If you know anything about the movie Cats — other than the fact that it’s one of the biggest box office bombs of the year — it’s that it is based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name. A couple of weeks ago, the song “Beautiful Ghosts,” which was written specially for the movie by composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and pop star Taylor Swift failed to make the shortlist of 15 songs in the running for the Best Original Song Oscar. Why would they add a new song to an incredibly successful musical? If the answer is to have a hit song to promote next to the movie, why not simply hope that Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” becomes a radio hit? The accepted theory is that the reason movie adaptations of hit musicals bring with them new songs is a naked attempt to win an Oscar. This practice likely originated in 1996, when the song “You Must Love Me” from Evita (another Andrew Lloyd Weber musical) won the Original Song Oscar, but it really took off after Chicago won Best Picture in 2002, and movie adaptations of hit Broadway shows became more common.
Because they are regarded as a naked attempt at Oscar glory, these add-on songs are pretty uniformly looked down upon. But don’t worry, I’ve decided to rank all the original songs that have been written for movie adaptations of Broadway musicals since 1996 in an attempt to determine exactly how bad these original songs are. The first thing that jumped out at me is that these songs are not as common as you might think. Most movie musicals add new songs, but there are notable exceptions: 1. Jukebox musicals such as Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys. 2. Movies based on the work of Stephen Sondheim, like Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods and 3. Rent, which I assume had to do with respecting the memory of the late composer Jonathan Larson (although the quality of the movie is probably insult enough to his legacy.) Anyway, without further ado, here is the list:
Original songs added to hit musicals ranked from worst to best
13. “Cinema Italiano” from Nine
If this is the butt of the joke about songs added to “prestige” musical adaptations, it’s because it had the furthest way to fall. Not only does this song antagonize fans of the musical, but fans of Federico Fellini, Italian cinema, cinema in general, and the country of Italy. It is so atrocious, it provides the perfect ammunition for those who think making a musical based on 8 1/2 is an inherently insulting idea. The fact that it’s sung by a character played by Kate Hudson certainly doesn’t help.
Oscar glory? Not even a nomination, thank God.
12. “Suddenly” from Les Misérables
Probably the song people think of most often when they think of lackluster original songs added to musicals (in part, I suspect, because Les Miz was a bigger hit than Nine). In all honesty, this is merely an absolutely forgettable song, but it is unforgivable for making this excruciatingly long movie even longer.
Oscar glory? It managed to ride the coattails of its movie’s Best Picture buzz to a nomination, but had no chance of winning against Adele’s “Skyfall.”
In the immediate aftermath of Chicago, the songs added to musicals tended to play only in the closing credits, which made their quest for Oscars seem even more egregious. It’s much more work to have to integrate a song to a narrative than stick it to the end credits, so I’ve been particularly hard on “end credit” songs in this ranking. That being said, this generic ballad would deserve low placement regardless of its position within the movie.
Oscar glory? Despite the movie being a huge flop, the song did manage to get nominated – and was performed on the Oscar telecast by… Beyoncé?!
This post credit song is particularly irritating because not only does it have no thematic resonance to the rest of the movie, but feels like such a derivative ripoff of the other, more popular songs in it. Although I guess sounding like the other songs in the movie is more than can be said for some of the other songs on this list.
Oscar glory? Chicago was an Oscar steamroller, so of course it got the nomination. It lost to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” in what remains a pretty cool Oscar win.
Another end credit song, and a pretty forgettable one at that. The movie adaptation of The Producers – one of the biggest hits in Broadway history – was hugely misguided on many levels, and while this song is nowhere near its biggest problems, one wonders if a song full of (mostly middling) inside jokes about Broadway is the best way to end a musical movie.
Oscar glory? Not even a nomination, which is surprising given Mel Brooks’s involvement in writing the song. Although it’s worth noting there weirdly were only three Original Song nominees that year.
8. “You Must Love Me” from Evita
Not to spoil the whole thing, but this is the only song on this list that actually won the Oscar for Best Original Song, which makes the persistence of the trend it inspired even more impressive. You gotta give the people involved credit for actually integrating the songs into the movie. I pretty much hate most of the songs in Evita and find this one merely forgettable so that’s another plus in its column.
Oscar glory? I mean, duh.
7. “Beautiful Ghosts” from Cats
Sure, the song is an absolute atrocity, but that’s not the song’s fault! It’s not the most original or exciting song ever written, but it is a solid ballad and plays shockingly well in the context of the movie. Granted, most of the music in Cats is so unbearably tacky that it’s a huge relief to hear something that sounds, you know, like a song.
Oscar glory? Already disqualified, which is a crime considering some of the garbage on this list that managed nominations.
6. “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)” from Hairspray
Undoubtedly the best of the end credit songs on this list. It’s catchy, and listenable, and it’s kind of fun to hear so many of the movie’s actors singing together. If there is something that takes points from it (other than being an end credit song) is the fact that it feels a little self-aggrandizing in a way that reminds me of the more problematic, white savior, elements of an otherwise pretty enjoyable movie.
Oscar glory? Hairspray didn’t get a single Oscar nomination despite being a big hit, which seems kind of shocking in retrospect.
5. “Patience” from Dreamgirls
Depending on how you look at it, this is either a lovely Marvin Gaye tribute or a ripoff. It’s a pretty good song, in my opinion, especially since providing alternate universe Motown songs is one of the great joys of Dreamgirls. Eddie Murphy and Anika Noni Rose are my favorite performances in the film, anyway.
Oscar glory? Dreamgirls famously got all three of its original songs nominated, but lost the Oscar to Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth. Many believe this has resulted in studios pointedly not submitting all their songs in order to maximize their chance of winning (last year, for example, A Star is Born only submitted “Shallow” for consideration when it had plenty of great songs in its repertoire, and it paid off.).
4. “Ladies’ Choice” from Hairspray
A pretty fun song and a perfect way to spotlight Zac Efron without it feeling like too much of an intrusion in the actual movie – which is not an easy task at all. Consider the fact that plenty of pre-teens might have wanted to see the movie primarily because of Efron’s involvement, and how easy it would have been for the movie to feel like it’s awkwardly pandering to this impulse. I’m impressed.
Oscar glory? Again, no Oscar love at all for Hairspray.
3. “Take it All” from Nine
Too high? I will strongly contend that Marion Cotillard gives a genuinely good performance in Nine, which might help the ranking of this song, which I do believe is a little too literal in the moment in illustrates in the movie. That being said, considering the usage of most of the original songs on this list in their respective movies, it’s kind of shocking to see an added song that instead of being filler, becomes such an important emotional beat in the movie. Fuck it, I like this song.
Oscar glory? It got the nomination, which makes “Cinema Italiano” even more of a perfect punchline.
2. “Listen” from Dreamgirls
Let’s talk about Beyoncé’s performance for a second. Back in ’06, she was not the queen of all of music, but instead the recipient of intense backlash. She was harshly criticized for attempting an acting career, but you only have to see the clip below that she is more than capable of delivering an emotional ballad to you. She is doing a lot here, perhaps more than the song demands? But who cares? It works.
Oscar glory? This was probably considered the front-runner going into Oscar night, and I can’t help but think that the backlash against Beyoncé having an Oscar (can you believe such a time?) plaid as much of a role as the spitting of the vote between the three Dreamgirls songs.
1. “Love You I Do” from Dreamgirls
I know. It’s not as integral to the plot of the movie as “Listen,” nor is it as big of an emotional moment. one can argue It isn’t even as significant as “Patience” in terms of what it means to the characters. It is simply a song to underscore a montage… but what a song it is! Forget about how the song works within the movie for a second and just think of it as a pop song. It is such a lovely, effective, upbeat love song, and Jennifer Hudson’s vocal performance is perfect for it. It’s just great.
Oscar glory? The song is so good, I wouldn’t be surprised it pulled a lot of the votes people thought would go to “Listen.” Also, interestingly, this song won the Grammy for “Best Song Written for Visual Media,” for which no other Dreamgirls songs were nominated.
Conrado Falco is a New York-based playwright who loves movies. He publishes most of his film writing at CocoHitsNY, but the best way to keep up with him is to follow him on Twitter (@CocoHitsNewYork).