4 Best Movies to Watch by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Staff & contributors

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Herbie Mann, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Tony Lawrence, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

Even if you aren't familiar with the original, Tony Award-winning Broadway production from Lin-Manuel Miranda, this adaptation of In the Heights is still infused with the same infectious energy and loaded with many of the same eclectic songs. This is musical theater at its most fundamental (cheesy, us-against-the-world romance; unstoppable optimism) and also at some of its most unique—with old-school Broadway numbers mixing seamlessly with hip hop, Latin dance, and cheery 2000s pop. But beyond its music, In the Heights offers a gorgeous tapestry of stories about life in a proud immigrant community and the challenges of staying rooted to home while reaching for the stars.

Genre: Drama, Family, Music, Romance

Actor: Anthony Ramos, Ariana Greenblatt, Christopher Jackson, Corey Hawkins, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanco, Dean Scott Vazquez, Gregory Diaz IV, Javier Muñoz, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, Mateo Gómez, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Olivia Perez, Patrick Page, Ryan Woodle, Seth Stewart, Stephanie Beatriz, Susan Pourfar, The Kid Mero, Valentina

Director: Jon M. Chu

With its origins as a full-length rock monologue, it's understandable if Tick, Tick... Boom! comes off as overly concerned with its protagonist's personal anxieties and not the larger social and health crises happening right outside his door. But while it really doesn't offer much insight into the AIDS epidemic, or even the art scene of 1990s New York, the helplessness that Jonathan Larson feels in the face of his own inability to save the world comes off as honest expression nonetheless. Andrew Garfield and a strong cast that includes Robin de Jesús and Vanessa Hudgens give purpose and energy to this somewhat messy character study that still manages to land its emotional beats.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Pascal, Alex Lacamoire, Alexandra Shipp, André De Shields, Andrew Garfield, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Levi Ross, Bernadette Peters, Beth Malone, Bradley Whitford, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chad Beguelin, Chita Rivera, Christopher Jackson, Chuck Cooper, Danielle Ferland, Danny Burstein, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Eddy Lee, Ehizoje Azeke, Eisa Davis, Elizabeth Chestang, Gizel Jimenez, Howard McGillin, Ilia Jessica Castro, Jeanine Tesori, Jelani Alladin, Joanna Adler, Joel Grey, Joel Perez, Jonathan Larson, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Judy Kuhn, Ken Holmes, Laura Benanti, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Shaiman, Mason Versaw, Micaela Diamond, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Nick Blaemire, Phillipa Soo, Phylicia Rashād, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Ricardo Zayas, Richard Kind, Robin de Jesús, Roger Bart, Ryan Vasquez, Sheila Tapia, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Trask, Steven Levenson, Tariq Trotter, Tom Kitt, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Vanessa Hudgens, Wilson Jermaine Heredia

Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Rating: PG-13

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a parody of a parody, a multilayered confection of silliness that befits the musician it celebrates. It's the origin story of Weird Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) but with the surreal and satirical levels cranked up to a hundred. It's easy to get lost then, in the movie's freewheeling giddiness, but Radcliffe has a way of grounding the ultra-heightened comedy with his conviction and charm. The movie also doubles as a who's who in the 1980s music and comedy scene, and the unlikely pairings it brings together keep you entertained and nostalgic for a simpler, weirder time. 

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Music

Actor: 'Weird Al' Yankovic, Akiva Schaffer, Andrew Steven Hernandez, Anthony N., Anthony Nanakornpanom, Arturo Castro, Chad Guerrero, Conan O'Brien, Constantine Rousouli, Daniel Radcliffe, David Bloom, David Dastmalchian, Dean Sharpe, Demetri Martin, Diedrich Bader, Dot-Marie Jones, Emo Philips, Eric Appel, Evan Rachel Wood, Gordon Tarpley, Jack Black, Jack Lancaster, James Brown III, James Preston Rogers, Jimmy Walker Jr., Johnny Pemberton, Jonah Ray, Jonah Ray Rodrigues, Jorma Taccone, Josh Groban, Julianne Nicholson, Julie Chang, Keanush Tafreshi, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael McKean, Mike Escamilla, Nina West, Paloma Esparza Rabinov, Panuvat Anthony Nanakornpanom, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Paul Riley Fox, Quinta Brunson, Rainn Wilson, Richard Aaron Anderson, Rocky Abou-Sakher, Scott Aukerman, Seth Green, Spencer Treat Clark, Thomas Lennon, Toby Huss, Tommy O'Brien, Trenyce, Will Forte, William Guirola

Director: Eric Appel

Rating: TV-14