So you’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Yellow Submarine, and you've realized that you really love weird musical movies. Now you must be asking: what do I watch next? Of course, there's no shortage of movie musicals - there are countless adaptations of glitzy Broadway shows (think Hairspray or Rent) and musical cartoons (Beauty and the Beast, anyone?), but none of them satisfy the sheer weirdness factor that you’re looking for.
Luckily for you, we love wacky musical movies, too, so we've decided to share some of our favorites. From space Western to horror rock opera, we've got all the bases covered - so, sit back and prepare to scratch your head at these seven bizarre, but great, musical movies:
The American Astronaut (2001)
As maybe one of the only movies that can be classified as a sci-fi/Western/musical, The American Astronaut is completely ridiculous – which, in this case, is a great thing. Cory McAbee (whose band, Billy Nayer Show, wrote and performed all of the music in the film) directs and stars as Earth-born space cowboy Samuel Curtis. When Curtis gets a Real Live Girl (the rarest creature in space) from his former dance partner, the Blueberry Pirate, he is chased around the galaxy by his nemesis, the psychotic Professor Hess. Going into this movie, you shouldn’t expect the plot to be intuitive or to have any theatrical precedent; but, you should expect excellent music, creative cinematography, and to be very, very entertained. You probably won’t find it at Blockbuster (wait – do those even exist anymore?), but you can get the DVD through Netflix.
I wish I could have been at the pitch meeting for Toomorrow, because I can only imagine that it went something like this: “In this movie, let’s have a bunch of students, led by Olivia Newton-John, fund their college tuition by playing in a pop group called Toomorrow. Then, to make it interesting, let’s have the band get abducted by aliens because they have a special instrument called a “tonaliser” which gives them the best sound in the galaxy.” Nope - I'm not joking. That's what this movie is about. The film was produced by Don Kirshner, who originally supervised the Monkees’ music on their TV show, and who was allegedly looking to create another pop sensation; however, the movie’s eye-roll-inducing plotline made it a box office flop, and the band never took off. Nonetheless, the film is campy fun, with catchy (if unremarkable) music and an exuberant young Olivia Newton-John. If you’re looking for a lighthearted good time, this movie is just right (and you can see more of it here).
Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (2003)
Imagine that someone took the basic plot of Toomorrow, reversed the roles of the aliens and the humans, and made it an anime: that's the basic idea of Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. In this visualization of the band’s album Discovery, a human music executive kidnaps a blue-skinned alien techno band. After brainwashing them and and disguising them as human, he makes them a mega-hit on Earth. Because Daft Punk collaborated with legendary anime and manga creator Leiji Matsumoto, the movie is filled with beautiful visuals, including psychedelic colors and gravity-defying hair styles. If you’re in the mood for one very long (but very creative) Daft Punk music video (no, really: there is no dialogue and barely any sound in the entire movie other than Daft Punk’s music), you can rent the DVD from Netflix.
Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
When South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were in college (and long before they created the hit Broadway musical Book of Mormon), they made a three-minute trailer for a fake movie called “Alferd Packer” - based on the story of gold-rush era alleged cannibal Alfred Packer - for film class. The trailer was so well-received that they were able to raise $125,000 and made the full-length Cannibal! The Musical during school breaks and weekends. With low production values and a Monty Python-esque sense of humor, the film is an effective (and hilarious) parody of film convention and the Western genre (with lots of visual gags to make sure the "cannibal" aspect of the movie isn't too gory). And, because it was made by Parker and Stone, it features its fair share of ridiculousness – for instance, to mock the way Westerns portrayed Native Americans, the “Indians” are played by Japanese students (who are clearly speaking Japanese). Interested? Look for it on Netflix, both streaming and as a DVD.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
For a hallucinogenic 70s rock opera, Phantom of the Paradise is based on some pretty impressive material, including the Phantom of the Opera, Faust, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The movie has so much going on that it is impossible to summarize, but here's the gist: composer Winslow Leach has his music stolen and is framed for drug dealing by a satanic producer named Swan. After escaping prison (and also badly maiming his face), he returns to haunt Swan’s theater. What’s even more impressive than the movie’s highbrow roots is its music – in fact, it was nominated for an Oscar in the Original Song Score and Adaptation category. Take a look at this clip (you may not understand it, but I guarantee you'll be entertained), and get it from Netflix:
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
If you’re looking for a rock opera about surgery, this is the movie for you; and if you’re looking for a rock opera about surgery that stars Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Anthony Stewart Head) and the girl from Spy Kids (Alexa Vega), all the better (oh yeah, and Paris Hilton’s in it, too). In this take on a dystopian future which originated on stage, widespread surgical addiction has made organ transplants and cosmetic surgery the norm. Mega-corporation GeneCo provides the surgeries, but for a price: if you miss a payment, specialized assassins called Repomen hunt you down to recover the organs. This bloody musical was immediately embraced as a cult hit, prompting three national cast tours. For your fix of Giles, you can stream it on Netflix – but be warned, this movie can be a graphic.
Before it was an uber-catchy Phoenix song heard in every restaurant and bar across the country, Lisztomania mainly referred to the fanatical actions of audiences toward classical composer/Justin Bieber-of-1800s-Hungary Franz Liszt when he played piano live. Ken Russell took the phenomenon one step farther in this acid trip of a movie, which is very loosely based on Liszt’s life. The movie begins with Liszt (played by the Who’s Roger Daltry) entertaining a mistress at the height of Lisztomania, and follows him through a not-so-holy conversion to the clergy. Along the way, there is murder, music, an abundance of phallic imagery (including a 10-foot erection), and even a zombie-Hitler version of Richard Wagner. The movie isn’t on Netflix, but you can order it from Amazon.
These seven weirdo movies are definitely a start, but there are plenty of other bizarre musicals out there. Do you have a favorite to add to the list? Let us know in the comments - we want to watch them!
Oh, Lady Gaga. You're the best.