18 Best Music & Musicals Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
While barely 90 minutes long, Cold War is epic in scope and a modern testament to what cinema can be. Whether we are feasting our eyes on the decaying post-war landscape of Poland, the patinated streets of East Berlin, or the delicate magic of a historic Paris, Cold War offers its viewers meticulously staged black-and-white beauty, conceived by Polish wunderkind director Paweł Pawlikowski and his trusted cinematographer Łukasz Ża. Winner of a slew of prestigious awards, this is a film made for the silver screen, so we recommend leaving your iPhone on the table and getting your hands on the biggest screen you can muster for watching this. The plot is essentially about the obsessive attraction between musician Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and the young singer Zula (Joanna Kulig), who is recruited as the newest member of the former's state-sponsored folk music band. Cold War follows their impossible love for fourteen years and across many European countries on each side of the Iron Curtain. It is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by dictatorship but also love. A poetic, sexy, and gorgeous movie without a wasted moment. A work of art.

Genre: Drama, Music, Romance, War

Actor: Adam Ferency, Adam Szyszkowski, Adam Woronowicz, Agata Kulesza, Aloïse Sauvage, Borys Szyc, Cedric Kahn, Dražen Šivak, Jeanne Balibar, Joanna Kulig, Slavko Sobin, Tomasz Kot

Director: Paweł Pawlikowski

Rating: R

Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman, an ambitious young jazz drummer striving for greatness, who is edged towards breaking point by the sadism of his teacher and conductor, Terence Fletcher, played expertly by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher insults him, pressures him, and makes him cry in front of all his peers. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who was one of the youngest people to receive a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for the powerful La La Land, the aptly titled Whiplash poses some intense questions about artistry and ambition. Will Andrew survive? Will it lift him to a higher artistic level? Can his tormentor be appeased through accomplishment? It's almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Cherishing the existential artist without giving easy answers, Whiplash is an inspiring watch.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adrian Burks, April Grace, Austin Stowell, C.J. Vana, Calvin C. Winbush, Charlie Ian, Chris Mulkey, Clifton 'Fou Fou' Eddie, Damon Gupton, Henry G. Sanders, J.K. Simmons, Janet Hoskins, Jayson Blair, Jocelyn Ayanna, Joseph Oliveira, Kavita Patil, Keenan Allen, Keenan Henson, Kofi Siriboe, Marcus Henderson, Max Kasch, Melissa Benoist, Michael D. Cohen, Michelle Ruff, Miles Teller, Nate Lang, Paul Reiser, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Stephen Hsu, Suanne Spoke, Tarik Lowe, Tony Baker, Tyler Kimball, Wendee Lee

Director: Damien Chazelle

Rating: R

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster. The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease. This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness. Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears - this is this movie. It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Bobby Baker, Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair, Jennifer Baichwal, Johnny Fay, Justin Trudeau, Nicholas de Pencier, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker

Director: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier

Rating: N/A

If you’ve never seen Walk Hard before but still get déjà vu from just its first 10 minutes, that's the point. This riotous pastiche parodies every musician biopic ever made — and even many that came after it. Its ability to predict the future is thanks to its sharp observation of all the clichés that are typically wheeled out when a musical artist’s life story gets the big screen treatment. Walk Hard skewers everything from the tropes of preternatural musical abilities and galvanizing childhood trauma to the formulaic three-act structure that follows the musician’s rise, inevitable fall, and triumphant rise again.

Absolutely no chances are left unseized to lampoon the genre: the film is told in an incredibly long flashback, for example, and features multiple groan-including moments in which characters say the movie’s title out loud, all but winking at the camera. The danger with a parody is that the joke can get old quickly, but Walk Hard is blessedly full of laughs that would stand up even outside of the spoof framework, displaying incredible devotion to even the most throwaway of jokes (as when The Temptations make a cameo for one five-second gag). Not just a brilliant satire, then, but a terrific comedy of its own.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Herschman, Amber Hay, Angela Little, Cheryl Ladd, Cheryl Tiegs, Chris Parnell, Clement Blake, Conner Rayburn, Craig Robinson, David Doty, David Krumholtz, E.J. Callahan, Ed Helms, Eddie Vedder, Frankie Muniz, Gerry Bednob, Gerry Black, Ghostface Killah, Gregg Lee, Harold Ramis, Ian Roberts, Jack Black, Jack Kehler, Jack McBrayer, Jack White, Jackson Browne, Jacques Slade, Jane Lynch, Jason Schwartzman, Jenna Fischer, Jewel, John C. Reilly, John Ennis, John Maynard, John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Kristen Wiig, Lyle Lovett, Margo Martindale, Martin Starr, Matt Besser, Molly C. Quinn, Morgan Fairchild, Nat Faxon, Neil Ironfield, Odette Annable, Patrick Duffy, Patrick Faucette, Patrick J. Adams, Paul Bates, Paul Feig, Paul Rudd, Philip Rosenthal, Rae Sunshine Lee, Rance Howard, Raymond J. Barry, Ron Tyson, Serria Tawan, Simon Helberg, Skyler Gisondo, Stacey Scowley, Steve Bannos, Terrence Beasor, Tim Bagley, Tim Meadows, Tyler Nilson, Willow Geer

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rating: R

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Jacob Ming-Trent, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, T.J. Atoms, Welker White, William Oliver Watkins

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

From a 1926 play to the iconic 1975 stage musical to Rob Marshall's 2002 extravaganza, Chicag0 has had a strong hold on popular culture. In a way, it's existed almost as long as cinema itself and its transformation across mediums and modes of expression has been well documented. The film carries all the marks of its theatrical predecessors, the expansive sets, the luscious costumes, the sleek characters whose banter and songs alike testify to their great chemistry — there's a lot to admire in such a self-referential spectacle. A black-comedy-fuelled musical about corruption and deceit set during the Jazz Age, Chicago fulfils all its promises. With a stellar ensemble cast featuring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, and John C. Reily, in tandem with dazzling camerawork and most exquisite chiaroscuro lighting, this one brings the stage to the movies. I mean it in the best possible way!

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bill Corsair, Blake McGrath, Brendan Wall, Brittany Gray, Bruce Beaton, Capathia Jenkins, Catherine Chiarelli, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chita Rivera, Christine Baranski, Cliff Saunders, Colm Feore, Conrad Dunn, Cynthia Onrubia, Danielle Rueda-Watts, Darren Lee, Deidre Goodwin, Deirdre Goodwin, Denise Faye, Dominic West, Ekaterina Chtchelkanova, Eve Crawford, Faye Rauw, Gregory Mitchell, Jayne Eastwood, Jeff Clarke, Jeff Pustil, John C. Reilly, Jonathan Whittaker, Joseph Scoren, Karen Holness, Karine Plantadit, Kathryn Zenna, Ken Ard, Laura Dean, Lucy Liu, Marty Moreau, Michelle Johnston, Monique Ganderton, Mya, Nicki Richards, Paul Becker, Queen Latifah, Rebecca Leonard, Renée Zellweger, Rhonda Roberts, Richard Gere, Rick Negron, Rob Smith, Robbie Rox, Robert Montano, Roman Podhora, Roxane Barlow, Sara Ramirez, Sean McCann, Sean Palmer, Sebastian La Cause, Sergio Trujillo, Sheri Godfrey, Steve Behal, Susan Misner, Tara Nicole Hughes, Taye Diggs, Timothy Shew, Vicky Lambert

Director: Rob Marshall

Rating: PG-13

A sweet feel-good movie starring Nick Offerman as a dad who has to deal with his only daughter leaving for college and his record store struggling. The daughter is played by Kiersey Clemons who you might recognize from the show Easy. And Ted Danson has a great role too. This is a relatable and heartwarming movie, one of the best the so-called "indie" genre has known in a long time.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Music

Actor: Alex Reznik, Andrea Morales, Blythe Danner, Harrison Chad, Jeff Tweedy, Kiersey Clemons, Kim Ramirez, Linda Lee McBride, McManus Woodend, Michael Abbott Jr., Nick Offerman, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Rafael Poueriet, Robert Reed Murphy, Sasha Lane, Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Will Rogers

Director: Brett Haley

Rating: PG-13

John Carney, who directed the critically and commercially successful Once, may be the world’s best captor of charm. Begin Again tells the story of a broken-hearted singer who gets discovered by a failed showbiz executive. Their ideas and love for music are all they have to face their failures and bring their creativity to life. The original songs are charming and from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo to Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Adam Levine, and Cee-Lo Green, the cast generate sparkling chemistry and portray the story beautifully. Begin again is a sweet and effortless watch, yet far from being your classic rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Adam Levine, Andrew Sellon, Aya Cash, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green, CeeLo Green, Danielle Brisebois, David Abeles, David Pendleton, Emily Yarbourgh, Eric Burton, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Jen Jacob, Jennifer Li Jackson, Jimmy Palumbo, John Carney, Karen Pittman, Keen Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Kena Onyenjekwe, Maddie Corman, Madison Love, Marco Assante, Mark Ruffalo, Mary Catherine Garrison, Mos Def, Paul Romero, Rob Morrow, Sama Fernands, Shannon Maree Walsh, Shannon Walsh, Simon Delaney, Stacey Maltin, Terry Lewis, Yasiin Bey

Director: John Carney

Rating: R

“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will surprise you no matter how much you thought you knew about the soul singer - not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Dick Gregory, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, James Baldwin, Lisa Simone, Liz Garbus, Nina Simone, Stanley Crouch, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite

Director: Liz Garbus

Rating: Not Rated

This adaptation of a tragedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson might retain the mostly minimal setting of its source material — two rooms in a Chicago recording studio — but the searing performances at its heart more than warrant the translation to the big screen. A ferocious Viola Davis plays the titular ‘Mother of the Blues’, a fiery artist whose diva-ness is powerfully revealed to be a matching of the same transactional energy with which she’s treated by her white managers. 

On a steamy day in the roaring 1920s, one of Ma’s recording sessions morphs into a tinderbox of debate on art, race, and these exploitative power dynamics that exist at their intersection. As her band awaits her characteristically late arrival, its members tease, and then bicker, and finally erupt at one another. The youngest musician, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), is the most hot-headed — in his older band-mates’ eyes, he’s an arrogant young upstart with delusions of grandeur, but Levee’s ambitions are powered by real pain, as revealed in a blistering monologue. The film is unabashedly stagy in many respects, a quality that can work both ways — but, ultimately, the crackling current that runs through Davis and Boseman’s acting gives the movie all the blazing, goosebump-inducing immediacy of a live performance.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Daniel Johnson, Dusan Brown, Glynn Turman, Jeremy Shamos, Jonny Coyne, Joshua Harto, Michael Potts, Quinn VanAntwerp, Taylour Paige, Viola Davis

Director: George C. Wolfe

Rating: R

A Swedish film about a world-famous conductor who suddenly interrupts his career to return alone to his childhood village in Norrland. It doesn't take long before he is asked to come and listen to the fragment of a church choir, which practices every Thursday in the parish hall. "Just come along and give a little bit of good advice". He can't say no, and from that moment, nothing in the village is the same again. The choir develops and grows. He makes both friends and enemies. And he finds love. It's a wonderful movie about faith, values, and the exploration of one's spirit.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: André Sjöberg, Barbro Kollberg, Frida Hallgren, Helen Sjöholm, Helen Sjöholm, Ingela Olsson, Kristina Törnqvist, Lasse Petterson, Lasse Pettersson, Lennart Jähkel, Lennart Jähkel, Michael Nyqvist, Mikael Rahm, Mircea Krishan, Niklas Falk, Per Morberg, Ulla-Britt Norrman-Olsson, Verena Buratti, Ylva Lööf, Ylva Lööf

Director: Kay Pollak

Rating: Not Rated

, 2019

This drama is about two friends attempting to rave in 1994 Scotland, after a recent Thatcher-era law banned the act and all music “characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

Johnno and Spanner, one living in fear of his older brother and the other of his stepfather, want to turn things around by joining their first and probably last rave. They’re introduced to the world of illegal parties, a movement as influential as punk, that in the 1990s was born in reaction to the U.K.’s oppressive policies.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Music

Actor: Amy Manson, Anthony Anderson, Ashley Jackson, Brian Ferguson, Chris Robinson, Christian Ortega, Dave East, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Gemma McElhinney, Kevin Mains, Khalil Everage, Laura Fraser, Lorn Macdonald, Martin Donaghy, Megan Sousa, Neil Leiper, Paul Walter Hauser, Rachel Jackson, Ryan Fletcher, Seandrea Sledge, Stephen McCole, Uzo Aduba

Director: Brian Welsh, Chris Robinson

Rating: N/A

A simple movie about a Scottish country singer with a dream to go to Nashville, U.S.A and reach stardom. It starts with her leaving prison to return to her mom's house, where her kid was being raised in her absence. Heavy stuff, but this girl is determined to let nothing get in the way of realizing her dreams. Will she make it? At what cost? Wild Rose answers those questions with a warm script that's designed to make you feel good without completely misleading you. Think of it as a more grounded A Star is Born.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Mitchell, Aly Bain, Ashley McBryde, Ashley Shelton, Atta Yaqub, Benny Young, Bob Harris, Carolyn Calder, Craig Parkinson, Daisy Littlefield, David McGowan, Gemma McElhinney, Helen Katamba, J. Thomas Bailey, James Harkness, Jamie Sives, Jane Patterson, Janey Godley, Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Kacey Musgraves, Kern Falconer, Louise McCarthy, Martin Docherty, Maryam Hamidi, Matt Costello, Maureen Carr, Neill MacColl, Sophie Okonedo, Tracy Wiles

Director: Tom Harper

Rating: R

A biopic is only as big as the personality at its center, and what a personality Pavarotti had. The Opera singer that crossed into the mainstream from his humble upbringings in Modena, Italy, exuded happiness and had a great outlook on life. And even as the attention he would eventually attract takes its tole, he's able to maintain his positivity and his dedication to his art. This documentary on his life and his work will be even more interesting to you if like me you didn't know who Pavarotti was, or the impact he's had.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Andrea Griminelli, Angela Gheorghiu, Bono, Harvey Goldsmith, José Carreras, Lang Lang, Luciano Pavarotti, Madelyn Renée Monti, Nicoletta Mantovani, Plácido Domingo, Vittorio Grigolo, Zubin Mehta

Director: Ron Howard

Rating: PG-13