Oscar: Musicals by Decade

There is a strange sort of reasoning in Hollywood that musicals are less worthy of Academy consideration than dramas. It’s a form ofsnobbism, the same sort that perpetuates the idea that drama is more deserving of Awards than comedy.
Gene Kelly

Unlike comedies, musical films have been overrepresented in the Best Picture category: Nine (eleven percent) of the seventy-seven winning films have been musicals. They are:

The Broadway Melody (1928-9)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
An American in Paris (1951)
Gigi (1958)
West Side Story (1961)
My Fair Lady (1964)
The Sound of Music (1965)
Oliver! (1968)
Chicago (2002)

Two of these musicals, “American in Paris” and “Gigi,” were directed by Vincente Minnelli, who was nominated for both but won for “Gigi.” However, like comedies, musical performers have been consistently overlooked, both in the nomination and the final balloting.

As a genre, musicals featured most impressively during the Depression–about half of all Oscar-nominated musicals were made in the 1930s. By contrast, the weakest representation of musicals in the Oscar contest was in the 1940s, with only two nominees, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Anchors Aweigh.

But Hollywood was not willing to take risks with new ideas and new formats, and subsequently most of the nominated musicals from the 1950s on were based on Broadway hits. Among the few Oscar-nominated musicals that did not draw on Broadway hits and originated on the big screen are Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Mary Poppins, and All That Jazz.

There is no logical link between the number or quality of musicals made and their presence in the Oscar contest. More musicals (four out of nine) have won Best Picture Oscars in the 1960s than in any other decade, despite the fact that not many films were made. Ironically, just as the musical genre began to decline, it gained in relative stature. The Academy showed its dutiful respect for the effort involved in making musicals by honoring more of them.

Then, for two decades until 1979’s “All That Jazz,” no musical was even nominated. Over the past several years, several musicals have been nominated, among them “Moulin Rouge” (2001), and one won, Rob Marshall’s “Chicago,” though he didn’t win.