It’s always entertaining to watch a movie with a dance sequence. Whether it’s a musical or non-musical, expected or unexpected, these dance scenes can sometimes be the most memorable (or only memorable) part of a movie. I compiled a top 10 of my personal favorites, and while it was almost impossible to rank them, I devised a list.
[Special Mention] Center Stage
Admittedly this is one of the cheesiest ballet dramas dating back to 2000, but I could never forget those dance scenes (which made up for the terrible acting). Plus it’s one of our first Zoe Saldana sightings!
[Special Mention] Chicago
I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but the ones that made it on this list knew how to merge dance + singing sequences to hold my attention. Chicago’s glitz and glam is mesmerizing, and who knew Zellweger and Zeta-Jones could pull this off…all the way to the Oscars.
(10) Scent of a Woman
“No mistakes in the Tango, Donna; not like life. Simple. That’s what makes the Tango so great. You make a mistake, get all tangled up, Tango on.”
One of the least theatrical dance scenes on this list, Pacino plays a stubborn, blind US Army veteran who knows how to Tango. Pacino knows how to Tango blindly better than most of us probably can with crystal vision. But Pacino isn’t the only dancer who makes this scene great. Anwar’s expression through every orchestrated move looks so sweet and genuine that it feels more natural than acted.
(9) Rocky Horror Picture Show
“It’s just a jump to the left…”
Rocky Horror is a complete oddball musical with such a devoted cult following that has spanned for decades past and decades to come. It’s the reigning champ every Halloween from costumes to midnight theater showings. I don’t think it would have the same impact if it came out today, but somehow it’s wackiness continues to resonate with movie-goers. As for the Time Warp, who doesn’t know that dance? It’s so. easy.
(8) Little Miss Sunshine
“I’d like to dedicate this to my grandpa, who showed me these moves.”
What an amazing slap-in-the-face to beauty pageantry this is! Quirky characters coupled with an offbeat synopsis makes it hard not to root for them, especially in this movie. I’m a huge sucker for imperfect, dysfunctional families that fly their freak flag high, and the Hoover family nails it. The family’s dance moves to “Superfreak” is a dance sequence everyone would love to recreate, and it’s probably the ultimate beauty pageant nightmare.
(7) Silver Linings Playbook
“You’re facing a big challenge in your life right now at this very moment, right here. That girl loves you she really really loves you. I don’t know if Nicky ever did, but she sure as shit doesn’t right now. So don’t fuck this up.”
This dance is what the entire movie was building up to; you knew it was coming, you knew the lift would be a fail, but it’s the amount of heartwarming satisfaction that makes this scene successful. It wipes away the chaos the characters created and engrosses you in one of the most uplifting scenes of 2012. Chris Tucker’s ghetto booty move is the best addition to their routine outside of that wannabe Dirty Dancing lift that they managed to awkwardly dance through flawlessly!
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s what you do with your dancin’ shoes.”
There’s a handful of good dance montages in Grease, but the entire gym vying to win the trophy for best dance ensemble was priceless! From Danny Zuko’s PG-choreographed dance with Sandy, to his raunchier dancing with Cha Cha, Travolta’s got the moves. And don’t we all wish everyone at our high school prom danced like that?
(5) Saturday Night Fever
“She can dance, you know that? She’s got the wrong partner of course, but she can dance.”
Travolta strikes again! Saturday Night Fever is filled with disco dance moves most of us could never attempt, especially in pants that skinny. Of course this is a clichéd, obvious choice for any top ten list, but who cares? Anything with neon lights and disco balls gets my stamp of approval. Travolta breaking it down, literally, to “You Should Be Dancing” is so well choreographed and shot; it’s certainly the go-to film for dance for the disco generation.
(4) Risky Business
“Sometimes you just have to say ‘what the fuck?'”
I couldn’t tell you much about the plot of Riskey Business aside from the basics, but the first image that pops in my mind when I think about this movie or hear “Old Time Rock n Roll” played, is the Tom Cruise bustin’ a move in the living room in his underwear scene. There’s really not much to this sequence, but everyone knows this scene. Tom Cruise will forever be immortalized with this dance.
(3) Dirty Dancing
“Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
Every girl and every guy knows about the dance scene from Dirty Dancing. Whether or not the sequence resonates with their memory, or maybe they just haven’t seen the film, everyone knows about “the lift.” Even Emma Stone referenced it in Crazy Stupid Love with Ryan Gosling, Lawrence and Cooper boldly attempted their rendition of it in Silver Linings. The final dance scene is legendary, and Patrick Swayze had serious dance skills in this.
(2) Pulp Fiction
“I do believe Marsellus Wallace, my husband, your boss, told you to take ME out and do WHATEVER I WANTED. Now I wanna dance, I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good.“
As one of the most unexpected dance scenes in a movie on this list, Thurman and Travolta took a very simple scene and made it universally iconic. Travolta has made this list three times, but this scene’s complete random quirkiness has managed to be one of the best Tarantino scenes, and I haven’t seen anything quite like this since. Thurman initially turned down the role, and Daniel Day-Lewis wanted the role of Vincent Vega. But Tarantino rules by convincing Thurman and hand-selecting Travolta for the roles. I don’t think any other actor could have compared.
“Can I start again?”
We all know that Jennifer Beals didn’t dance in this scene, and that multiple professionals (even a man) performed the twirls, head-spinning and impossible-to-recreate leap through the air. BUT, this scene blows my mind every time. Flashdance isn’t a great movie, but it’s worth a watch for this final audition scene alone. This film was also the first to expose a mainstream audience to one of the most intriguing and complicated dance forms – breakdancing.