Movie musicals of Broadway shows are amongst some of the most beloved films ever made, so it should come as no surprise that filmmakers regularly use them as inspirations for the characters in their own films, references to create emotional beats, or backdrops to their story.
In fact, the 2018 Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Shape of Water, included clips of That Night In Rio, starring Carmen Miranda, performances by Bill Bojangles, and more. (The final dance between Elisa and her sea monster lover is an homage to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ routine in Follow the Fleet.)
Here are seven other times movie musicals made prominent appearances as a clip in another movie.
1. Annie in Serial Mom
In John Waters’ 1994 black comedy Serial Mom, Kathleen Turner plays a serial killer turned suburban housewife. In one scene, she claims another victim by clubbing them with a leg of lamb, all to the soundtrack—and rhythm—of “Tomorrow” from Annie, which is playing on the TV in the background.
2. Hello, Dolly! in Wall·E
Amongst the many treasures the plucky robot Wall·E finds as he attempts to clean up all of the trash on a post-apocalyptic Earth is a VHS copy of Hello, Dolly!’s film adaptation. The film starring Barbra Streisand becomes inspirational for Wall·E and his quest to find a love connection. He captures part of the soundtrack on his onboard recorder so he can listen whenever he pleases, and even performs a bit of the “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” choreography.
3. Gypsy in Superstar
Based on Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher character from Saturday Night Live, Superstar centers on Mary’s quest to become the star of her school talent show. Her wheelchair-bound grandmother urges her on, at one point while watching the film adaptation of Gypsy on TV. Grandma Gallagher reminisces about being in the Broadway chorus of that show as a young woman. Glynis Johns, who portrays Grandma Gallagher in the film, was not ever in a Broadway production of Gypsy, but Sondheim fans will remember her as the original Broadway Desiree in A Little Night Music.
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Fame
A pivotal moment in Fame, the film about a fictional New York performing arts high school inspired by the true LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, sees young Doris’ self-awakening while attending a downtown screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She jumps up onstage to join the performers acting out the scenes in front of the movie screen—as has become the real-life tradition at screenings. Fame became one of the first documents of Rocky Horror’s cult phenomenon, perhaps at its zenith in early 1980s New York.
5. The Unsinkable Molly Brown in Connie and Carla
Nia Vardalos and Toni Collette star in the latter film’s title roles, two musical theatre nerds who inadvertently witness a murder and decide to hide out in Los Angeles as drag queens—the only cover they can think of that still allows them to perform. Connie and Carla are both especially obsessed with Debbie Reynolds, so it’s no surprise that the film features them watching her in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
7. The King and I in The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep took on the real-life figure of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for The Iron Lady, a film that uses The King and I to mirror her own romance with an embedded power struggle. The Iron Lady suggests the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic was her favorite musical, with scenes of her watching the 1956 film adaptation and several instances of her dancing with husband Denis to “Shall We Dance.”
8. Damn Yankees in The Scout
In the 1994 film The Scout, Albert Brooks plays a disgraced former baseball scout for the Yankees who discovers an incredible young talent that could get him back in the big leagues. Given the baseball team at play in The Scout’s plot and the story’s focus on a gifted player with the potential to save the day, the filmmakers recognized the not-so-slight connection to the classic Richard Adler and Jerry Ross musical Damn Yankees. They paid homage to that connection by showing Brendan Fraser—playing Steve Nebraska, the could-be baseball sensation—watching the 1958 film adaptation of Damn Yankees on TV in one scene of the film.
Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. @loganculwell