The 30 Best Dance Films of all Time: From Hip-Hop to Ballet

Dance films can be about competitions, the fulfillment of a life dream, or a romance between dancers. What they have in common is the passion that is shown through the transformation of emotions into dance and in the great skill of the dancers.

It doesn’t matter if it’s hip-hop, breakdancing, street dancing, or ballet. When the dancers start to move to the rhythm, it’s hard for you as a viewer to stay relaxed in your seat too. A foot starts to bob, or your shoulders move to the beat. And wouldn’t life be easier sometimes if you could dance off your tension in stressful situations as easily?

Among the following list of the 30 best dance movies of all time, you will probably find your personal favorite.

1. Dirty Dancing (1987)

with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey

Only 17-year-old Frances, called “Baby” by everyone, is bored to death at a vacation resort with her parents. This changes abruptly when she meets dance teacher Johnny and falls in love with him. Every year he traditionally dances the last dance at graduation; this time, he desperately needs a new partner.

The chance for Baby. Too bad she doesn’t know how to dance. Under the expert guidance of Johnny, however, Baby learns quickly, and increasingly he takes a liking to her as well. But her dance performance, which is revealing for the early 60s, arouses the dislike of the organizer, and Baby’s father is also not enthusiastic about his daughter’s liaison with the older Johnny.

“Dirty Dancing” is considered by many to be the ultimate dance movie. Some lines of dialogue from this cult classic have become famous movie quotes over the years. Some pieces of music were added to Earwigs, as everyone knows. Even more than 30 years after the premiere, the dancing scenes and the movie’s Soundtrack make his evergreen.

2. Black Swan (2010)

with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis

The ambitious and perfectionist Nina (Portman) will do anything to be able to dance the leading role in “Swan Lake.” Arriving at her destination, competition appears in the form of the passionate young Lily. Nina trains more and more doggedly. She compulsively merges with her role to the point of self-sacrifice until, at some point, she is no longer recognizable as the person behind it.

This film is a sometimes disturbing mixture of dance film and thriller and was rightly awarded an Oscar. Natalie Portman had trained for six months to give her gritty character the credibility of a prima ballerina. This dance film is clever because director Darren Aronofsky shows the action, especially her counterpart, from Nina’s point of view. A dark psychodrama worth seeing not only for ballet fans!

3. Billy Elliot – I Will Dance (2000)

with Jamie Bell and Julie Walters

The film’s namesake, 11-year-old Billy, grows up in poor Thatcher-era northern England. Father and older brother find themselves on strike with coal miners. Money is tight, but Billy is still sent to boxing practice by his father. Unfortunately, he finds little to like about it.

Instead, he flirts with the ballet class of Mrs. Wilkinson, who trains in the same rooms. At a tryout, the teacher recognizes Billy’s extraordinary talent for ballet. She wants to promote him, but his father puts a stop to it and thus awakens Billy’s passion for dancing all the more.

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This low-budget dance movie reminds us how important it is to follow our dreams. The film perfectly combines emotion, tragedy, and humor and is touching in the best sense of the word.

4. Flashdance (1983)

with Jennifer Beals

18-year-old welder Alex works in a factory during the day and dances in a club at night. Their big dream is to be able to finish professional training in ballet school. After her boss takes notice of her, with his help and that of a former dancer, she finally manages to show off her skills at the longed-for audition.

“Flashdance” was a huge hit movie that made Jennifer Beals famous overnight. Her fresh-faced attitude and sparkling music contributed greatly to its success. Irene Cara’s “What a Feeling” won the Oscar for best film song and became a hit, as did “Maniac” by Michael Sembello.

5. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

with John Travolta

By day, Tony Manero is a simple salesman in Brooklyn. He lives his dream on weekends when he becomes king of the disco dance floor at night. There he also meets Stephanie. He decides to join her in a dance competition to make a fresh start. They win, but unlike Stephanie, Tony can’t break away from his old surroundings and his old life.

John Travolta’s dance style and the Bee Gees’ film music kicked off the disco craze. A trend that featured not only music and dance but also fashion to match. The film was so successful that Sylvester Stallone made the sequel “Staying Alive” with Travolta in 1983, with the Bee Gees again providing the soundtrack.

6. Fame (1980)

with Irene Cara and Eddie Barth

Director Alan Parker tells the story of eight students at a famous dance and music school in New York who are willing to work hard and risk everything to break through as artists.

Their ups and downs, success and failure, and despair make “Fame” a rousing dance film. For Irene Cara, “Fame” was the breakthrough in reality. She became famous and provided the theme song for “Flashdance” only three years later.

7. Chicago (2002)

with Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and Queen Latifah

Chicago in the twenties is violence, passion, sex, and intrigue. Velma Kelley (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a star of nightclubs and the idol of starlet Roxy Hart. Both dancers are charged with murder. In prison, they meet and agree to support each other to escape conviction. Back on the road again, they start their own successful show together.

When great actors show that they also have dancing and singing talent, the result can only be a feast for the eyes and ears. The film was rightly crowned with various Oscars and Golden Globes.

8. A Chorus Line (1985)

with Michael Douglas and Alyson Reed

Director Zach is looking for eight dancers for a new Broadway production. The tough selection process drags on as hundreds of talents apply for it—also Cassie, a solo dancer who once had an affair with Zach. Finally, the last 16 dancers are on stage at the white line. When eight of them are called up, they think they’ve made it, but the dancers in the background are the real winners.

The merciless selection process and the merciless competition in show business are the subjects of this demanding dance film. The film has a tempo and catchy songs, so it might be interesting for those who are not yet fans of dance films.

9. Footloose (1984)

with Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer

Ren moves with his mother from the big city of Chicago to a stuffy Midwestern town in the U.S. Ren is not very fond of the barren backwoods, especially since public dancing is strictly forbidden in the town by the sheriff and minister.

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Something the big city rebel does not want to accept so easily. Together with the pastor’s daughter Ariel and friend Willard, the dance-loving boy rebels against the senseless instruction and brings the town to its knees.

This classic among the eighties dance movies should not go unmentioned because it has a high nostalgia factor and is a great leading actor.

10. West Side Story (1961)

with Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer

The love story of Romeo and Juliet was set on New York’s Westside in the 1950s. Tony falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of a rival street gang, at a dance, provoking a riot. Although Tony wants to prevent the worst, their love is not a good start.

Composer Leonard Bernstein assigned different musical directions to the youth gangs Jets (ancestral New Yorkers) and Sharks (immigrant Puerto Ricans). In the love scenes between Maria and Tony, the different currents unite to form haunting songs. The dance elements are also a pleasure. The street fights between the gangs are depicted in impressive dance scenes, some of which look like modern street dance.

11. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds

Fleeing from hysterical fans, silent film star Don jumps into the car of actress Cathy, who happens to be driving by. At the party of a studio boss who wants to present the first sound film, Cathy turns out to be part of a dance group. After an altercation with Don, Cathy disappears without a trace. But Don got it. He does not give up the search for her.

This music and dance film does not seem to age. The scene where Gene Kelly dances through the rain singing “Singin’ in the Rain” still makes viewers’ hearts beat faster. It’s no coincidence that the film has been (for ages and still is) on the American Film Institute’s best-of list.

12. Michael Jackson “Moonwalker” (1988)

with Michael Jackson

The film lacks a plot in the real sense. Instead, musical numbers, feature film elements, and excerpts from the world of the King of Pop are entertainingly strung together.

What makes the film worth watching, however, is Michael Jackson’s versatility as well as his incredible dancing talent, which not only confirmed fans of his always acknowledged without envy.

13. StreetDance (2013)

with Rachel McDowall and Charlotte Rampling

Dance is everything to young Charley, whether it’s hip hop, break dancing, or street dancing. With her friends, she qualified for the UK Streetdance Championships. Now they urgently need a place to train. Helena, a dance teacher at the National Ballet School in London, can help, but she has one condition: The street dancers should train together with the ballet students. What begins under mutual defense leads in time to respect and success on both sides.

The fusion of the different dance styles and the dynamic dance scenes make the film just as worth seeing as its unused young actors.

14. Magic Mike (2012)

with Channing Tatum and Matthew McConnaughey

Michael Lane is the real name of the talented stripper Magic Mike. Although he is the best at his job, partly because of his erotic dancing style, he would much rather be able to make a living building homemade furniture. On a job, he meets Adam, a young roofer, and takes him on as a stripper.

Channing Tatum’s dancing talent contributed to the film’s success, as did his strong stage presence. No wonder because before his acting career Tatum earned his money as a stripper himself in his younger years. The success was followed in 2015 by the equally successful film “Magic Mike XXL.”

15. Shall We Dance? (2004)

with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez

The happily married lawyer John Clarke passes a dance school on his way home on the elevated train in the evening. A dancer stands at the window every night. Intrigued by the woman, John signs up for a dance class and discovers his joy in dancing. His ambition is ignited. He would like to take part in a competition with the dancer Paulina. Due to John’s frequent absences from home in the evenings, his wife becomes suspicious and starts snooping on him.

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The actors trained for months to dance because director Peter Chelsom wanted to avoid dance doubles in the competition scenes for the sake of credibility. The result is something to behold.

16. Step Up (2006)

with Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan

Street dancer Tyler is sentenced to do community service at the school he damaged because of property damage. There he meets dancer Nora, who is rehearsing for an important performance. Although he has no experience with ballet, Tyler offers to fill in for Nora’s offbeat dance partner. Not only his lack of experience but also private problems keep putting obstacles in their way to success.

“Step Up” is the directorial debut of the successful choreographer Anne Fletcher. It obviously resonated with audiences, as four “Step Up” sequels followed between 2008 and 2014. Channing Tatum only appeared in the second part of the series.

17. Moulin Rouge (2001)

with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor

In turn-of-the-century Paris in 1900, the English writer recounts his experiences as the author of a new play at the Moulin Rouge. He fell for Satine, a courtesan dreaming of an acting career, who resisted his advances until she developed feelings for him too. She was torn between a rich businessman who wanted to finance the play for her sake and the penniless author, and it ended tragically.

Director Baz Luhrmann’s unconventional musical is a colorful rush of the senses that can’t be pigeonholed into a fixed genre. Luhrmann skillfully mixes classical film music with modern pop songs. “Moulin Rouge” is a film that invites you to temporarily forget your normal everyday life with its many dance and song interludes.

18. Save the Last Dance (2001)

with Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas

Sara makes friends with her classmate Derek at her new high school on Chicago’s South Side. She is one of the few white girls there and fights against prejudice. She and Derek share a great passion for dancing. But he’s on fire for hip-hop while she wants to dance ballet. Each brings the other closer to his passion, and although they have to fight against social resistance, they become a couple.

Thanks to its charismatic lead actors, “Save the Last Dance” is a successful mix of dance and love film, with strong hip-hop and ballet scenes.

19. Stomp the Yard (2007)

with Columbus Short and Meagan Good

Due to the death of his younger brother, street dancer DJ loses his footing and gets into trouble. He decides to move away from LA and make a fresh start in Atlanta. There, he not only meets the fascinating April but as a talented dancer, he receives offers from two sororities to participate in an important competition on their behalf.

“Stomp the Yard” is a film about the Battle Dancing of the African-American youth, which shows impressive dance performances. Lead actor Columbus Short received several “Best Newcomer” nominations.

20. Honey (2003)

with Jessica Alba and Romeo Miller

In her neighborhood, Honey Daniels is a hip-hop star. While teaching young people to dance, she dreams of her own career as a video choreographer. When she is discovered by chance, she is overjoyed. But disillusionment follows quickly because it doesn’t take long before she learns about the dark side of show business. With the help of her friends, she continues to fight to fulfill her dream of starting her own hip-hop school.

The dancing and Jessica Alba’s top form make up for what the somewhat thin plot lacks. For some of the young target audience, the film will surely make them want to learn to dance themselves.

21. Burlesque (2001)

22. Center Stage (2000)

23. Lipstick& Ice Cream (1985)

24. Another Cinderella Story (2008)

25. Magic Mike XXL (2015)

26. Bring It On (2000)

27. Dance with Me (1998)

28. Make It Happen (2008)

29. Step Up 3D (2010)

30. One Last Dance (2003)

It’s hard to escape the magic of dance films, as the transformation of music into movement touches you as it does almost everyone. You can immerse yourself in dance films, and follow along with stories of drama and passion, letting your emotions run wild.

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