Movies Like West Side Story You Really Need To Check Out

Steven Spielberg's remake of "West Side Story" is one of the best films of 2021. The iconic musical premiered on Broadway in 1957 and was adapted for the screen in 1961. The original classic is considered one of the greatest movie musicals ever made and won ten Academy Awards, including best picture, best director for the duo of Jerome Roberts and Robert Wise, best supporting actress for Rita Moreno, and best supporting actor for George Chakiris.

Thankfully, Spielberg instilled the story with new life. Although "West Side Story" is the first musical of Spielberg's career, he brought energy to the iconic dance sequences. The film was critically acclaimed, but it underperformed financially.

Spielberg didn't just wow audiences. He gained the approval of the original "West Side Story" creator. Lyricist Stephen Sondheim said that he prefers Spielberg's version to the original, stating that Spielberg had "done some really imaginative and surprising things with the way the songs are used in the story." Sadly, Sondheim died in November of 2021 at the age of 91.

If you loved "West Side Story," then these other classics are also worth watching.

West Side Story (1961)

Even if Sondheim preferred the modern version, the original "West Side Story" is still a classic in its own right. It's an authentic translation of Sondheim's beautiful words and features stunning musical numbers with incredible choreography. Directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins made the visuals eye-popping and highlighted the bold colors of the costumes. Many of the changes that Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner made were simply intended to be more respectful. The casting of Natalie Wood as the Puerto Rican character Maria was a major misstep in the original, and Spielberg's film is much more considerate with sensitive racial issues.

"West Side Story" is a loose retelling of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." In place of the houses of Capulet and Montague are a white gang (the Jets) and a Puerto Rican gang (the Sharks). Tony (Richard Beymer) is one of the co-founders of the Jets, but he's much tamer than their aggressive leader Riff (Russ Tamblyn). Riff wants to start a rumble with the Sharks, and they trade threats at a local school dance. However, Tony ends up dancing with Maria (Wood). They fall in love and must hide their relationship from their respective gangs.

The film's breakout stars were Rita Moreno and George Chakiris. Moreno captures the fiery spirit within Anita, and Chakiris is captivating as Bernardo, the charismatic leader of the Sharks.

tick, tick...BOOM!

One of the reasons that the release of Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" was so emotional was its proximity to Stephen Sondheim's death. Sondheim was a Broadway legend, and he wrote many musicals that are now considered to be all-time greats. Sondheim's work inspired generations of musicians and artists, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jonathan Larson. Larson, who wrote "Suburbia" and "Rent," tragically died of an aortic dissection at the age of 35.

Larson wrote a semi-autobiographical story with his musical "tick, tick...BOOM!" The emotional musical was adapted by another great Broadway artist, Lin-Manuel Miranda, as his directorial debut. Miranda used the inspiration of the original text to create a biographical film that chronicles Larson's early career and eventual death. Andrew Garfield delivers an incredible tribute to Larson with his energetic lead performance. The influence of Sondheim on Larson is evident in the film. Sondheim, a mentor to Larson when he was honing his craft, is even portrayed as a character by Bradley Whitford. 

Larson feels the pressure to succeed as a creator during the days before his 30th birthday. Larson is troubled by the fact that Sondheim had achieved immense success at a young age, but he has yet to complete a successful Broadway show. During a seminar in which haughty musical workshop manager Walter Bloom (Richard Kind) criticizes Larson as an amateur, Sondheim offers a different perspective. He sees the potential in Larson's craft and encourages him to keep developing his ideas.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

One of the reasons that the new "West Side Story" succeeds is that it is a perfect match of filmmaker and source material. Steven Spielberg is a very energetic filmmaker who is unparalleled in his ability to capture movement. He's also very interested in telling historical stories and has recently crafted many American period pieces, including "The Post," "Bridge of Spies," "Lincoln," and "Catch Me If You Can." These qualities made Spielberg perfect for this specific musical, but that doesn't mean he would have been a good fit for every Sondheim work.

In the case of Sondheim's beloved 1979 slasher musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street," there was no choice better than Tim Burton. Burton creates a dark and gloomy Gothic atmosphere in his films and incorporates elements of dark humor, gore, and eye-popping visuals. Sondheim himself described "Sweeney Todd" as a revenge thriller inspired by the horror genre. Burton's adaptation is scary and leans into its R rating. Yet, it still retains the clever wordplay that made Sondheim's original lyrics so amusing.

Johnny Depp stars as Benjamin Barker, who takes on the moniker "Sweeney Todd" when he returns to Fleet Street after spending 15 years in prison. He takes up his prior job as a barber, setting up shop next to a meat pie diner owned by the depraved Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). Barker murders his customers, and Lovett sells them as food.

On The Town

"West Side Story" couldn't have taken place anywhere else but in New York. The original musical modernized the Shakespeare story by grounding it in the history of Manhattan's San Juan Hill communities. Spielberg even expanded the historical setting by exploring the ramifications of World War II and its effect on the immigrant population. Given the location of Broadway, it's only natural that there are many stage shows set in New York. One of the best is the 1944 musical "On the Town," which was inspired by the Jerome Robbins ballet "Fancy Free."

"On the Town" was adapted for film by co-directors Stanley Donan and Gene Kelly in 1949. The film is a love letter to New York and celebrates its historic sites. The film is a response to the consequences of World War II, produced when the conflict was still fresh in audiences' minds. The story centers on the three U.S. Navy sailors, Gabey (Kelley), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin), as they spend a day in the big city. They are only granted a brief leave from their responsibilities, and they're determined to spend 24 hours having as much fun as possible.

While "On the Town" is a much lighter musical than "West Side Story," the choreography holds up incredibly well. Kelley is so naturally charismatic that it doesn't matter that his character is written very broadly.


"West Side Story" generated interest among film fans because of Steven Spielberg's prominent reputation in the industry. Spielberg is one of the greatest American directors of all time, but he had never made a musical before. It was interesting to see Spielberg adapt his style to the genre, as many other great directors have also taken this leap. The noted British filmmaker Mike Leigh is renowned for his use of improv, which he incorporated extensively in his 1999 musical "Topsy-Turvy." Like Spielberg, Leigh had never directed a musical.

"Topsy-Turvy" explores the history of the Victorian theater during the development of playwright W. S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and composer Arthur Sullivan's (Allan Corduner) famous comedic opera, "The Mikado." Gilbert and Sullivan created many famous shows together, but "Topsy-Turvy" centers on the difficult period in their partnership between 1884 and 1885. The two strong-willed men quarrel about their creative differences and struggle to manage the large cast.

Like Spielberg, Leigh is a storyteller who can justify making a very long movie. Both" West Side Story" and "Topsy-Turvy" are over two-and-a-half hours long. "Topsy-Turvy" required an excessive runtime because of the attention it pays to the supporting characters. Each of the members of the "The Mikado" cast and crew is well-fleshed out so that their roles in the final production are more impactful. Leigh's frequent collaborator Timothy Spall gives a particularly memorable performance as "The Mikado's" star, Richard Temple. Temple is very stressed by the chaotic creative process.

An American in Paris

"West Side Story" is an epic tragedy. The film is a tear-jerker because of the quieter songs in the third act. Despite the somber climax, there are many lighthearted moments throughout. Musical numbers like "America" and "Gee, Officer Krupke" have a hilarious comedic tone, but that doesn't detract from the seriousness of the rest of the story.

Vincente Minnelli's classic 1951 musical "An American in Paris" starts off as a light farce but becomes something much darker and more experimental by the end. The film follows U.S. military veteran Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) during his extended stay in France. Jerry hopes to leave the violence of his past behind him and thinks he has what it takes to make it as a Bohemian artist. He seeks advice from his friend Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary), a successful French singer. While he explores Paris, Jerry notices Henri's crush, Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron), having lunch. Unaware of his best friend's prior interest, Jerry falls deeply in love with Lise.

While their dueling interests are initially played for laughs, "An American in Paris" concludes with a breathtaking dream sequence in which Jerry reflects on his doomed desires. The 17-minute scene doesn't have any spoken dialogue. It uses the piano composition "An American in Paris" by George Gershwin that inspired the story. It's a heartbreaking climax that radically shifts the atmosphere of the film.

Catch Me If You Can

Steven Spielberg may be 75-years-old, but somehow, he's still in touch with today's youth culture. "West Side Story" captures the energy of adolescent romance, conflict, and self-reflection. Despite the material and Spielberg's age, it doesn't feel outdated. Spielberg has told stories about young people and broken families throughout his career with films like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Hook," and "A.I. Artificial Intelligence." However, 2002's "Catch Me If You Can" captures a similar sense of youthful misbehavior as "West Side Story."

"Catch Me If You Can" tells the true story of Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his series of cons in the 1960s. Frank is talented at impersonating adults. He holds a number of fake identities, masquerading as medical professionals, pilots, salesmen, and legal authorities. Amazingly, Frank does all of this before he turns nineteen. The film focuses on Frank's rivalry with lonely FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks).

Across the Universe

Movie musicals that focus on young love can capture the potent emotions that come with growing up. "West Side Story" does a great job at showing youthful characters without taking their naive nature for granted. Tony and Maria make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives at a tender age, and they frequently make rash decisions.

The 2007 musical "Across the Universe" is another great cinematic love story about young people coming of age. Director Julie Taymor uses the iconic music of The Beatles to show the political and social changes of the 1960s. The film follows a British dockworker named Jude (Jim Sturgess) during his adventures in the United States. Jude searches for his father, but instead, he finds true love in college girl Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Lucy's rambunctious brother Max (Joe Anderson) takes Jude under his wing. The trio venture to New York and join the Bohemian art scene.


When "West Side Story" first debuted on Broadway in 1957, it told a story that was contemporary. One of the challenges that Spielberg faced with his new adaptation was recreating the historical detail of 1950s New York. Spielberg succeeded. The costumes and production design for "West Side Story" have been nominated for Oscars. Historical musicals that feel authentic offer insight into different time periods.

The 1966 stage play "Cabaret" explores the rise of fascism in the Weimar Republic during the lead up to World War II. As the Nazis grow in power, American writer Clifford Bradshaw seeks refuge in an illicit nightspot called the "Kit Kat Klub." He falls in love with cocky cabaret performer Sally Bowles. Another Broadway legend, the great choreographer Bob Fosse, adapted "Cabaret" into a 1972 film and won the Academy Award for best director. Liza Minnelli's transformative performance as Sally earned her the Academy Award for best actress. Minnelli shows the pressures that Sally faces as the threat of war grows stronger.

The Phantom of the Opera

Given the acclaim for both the original stage play and 1961 film, there were high expectations for the new version of "West Side Story" to live up to the show's legacy. There are few musicals in Broadway history that are quite as beloved as Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." Since its opening in 1986, "Phantom of the Opera" has become the longest-running show in Broadway history and the second-longest in London's West End. That certainly made a film adaptation an ambitious endeavor. This was a story that fans knew by heart.

Joel Schumacher attempted this tremendous feat with his 2004 film adaptation. Schumacher recreates the lavish setting of a French opera house, and each of the cast members redefines the established characters. Emily Rossum gives a breakout performance as the ambitious young soprano Christine Daaé. Christine performs in a massive opera house that is haunted by a mysterious masked man known as the Phantom (Gerard Butler). The Phantom falls in love with Christine's beautiful voice.

Guys and Dolls

"West Side Story" does a great job of humanizing the criminal underbelly of New York. The Jets and the Sharks are prone to violence, but they're not inherently cruel. The characters are simply motivated by their youthful impulses. The classic 1950 musical "Guys and Dolls" shows the dangerous world of organized crime in a comical way. "Guys and Dolls" was adapted for the screen in 1955 by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

The film centers on gambler Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) as he puts together an illegal craps game. Nathan is under financial pressure and needs the game to be a success, so he makes a bet with arrogant cardshark Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando). If Sky can successfully take the religious Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) out on a date, Nathan will pay him $1,000. Sky accepts the offer — even though Sarah despises gambling. Despite their differences, Sky and Sarah fall in love.


"West Side Story" tells a classic story of forbidden love. Although it's inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," tragic romances like "West Side Story" are as old as storytelling itself. Many stories from Arthurian legend are heartbreaking love sagas, and there is no tale more iconic than that of King Arthur, his wife Queen Guinevere, and the brave knight Sir Lancelot. The myth (by way of T.H. White's 1958 novel "The Once and Future King") was adapted into a 1960 Broadway musical, which was, in turn, adapted into a 1967 film.

The film follows King Arthur (Richard Harris) when he meets the beautiful young maiden Guinevere (Vanessa Redgrave) and falls in love with her. Arthur takes Guinevere with him as he travels back to Camelot, and she is amazed by the gorgeous kingdom. Arthur creates the Knights of the Round Table. Sir Lancelot du Lac (Franco Nero) is his best friend. Lancelot falls in love with Guinevere, and they begin a passionate affair. It breaks Arthur's heart, and he's forced to take up arms against his former ally.

All That Jazz

2021 was a huge year for movie musicals. In addition to "West Side Story," "Annette," "Dear Evan Hansen," "In The Heights," "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," "Cyrano," and "Cinderella" were also released. "West Side Story" stood out from the rest of the pack thanks to its incredible dance sequences which featured the brilliant choreography of Justin Peck. If you're looking for brilliant choreography, there are few Broadway choreographers in history as influential as the legendary Bob Fosse.

Fosse also had a great cinematic career, and in 1979, he told a semi-autobiographical story with his film "All That Jazz." Standing in for Fosse is fictional theater director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), a workaholic who suffers from visions of his impending death. Joe is haunted by fantasies of an angel named angel Angelique (Jessica Lange) but persists in honing his craft. He realizes that he's grown distant from his ex-wife, Audrey Paris (Leland Palmer), and young daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi).


With seven nominations, including best picture, best director, and best cinematography, "West Side Story" is one of the leaders at the 2022 Academy Awards. The last movie musical to win best picture at the Oscars was Rob Marshall's 2002 adaptation of "Chicago." The film is based on the beloved 1975 Broadway musical by Bob Fosse.

"Chicago" is set in the roaring 1920s, and the Illinois theater scene is filled with romance and crime. Charismatic lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) has made a name for himself defending clients that are obviously guilty of murder. He's tasked with defending two women: housewife Roxie Hart (Renne Zellweger) and showgirl Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Roxie was arrested for killing her cruel lover Fred Casely (Dominic West), but she aspires to command the stage like Velma. Roxie convinces her oblivious husband Amos (John C. Reilly) to invest in Flynn's services.