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Five ‘80s Movies That Would Make Great Musicals

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |

In honor of Pretty Woman’s premiere: an ‘80s movie-to-musical wishlist

As of late, movies of the 1980s have become the inspiration for many stage musicals. 9 to 5, Heathers, Hairspray, A Christmas Story, Evil Dead, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Cry-Baby, Big, Bullets Over Broadway and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown are all examples. Adaptations of Beetlejuice (1988) and Tootsie (1982) are also in development, and the Bryan Adams-scored adaptation of the 1990 film Pretty Woman – which begins its Broadway previews on July 20th – gets in just under the wire. In honor of Pretty Woman: The Musical’s preview premiere, here are five ‘80s films that just might make Broadway’s next movie-to-musical hit.

Samantha Barks stars in ‘Pretty Woman,’ the new musical based on the hit film (Photo: Andrew Eccles)

Samantha Barks stars in ‘Pretty Woman,’ the new musical based on the hit film (Photo: Andrew Eccles)

Working Girl

There are already rumors that Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots) is working on a stage musical version of Working Girl, the 1988 Mike Nichols film about a Wall Street secretary who assumes her boss’s identity in order to climb the corporate ladder. It’s equal parts How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and All About Eve. Any successful musical of Working Girl would have to make some effort to include “Let the River Run,” the film’s Oscar-winning “Best Song” by Carly Simon.

The Breakfast Club

The ‘80s were packed with films directed by John Hughes, but the one that is most ripe for becoming a Broadway musical is 1985’s The Breakfast Club. Five high-school students, each an archetype (“the nerd, the jock, the princess, the misfit, the tough guy”) all come together to serve an all-day weekend detention in their school’s library. Each one reveals something about his or herself, and the teens find a commonality and friendship that they would never have enjoyed in their usual school cliques.  

Can’t Buy Me Love

This 1987 teen comedy starring Patrick Dempsey is everything you could ask for in terms of ingredients for joyous musical comedy. A nerdy teenage boy regularly mows the lawn of the prettiest girl in school, secretly harboring a crush on her. When she accidentally ruins her mother’s suede jacket, he offers to pay for a new one, on one condition: She must pretend to be his girlfriend at school to boost his popularity. She reluctantly agrees, and the scheme works. She is embarrassed at first, but eventually falls for his goofy charm, even as his newfound popularity goes to his head. Can’t Buy Me Love has much of the same appeal as other teen comedies that have successfully transferred from the screen to the stage, such as Heathers and Mean Girls.

Dead Poet’s Society

Peter Weir’s 1989 drama Dead Poet’s Society is arguably best remembered for Robin Williams’ indelible performance as Mr. Keating, an unconventional English teacher in a New England boarding school during the 1950s. Keating is a teacher who inspires a group of boys, particularly the sensitive Neil and the shy Todd, to express themselves through literature and poetry. Dead Poet’s Society has already been staged as a play, but its touching and emotionally driven story make it the perfect material to be transformed into a musical.

When Harry Met Sally
Rob Reiner directed Nora Ephron’s hilarious and moving script about sometimes friends and occasional romantic partners (Harry and Sally) who spend twelve years trying to figure out how to deal with each other’s idiosyncrasies and neuroses before finally admitting their love. When Harry Met Sally was the hit romantic comedy of 1989, a he said/she said examination of a relationship from two different points-of-view.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at




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