Because We Still Can't Go to the Club, Here Are the Best Dance Movies of All Time

·9 min read
Photo credit: Lionsgate
Photo credit: Lionsgate

From Cosmopolitan

It’s safe to say that not everyone can own the dance floor. I mean, some of us are still struggling to keep up with those super difficult TikTok routines. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch others master some complicated choreo. Turns out there are people out there that can move parts of the body that I didn't even know existed, and it's a damn delight to admire their capabilities. Enter: the dance movie.

Rather than enhance character development and storylines through silly old dialogue, it’s way more fun to witness a triumphant pirouette or high stakes breakdance battle. Real life would be so much better if everyone broke out into spontaneous, but highly choreographed dance routines, at any given moment. But, until the sweet, sweet day that this becomes the cultural norm, we can try our best to live vicariously through cinema. Behold. a definitive list of some of the classic dance films, in no particular order (and minus film adaptations of Broadway musicals, trust, that’s a category for another day).

1. Shall We Dance

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2000s rom-com legend Jennifer Lopez plays a ballroom dance instructor who teaches a dull lawyer (Richard Gere) how to get a little loose. You’re definitely gonna Google local ballroom classes after watching this.

2. Another Cinderella Story

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It is hard to imagine that a sequel to Hilary Duff’s iconic Cinderella Story could be even half as good, but this movie really has it all. Behold the material: Selena Gomez, Drew Seeley (AKA the OG Troy Bolton,) and a one way mirror dance class scene. What more could be asked for?

3. Happy Feet

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If every once and a while, more people took the time out of their day to appreciate that there exists an 108 minute masterpiece about a penguin just wants to dance, our society would run smoother. This movie has tap dancing, Brittany Murphy, and it tackles climate change, it's required viewing.

4. Hustlers

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Hello yes J. Lo again. Is there a character introduction in cinematic history that can go toe to toe with her pole dancing to a Fiona Apple song? I think not.

5. Billy Elliot

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The fact that this film inspired a wildly successful Broadway musical should tell you enough. Billy is just a little English boy that just wants to do ballet, so get ready to have your heartstrings tugged.

6. Dirty Dancing

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The be-all and end-all of dance movies, Dirty Dancing is the story of Frances “Baby” Houseman, who has the time of her life with Johnny Castle, the dance instructor at the resort where her family is spending the summer. The final dance sequence is downright iconic and will make you question why your own partner can’t lift you like that on command.

7. Center Stage

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This movie has everything: Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows, young Zoë Saldana, Olympic gold medalist Ilia Kulik, and an overly sexual finale number set to Michael Jackson and Jamiroquai. Come for the fantastic ballet dancing, stay for the inspirational message that you should always dance with your heart even when your turnout is bad. Margot Fonteyn didn’t have great feet!

8. Black Swan

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Opinions vary as to whether or not this movie is actually scary, but this list isn’t about screaming, it’s about dancing—and Black Swan has plenty of dancing. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a young woman desperate to land the lead role in her ballet company’s production of Swan Lake. Throw in an overbearing but hot director, competition in the form of Mila Kunis, and a psychotic mom living vicariously through her daughter, and you’ve got a big ol’ nightmare ballet stew.

9. Step Up

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Step Up is ostensibly the gritty, semi-ridiculous tale of a young man from the wrong side of the tracks helping a prim ballet dancer add some hip-hop moves to her big audition routine, but it’s really the story of, *SNIFFS*, how Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan fell in love. Four sequels followed, but this one is, without question, the best.

10. You Got Served

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Street dance battles and a contest where the prize is getting to dance in a Lil’ Kim video—what’s not to love? Special note for Lost fans: Malcolm David “WAAAAALT” Kelley is in this movie.

11. Strictly Ballroom

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Baz Luhrmann’s debut film is over-the-top, but in the best way. Scott Hastings partners up with Fran, who’s not really his type in either the romance or dance departments and has no last name. Their worlds collide as the prestigious Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship looms, but all Scott wants to do is bust out his own moves. Fran goes through a seamless transformation, Scott’s hair takes on a life of its own, and a cover of “Time After Time” serves as their love song. There’s also someone called Tina Sparkle, who you know is up to no good.

12. Flashdance

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Alex Owens is a welder by day and burlesque dancer by night who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. Who hasn’t been there? Also of note is the soundtrack, which features such classics as “Maniac” and “Flashdance…What a Feeling.” The ’80s were truly special.

13. Girls Just Want to Have Fun

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Before she was Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker was Janey Glenn, a high school student who dreams of auditioning for her favorite show Dance TV. The movie also stars a young Helen Hunt and a young Shannen Doherty, and features Robin Antin, otherwise known as the woman who founded the Pussycat Dolls.

14. Footloose

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The 1984 original, not the 2011 remake, because what is Footloose without Kevin Bacon?

15. Honey

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A lot of people, probably men, will say Jessica Alba’s best role is Nancy Callahan in Sin City. Those people are wrong, because her best role is Honey Daniels in Honey, the story of a woman who just wants to become a choreographer. Missy Elliott is also in it, which is a good enough reason for anyone to watch.

16. Save the Last Dance

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No matter what you think about Julia Stiles’s dancing, there’s no denying that this gem is a classic of the genre. Julia plays Sara, who fails her Juilliard ballet audition then moves to Chicago and learns hip-hop dancing. The best part of all this, though, is that her first new friend is Chenille, a teen mother played by Kerry Washington, pre-Olivia Pope.

17. Saturday Night Fever

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Not everything about this movie ages well, but John Travolta’s dancing is eternal. Can someone please explain why disco isn’t still a thing?

18. Magic Mike

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Yes, this is technically a dance movie, because remember: The Kings of Tampa aren’t strippers, they’re male entertainers. And male entertaining means dancing to “Pony” or, in the case of the whole group, “It’s Raining Men.” Hallelujah.

19. Magic Mike XXL

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You can’t watch one without the other, OK?

20. How She Move

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This underrated gem stars True Blood and Queen Sugar’s Rutina Wesley as Raya, who tries to earn money for school by entering a step competition. The dancing is great, the drama is intense, and if you pay attention, you’ll see The Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev in one of her earliest roles: Tall Girl in Bathroom.

21. Bring It On

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Haters will say Bring It On is about cheerleading and not dancing, but those people must not have been paying attention, because the whole point of the movie is that cheerleaders don’t get enough credit for their sophisticated choreography and fierce athleticism. Team Clovers forever.

22. Suspiria

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All you need to know about Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 Italian psychological thriller is that there are wicked (!) dance sequences, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, and lots of blood.

23. La La Land

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Wherever you stand on the Oscars controversy, you can’t help but grin at the sight of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone prancing their way through a perfectly lit Hollywood. And you know what? This has nothing to do with jazz!

24. Hairspray

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If the High School Musical movies left you wanting more Zac Efron and his sweet, sweet dance moves, this 2007 remake of John Waters’ Hairspray and the popular Broadway musical of the same name should satisfy all your needs. And maybe make you love John Travolta, who plays Edna Turnblad, even more.

25. White Nights

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If you want to watch the film where Helen Mirren fell in love with her husband, director Taylor Hackford, watch White Nights. If you want to melt at the sight of Mikhail Baryshnikov doing ballet way before he became Aleksandr Petrovsky on Sex and the City, watch White Nights.

26. Fame

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Long before your boyfs Timothée Chalamet and Ansel Elgort ruled the hallways of New York’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, the school was called the High School of Performing Arts and was essentially a character of its own in the 1980 musical drama, Fame (even though the film technically was shot at another school). What happens when a bunch of teens give the whole stardom thing their best shot in dancing, music, and acting onscreen? Two Oscars (Best Original Score and Best Original Song), one Golden Globe (Best Original Song), and a BAFTA (Best Sound) IRL, NBD. (And the theme song that will be stuck in your head for the rest of the week.)

27. Work It

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We love a good dance competition movie, and this Netflix original is one you definitely don't want to miss. The star-studded comedy includes Liza Koshy, Sabrina Carpenter, Jordan Fisher, Keiynan Lonsdale and Michelle Buteau in its cast. And there's just as much awkward/relatable booty-shaking as there are jaw-dropping moves, which makes it super fun to watch.

28. Feel the Beat

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April (Sofia Carson) fails to make it big on Broadway, not because she isn't skilled but because of her selfish attitude. She then finds herself back in her small hometown, where she starts to explore a different path to success. Now she's forced to coach a group of young misfits to get her shot at super stardom.

29. Yeh Ballet

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This movie is based on the real story of Amiruddin Shah and Manish Chauhan. It follows the story of two teen male dancers who went from living underprivileged lives in Mumbai to dancing in a prestigious ballet school in New York City. We see them as they face bigotry and disapproval from the people around them, but they hold onto their dreams of becoming principal ballet dancers.

30. Bhangra Paa Le

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It's only natural that this list would include a Bollywood movie. Bhangra Paa Le shows off the art of traditional dance bhangra, with a modern twist, putting it on the world stage through an international dance competition.

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