Special Reports

7 Movies Every Theater Person Should Watch While Stuck at Home

This is the essential list for the self-quarantined TheaterManiac.

Bette Davis and Anne Baxter appear in a show poster for All About Eve.
Bette Davis and Anne Baxter appear in a show poster for All About Eve.
(© 20th Century Fox)

So you're stuck at home hiding from coronavirus, huh? Well, there's no better time than now to go to the movies (in the privacy of your own home, of course). Streaming services have made it easier than ever to watch your favorite films on demand. Here are seven of my faves, all of which have a special connection to the theater:

1. All About Eve
This 1950 drama about the New York theater is a prerequisite for everything else on this list. It stars Bette Davis as great lady of the stage Margo Channing, and Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington, a stage-door admirer who is a little too dedicated to the role. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's screenplay features some of the most quotable lines in cinema, like "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night" and "I hate men," both coated in a delicious layer of Bette Davis venom. I can think of few more delightful activities for this nationwide lock-in than whipping up a strong martini and rewatching All About Eve.

2. The Band Wagon
Fred Astaire plays falling star Tony Hunter in this 1953 MGM musical, about a Hollywood actor who is so out of work, he goes back to Broadway. In New York, he meets his old friends, Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray), who have written a new show in which Tony can make his comeback. Cyd Charisse plays dancer and love interest Gabrielle Gerard. Featuring songs like "Dancing in the Dark" and "That's Entertainment!," The Band Wagon is the ultimate movie-musical backstager (yes, even more than 42nd Street). Under the direction of Vincente Minnelli (father of Liza), every frame is a masterpiece exploding with color and light. It's gorgeous and hilarious — everything you'd want from musical comedy.

3. Cabaret
Would it surprise you, dear reader, to learn that a movie poster featuring Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles hangs above my mantle, like the portrait of a beloved ancestor? A story of decadence and denial on the eve of the Third Reich, Cabaret has long been a favorite of mine in all of its forms, from Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories that inspired it all, to the 1966 Broadway musical (and its excellent 1998 revival, which was itself revived in 2014), to this Academy Award-winning 1972 film from director Bob Fosse. It features Joel Grey reprising the role of the Master of Ceremonies (which he originated on Broadway), and Minnelli sporting her most iconic bangs. Cabaret is the kind of movie you can watch again and again, and still discover new things.

4. Theatre of Blood
Not all movies from the early '70s could be Oscar winners: 1973's Theatre of Blood is a film that is so cheesy in its theatrical horror, it is likely to leave you in fits of laughter, even as you cringe at its gore. It's about a disgraced actor who takes his revenge on the poisoned-pen members of the London Drama Critics' Circle by knocking them off, one by one, in manners inspired by the grisly murders dreamed up by Shakespeare. It stars Vincent Price in the lead role of Edward Lionheart, and a young Diane Rigg as his merciless daughter, Edwina (based on this, we should have anticipated her cold-blooded performance as the Queen of Thorns in Game of Thrones). If you've ever gotten a bad review, this movie will give you some perspective.

5. Noises Off
Anyone who has ever experienced theater gone wrong firsthand will instantly appreciate this film adaptation of Michael Frayn's farce to end all farces. It's about a troupe of actors rehearsing for a Broadway-bound tour of a British sex farce called Nothing On. Headliner Dotty Otley (Carol Burnett) has unwisely put her own money in the production, which seems to be proceeding as swimmingly as the Titanic under the hapless direction of Lloyd Fellowes (Michael Caine). Backstage drama spills downstage in this hilarious three-act comedy starring Denholm Elliott, John Ritter, Christopher Reeve, Nicollette Sheridan, Marilu Henner, Julie Hagerty, and Broadway regular Mark Linn-Baker. This one never fails to make me laugh.

6. Showgirls
This 1995 camp classic stars Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley as Las Vegas showgirls, and it easily falls into the category of so-bad-it's-good. It's not about the theater in the most highbrow sense, but it has taught me so many pithy lessons about show business, like "We're all whores, darlin'" and "There's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you" (something our presidential aspirants would be wise to remember as they choose running mates). Berkley, who intended Showgirls to be her adult debut after conquering the after-school set in Saved by the Bell, delivers one of the most memorable performances of all time — she cannot even eat a hamburger convincingly, a feat that surely requires skill. Showgirls is legendary, and has even inspired its own unofficial musical adaptation. It makes a great bookend with All About Eve.

7. Waiting for Guffman
A sidesplitting mockumentary from the Christopher Guest crew (the same folks that brought you Best in Show and A Mighty Wind), Waiting for Guffman takes place in Blaine, Missouri, on the eve of the town's sesquicentennial. In honor of the event, the local theater troupe, led by quirky director Corky St. Clair (Guest), has devised a new musical called Red, White and Blaine. The movie's Beckettian title refers to a producer named Mort Guffman who has been invited to see the production. Corky and his cast are convinced that a positive review from Guffman will take them straight to "Broad-way." Any true thespian will instantly recognize the characters in Waiting for Guffman, the funniest film ever made about community theater.