Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have started work on Joker: Folie à Deux, the highly anticipated sequel to their billion-grossing Clown Prince of Crime origin movie. The follow-up is reported to be a musical set in Arkham Asylum, co-starring the great Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn. This musical will be decidedly darker than Oklahoma! or Cats.
But it won’t be the first musical with a dark tone. From horror movies like Sweeney Todd to harrowing dramas like Les Misérables, there are plenty of dark musicals out there.
10 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Henry Selick’s stop-motion gem The Nightmare Before Christmas is both one of the spookiest musicals ever made and one of the spookiest Christmas movies ever made. Jack Skellington, the King of “Halloween Town,” discovers there’s more to life than scares when he stumbles upon “Christmas Town.”
Thanks to regular Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman – who wrote the songs, composed the score, and provided Jack’s singing voice – The Nightmare Before Christmas has an unforgettable soundtrack.
9 A Star Is Born (2018)
Bradley Cooper made his directorial debut with yet another remake of A Star is Born, which justified its existence with the most harrowingly realistic telling of this tragic story to date. Cooper stars alongside Lady Gaga as the fading music star who takes an aspiring young singer under his wing.
Cooper’s retooling of A Star is Born leans heavily into the dark side of Jack’s addiction, recovery, and the heartbreaking fate he ultimately meets, with some beautiful original songs along the way.
8 West Side Story (1961)
The music of West Side Story is catchy and cheerful, but its tale of gang warfare is quite dark. It’s a sort of gangland Romeo and Juliet. The climactic sequence has an attempted sexual assault, a cold-blooded murder in the street, and a powerful monologue about the cycle of violence.
Steven Spielberg’s remake, released last year to commercial failure despite critical acclaim, is just as masterfully crafted as the original with even more dazzling cinematography.
7 Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)
One of Brian De Palma’s most underrated movies, Phantom of the Paradise, recontextualizes the classic Phantom of the Opera story to take place in the modern-day rock music industry. A deformed composer sells his soul so the woman he loves will perform his music, then gets betrayed by an unscrupulous record producer.
With its combination of gloomy horror visuals, showbiz satire, and catchy musical numbers (courtesy of the film’s star, Paul Williams), Phantom of the Paradise is a totally unique movie.
6 Les Misérables (2012)
Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Herbert Kretzmer’s West End musical adaptation of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s French musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s seminal novel Les Misérables was a hit with critics, audiences, and awards voters.
Set in 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells the bleak story of Jean Valjean, who is sent to prison for stealing bread and spends decades being relentlessly hunted by a police officer for breaking his parole.
5 Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Long before they created South Park, when they were studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Trey Parker and Matt Stone made their low-budget feature film debut with Cannibal! The Musical, a darkly comedic retelling of Alferd Packer’s trip from Utah to Colorado and the travel companions he ate along the way.
Parker and Stone wouldn’t perfect their idiosyncratic brand of pitch-black comedy until South Park took off, but Cannibal! The Musical shows off early glimmers of their greatness.
4 Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)
After Alan Menken and Howard Ashman turned Roger Corman’s black-and-white horror comedy classic Little Shop of Horrors into an off-Broadway musical of the same name, Frank Oz brought it back to the big screen with color film and musical numbers.
Like the Corman original, it centers on a flower shop employee who does the dark bidding of a sentient carnivorous plant that feeds on human blood.
3 New York, New York (1977)
The first box office bomb of Martin Scorsese’s career – 1977’s New York, New York – made some critics uneasy with the combination of its style (a nostalgic throwback to glitzy musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood) and its subject matter (a harrowing relationship drama).
Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro star as a singer and a saxophonist whose passionate love quickly turns bitter. The downfall of their relationship is difficult to watch, but Scorsese is a master of his craft.
2 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (2007)
Tim Burton’s deeply cinematic big-budget film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s horror musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street stars Johnny Depp as the titular throat-slashing Victorian-era barber and Helena Bonham Carter as the baker who turns his victims into pies.
The director’s signature gothic visuals and Depp and Bonham Carter’s mesmerizing performances brought the musical to life on the big screen.
1 The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Richard O’Brien teamed up with director Jim Sharman to bring his Rocky Horror stage musical to the big screen. A quintessential homage to sci-fi and horror B-movies from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show revolves around a young couple getting stranded at a mad scientist’s monster-infested castle.
In the half-century since it hit theaters, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become one of the cornerstones of cult cinema. To this day, fans regularly dress up as Dr. Frank N. Furter to attend midnight screenings.
NEXT: 16 Fabulous Quotes From The Rocky Horror Picture Show