After recently celebrating its 35th Broadway Anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera is approaching its final curtain, set to close now on the 18th of April. It has been quickly established that this will not be the last of Andrew Lloyd Webber in New York City, his adaptation of a classic fairytale now titled Bad Cinderella is in previews and officially opens in March at the Imperial Theater after a rather rocky turn on the West End. Not only that, but it has been theorized by some that Love Never Dies will make yet another revival, but nothing of the sort has been confirmed.
Still, this all goes to show that there’s no getting rid of Lord Andy; the composer has been a titan of the theater industry since the 1960s. Creating some of the most successful and long-running musicals of all time, Lloyd Webber has recently been announced to be writing an anthem for the coronation of King Charles III, and practically rules the West End with the ownership or co-ownership of six London theaters. Aside from the many, and some will argue definitive, professionally shot stage performances, there are five film adaptations of Lloyd Webber’s works, each different from each other, each wildly ranging in quality. So here is a personal ranking of all five of them to see which were the masterpieces and which were the mistakes.
5 Cats (2019)
Okay, let’s get this one out of the way. Cats was released in 2019, directed by Tom Hooper with a star-studded cast of Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, and Idris Elba among many others. There isn’t a lot to say about this movie that hasn’t been said before by much funnier people, about how insane the film is, how misguided and sloppy every decision made by the director was. Everyone, including myself , had a field day ripping on this film from the minute that first trailer was dropped, and honestly who could blame us?
When the film was finally released in all its glory, the boos got even louder. Worsening a surreal story that already had audiences pretty split, the character designs somehow being more deeply chilling, adding a fair share of obnoxious comic-relief moffments, making it less camp. On top of that, putting all the blame on the visual effects team when they were put on crunch-times akin to a triple-A videogame studio, before promptly laying them off.
All I can feel for it now, listening to Jennifer Hudson absolutely nail “Memory,” Jason Derulo Serving as Rum Tum Tugger, or any of the brilliant score without the rushed CGI nightmare fuel, is enormous frustration for what this film had the potential to be in better hands. The source material is a bizarre relic of a bygone era, yes, but it didn’t have to be this bad.
4 Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1999)
Here’s a fun philosophical question: What’s worse, failing or not trying at all? A baffling adaptation of a beloved musical, or a boring adaptation of a middling one? The high council of Collider.com have decided on the former, but it must be said that Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoatbased on the biblical story of Genesis, is barely a movie. It edges onto the list with a framing device, the cinematic staging and camera work, an expansion of the sets, and the need to make this list a round top five. This film went straight to video, with Donny Osmond, Richard Attenboroughand Joan Collins receiving top billing.
It’s a relatively straightforward adaptation of the musical, as stated it’s pretty much a professional shoot, specifically of a highly successful run at the time with Osmond in the main role. Other than the lack of effort to make this movie anything more than a preservation of that, your enjoyment will depend highly on whether you enjoy the source material, and few have the stomach or patience for this incredibly hokey fluff show these days.
It contains some of Lloyd Webber’s most well known numbers, but it also has a lot of his worst with terrible pastiche songs, and it awkwardly tries to be a movie when it really didn’t have to be. But hey, at least the fans are happy, wherever you are. It’s an easy movie, a pretty harmless kind of stupid, but just like cake icing, you don’t want to be on a full diet of this stuff.
3 The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
The story of getting Lloyd Webber’s mega hit onto the big screen was long and storied, being in the works since the original cast were still on stage, and eventually coming into production with Joel Schumacher in the director’s chair. As for the cast, after many intriguing options coming and going, including Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackmanwith Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler cast as Christine and The Phantom.
This is a film either people love and defend or ravenously hate, and since there’s no accounting for taste both standpoints are valid, which is why this is in the dead center of the list. The negatives of this film stick out like a sore thumb, it’s incredibly inappropriately cast with Butler having no singing experience and Rossum being 16 at the time of filming this romantic drama. It swings and misses in its attempts to replicate the magic of other big historical fiction films, chiefly 1997’s Titanicand it accentuates the flaws of a musical that lives and dies on its cast and high emotionality by leaning really hard into a very uncomfortable love triangle.
On the other hand, it is a competently made movie, which is more than one can say for the bottom two, the costumes by the legendary Alexandra Byrne are gorgeous, the rest of the cast does well, especially Patrick Wilson as Raoul de Chagny, it is a gorgeous looking film, and the score is still there even when the voices aren’t. It’s a fine movie, it’s fine. The writer, who was once deeply and extremely against this film, is big enough to admit that, but advises you go watch the 25th Anniversary performance instead.
2 Evita (1996)
Just like Phantomthe musical adaptation of the near-deified First Lady of Argentina, Eva Perón, took a while to get to screen. With the production stopping and starting, and the rights to the musical constantly changing hands since the concept album’s release in 1976. It finally became a reality 20 years later, with Alan Parker of Pink Floyd: The Wall in the director’s chair, and received its fair share of nominations during awards season and near swept the Golden Globes.
This is an insane jump of quality, from a distant, average third to close second, but even all these years later Evita really is just that good. The true prestige period piece of the list, the best word to describe this film is big. Big statement piece sets with thousands of extras, big musical numbers such as ‘Rainbow High’ and the classic ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’. Big stars in Antonio Banderaswho could’ve and should’ve played The Phantom, as Che, here an omnipotent Greek chorus rather than the famous Che of history like he is on stage for some reason. And, of course, Madonna as Evita herself, who rallied hard for this role throughout the incredibly long and storied production.
The show is a spectacular, certainly the biggest Oscar-bait of the bunch, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For a life as beloved as Perón’s, and a musical as beloved as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s deserves, perhaps even needs, this amount of pomp and circumstance. This was the Titanic of musical adaptations before Titanic even came out, and that size translates to a solid musical adaptation.
1 Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
In the 1970s, musical movies were desperate for an invigorating shot in the arm, with 1969’s Hello Dolly Flopping hard and sending a message: The old ways were dead. So, as 1970s cinema was prone to doing, the game was completely changed with cult hits like 1971’s Fiddler On The Roof that added much-needed grit to the period piece musicals of decades past, 1972’s Cabaretwhich made Liza Minnelli a star, and of course, the adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first smash hit.
Jesus Christ Superstar was like catching lightning in a bottle, when the industry was in desperate need for fresh, evocative material. Featuring a definitive cast of studies from the Broadway show like Ted Neeley, Carl Andersonand Yvonne Ellimen in their prime with some of the best renditions of some of the best songs in Lord Andy’s repertoire, and filmed on location in Israel.
It’s controversial, to be sure, weird for those not in the know of musical theater. However, it is also gritty and artistic in its staging and costuming, not settling for a straight biblical epic by breeding it with flower power. epic of counter-culture, at least for its time. The time when a young Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice‘s finger was hard on the pulse, which translated well into film, and entered the canon of great musical movies.