Nine Non-Musical Directors Who Directed a Musical

Dancer in the Dark, a Lars von Trier musical

A funny thing happens whenever I tell someone I'm a filmmaker. Just about everybody asks me, "What kind of films do you make?" I think it's an odd question, as most directors tackle all kinds of genres. That said, there are filmmakers who strictly focus on one genre - especially in documentaries, horror movies, and porn. And once upon a time, there were those who could rightly call themselves directors of musicals, such as Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen, and even Casablanca's Michael Curtiz. Then there are great directors who helm exactly one musical in their career - as an experiment, I suppose. Here are nine of them.

  1. Martin Scorsese. Scorsese followed his disturbing classic Taxi Driver with New York, New York, his 1977 homage to the technicolor musicals of his youth. It flopped, due to the awkward chemistry of stars Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli and to its overlength. It's not a complete waste, though, and indeed much of New York, New York consists of music-free drama. But the last 30-40 minutes are almost solid music, in the form of a film-within-a-film starring Minnelli. Scorsese has made several concert films and music-themed documentaries, but this remains his one true musical.
  2. Lars von Trier. The Danish enfant terrible, who has enjoyed over two decades of love-him-or-hate-him notoriety, had his own aesthetically offbeat and emotionally wrenching take on the genre with 2000's Dancer in the Dark, a showcase for Icelandic singer Björk.
  3. Sidney Lumet. After wowing critics and audiences alike with such gritty '70s classics as Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Network, Lumet seemed an unlikely choice to helm the 1978 big-screen adaptation of the Broadway hit The Wiz. In fact, he wasn't the first choice: John Badham was slated to make the movie, but he quit after the 33-year-old Diana Ross bullied her way into the role of childlike Dorothy. Why the esteemed Lumet agreed to direct this campy bomb remains a mystery.
  4. John Huston. Perhaps the answer to why Sidney Lumet directed The Wiz is the same given to why Huston - by 1982, a Hollywood legend who had delivered four solid decades of tough guy movies, from The Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre to Fat City and The Man Who Would Be King - signed on to direct Annie, as unmanly a movie as you can imagine. That answer: a paycheck.
  5. Carol Reed. Huston and Lumet possibly saw Reed, a director of early British comedies and later thrillers such as The Third Man and Odd Man Out, as a model for their ill-advised forays into the world of song and dance. For Reed, despite his stellar resume, didn't receive an Oscar until he churned out 1968's Oliver!, an artless, by-the-numbers musical. (Oliver! also won Best Picture in a year that gave us 2001, Rosemary's Baby and Planet of the Apes.)
  6. Woody Allen. Now we return to the era where noted filmmakers turn to musicals not because they have to, but because they want to. In Allen's case, it was 1996's star-studded - and sweet - Everyone Says I Love You.
  7. Joel & Ethan Coen. Is O Brother, Where Art Thou? a musical, exactly? Sure it is.
  8. Takashi Miike. This Japanese low-budget auteur has directed a whopping 87 titles over the past 20 years. It's almost impossible to keep up with his output, but he remains best known for his notorious gross-out/creep-out features Audition and Ichi the Killer. Then there's his delightfully weird musical Happiness of the Katakuris (2002), perhaps the only Miike film you can show to Granny (though she would still find it completely perverse).
  9. Tim Burton. As long as there are Broadway musicals, there will always be screen adaptations. Rob Marshall and Craig Brewer may be the (poor man's) Vincente Minnellis of today's generation, but Burton's got a lock on absolutely any property that fits into the category of "kooky and kind of dark, but inarguably mainstream". So he was an obvious fit for Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim's blood-drenched musical. Oh, and before you nit-pick, I did consider Francis Ford Coppola for this list, because of his noted misfire One from the Heart. But in fact Coppola's Hollywood debut was a musical: Finian's Rainbow. He also helmed the 3-D Michael Jackson Disneyland movie Captain EO.