22 Musicals From The 1980s [Movies & Theater]

Musicals From The 1980s

The 1980s introduced us to a number of great musicals. There was Annie and Dirty Dancing in the movies, and Phantom Of The Opera and Les Miserables in the theater.

Read on for the top musicals from the 1980s.

Musical Movies Of The 1980s

Let's look at the musical movies first, we'll cover theater musicals below.

Dirty Dancing

Possibly one of the best musical movies ever. Dirty Dancing is a coming-of-age story set in the summer of 1963. The story follows Frances “Baby” Houseman, who falls in love with her dance instructor, Johnny Castle, while on vacation with her family.

Eleanor Bergstein wrote the screenplay and later worked on the stage adaptation in 2004. She based the musical on her childhood.

The film stars 80s heartthrobs Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. It was an instant hit, and the song ‘(I've Had) The Time of My Life' won an Academy Award.


Annie is a 1982 musical film based on Harold Gray's comic strip Little Orphan Annie. The story follows Annie, a young orphan in New York City during the Great Depression. Billionaire Oliver Warbucks adopts her, and the musical depicts her changing life and coming of age.

Based on the 1977 play of the same name by Charles Strouse, Annie came out in May 1982 in the United States to instant success. It won a Young Artist Award and received two Academy Award nominations.

The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life is a sketch-form musical comedy by the British sketch group Monty Python. The play deals with themes of life and death in an ironic, witty way. It came out in 1983, and the cast included the classic Monty Python lineup, from Graham Chapman to John Cleese.

The musical wasn't an instant success, and it received mixed reviews, with some critics praising the humor and others criticizing the lack of a cohesive plot. However, it achieved cult status over the years and is now a beloved film.


In 1984, Kevin Bacon starred in Footloose, an Academy Award-nominated film about teenagers living in a small town that doesn't allow dancing. The lead character, Ren, sets out to overturn the ban with his friends.

Footloose did ok at the box office, becoming the seventh highest-grossing film of the year, but it received mixed reviews. However, as the years passed, it became an iconic cult classic and even inspired a remake and a stage production.

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd is a musical thriller. The story revolves around a barber who was wronged, then goes out to look for revenge. Todd, wrongly accused and sent to prison, returns to London to seek vengeance on the judge who imprisoned him and his wife.

Originally a Broadway show written by Stephen Songheim in 1979, the film premiered in 1982 and starred George Hearn as the titular character. In 1985, it garnered five Primetime Emmy award nominations, of which the film won three.


Fame is a musical that follows a group of students at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. It's a play in four acts, each part representing a year of high school, and the play explores their struggles and successes as they pursue their dreams of becoming performers.

Irene Cara led the cast as Coco Hernandez, and she and her friends are involved in music, drama, and dance. The musical film came out in May 1980 and received high praise for top-tier acting and an engaging depiction of high school life.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

MGM's All Dogs Go To Heaven is a classic animated family musical. Released in 1989, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman directed the film, which starred top names like Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, and Charles Nelson Reilly.

The musical follows a dog named Charlie. He dies and returns to life to seek revenge on his killer. Along the way, he befriends a young orphan girl and learns the true meaning of friendship and loyalty. Critics praised the animation and music while commenting on the darker subject matter.

Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots is a musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale. The story follows a talking cat who uses his wit and cunning to help his master, a poor miller's son, win the heart of a princess.

Christopher Walken stars in this 1988 classic film based on the classic tale by Charles Perrault. Michael Abbott composed the hit songs, including ‘A Happy Cat' and ‘Love at First Sight.' It has some cartoonish violence, but the film mostly appeals to kids.


Victor/Victoria is a musical comedy about a struggling soprano who works as a male impersonator. The story explores gender roles and sexuality in a lighthearted and humorous way.

The legendary Julie Andrews stars as the titular character, and her performance drew rave reviews and even a Golden Globe. The 1982 film drew plot inspiration from a 1933 French movie of the same name, and the story later got new life as a Broadway adaptation in 1995.

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors is a musical comedy horror that tells the story of a florist who discovers a plant. This isn’t just any plant though, it’s one that feeds on human blood. The story follows the florist and his love interest as they try to stop the plant from taking over the world.

Franz Oz made this musical in 1986, sourcing from the 1982 play. Little Shop of Horrors was a critical and commercial success, receiving positive reviews for its music, performances, and humor.

A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line is a 1985 musical movie by Richard Attenborough, starring Michael Douglas. It's about a group of dancers auditioning for a spot in a Broadway show. It explores their struggles and successes as they pursue their dreams of becoming performers.

The original 1975 play was a critical and commercial success, receiving numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was high time the story got the film treatment. The movie lived up to expectations and received three Academy Award nominations.

Musicals In Theater During The 1980s

The 1980s were a successful decade in musical theater, with hits like Les Miserables and Cats. Keep reading and learn about the top musical theater productions of the 1980s.

Les Miserables

Drawing inspiration from the classic Victor Hugo novel of the same name, Les Miserables is a musical we now consider iconic. The story follows Jean Valjean, a French peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. It explores themes of justice, love, and redemption.

Les Miserables premiered in London at the Barbican Theatre on October 8, 1985, and it ran for over 7,000 performances, wowing audiences with its memorable songs and elaborate costuming.

The original West End cast included Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean and Michael Ball as Marius. Les Miserables was a critical and commercial success, receiving numerous awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical.

The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera is an epic musical based on Gaston Leroux's novel. The story follows a disfigured musical genius who lives in the Paris Opera House and falls in love with a young soprano.

It premiered in London at Her Majesty's Theatre in 1986 and is still running, making it one of the longest-running shows in history. It was a huge success, winning a Tony Award for Best Musical.

Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music, with lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.

Into the Woods

One of Stephen Sondheim's most famous works, Into the Woods, is a musical that combines various fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk. The story explores the consequences of the characters' wishes and desires and spices up traditional fairy tales.

The musical premiered on Broadway on November 5, 1987. It was on at the Martin Beck Theatre. James Lapine wrote the story, and Sondheim won the production a Tony Award for his sweeping orchestral score.

Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain is a 1983 musical comedy that follows a silent film star and his career. The story explores the challenges of the film industry during the transition from silent films to sound.

Singin' in the Rain premiered in London at the London Palladium in 1983 and inspired many offshoots in the United States and elsewhere. The musical was unique because it took creative liberties with the original film and added some now-beloved songs.


Copperfield is a musical based on the life of Charles Dickens's famous character, David Copperfield. The musical follows David's journey from childhood to adulthood, highlighting his struggles with poverty, career, and relationships.

The musical premiered on April 23, 1981, in London's West End. The book was written by Alvin Cooperman, with music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. The musical ran for 18 months and took liberties with the original book, providing audiences with a new twist on an old story.


One of the most famous musicals of all time, Cats, premiered in London's West End on May 11, 1981. The musical is based on T.S. Eliot's “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats” and features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The story follows a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and their annual meeting, where they decide which cat will ascend to the “Heaviside Layer” and go to a new life. The musical enjoyed decades of success in London and on Broadway.

Pieces of Eight

Pieces of Eight is a swashbuckling adventure musical about pirates and treasure. The musical premiered in 1985 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London's West End.

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Michael Stewart wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Jule Styne. It ran for 56 performances and starred Tim Curry and Bonnie Langford.

The Little Prince and the Aviator

The Little Prince and the Aviator is a musical based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's novella, “The Little Prince.” The musical premiered on October 7, 1981, at the Lyric Theatre in London's West End. The book and lyrics were written by John Taylor, with music by David Myers.

The musical tells the story of a pilot who crashes his plane in the Sahara Desert and meets a young prince from another planet. The little prince tells of his stories traveling around the galaxy.

42nd Street

42nd Street is a musical based on the novel by Bradford Ropes, with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin. The musical premiered on August 25, 1980, at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City.

The musical follows Peggy Sawyer, a young performer who becomes a star on Broadway. The musical received critical acclaim and won several Tony Awards.

Blues in the Night

Blues in the Night is a classic 80s musical featuring blues and jazz music from the 1930s and 1940s. It launched in the summer of 1982 at New York's iconic Rialto Theater.

The musical soundtrack has an authentic feel, with songs by composers like Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith. Critics loved the play, and it got several Tony nominations, and crowds sold out venues.


Poppy is a musical based on the comic strip “The Adventures of Smilin' Jack” by Zack Mosley. The musical premiered on October 13, 1982, at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End. The book and lyrics were written by Dorothy Fields, with music by Charles Strouse.

The musical tells the story of a pilot who travels to China to rescue his girlfriend from the Japanese. It's a comedy set during China's Opium wars. Although it only had 41 performances, it was a hit with audiences. It even won the  Society of West End Theatre Award.

Best Musicals From The 1980s, Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the 1980s were a decade of unique and captivating musicals featuring well-known creative teams and famous actors. Many became critically acclaimed and ran for several years.

Even today, these productions experience revival runs, and some, like Cats and Les Miserables, have been running almost nonstop since the 1980s. We hope you enjoyed this round-up of the top musicals of the 1980s! Next up, why not check musicals from the 1970s or musicals from the 1990s?

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