PLAYBILL PICKS: The Five Greatest Movies About the Theatre

By Robert Simonson
02 Aug 2012

Dianne Wiest and John Cusack in "Bullets Over Broadway."
Dianne Wiest and John Cusack in "Bullets Over Broadway."
Photo by Miramax Films / Sweetland Films

Broadway practitioners Robyn Goodman, Michael Mayer, Douglas Carter Beane, Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, plus entertainment critics David Cote and Robert Cashill, comment on Playbill's selection of the five best movies about the theatre. What made the list? Fasten your seatbelts, it's showtime folks.

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Stage plays about life on the stage are nearly as old as the theatre, from sections of Shakespeare's Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream to, more recently, works like Lend Me a Tenor and Curtains. Similarly, Hollywood started making movies about making movies in the Silent Era, beginning with flicks like "Show People" and "The Cameraman" and continuing with "Sunset Boulevard," "The Player" and "Synecdoche, New York," among many others.

A hybrid genre of these two art forms — and hardly less robust — is the theatre film. From film's earliest days, directors and screenwriters drew on the intrinsically dramatic world of the theatre for story plots. Autocratic producers, egomaniacal directors, idealistic playwrights, vain actors, dreamy-eyed ingenues — all these and many more quickly became familiar stock figures in Hollywood's many backstage dramas of the 1920s and 1930s. As the theatre's central role in American culture declined, the number of theatre films dwindled, but filmdom's fascination with the stage has never completely vanished, with a "Topsy Turvy" or a "Bullets Over Broadway" appearing every few years.



In celebration of the silver screen's rich tradition of capturing on celluloid the life before and beyond the footlights, Playbill.com has selected what it considers to be the five greatest theatre films of all time. Each is not only a peerless depiction of The Life Theatrical, but an excellent example of the filmmaking art. (We did not pick movies that were simply film versions of established plays and musicals, as they were not strictly films made about the theatre, but simply films of plays about the theatre. Thus, no "Stage Door" or "Kiss Me, Kate." Also — no documentaries.) In support of our choices, we've solicited commentary from a handful of seasoned professionals and critics from both theatre and film. Here are our choices.

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