This post was originally published in September 2013.
On Friday, Step Up: All In will gather the dance-minded citizens of this great nation together once again. In honor of this occasion, please join Vulture as we revisit our definitive list of Modern Dance Movies, Ranked by Danciness. We repeat: by danciness (as opposed to, say, objective quality). Musicals do not count, as they are about singing as well as dancing. Cheerleading movies do count, because cheerleaders pretty much just dance. This is about movement, people. Movement, cheesiness, and a really dramatic final dance sequence.
Have you watched this recently? I have. And while that Kevin Bacon barn scene is a classic, this movie is mostly about … preaching. And small-town laws. And a dance ban, which means that people do not dance. This goes against everything I believe. (Plus it’s kind of boring.)
23. Battle of the Year
The first half of this movie is rough-going, but then a smart thing happens (spoiler alert): Chris Brown gets injured. Without his terribleness, Battle of the Year is just your average Olympics-lite dance movie, and the penultimate routine (as opposed to the battle, which is ruined by 3-D) is legitimately impressive. This movie would be higher if Sawyer danced. Why on earth didn’t they make Sawyer dance?
22. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Baby Sarah Jessica Parker! Baby Helen Hunt! Baby Shannen Doherty! The moves are not exactly professional, but the crop-top game is tops.
21. The Full Monty
Dance movies are not just for teen girls; they are an equal-opportunity genre. Whoever wants to dance shall dance (even if dancing just means wiggling around to “Hot Stuff”).
20. Step Up 2: The Streets
It is the weakest of the Step Ups, except for the title — come on, that’s funny — and the Channing Tatum scene. That Channing Tatum hoodie moment, though. Not bad.
19. Black Swan
This is a very good capital-F Film! But all that time spent hallucinating and sprouting gross wings and stuff is time not spent dancing. And then when they finally get around to it, the dance aficionados are like, Yeah, but how many times have I seen the danse des petits cygnes? Exactly.
18. Step Up Revolution
In terms of so-bad-it’s-good moments, you really cannot top the ending of Step Up 4. After using Occupy tactics and the power of dance to convince Evil Peter Gallagher to cancel his evil real estate project, the team immediately — like, within two minutes — and joyfully announces that they’ve locked down a Nike sponsorship. Good for them? Capitalism!
17. Billy Elliot
Okay, so this is less about perfect dancing and more about wanting to dance — but just try to watch that final acceptance scene without crying. We are all Billy Elliot when we watch dance movies.
16. Mad Hot Ballroom
And over in the kids’ ballroom department, we have adorable and real children learning about themselves through the power of salsa. Dancing children are great. Put that in a Pixar movie or something.
15. Take the Lead
Ah, the beloved “teacher saves underprivileged kids and himself through art” genre. The difference between Take the Lead and Battle of the Year is simple: The teacher is Antonio Banderas, and he dances. Lesson: Make the older hot guy dance, always.
You’ve got early, enthusiastic Jessica Alba; you’ve got Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, and Jadakiss; you’ve got an above-average plot (music video choreographer! That is a new one, as far as dance movies go). It’s like Coyote Ugly, basically, but with rap music and no Jersey jokes. Upgrade.
Can you say the word “maniac” and not run in place while shaking your head vigorously? Really? Be honest.
12. Magic Mike
Pony! Pony. Pony. Pony. #Pony. That is all.
11. How She Move
Oh look, it is Tara from True Blood, and some very serious dancing. (We’re getting close to the “holy shit” portion of this list, skill-wise.)
10. Strictly Ballroom
If Silver Linings Playbook does not qualify — and it doesn’t, sorry, football is more important in that one — then Strictly Ballroom is the most romantic climactic ballroom scene ever committed to film. (Maybe it just is anyway. Aw, it’s nice.)
9. Step Up 3D
Is Moose the best character in the Step Up universe? No, he is the second best character, but he works very hard in this movie. Also, might it contain the best final dance sequence of all four? Consider it.
8. Saturday Night Fever
For the record, Celine Dion did it better. But this is where your uncle learned that pointy thing that he does at weddings, and it is the peak of disco (until Daft Punk makes a weird art film, anyway).
7. Stomp The Yard
Positive spoiler alert: Chris Brown is booted out even earlier in this movie. And then you get to watch handsome Harrison from Scandal learn about stepping, love, and fraternities. Bonus: Ne-Yo acts!
6. Save the Last Dance
You can’t run away from dance, and you can’t run away from love. How does Julia Stiles not know this already? Does she not watch dance movies? Whatever, it’s nice that the cellist from Cruel Intentions got another job.
5. You Got Served
If nothing else, this is a priceless B2K scrapbook, but it was also the pioneering street dance movie, and without a big name, too. (Sorry, B2K?) Dance movies don’t need celebrities. Dance movies just need heart.
4. Bring It On
Okay, okay, technically it’s about cheerleaders. But the DNA of the movie is the same — rival teams; big competition; Popular girls are the worst! — and what is the central conflict about? Stolen dance moves. It counts!
3. Center Stage
To a certain type of viewer — the kind who took ballet as a child, but never quite figured out how to dance on pointe shoes — this is the dance movie to beat. The acting is terrible (they hired real ballerinas), and the main character gives a super annoying Kelly Taylor rip-off speech at the end, but that final ballet? With the red shoes and the Jamiroquai? Too good.
2. Dirty Dancing
Yes, we know: That lift is the single most important dance move in the history of movies. But the movie is not just about that lift: It is about growing up and getting out of the corner; about abortion; about that song you should never sing in karaoke but do anyway. Dirty Dancing is a classic, so much so that it transcends dance movie status. It’s just a good movie, period, which is why on this particular list, it is second to ...
1. Step Up
It’s the Fast & Furious of dance movies: the beloved franchise which guarantees that we’ll have formulaic but still-fun sequels and copycats for years to come. More important: It gave us Channing Tatum. Thank you, Step Up, for all your many gifts.