Content Warning: The following article contains discussions of cannibalism, drug use and sexual assault.Musical fans have likely seen all the biggest, most enduringly popular hits from Grease and Rent to La La Land, but the musical world doesn’t stop there. In fact, some audience-favorite musicals that have achieved cult status are unusual films that defy contention—and may even please people who think they don’t like musicals.

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Musicals can be about anything, from cannibals to the dangers of marijuana. There are plenty of wacky, wild and truly out-there musicals that are must-sees for fans of the genre and beyond. Musical lovers who are in search of zany, bizarre dance numbers and songs you would never hear anywhere else should look no further than these weird and over-the-top musicals.

Updated on January 18th, 2023, by Hannah Saab:

With the recent success of instant classics like 2022’s The Bob’s Burgers Movie, Spirited and, of course, RRR, it’s clear that the genre continues to be a favorite among fans and critics alike. There’s no shortage of more unique and weirder musical films worth checking out for those who want a taste of something truly different.


‘Tommy’ (1975)

musicals-Tommy-Roger Daultry

Based on The Who‘s album Tommy, the musical centers around a boy named Tommy, played by The Who’s frontman Roger Daltrey. He is a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” who “sure plays a mean pinball.” Tommy’s life is darkened by abuse, drug use and harassment but soon finds himself a pinball champion and a religious leader.

It’s possibly one of the strangest and darkest musicals ever made, and invokes a lot of trippy 70s visuals. There are iron maidens, a 12-foot-tall Elton John, cults, drugs and rock and roll. The musical features the entire Who album, and is a must-watch for fans of the band.

‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975)

musiclas-Rocky Horror Picture Show-Tim Curry

1975 saw the release of another cult classic musical, in fact, the cult classic musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie centers around Brad and Janet played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. The newly engaged couple finds themselves in the middle of nowhere on a dark rainy night with a flat tire. They look for help and find themselves at an ominous castle where they soon meet Dr. Frank N.Furter (Tim Curry).

Things quickly take a turn for the weird as Frank N.Furter reveals his newest invention and everything starts to go off the rails. The musical is filled with murder, aliens, sex, and betrayal. For generations, fans of the film have watched it ritualistically, even dressing up to see it in theaters with props and cues that they participate in, such as throwing toast at the stage. It’s the longest-running movie in history.

‘Shock Treatment’ (1981)

musicals-Shock Treatment

Six years after the initial release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the film had a follow-up that not everyone knows about. Shock Treatment didn’t gain nearly as much success as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it didn’t see Tim Curry reprise his role as Dr.Frank N.Furter. The musical still features Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as Brad and Janet and still has plenty of wild and unique songs.

Shock Treatment catches up with Brad and Janet as they are going through marital problems and are forced to be participants in a TV game show called “Marriage Maze” to save their relationship. The entire film takes place in a town called Denton, which is a TV set complete with an interactive live audience. The commentary on the power of reality TV was ahead of its time, and every Rocky Horror fan shouldn’t miss it.

‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ (2001)

musicals-Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a story about love, gender, sexuality and rock and roll. The film was adapted from an off-Broadway musical and was made into a movie, before also being turned into a Broadway musical.

The story centers on Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) a queer East German rock singer who fled Europe shortly before the Wall came down. Hedwig married a US soldier to escape, but since gay marriage wasn’t an option, Hedwig was forced to undertake a botched gender-reassignment surgery. After her former partner and bandmate, Tommy (played by Michael Pitt), steals her music and becomes a rock star himself, Hedwig and her band shadow Tommy’s tour as she tells her story.

‘Cry-Baby’ (1990)

musicals-Cry Baby-Johnny Depp

Directed by the King of Filth, John Waters, and starring a young Johnny Depp as the titular Cry-Baby, the movie is a tribute to the corniness as well as the cool styles of the 50s. The zany film captures the spirit of teenage rebellion in the 50s and delivers fantastic characters such as “Hatchet Face” played by the late Kim McGuire.

The movie focuses on a group of rebellious teens and the prim and proper schoolgirl, played by Amy Locane, who goes against her mother’s wishes when she dates the motorcycle-riding juvenile delinquent, Cry-baby. It’s a weird and wildly entertaining movie that is an absolute must-watch.

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ (1979)

musicals-Rock 'n' Roll High School

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is another musical that focuses on the theme of teenage rebellion. This time, set in 1980. It’s all about having fun and sticking it to the establishment, and of course, rock ‘n’ roll. The movie features iconic rock songs by artists such as Alice Cooper and The Ramones.

The movie plays out like a Ramones fanfiction, starring P.J. Soles as Riff Randell, a Ramones fan who wants to meet the band to show them the song she wrote for them, but when their tyrannical principal confiscates the concert tickets, Riff and her friends have to find another way to get to the show.

Watch on Peacock

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1986)

Rick Moranis as Seymour singing with Ellen Greene as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors
Image via Warner Bros.

The off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors became a cinematic hit featuring Steve Martin as a twisted, sadistic dentist, and follows the plot of a flesh-eating venus flytrap. The film is a dark comedy as well as a tale of romance. It also has a line of chorus girls adding 1960s doo-wop to the musical.

The movie is about Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis), a nerdy orphan working in a flower shop on Skid Row. He has a crush on his co-worker Audrey Fulquard (Ellen Greene), despite her having an overbearing, abusive boyfriend. One day, Seymour finds a mysterious unidentified plant which he affectionately names Audrey II. The plant seems to crave more than just water, blood is what it needs to survive.

‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ (2017)

musicals-Anna and the Apocalypse

Anna and the Apocalypse is a British Christmas zombie musical based on Ryan McHenry‘s 2010 BAFTA-nominated short Zombie Musical. This funny horror comedy movie has everything you wouldn’t expect in a film, from candy-cane lawn ornaments used as weapons to the flesh-eating zombies and campy musical numbers, this movie is thoroughly entertaining and utterly bonkers from start to finish.

When zombies start to overrun the sleepy town of Little Haven, Anna and her friends have to fight, sing and dance to survive the undead. The teens fight their way through zombified snowmen, Santas, elves, and Christmas shoppers to get across town to the high school, where they’ll be safe. The movie is like if Shaun of the Dead was a Christmas-themed musical.

‘Cannibal: The Musical’ (1993)

Cannibal_The Musical-Trey Parker

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are known for their projects such as South Park and The Book of Mormon. Before their famous TV show and musical, they also made the low-budget Cannibal: The Musical. The movie is based on the real-life case of Alfred Packer, the only person convicted of cannibalism in America. After Packer (Parker) is the sole survivor of a deadly trip, he shares his story with a news reporter, Polly Pry (Toddy Walters), as he awaits his execution.

The movie features some pretty twisted subject matter, however, Parker and Stone manage to deliver some hilarious musical numbers such as an uplifting song about building a snowman as Packer and his men freeze and starve to death.

Watch on Peacock

‘Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical’ (2005)

musicals-Reefer Madness The Movie Musical

Reefer Madness is a parody of the 1936 anti-weed propaganda film also called Reefer Madness. The original film warns how one puff of pot can turn people into satanic addicts, and the musical takes this threat and runs wild with it, resulting in a debaucherous, wild and over-the-top satire.

The musical stars Kristen Bell and Christian Campbell as a virtuous couple who are lured into a world of satanism, sex and murder thanks to marijuana. Along the way they encounter Jesus himself, but still find themselves in the clutches of the Reefer Man.

‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’ (2008)

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Repo! The Genetic Opera is a rock opera-musical film set in a future where an organ failure epidemic has badly affected the world and the mega-corporation GeneCo has ended up in control for offering organ transplants on a payment plan. The corporation also hires “Repo Men” to retrieve organs from clients who do not pay their bills. The movie (where every line of dialogue is sung) follows a young woman as she becomes involved in the spheres of GeneCo and Repo Men, eventually uncovering a shocking conspiracy.

The film, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, is an ambitious combination of genres and has a distinctive visual approach – it has an artistic and gothic aesthetic, and certain sequences incorporate puppets and animatronics. The soundtrack, which includes rock and metal-influenced songs, distinguishes the movie from typical musicals. It’s a must-see cult classic that’s still worth watching today!

‘South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut’ (1999)

The South Park boys having a good time at the movies

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is a wacky comedy film based on the Comedy Central animated television series co-created by Trey Parker. The film follows Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny as they get into fights with their parents and the United States government after seeing an R-rated film starring their beloved TV characters, Terrance and Phillip. The film includes both animated and live-action scenes.

Long-time fans will recognize the film’s satirical perspective on censorship, free speech and the entertainment industry. It also makes excellent use of music and has a unique capacity to attract both fans and newcomers. Viewers can expect sharp, scathing and extremely amusing dark humor, as well as catchy, inventive and over-the-top musical numbers.

Watch on Paramount+

‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ (2007)

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd

Johnny Depp stars in the title role in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a musical horror film directed by Tim Burton based on the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. The movie is set in 19th-century London and follows Sweeney Todd (Depp), a barber who returns to the city after being wrongly imprisoned for 15 years, seeking vengeance on the judge who destroyed his life and separated him from his wife and daughter. He starts a barbershop and begins murdering his clients, with the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who owns the pie store under the barbershop and uses the bodies to bake meat pies.

Depp’s performance as Sweeney Todd, the film’s stunning visual style, and the musical moments all contribute to the zany yet emotionally intense film. It successfully balances brutal violence and disturbing subject matter with dark comedy and musicality.

Watch on HBO Max

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ (1973)

Jesus Christ Superstar - 1973

The renowned cult classic, Jesus Christ Superstar, is a musical drama film directed by Norman Jewison based on the eponymous 1970 rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The movie is a rock retelling of Jesus’ final week on earth, beginning with the preparations for his and his followers’ arrival in Jerusalem and culminating with the crucifixion.

Its groundbreaking, controversial and modern approach to the classic tale contributed to its eventual global success. The musical performances in the film are dynamic and emotionally compelling, thanks to a combination of rock, folk and gospel influences. They are perfectly complemented by the film’s striking visual style, which combines on-site shots in Israel with immaculately stylized sets.

‘Phantom of the Paradise’ (1974)

'Phantom of the Paradise'
Image via Harbor Films

Phantom of the Paradise is a rock opera film directed and written by Brian De Palma, and starring Paul Williams and William Finley. The classic story of The Phantom of the Opera is recreated in the wildest ways in the film, which is set in a mythical rock castle dubbed The Paradise. It revolves around a composer with a deformity, Winslow Leach (Finley), who wants retribution against the opportunistic record producer Swan (Williams), who stole his work and falsely accused him of a crime.

The film’s unique mix of horror, comedy and biting satire is set against an eclectic soundtrack that includes rock, funk and classical music. Phantom of the Paradise is a cult classic that influenced the evolution of the rock opera genre. It stood out among other films of the time by being ahead of its time in terms of its criticism of the music industry, and it is widely regarded as a precursor to the music video revolution. For all of these reasons, it has a loyal following and is a masterpiece of 1970s cinema.

NEXT: Stage Musicals That Had No Business Being Adapted to Film


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