Pitch Perfect 2 hits theaters on May 15 and audiences are anticipating what kind of a cappella mash-up goodness the movie has in store. The first installment of the franchise blew our earholes with amazing songs that are still on rotation on our iTunes playlists. In particular, Pitch Perfect’s finale brought about memories of some of the best and most uplifting music finales in movies. We’ve ranked the best musical movies that 1.) had an underdog choir, solo singer, or band and 2.) had a big, celebratory musical finale, whether it be on a stage or at a music competition, in front of an audience. Check out the list below:
A “best of” music list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Beyoncé. She stars with Cuba Gooding Jr. in this gospel-infused movie about a big time, somewhat shady New York executive named Darrin (Gooding Jr.) who comes back to his small hometown when he learns his beloved Aunt Sally has died. Her will states that Darrin must direct the church choir in the annual “Gospel Explosion” choir competition, whose top prize is $10,000. With the help of his childhood friend Lilly (Beyoncé), he overcomes a fair amount of speed bumps and directs them to victory with this mellow, yet soulful performance. And, of course, he becomes a much better person in the end and winds up marrying Beyoncé.
Will (Gaelan Connell), an awkward young man and Bowie enthusiast, is the new kid in town and befriends the resident alt girl at his new school named Sa5m (the “5” is silent … groan), played by Vanessa Hudgens. She tells him about the film’s namesake music competition. Sa5m and Will end up joining a band started by Charlotte (Aly Michalka), in which Sa5m sings vocals and Will manages. They do a ska/punkish version of Bread’s “Everything I Own” at Bandslam only to lose the contest—but don’t fret. David Bowie just happens to see their awesome performance on YouTube and signs the group to his indie label.
It’s your classic tale of a talented small-town girl (Hilary Duff) who attends a big city music school after mourning the loss of her brother. She quickly learns she needs to prove herself—not only to her intimidating classmates and teachers but to herself. She eventually “raises her voice” in a true-to-form G-rated ending, complete with an inspiring song dedicated to her brother that finally has her overcome her self-doubt. And yes, we may have cried. Just a little bit.
When The Rocker came out, it was critically panned, though a loyal minority thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Starring Rainn Wilson, it’s a treasure trove of some of today’s best comedic actors: Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin, Jane Krakowski, Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, and featured the likes of Josh Gad, Emma Stone and Aziz Ansari before they became marquee names. There’s even an appearance from Bradley Cooper in a glorious hairband wig and guyliner. Wilson plays Fish, an ex-drummer from a band that has reached legendary status, who joins his nephew’s garage band, A.D.D., that eventually hits the big time. The final performance takes place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it’ll make you want to smile and mosh all at once.
To see a live action Josie and the Pussycats movie before a feature film based on Archie and the gang was a little weird considering Archie was a bigger name for that universe, but we welcomed it anyway. Capitalizing on an era when girl power was paramount, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson and Rachael Leigh Cook play the titular rockers, who finish the movie with a huge arena concert in which they perform their music without all the commercial nonsense they’ve been fighting through the whole time.
Burlesque is kind of like Raise Your Voice but with a spoonful of Showgirls minus the NC-17 rating. Christina Aguilera plays Ali, a small-town girl with a big ambition who moves to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. She ends up working at a burlesque club managed by the no-B.S. Tess (Cher), a veteran performer who’s as classy as ever. After rising through the ranks and enduring a bit of guy trouble (don’t you hate it when that happens?), Ali becomes the star of the club. The end result is a fancy and feathered finale suitable for PG-13 audiences.
The finale in Joyful Noise is similar to another movie on this list—very similar, and just as joyous (hence the title). As the second gospel choir-centric entry, it stars music icons Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as well as young triple threats Jeremy Jordan and Keke Palmer. The film pits newly appointed, more traditional choir director Vi (Latifah) against G.G. (Parton) as they try to take the choir in a new direction. Vi eventually sees the light and at the end, during the finals of a choir competition, a big production will have you testifying while dropping it like it’s hot.
This saccharine-infused Disney romp of singing and dancing teens has a Romeo and Juliet vibe to it, in which a boyish, pre-six pack Zac Efron as Golden Boy Troy pines for the bookish Gabriella (a pre-Spring Breakers Vanessa Hudgens). The end is an uplifting pep rally where everyone puts their differences aside, singing that no matter what, they’re “all in this together.” It’s tough to resist singing along.
The Hairspray musical keeps in the spirit of the original John Waters movie (1988), complete with socially conscious humor and irreverent charm. When Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) shows up at a nationally televised dance competition to prove that big boned girls can move it like the best of them, her love interest Link (Zac Efron) finally realizes that he’s in love with her. The conclusion is a fine extravaganza of dancing and mile-a-minute singing that encourages viewers to reach for their hopes and dreams no matter what—and there’s also John Travolta in drag.
Fame is the first movie to capture the angst, grit and raw artistry of students attending a performing arts school. It feels more like a documentary than a feature film—with great moments of music and dancing (see: “Hot Lunch” and Irene Cara’s performance of “On My Own”). The drama culminates with the finale of “I Sing the Body Electric,” and all disciplines of the performing arts on display: vocals, band, orchestra, dancing and acting. It’s so glorious and so … ’80s.
Lauryn Hill was the breakout star in this sequel, in which a bunch of uncooperative Catholic school kids band together under the tutelage of the no-nunsense Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi Goldberg). Hill plays Rita, the most difficult student of them all—and she also happens to be the most talented one (she is Lauryn Hill, after all). True to form, Sister Act 2 features a large-scale competition where the choir mash-up hip-hop with hymnals for a finale that blows the roof off much like Joyful Noise but in the ’90s … and a tad bit better.
Jack Black is a wild card when it comes to movies, but any time it involves music (and Richard Linklater), he kills it. In School of Rock he plays a down-on-his-luck musician who unwillingly becomes an elementary teacher who rises to the challenge and makes rock stars out of the misfit kids he’s teaching. The final show gives the students a time to shine to everyone who has underestimated them—even their parents.
It’s one of the best musicals of all time, but this movie adaptation about a bunch of Broadway hopefuls auditioning for a new musical was met with mixed reviews. For the most part, the spirit of the stage show is captured in the film, but it’s the gold-plated top hat finale of high kicking that makes this finale the most memorable.
When “new girl with an edge” Beca (Anna Kendrick) joins the super buttoned-up all-female a cappella group at her new college, her efforts to reinvent their sound are met with opposition by the group’s leader Aubrey (Anna Camp). After some convincing, Aubrey comes around and the finale performance at the a cappella national competition is unbelievably aca-awesome, the ultimate mash-up of songs appropriate for Gen Xers and Millennials alike. Pitch Perfect pumps new life into movies about the underdog musician—so much that they made a sequel.
This Whoopi Goldberg-starring tale of a choir of nuns who can’t carry a tune is a pop culture staple—it led to a sequel (also on this list) and a Tony Award-nominated musical. The finale song, “I Will Follow Him,” was originally a French song sung by Petula Clark and then by Paola Neri. Little Peggy March put a little groove in it in 1963, then the women of Sister Act got a hold of it and made it their own. The number’s church-friendly, soul-stirring introduction escalates to a joyous celebration of song. For some reason, it makes sense that a choir of sassy nuns would provide one of the best musical finales in film.