Top 10 Best DCI (Drum Corps International) Shows

The list is based on two categories: execution and innovation, with best of both at the top of the list. Score isn't a factor, simply an illustration.
The Top Ten
1 Bluecoats 2014: "Tilt"

Holy cow, what a finish. I will say that it got a little rough at moments, so that's why it didn't score high, but definitely audience-appeasing.

Never has a theme been so thoroughly infused into a show. Never have props been used so prudently. Never has a drum major so captivated not only his ensemble but his audience. Never has a ballad reached out and touched emotion such as this.

Never has the combination of music and general effect been so overpowering as to bring an entire stadium to its feet in frenzied screams of adoration. There has never been a show like Tilt, and I'm not sure there ever will be again.

2 Phantom Regiment 2008: "Spartacus"

I've been attending drum corps shows for 45+ years, and I had never, nor have since (I'm writing this in 2017), experienced anything like the finals performance of Spartacus. The crowd was so into the show that the standing ovation began long before the show ended and continued long after it was over. The roar of the crowd was deafening.

I was seated near the top of the stadium at Indiana University (it was supposed to be the first year at the Lucas Oil Stadium, but the stadium wasn't finished yet, so they moved the show to Bloomington, Indiana, at the Indiana University stadium - which was also being renovated at the time). The crowd was so loud by the time Phantom reached its final chords that we could barely hear the corps. The cheers from the crowd were even louder when Blue Devils were announced in second place. Finally - a true win for Phantom Regiment - a night I will never forget.

3 Santa Clara Vanguard 2018: "Babylon"

Finally got to watch the full high cam show and it is wonderful. So perfect. Surprised it wasn't scored higher, but what a ballad and what a finish. So unique in choreography and, of course, music. The mellophones are the best I've ever heard.

Wow! Even just watching the opener, I was blown away, especially by when the brass first entered. The ballad was very memorable, with a beautiful baritone duet and powerful horn snap. The closer perfectly concluded the show with a sense of resolution and ended with a powerful restatement of the original melody.

Their props added a strong visual component to the show, shown in how they were used to visually depict "My body is a cage" in the ballad, as well as to demonstrate resolution at the end of the closer, where all the brass players formed a wall of sound using the props to elevate their stance and further project.

4 Bluecoats 2016: "Downside up"

The show may have been dirty, but the writing for it was stunning, with amazing literature and cool props. Great year for Bloo.

As a trumpet player, I'm clearly biased towards this show. What is it, 10 trumpet solos and 2 flugelhorn? But even aside from that, I can honestly say I'm in awe of how purely good they are!

I fell in love with this show the first time I saw it and haven't stopped loving it since. Definitely the best show in DCI in my book.

Such an awesome show! So many cool things about it to mention. Miss the traditional uniforms, but understand why they wentwith the ones they did.

Saw it live in San Antonio and streamed the finals! So pumped with their win! Still watch the show over and over!

5 Blue Devils 2014: "Felliniesque"

The only other shows that I can think of that have such a unique playing style and creativity are 1930 and Babylon, but along with this one, it is just a sound that, once you finally touch, you hear.

This show is the definition of flawless execution and the pinnacle of the Blue Devils' dominance. In my humble opinion, it is the greatest DCI show to date. Its innovative qualities will be echoed in hindsight. Hence, I will not attempt to convey blasphemous comments toward Star '93. However, there is no show in DCI history that beats this one for difficulty, execution, and emotional conveyance.

I admit, I am a total fanboy of this show. There was one point where I listened to it every day, sometimes multiple times a day, for about three months. Why? The opener is ridiculous, the ballad melts your heart, the jazz movement knocks your socks off, the "Be Italian" section brings a sense of authenticity (mainly, the oompa band), and the closer makes you get on your feet, cheering, jaw-dropped in response to what you just witnessed.

Won every caption but Percussion (2nd), Perfect GE score and Perfect Visual score. Score: 99.65. Placement for the Year: 1st (duh).

6 Carolina Crown 2015: "Inferno"

One of the best shows I've ever had the pleasure of seeing live. It should have definitely gotten first place.

This show is really a great show. I've really grown to love it, especially the ballad.

Honestly, I was blown away by the opener, and it's probably their best one yet!

7 Blue Devils 2017: "Metamorph"

BEST SHOW EVER!!! What a ballad with Javier. So much growth throughout the show, just like a butterfly. Finished with a banger.

Great show with incredible technical playing. Slightly overrated.

Best show I've ever heard. The ending is heavenly.

8 Carolina Crown 2013: "E=MC^2"

Another show with undisputed facts. This show had the best hornline of all time. Plain and simple. Perfect 20 in Finals, probably deserved a 21.

The design was great as well. If it wasn't for that darn percussion line, it had a shot at breaking the Cavies-Cadets record. Score: 98.3. Placement for the Year: 1st.

This was the best show ever performed. I got into watching DCI in 2017 and have watched this show so many times. This show may be confusing, but it is so good. I cannot wait for Crown to release their 2018 show called Beast!

The best technically executed show I have ever seen. I am in shock and awe at all of the extremely difficult 16th note passages that they make sound incredibly easy.

9 Santa Clara Vanguard 1989: "Phantom of the Opera"

Recognizable music, beautifully orchestrated and very musical. I really enjoyed the "magic trick" at the end where they made a whole drum corps "disappear." And, don't forget this was still on good old-fashioned G bugles.

Jonathan Evans BAC '82, '84 Front Ensemble
Norfolk, VA.

Was the highest scoring show at one point, but Weber's Phantom on the field is now home to a classic DCI show. Plus, that ending!

The all-time fan favorite, a show everyone loves, and a record holder for 13 straight seasons (1989-2002). Everything was spot on. Nothing else to say. Score: 98.8 Placement for the Year: 1st

10 Cavaliers 2002: "Frameworks"

This show is just spectacular. The visual design elements and musical ideas elevated DCI greatly. It set the blueprint for visual and General Effect perfection, before BD '14 actually did achieve both on the score sheets.

Look up "Full Shows DCI" on YouTube, a playlist with eight videos will come up, and click on the Music General Effect judge's tape. That will outline the greatness of this show better than I ever could. It won every caption, except percussion (3rd). Score: 99.15. Placement for the Year: 1st.

Yes. Cavies 2002 is not a hard show compared to others. But, it was clean and high energy. Another highest-scoring show of all time, but every time I watch it, I always get "1 2 and, 4 1 and, 3 4" stuck in my head.

The Contenders
11 Star of Indiana 1993: "The Music of Barber and Bartok"

Few will dispute that this is the most innovative DCI show of all time. Place this show in the current year, and it would be in the top three, no questions asked. The execution was phenomenal as well.

They won Percussion and tied for Brass. Really, anyone can say what they want for second through tenth, but this one is non-negotiable. Everyone bow down! Score: 97.3. Placement for the Year: 2nd (the judges should be jailed for robbery, and do not give me that "Star was dirty on finals night" nonsense, I do not care).

It's not just that this show was so extraordinary, it also often partners with Madison 88 as the two greatest shows of all time in various surveys over the years, at least among those who were awake at the time. These two shows illustrate that there are different kinds of drum corps for different kinds of fans. Madison 88 stands as the ultimate popular show, and Star 93 is the ultimate artsy show.

12 Cadets 2011: "Between Angels and Demons"

I always wanted to see a band do a battle-themed show, and this one was perfect. What a finish, and the ballad chords were unbeatable.

I loved the fact that they made a show so creative and the music to go along with the show was amazing. And how about that drum break? Amazing show. Definitely deserved first place.

One of the last truly first-class shows for the Cadets. I did, however, enjoy the 2015 show with the black cadet uniforms. Hoping they will regain their mojo this year!

13 Madison Scouts 1988: "Malaguena"

Truly powerful percussion and electrifying horn line. The solos are really well written and excerpted. Stands the test of time after almost 40 years.

The music was played with flavor and personality without sounding mechanical. The Madison Scouts looked and played like a marching band rather than a theater stage show.

This show turned the Scouts into a corps to take seriously. Also, this is the loudest show I've seen live.

14 Carolina Crown 2016: "Relentless"

Incredible show theme, paired with incredibly detailed music and drill. Near-perfect execution makes this one of my all-time favorite shows.

The opener gets me every time I watch it. Amazing and intense second movement with a beautiful ballad. The velocity of the closer also keeps me on my toes.

This was one of the first ever shows I saw live, and I can't describe how much positivity and feelings of dedication and commitment it gave me throughout my marching years. I aspire to be a player one day.

15 Bluecoats 2015: "Kinetic Noise"

Criminally underrated and very unique show. The ballad is very emotional, with an intense closer and amazing music throughout.

One of the few peak drill designs. I love how the field completely encapsulates what is going on in the music, as if the drills are its own little visualizer for the show. It makes you forget that it's people making those shapes and movements.

Most underrated yet amazing. The musical technicality, alongside the amazing soloists, adds so much to this great show.

16 The Academy 2016: "Drum Corpse Bride"

Reminiscent of the classic Phantom Regiment sound musically, with the visual appeal of the Blue Devils we all know and love, their manipulation of the chairs was on point, and the story of the bride and groom tugs at your hearts. Their rendition of Unchained Melody will have you humming all day long. I think this is one of the most underrated shows in modern DCI history.

The hornline has such a clean and pure sound that you can't help but get pulled into the music. If you don't cry because of the beauty of the sound, you'll definitely cry for the Drum Corpse Bride herself.

17 Phantom Regiment 2011: "Juliet"

My favorite show of all time, Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral, gives me chills every time without fail. I listen to this at least once a day!

The most musically sound show that Regiment ever did, or any drum corps for that matter. In my opinion, the greatest closer of all time!

18 Cavaliers 2006: "The Machine"

The epitome of a fun drill show. Very creative and captivating. Loved the music that goes along with the visuals.

One of Michael Gaines' best drill designs. The Cavies were in the early 2000s till 2011 absolutely stunning. Not a single show that I would consider "boring." Made me a Cavies fan.

Still hoping for them to get back to where they once were: At the very top! Leading the pack.

No props or narrating, simply nothing. Instead, the most unique concept and drill that DCI has ever witnessed. That show deserves a top 10 placement. It's the epitome of perfect design.

19 Star of Indiana 1991: "Immaggini di Roma (Roman Images):The Music of Ottorino Respighi"

This is one of those shows with nonnegotiable qualities. It features the best drill in DCI's storied history, cross to cross, 'enough said. It also boasts the best Mellophone line in DCI history.

If you disagree with those two statements, you haven't seen the show. It established Star of Indiana as THE corps of the early '90s. Score: 97.0. Placement for the Year: 1st.

This was easily the best show of all time. It's a shame that they folded.

Unarguably, this should be considered the best show of all time. If Star was still around, BD would have nothing on them.

20 Cadets 2000: "We Are The Future"
21 Carolina Crown 2012: "For the Common Good"

In my opinion, just from what I can hear and see, this is the hardest show ever put onto a field. Absolutely astonishing sound, and most everyone is running. If it weren't for the confusing theme, I think this show should have scored anywhere from 98.5 to 99.

Very underrated show. Intense opener, moving ballad, and grandiose closer. Awesome drill paired with an even better horn line.

The actual show idea may not be the best, but when you look at what they're doing, nobody could do it better. Possibly the most difficult show in history, and performed the best.

22 Cadets 2005: "The Zone: Dreamscapes in Four Parts with a Door"

This to me is the show that spawned modern show design. It signaled the end of shows with shallow designs' opportunity to grab gold. Design layers must be deep and intimate, questions left unanswered. Open for debate. No show before it was anything like it, and few have been since. The only show in DCI history to win every single caption, and handily in most. Score: 99.15. Placement for the Year: 1st.

There is a magic to this show that few others have. Such a simple prop, with such an engaging and unique atmosphere to the production.

23 Carolina Crown 2018: "Beast"

Had a resemblance to the 2015 Crown but it was even better. The trombones were a huge part of bringing this show to life. I absolutely loved their opener, ballad, and closer. The trombones rocked!

24 Cadets 1987: "Appalachian Spring"

This is, quite frankly, the best combination of music and marching that I've ever seen. The dissolving company front leads into its own curtain call. Phenomenal. The best ever.

Best drill I've ever seen. Unmatched. Check it out on YouTube. Number 1 in my book for classic drum corps buffs and new.

25 Santa Clara Vanguard 2016: "Force of Nature"

Personally, this is my favorite SCV show. The great theme and atmosphere bring together this show for sure. The opener is one of the greatest things I've ever heard in all of DCI. I love myself some Vanguard drill, and the music is just amazing.

Personally, this show was designed perfectly and was played so beautifully, one of my all-time favorites. I also got to do that Vanguard yell at finals, so I was super happy.

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