There is no in-between when it comes to the Step Up franchise. Staunch supporters of the dance movies that started in 2006 with Channing Tatum in one of his earliest roles praise the “jaw-dropping and innovative dance sequences,” while others can’t stand to grimace their way through the cheesy scripts and storylines. The fourth installment in the series, Step Up Revolution , hits theaters this Friday. No matter where you stand on the Step Up issue, there are plenty of rhythmically challenged dance movies out there just waiting to sway you to sleep. To help keep your feet happy, we’ve cherry-picked several dance films that are actually worth your time. See what we came up with past the break, then drop us a note with your recommendations below.
This month marks the 60th anniversary of actor-director Gene Kelly’s 1952 musical classic Singin’ in the Rain, and Warner Home Video just gifted fans of the film favorite with a deluxe Blu-ray release. The famous dance routine featuring a love-struck Kelly singing in the rain and twirling an umbrella while splashing through puddles was apparently ad-libbed in one take and filmed while the actor was very ill with a fever. Even if you’re not a fan of musicals or dance movies, the film — and it’s impeccable choreography — is magical, romantic, and memorable in all the right ways.
Although it’s hard to believe that a movie about rival gangs could be beautifully heartfelt, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ movie is exactly that. The energetic dance moves are athletically and powerfully executed, and charismatic gang leaders played by Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris deliver some incredible moves. Robbins rehearsed with dancers for several months before shooting, but kept revising his choreography as filming progressed — making the end result all the more impressive of an accomplishment.
Also see: Martin Scorsese’s 18-minute short film for Michael Jackson’s Bad , which incorporated choreography from West Side Story and boasts some great original dance steps, too.
Wim Wenders’ Pina is a tribute to the late German choreographer Pina Bausch, featuring her contemporary choreography performed by her closest dancers. While most of us groan when it comes to 3D technology, Wenders incorporates it perfectly into his lyrical film, and it’s exciting to watch. Sweat, veins, and muscles never looked so amazing. You don’t need to appreciate this style of dance to absorb its breathtaking execution and Wenders’ unique settings.
The 1948 Powell and Emeric Pressburger ballet classic about a woman torn between the love of her life and a strict impresario is symbolically told through the prima ballerina’s fantastical performance — based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name. The stunning and surreal sequence is the film’s centerpiece and features some of the most atmospheric visuals ever put to screen.
This was Disney’s 1992 box office bomb that has since become a cult favorite and Broadway hit. The oft-forgotten film is based on the historical tale of the 1899 New York City newsboy strike and stars pre-Batman Christian Bale shaking his groove thing. “You say something bad about Newsies and you have an awful lot of people to answer to,” the actor once said of the film. None of the young stars had dancing or singing experience before Newsies, but they manage to pull it off with aplomb. If you want to know more about this movie, loved for its message of hope and its big heart, talk to the biggest Newsies fan we know: Movieline’s West Coast Editor Jen Yamato.
If you only see one Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film in your life, make it Top Hat. The duo is sublime in their best-known work and makes intricate tap steps look incredibly easy. The film is most remembered for its “Cheek to Cheek” and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” segments, made all the more charming by music from the legendary Irving Berlin.
Swing era enthusiasts take note: you will not see Lindy Hop dance moves as frenetic as these in any other movie. The 1941 Universal Pictures adaptation of H.C. Potter’s musical of the same name is packed with slapstick one-liners and gags, but its wild dance numbers from The Harlem Congaroos (aka Whitey’s Steppers or Whitey’s Linday Hoppers) are the real marvel.
Anything by Busby Berkeley
The Hollywood choreographer and director is known for his lavish, epic musical numbers — lovingly parodied in films like The Big Lebowski. Visuals always took precedence over plot in a Berkeley film, but it works. The movies are swirling, kaleidoscopic spectacles aided by extravagantly costumed dancing girls and Berkeley’s innovative camera techniques. Although the actual moves may not involve truly difficult steps, the timing and complex patterns were no easy feat. The chorus lines in Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade feature a few of the filmmaker’s most exhilarating setups.
Before the Scientology chatter, masseuse gossip, and terrible hairpiece, John Travolta was charming audiences with his dazzling smile, cocky strut, and disco dance moves. Is it dated? Sure — but the 1977 portrait of a Brooklyn kid with big dreams trying to make something out of his life is a story everyone can relate to. Critic Pauline Kael summed up the movie’s appeal best in her New Yorker review:
“The way Saturday Night Fever has been directed and shot, we feel the languorous pull of the discotheque, and the gaudiness is transformed. These are among the most hypnotically beautiful pop dance scenes ever filmed… Travolta gets so far inside the role he seems incapable of a false note; even the Brooklyn accent sounds unerring… At its best, though, Saturday Night Fever gets at something deeply romantic: the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you’d like to be. Nirvana is the dance; when the music stops, you return to being ordinary.”
One of several classic 1980’s dance films (Flashdance and Footloose among them), Dirty Dancing became Patrick Swayze’s iconic project. He was an experienced dancer after studying at the Joffrey Ballet, similar to co-star Jennifer Grey (daughter of dancer Joel Grey) was also previously trained as a dancer. The film features several scenes of bump and grind-heavy choreography, but the finale’s passionate number with the climactic lift ties it all together perfectly.