and financial success – the second-highest grossing picture of the year behind Disney’s “101 Dalmations.” Nominated for 11 Oscars, the film nearly scored wins on all of them, with the exception of Best Adapted Screenplay, which went to “Judgment at Nuremberg.” The victories included Best Picture, Best Director (the first team effort to win the prize), Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Best Cinematography (Daniel L. Fapp), Best Art Direction (Boris Levan and Victor A. Gangelin), Best Costume Design (Irene Sharaff), Best Sound (Fred Hynes and Gordon Sawyer), Best Film Editing (Thomas Stanford) and Best Musical Scoring (Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal).
The Academy’s affection for musicals continued another three years later, as George Cukor‘s “My Fair Lady” defeated rival musical “Mary Poppins” to garner the Best Picture prize. Adapted from the Tony-winning 1956 Broadway musical, which was based on George Bernard Shaw‘s “Pygmalion,” “My Fair Lady” a dozen bids on Oscar nominations morning (but leading lady Audrey Hepburn was snubbed). On awards night, it garnered eight wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Rex Harrison, who’d also won a Tony for the role), Best Cinematography (Harry Stradling, Sr.), Best Art Direction (Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton and George James Hopkins), Best Costume Design (Beaton again), Best Sound (George Groves) and Best Musical Scoring (Andre Previn).
While the Julie Andrews-headlined “Mary Poppins” may have come up short in Best Picture in 1964, such would not be the case with the following year’s “The Sound of Music.” Produced and directed by Wise and adapted from the Tony-winning 1959 Broadway musical about a novice nun and a singing brood of children, the picture proved an immense commercial success, emerging as the highest-grossing film of 1965 and the following year breaking the domestic box office record set by “Gone with the Wind.” It received 10 Oscar nominations and ultimately won half – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound Mixing (James Corcoran and Fred Hynes), Best Film Editing (William H. Reynolds) and Best Musical Scoring (Irwin Kostal). Andrews, who had prevailed for “Mary Poppins,” lost Best Actress to Julie Christie in “Darling.”
The final musical winner of this era was Carol Reed‘s “Oliver!,” which in 1968 won Best Picture over another enormously popular stage-to-screen adaptation, William Wyler‘s “Funny Girl.” The Reed film, based on the stage production (which arrived on Broadway in 1963 but first debuted in London three years earlier) based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” was nominated for 11 Oscars and prevailed in half a dozen categories – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Musical Scoring (John Green), Best Art Direction (John Box and Terence Marsh) and Best Sound (Buster Ambler, John Cox, Jim Groom, Bob Jones and Tony Dawe). Since the establishment of the MPAA rating system in 1968, “Oliver!” is the only G-rated film to garner the Best Picture prize.
In the 34 years following the “Oliver!” victory, musicals would not be quite as warmly received by the Academy. A handful of movie musicals were nominated in Best Picture – “Hello, Dolly!,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Moulin Rouge!” – and while all of these films went home with Oscars, none managed to capture the top prize.
This streak of bad luck came to a resounding end in 2002, with the release of Rob Marshall‘s “Chicago.” Based on the 1975 Bob Fosse musical about a murderous pair, which was revived to Tony-winning success on Broadway in 1996, “Chicago” garnered an lucky 13 Oscar nominations, not to mention more than $170 million at the domestic box office. While Marshall was defeated in Best Director by Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”), “Chicago” achieved victories in Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Best Art Direction (John Myhre and Gordon Sim), Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood), Best Film Editing (Martin Walsh) and Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Dominick Tavella and David Lee).
In the years since “Chicago,” only one musical has garnered a nomination in Best Picture – Tom Hooper‘s 2012 film adaptation of “Les Miserables.” “Dreamgirls,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Nine” have scored Oscar bids elsewhere but not in the top category.
Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. How do you think “La La Land” will fare with academy voters? Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how this film is faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before nominations are announced on January 24 at 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET. Be sure to read our contest rules. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.