Golden Globes mystery: How often do musicals win over comedies?

Most moviegoers who witnessed the 2020 Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Palm Springs” probably did not expect that it would be the only traditional comedy nominated for Best Musical or Comedy at this year’s Golden Globes. After all, comedies (and dramedies) have disproportionately dominated the category for the past decade, while only eight musicals have managed to snag bids. However, the 2021 lineup turned out to be another deviation from the norm in a year full of them.

Joining “Palm Springs” is the unconventional mockumentary “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which takes the subversiveness of its predecessor (“Borat,” 2006)  to a whole new level. The other three slots are filled by “The Prom,” a standard musical adaptation of the Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” a live stage recording of the legit hit, and “Music,” an original musical drama. The last time three musicals competed against each other for the top honor was in 2008, and it only happened six times before that.

Whether or not one of this year’s musicals will prevail remains to be seen. We currently predict that “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” will take the trophy, while “Hamilton” ranks right behind it. If music does triumph over comedy this year, it will be the 20th such occurrence since the category as we know it (with nominees) was created for the 1957 Golden Globe Awards.

Here is a look back at previous musicals that bagged the big prize:

2017: “La La Land”
Following his breakthrough hit “Whiplash,” director Damien Chazelle carried out his vision of a completely original 21st century musical film by helming this Golden Globe groundbreaker. With a total of seven wins, including Best Director and Best Screenplay for Chazelle, it holds the record for most Globes claimed by a single film. The comedies it competed against in the top category were “Deadpool,” “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Sing Street,” and “20th Century Women.”

2013: “Les Misérables”
32 years after it originated in France, this stage musical was finally adapted for the big screen. It defeated four comedies: “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway also took home trophies for their acting turns in the film.

2008: “Sweeney Todd”
Tim Burton’s take on this macabre musical triumphed over two other song-filled films: “Across the Universe” and “Hairspray.” As a group, they outnumbered the year’s two comedic competitors, “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Juno.” Burton reaped a bid for Best Director, while Johnny Depp won Best Actor for his portrayal of the title character.

2007: “Dreamgirls”
While Sacha Baron Cohen won Best Actor for the original “Borat,” the film lost the Best Musical or Comedy award to this Broadway adaptation. Supporting players Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson also scored wins, while Beyoncé earned double bids for her lead performance and the original song “Listen.” Joining “Borat” in the loser’s circle were “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Thank You for Smoking.”

2006: “Walk the Line”
This account of the life of musician Johnny Cash brought home all three of the Globes for which it was nominated, including Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix) and Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon). The film won out over the traditional musical “The Producers” and the comedies “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” “Pride & Prejudice,” and “The Squid and the Whale.”

2003: “Chicago”
Two months before it won the Best Picture Oscar, Rob Marshall’s version of this Broadway classic won the equivalent award at the Golden Globes. It stood out as the only musical in its lineup, which included “About a Boy,” “Adaptation,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and “Nicholas Nickleby.” Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere were also victorious in their respective lead acting categories.

2002: “Moulin Rouge!”
The first musical to win the Best Musical or Comedy award this century was also the only one in its lineup, which included the comedies “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Gosford Park,” and “Legally Blonde.” The final slot was taken by “Shrek,” making “Moulin Rouge!” the only live action musical to have ever competed against an animated film in this category. The film won two more awards for Nicole Kidman’s performance and its original score.

Musicals that won the award prior to 2000 were “Evita” (1997), “The Lion King” (1995), “Beauty and the Beast” (1992), “Yentl” (1984), “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1981), “A Star Is Born” (1977), “Cabaret” (1973), “Fiddler on the Roof” (1972), “Oliver!” (1969), “The Sound of Music” (1966), “My Fair Lady” (1965), “Les Girls” (1958), and “The King and I” (1957).

From 1959 to 1963, a separate Best Musical category existed that produced these winners: “Gigi,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Song Without End,” “West Side Story,” and “The Music Man.”

“An American in Paris” (1952), “Carmen Jones” (1955), and “Guys and Dolls” (1956) all won in years when no nominees were announced, while “With a Song in My Heart” won from a lineup full of musicals in 1953.

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