Some of the most iconic films of all time have been rooted in dance and song. Combining different media when telling a story is a powerful tool not only because of how entertaining it can be, but also because movement and song express what words oftentimes cannot. In a musical / dance film, when a character simply can not say what they are feeling, they pour their soul into a dance.
From classic 80s moviessuch as Dirty Dancing, Footloose, and Flashdanceto critically acclaimed dramas like Black Swan and La La Land, dance has helped to create some of today’s most beloved movies. In 1961, Jerome Robbins created one of the most notorious dance films of all time, West Side Story. The musical / romance starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, and Rita Moreno was an instant success. The legacy of West Side Story is now greater than ever due to Steven Spielberg’s 2021 adaptation of the film, which has allowed the story to reach a new and younger generation, and has recently been nominated for a plethora of awards at the upcoming 2022 Academy Awards. The list of great dance movies throughout cinematic history is abundant, but these are the best ones that will get you on your feet.
8 Magic Mike
In 2012, Academy Award winner, Steven Soderbergh directed the comedy-drama Magic Mike starring Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez. The film grossed over $ 160 million at the box office and produced a sequel, Magic Mike XXLwhich was released in 2015. Although Magic Mike is widely enjoyed by audiences and Channing Tatum fans, the movie was a jump for the director who is known for his work on Contagion, Ocean’s Eleven, and, the film that earned Soderbergh his Oscar, Traffic. Recently, Tatum revealed that the series’ final film Magic Mike’s Last Dance would be all about dancing.
What makes Cabaret a great dance film is that it was directed and choreographed by dance legend Bob Fosse with great influence from Broadway star Gwen Verdon. Both Fosse and Verdon are idolized to this day in the dance community for their impact on Broadway and American jazz dance as a whole. Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli stars as Sally Bowles alongside Joel Gray, and gives the performance of her career. The two received Academy Awards for their portrayals in the categories of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, in 1973. In total, Cabaret received eight Oscars including Best Director for Fosse. What’s more, in that same year, Fosse won an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy within two months of each other.
The story of Ren McCormack shaking up the rules set in place at the conservative Midwestern town he recently moved to is one that has been reaching generations for years. The original Footloose released in 1984 has become an 80s classic and is considered to be one of Kevin Bacon’s most iconic roles. In 2011, Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough took on the challenge of tackling Ren McCormack and Ariel Moore in Craig Brewer’s reboot of the film. Unlike most sequels, the 2011 Footloose was very well received and even earned a higher critics score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the original.
5 Dirty Dancing
Next on the list is probably the most iconic dance movie of the 80s, Dirty Dancing. Even 35 years after the film was released, people of all ages are coming back to Johnny Castle and Baby to experience their feel-good love story all over again. At the end of the hour and a half dance / romance, leading actors Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray create one of the best movie / dance routines with Baby getting lifted over Johnny’s head as if she is flying in the air.
Chicago is one of the few dance movies to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture. Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere star in Rob Marshall’s musical / crime as three of the most iconic Broadway characters Roxie Hart, Velma Kelly, and Billy Flynn, respectively. The movie is based on the Broadway musical Chicago originally choreographed by Bob Fosse and starred Gwen Verdon. Chicago received extreme critical acclaim and earned a total of twelve Academy Award nominations.
3 Black Swan
While there is some controversy surrounding how much of the professional dancing in Black Swan is actually done by Natalie Portman, there is no denying that this is a beautiful film that tells the story of an artist who is pushed over the edge and will do anything for their craft. Mental health and trauma is a very serious and relevant issue in the dance community, especially in the ballet world. Portman’s portrayal of Nina Sayers earned the actress her first Academy Award for Best Actress, and although her performance was incredible, the only problem with Black Swan is the lack of credit her dance double, American Ballet Theater Principal Dancer Sarah Lane, received for her work on the film.
2 La La Land
Some of the most memorable and stunning scenes in Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is due to the intricate and visually appealing dance choreography. The upbeat and expansive movement in the opening scene, “Another Day of Sun,” and the beautiful and sweeping partnering moments between leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in “Lovely Night” are amazing. This movie is a perfect example of how music and dance can enhance storytelling in a way that is so unique. Emma Stone won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film in addition to La La Land’s four other Oscar wins.
1 West Side Story
Coming in at number one on the list is the most iconic dance film of all time, West Side Story. This timeless tale based on Romeo and Juliet was originally released in 1961 and directed by choreographer Jerome Robbin, starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer, and George Chakiris. While the story of Tony and Maria and the music by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim are so incredible, there are many flaws with the original adaptation of West Side Story, primarily based on the misrepresentation of Puerto Ricans. Steven Spielberg took on the challenge of creating his own rendition of the film which was released in 2021, starring Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose, Mike Faist, and David Alvarez. To say this film was a success is an understatement, especially considering West Side Story (2021) is currently nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Lindsay Lohan has struck a new deal with Netflix to star in another two movies in addition to a holiday rom-com that’s already in the works.
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