Growing up, my connection with my father was our mutual love of all things film, theater and music, so movie musicals have a special place in my heart. Despite having no real talent, I even managed to act in a couple of school productions, before realizing my place was on the sidelines, as a writer. It was difficult for me, but I managed to narrow down my favorite movie musicals, in honor of Les Miserables coming to screens this Christmas and the recent release of Pitch Perfect. (I’ve limited it to live action films, otherwise this list would have been 100% Disney animation.)

Hairspray (2007)

From John Waters’ slightly scandalous flick, to Broadway, and back to the big screen, this story has seen quite a few changes. However, it remains the tale of a big-boned girl with musical dreams and a blind eye towards the racist views of 1960s Baltimore. The most recent adaptation featured a brand new face in the starring role of Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky, who has since disappeared from the public eye) supported by an all-star cast (Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Brittany Snow, Allison Janney, James Marsden, and John Travolta).

The film follows a simple plot with innuendo-filled tunes and a few riveting moments, namely those where Tracy is met with adversity due to her weight, and later when she stands up for civil rights. She meets a number of kooky characters along the way, like Miss Motormouth Maybelle (Latifah), from whom she learns about racial segregation. In the end, all Tracy wants to do is dance, and despite the odds she gets to, and even manages to get the guy (Efron) and possibly change the future of broadcast television, at least as far as Maryland was concerned.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The oldest movie on this list is a cult classic that began as a small, British play, and became the longest-running film ever. The man behind the musical, Richard O’Brien, had the idea to take the typical cheesy, low-budget horror/sci-fi films (like The Blob) and make a kooky parody poking fun at their unintentional humor, and add in some rock music for good measure. Blend all of that together and you have The Rocky Horror Show, which was subsequently adapted for the big screen.

Though it didn’t go over well with audiences initially, the eventual tradition of midnight screenings became a staple in the late 70s and early 80s, and is still around today. It’s hard not to be captivated by Tim Curry as the transvestite Frank N Furter, the role that launched him as a star. Also featured are Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as Janet and Brad, the unsuspecting couple that stumbles upon Frank N Furter and his band of misfits. What ensues is pure, ridiculous fun, and though it can be a bit absurd, no one can deny enjoying themselves when watching, especially if they have the chance to participate in one of the famed late-night showings that are still going on to this day, if you look hard enough for one.

Across the Universe (2007)

A love of The Beatles is another thing my dad passed onto me, and though I may be chastised for this choice, in the end, I couldn’t leave it out. Across the Universe is unique in that it wasn’t a musical first; it’s a compilation of songs by that group of infamous British lads that were laid out so that they formed a plot that somehow worked (in my opinion). It tells the story of Jude (Jim Sturgess), a blue-collar young man from England who hops across the pond in search of his father, and ends up living in NYC with a bunch of other characters, all of whom have names inspired by The Beatles’ songs.

The movie is many things all rolled into one: there’s love, war, politics, gay rights, civil rights, and plenty of drugs. Basically, it serves as a commentary on the 60s, and uses the songs that defined the generation to set the tone. And while well-known faces like Eddie Izzard and Bono make appearances, the stars were mostly fresh talent (save for Evan Rachel Wood as Lucy Carrigan, Jude’s primary love interest). What I appreciate most about the film is that it doesn’t try too hard; there are many messages, but you don’t feel overpowered by them. If anything, the music is the driving force, which is what a musical is really all about.

RENT (2005)

I don’t know too many people who hear the word “Rent” and don’t often think “Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes” in response. (That is, unless you’re writing a check to your landlord.) The hit Broadway show was adapted into a film starring most of the same leads and few other changes, much to the pleasure of “Rentheads,” who were now able to watch their favorite show from the comfort of their own home.

The story takes place in the East Village of Manhattan in the late 80s-early 90s and centers around a group of artsy young adults struggling with everything from getting a job to their sexuality. This was the time of the HIV/AIDS panic, and numerous characters in the movie are plagued with the disease, about which very little was known then. The music in the show is wonderful in that it’s heartfelt and very real: the songs come out of both ordinary situations, like losing electricity or paying rent, and slightly more obscure ones, like a drag queen dying of AIDS. A seemingly-unrelatable premise is overtaken by the powerful themes of love, hardship, and a belief in living for the present.