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7 Magical moments in modern movie musicals

Listicle by: I’m Nica Glorioso

Movie musicals are one of the most popular genres of film, and with good reason! There is something wonderful and magical in the way a movie can marry gorgeous music with all the charm of storytelling and leave us with our hearts swelling, our endorphins flowing, and our hands reaching for a dream (or a tissue!).

If you’re looking to capture or relive that feeling, below is a list of some of the most beautiful and emotional moments from a handful of beloved musical films in recent Hollywood history. Not all moments are sung performances, but each one is guaranteed to linger in our minds long after the credits have rolled.

I’ll Never Love Again, A Star is Born (2018)

I’ll Never Love Again, A Star is Born (2018)

Lady Gaga’s acclaimed portrayal of Ally Maine in Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” is exceptionally heart-wrenching as she sings “I’ll Never Love Again” to honor her husband who had just taken his own life. Interspersed with flashbacks to Ally and Jackson Maine (Cooper)’s relationship, the performance starts with Ally singing as if she’s seconds away from dissolving into tears. She manages to power through as the song builds to a strong, cathartic climax of mournful vulnerability as she sings about never loving anyone again. If Gaga’s stunning vocals and pained expressions didn’t get you sobbing, the sudden cut to a flashback of Jack singing the final chorus as Ally tearfully leans over the piano definitely should. The very human experience of love and grief, hand-in-hand, radiates through each note and each frame of the performance. It’s no wonder this song became the film’s second song to win the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media in 2020.

Tightrope, The Greatest Showman (2017)

Tightrope, The Greatest Showman (2017)

Masterfully created by composer duo Pasek and Paul, the soundtrack of Michael Gracey’s “The Greatest Showman” features heavy-hitter songs like “This Is Me” and “Rewrite the Stars.” Some songs in the stacked album ultimately fall under the radar, but “Tightrope” is a song and a performance of quiet elegance just as evocative as the film’s flagship anthems. Singing about the lengths she would go for love, the risks she’s willing to take for “an adventure with a breathtaking view,” Charity (Michelle Williams), wife of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), dances across her home with the shadow of a partner that ultimately disappears. Williams lends a sense of sorrow to an otherwise lyrically hopeful song as the film juxtaposes the success of Barnum and Lind’s tour with the harassment of the circus troupe and the growing distance between Charity and her husband. Highlighting Williams’ dramatic acting prowess and delicate but strong vocals, “Tightrope” is stirring, and powerful in its grace and emotional storytelling.

Husavik (My Hometown), Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

Husavik (My Hometown), Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

No other description of this film written by Will Ferrell comes close to one of Richard Johnson’s comments on the YouTube video of “Husavik”: “This movie is a rollercoaster of stupidity, comedy, then complete and total beauty.” Among the grand musical performances in the film, “Husavik” stands out as a breathtaking ballad and ode to the small Icelandic town of Húsavík, where protagonists and musical duo Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams) reside. The song was originally sung by Molly Sanden but performed by McAdams’ Sigrit in the film. Showstopping vocals, dazzling lights and cinematography, a genuine performance by both leads and heartfelt lyrics about the beauty of Húsavík and its “gentle people” make for a staggering scene in a movie where elves murder the antagonist. The song is a powerful end to a mostly ridiculous musical comedy. Lauded by critics, media, and audiences alike, “Husavik” is well-loved and well-honored, but no honor seems greater than the town it was named after taking it on as a “de facto local anthem.”

A Step You Can’t Take Back, Begin Again (2013)

A Step You Can’t Take Back, Begin Again (2013)

Starting raw and stripped down, “A Step You Can’t Take Back” is a low-key bar performance by a tearful, young singer-songwriter Gretta James (Keira Knightley) from John Carney’s “Begin Again.” At the same bar, recently-fired music executive Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) envisions what the song would be like if it was professionally produced. He imagines the instruments on stage coming to life and playing on their own, accompanying Gretta as she sings the climax of the song. It’s a charming performance by Ruffalo and Knightley alike and a brilliant representation of possibilities and how musicians make
beautiful music.

I’m not going to pretend Knightley’s surprisingly sweet vocals are the star of the show. But this scene encapsulates what it’s like to have a dream, a vision, and to feel a sense of excitement at the prospect of fulfilling it. The song’s lyrics may read somewhat bleak, but the melodic and hopeful trajectory “A Step You Can’t Take Back” takes sets the perfect foundation for the musical magic Gretta and Dan were about to create.

Planetarium, La La Land (2016)

Planetarium, La La Land (2016)

The widely acclaimed “La La Land” is a musical masterpiece, we all know that much. It successfully brings music, romance, and dreams together into a captivating concoction and tops it all off with a dash of bittersweet realities and Old Hollywood charm. Justin Hurwitz’s “Planetarium” is a whimsical backdrop to Mia’s (Emma Stone) and Seb’s (Ryan Gosling) romantic night in the Griffith Observatory. The two begin a waltz, eventually ending up in the planetarium where they suddenly float up to the sky and dance among a blanket of stars. The instrumental taking on a classic Hollywood sound, the stars representing possibilities, and the graceful dancing all result in a riveting, timeless fantasy. “Planetarium” is understated compared to other moments in the film, but in its wordless wonder, it perfectly captures what we love so much about the blend of movie and music and the magic it creates.

Louder Than Words, Tick, Tick…Boom! (2021)

Louder Than Words, Tick, Tick…Boom! (2021)

Everyone knows Andrew Garfield can act. Fewer people knew he could sing, let alone in a way that blows everyone out of the water. Helmed by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his film directorial debut, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” weaves together music, relationships, struggle, and the fragility of life in a biographical film about late musician and playwright Jonathan Larson. “Louder Than Words,” Larson’s final performance, channels classic musical theater—impassioned, dynamic, and gloriously heartfelt. Accompanied by the mighty voices of Joshua Henry as Roger Bart and Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa Johnson, Larson tearfully and almost desperately sings incendiary lyrics questioning the actions and inaction of humanity. As the song reaches its final crescendo, it fades away to Larson playing “Happy Birthday” on the piano, intercut with scenes of him celebrating his birthday with his friends. “Louder Than Words” caps off a wonderful tribute to an artist and musical theater and leaves audiences with a watery smile on their faces.

So Close, Enchanted (2007)

So Close, Enchanted (2007)

“That’s How You Know” and “True Love’s Kiss” from “Enchanted” are classic Disney songs memorized by most of the population. But another magical moment from this feel-good film happens during the costume ball as Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert (Patrick Dempsey) waltz to “So Close,” a wistful, moving song performed by Jon McLaughlin. A dreamy sigh always leaves my mouth when they take the first sweeping step. The song perfectly telegraphs their inner thoughts about each other as the yearning on Giselle and Robert’s faces turns into pure joy in love. McLaughlin’s smooth voice, paired with the waltz and impeccable chemistry between the leads, makes for a lovely, tender moment of romance. If that wasn’t enough, Robert—cynical, stick-in-the-mud, “I don’t sing” Robert—softly sings the lyrics to Giselle, cementing our faith in the possibility of fairytales and happily ever afters.



Nica Glorioso is a 22-year-old fresh graduate, writer, and self-proclaimed pop culture connoisseur.



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