The Best Movies About Plays and Backstage Stories

Everyone loves a good behind-the-scenes look into the world of live performance, and there are plenty of movies about the blood, sweat, tears and laughter that goes into the making of a show. Whether it’s a musical, drama, horror, or comedy, BroadwayWorld is pulling back the curtain on some of the best movies about backstage stories!

Children of Paradise (1945)

Considered to be one of the best French movies of all time, Children of Paradise (original French title Les Enfants du Paradis) is a two-part drama directed by Marcel Carné. The movie was produced during the German occupation of France during World War II. Set in the theatrical world of 1830s Paris, Children of Paradise tells the story of a courtesan, Garance (Arletty), and the four men who love her – the mime Baptiste Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault), the actor Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), the thief Pierre François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), and the aristocrat Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou). Children of Paradise was the third most popular film at the French box-office in 1945. The screenplay, written by Jacques Prévert’s was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay at the 19th Academy Awards.

All About Eve (1950)

Considered to be one of the best movies of all time, All About Eve stars Bette Davis as aging Broadway star Margo Channing, and Anne Baxter as the ambitious Eve Harrington, a young upstart and fan of Channing, who worms her way into Channing’s life, threatening Channing’s career and relationships. All About Eve also stars George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Thelma Ritter, and Hugh Marlowe, and features Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest roles. All About Eve received a record 14 Oscar nominations, and won six, including Best Picture. All About Eve is the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for Best Actress, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress). All About Eve was selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

You may not know that one of the most famous movie lines in history comes from All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

The Band Wagon (1953)

Considered to be one of MGM’s best musicals, The Band Wagon, directed by Vincente Minnelli, stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, and features choreography by Michael Kidd. The Band Wagon tells the story of aging musical star Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) who hopes a Broadway show, written by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) will restart his career, but he clashes with the show’s director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) and leading lady Gaby Gerard (Cyd Charisse). The Band Wagon features standards including “That’s Entertainment!” and “Dancing in the Dark”. The Band Wagon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Michael Jackson pays tribute to The Band Wagon in his music videos for “Smooth Criminal” and “You Rock My World”.

The Producers (1967)

The Producers was written and directed by Mel Brooks in his directorial debut! The producers follows a past-his-prime Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his accountant Leopold “Leo” Bloom (Gene Wilder). Bialystock discovers that a producer can make more money with a flop than a hit by overselling shares in the production, because no one will audit the books of a play that appears to have lost money. Bialystock and Bloom then create a scheme to produce a musical that will flop and close on opening night, allowing them to avoid payouts and flee with the money. Mel Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The Producers was adapted into the 2001 hit Broadway musical, one of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time.

All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz, written by Robert Alan Aurthur and Bob Fosse, and directed by Fosse, is a semi-autobiographical fantasy based on dancer/choreographer/director Bob Fosse‘s life and career. All That Jazz was inspired by Fosse’s experience editing his film Lenny, about comedian Lenny Bruce, while simultaneously staging the 1975 musical Chicago on Broadway. All That Jazz stars Roy Scheider, Keith Gordon, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ben Vereen, Cliff Gornman, and Ann Reinking, who starred as a character based off herself, and her real-life experience as Fosse’s girlfriend and muse. All That Jazz was nominated for nine Oscars, winning four: Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. All That Jazz was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Fame (1980)

Fame, directed by Alan Parker takes place in New York City’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the performing arts, following the students from their audition through their freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years. Starring Irene Cara, Debbie Allen, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Antonia Franceschi, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller, Gene Anthony Ray and more, Fame features a soundtrack of hits including “Fame,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” “Out Here on My Own” and more. Fame received two Oscars for Best Original Song (“Fame”) and Best Original Score, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song (“Fame”).

Noises Off (1992)

Noises Off, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, is based on the 1982 play of the same name by Michael Frayn. It’s all-star cast features Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Marilu Henner, Nicollette Sheridan, Julie Hagerty Mark Linn-Baker, and Denholm Elliott. Noises Off follows a theatrical troupe as they prepare to make the American debut of a British farce called Nothing On. Amid rehearsals and performances that include missed lines, cues, props, and personal problems backstage, the troupe manages to get their act together for their Broadway debut, and the show becomes a big hit.

Noises Off received a Broadway revival in 2015.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Moulin Rouge! is a jukebox musical movie directed, produced, and co-written by Baz Luhrmann. Moulin Rouge! tells the story of Christian, a young poet, who falls in love with the star of the Moulin Rouge, Satine. Satine has been promised by the manager of the Moulin Rouge to a Duke in return for funding his next production, however, Christian and Satine continue to meet in secret as they prepare to put on Christian’s play Spectacular Spectacular at the Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge! stars Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, Jacek Koman and Caroline O’Connor featured in supporting roles. The film received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Picture, and won two.

Moulin Rouge! was adapted into a Broadway musical, which premiered in 2019.

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

The Phantom of the Opera movie, a film adaptation of the longest running Broadway musical of all time, stars Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, and Jennifer Ellison, and is directed by Joel Schumacher. The Phantom of the Opera takes place in 1919 in a Paris opera house, and follows Christine Daaé, a young dancer in the ensemble of an opera, who steps into the opera’s leading role as she reveals she is being tutored by someone she calls “Angel of Music”. The the masked Opera Ghost, known as the “Phantom”, is in love with Christine. Christine, meanwhile, falls in love with her childhood friend Raoul, and the Phantom terrorizes the opera company. Christine steps into the lead role in the Phantom’s opera, and Raoul and the opera managers make a plan to catch the Phantom. The Phantom abducts Christine and sets fire to the opera house, but ultimately lets Christine go into the arms of Raoul, while he himself escapes. The Phantom of the Opera was nominated for Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Song.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bó, is a black comedy drama that stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a past his prime Hollywood actor known for starring as superhero “Birdman”. The movie follows Thomson as he struggles to put on a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Alongise Michael Keaton, Birdman features Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts. Birdman was nomination for nine oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

Shirley McQuay

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