There are several elements that go into turning a static screenplay into a blockbuster hit, from the costuming to the casting, staging and everything in between. But the one trait that can make a film stick out from the rest? A good dance scene.
Whether it’s a movie-turned-musical or a random number added in for kicks, choreographed numbers can be at the very least impressive and at the very most iconic. Over the course of cinema history, there are certain dance scenes that have truly exemplified the power of choreography.
Here are 30 of the best movie dance sequences of all time.
“Slumdog Millionaire” hit audiences with a surprise Bollywood routine in the post-credits scene.
Jamal and Latika’s love story was heart-wrenching, but it was satisfying when they finally reunited at the train station in the final scene of the movie. To add on to that catharsis, the cast performed a surprise Bollywood routine during the film credits to A.R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho.”
The intricacy of “La La Land’s” opening number is unforgettable.
It’s not often you see an entire stretch of highway shut down so you can film a dance number, let alone in the middle of Los Angeles. But that’s exactly what Damien Chazelle did for the opening number of his movie musical “La La Land.”
The number is full of so many cars, dancers, musicians, and extras that it’s hard not to be impressed by how intricate the choreography is. If you aren’t already impressed by its grandeur, take a look at Chazelle’s preparation process for filming, where he mapped out the entire number off-site before taking it to the highway.
“High School Musical” instantly became a Disney Channel classic with its winning finale.
The minute Troy Bolton and Sharpay Evans come together to perform the ending number “We’re All In This Together,” cinematic history was made. It was cheesy in all the right ways and the choreography was simplistic enough for viewers to learn on their own.
“Step Up” immortalised a love story for the ages.
The fusion of Channing Tatum’s hip-hop style dancing with Jenna Dewan’s ballet in the 2006 hit “Step Up” provided us with one of the best dance scenes of 21st-century cinema in the finale performance.
Jennifer Garner perfectly reenacted the “Thriller” dance in “13 Going on 30.”
In 2004’s “13 Going on 30,” Jenna Rink did a throwback to the ’80s with a spontaneous (and perfectly synchronised) recreation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.“
The dance scene in “She’s All That” set unreal expectations for proms across America.
“She’s All That” is a staple of the ’90s for several reasons, but perhaps none greater than the incredible prom scene where all of the high schoolers broke out into a dance-off with none other than Usher as the DJ.
“Center Stage” perfectly summed up the life and passion of a dancer in the finale.
Dance scenes and movies are great and all, but rarely do they accurately depict the day-to-day lives of real dancers, especially in intense disciplines like ballet.
“Center Stage” is one of the few movies to do just that.
One of the most notable scenes from the movie came in the finale and showed the dancers shedding their traditional ballet skills for a more modern number.
The original “Fame” gave meaning to dancing in the streets.
One of the most memorable scenes in “Fame” featured the students of New York City High School for the Performing Arts letting loose when Bruno’s dad sampled Bruno’s music from his taxi speakers .
This dancing sequence isn’t so much about the precision of the choreography but the pure fun dancing can bring.
“Rocky Horror Picture Show” somehow depicted the supernatural as a glam phenomenon.
“Rocky Horror Picture Show” made sure that everyone could follow along to their big dance number “Time Warp.”
Riff Raff and Magenta lead Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s freaks in a surprisingly catchy routine, and it’s impossible not to want to dance along.
Tom Hanks dancing out “Chopsticks” in “Big” made us want piano lessons.
“Chopsticks” is one of the very first songs you learn as a piano student, which makes the piano scene in “Big” that much more delightful for former players.
Tom Hanks proved that dancing out an upbeat kids’ song on an oversized piano is incredibly charming, especially when you consider the fact that Tom Hanks’ character is actually just a kid having a good time at a toy store.
“Super Trouper” in Mamma Mia 2 ends the movie on the best note.
“Mamma Mia” and “Mamma Mia 2” are known for their amazing dance numbers, but the ending song in “Mamma Mia 2” might have taken the cake for the best one yet.
This dance number is great because it features old and new favourites and, for a moment, there are no restrictions of time and place. From Cher, to Meryl Streep, to Colin Firth, most of the characters are featured together with their younger and older selves.
The “Grease” finale made us all want a flying car.
If you want a dose of happy, just watch the final number in “Grease” when the Pink Ladies and the Thunderbirds bid Rydell High goodbye.
The lyrics may not have made a lick of sense, but “We Go Together” was the best way to end a coming-of-age musical like “Grease.”
Kevin Bacon livened up an entire town in the final scene of “Footloose.”
The entire movie was built up with musicless tension as viewers waited to see if Kevin Bacon and his team of friends would pull off constructing an unofficial prom. It’s fair to say not only pulled it off but created a dance sequence that’s become truly iconic.
Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze inspired lifts everywhere in the finale of “Dirty Dancing.”
In this memorable scene, Johnny Castle sweeps Baby Houseman away from her sheltered parents and up on stage to show everyone just what they’d been rehearsing. The key portion of the routine, however, is when Patrick Swayze literally loses control in preparation for the famous lift. He jumps off the stage, wrangles his fellow Kellerman’s staffers, shimmies his way to Baby, and you know the rest.
“La Vie Boheme” is an inspiring and fun part of “Rent”.
“Rent” is a notoriously heavy movie and musical, focusing on poverty, drug use, and the AIDS epidemic, but there is one particular scene that can’t help but make you smile.
The gang heads to a bar and sings a song about their lifestyle which involves dancing on tables, getting behind the bar and great lyrics that make us all want to sing and dance along.
The scene shows that, throughout all of the trauma they go through, the people in their lives are always there for them.
“The Breakfast Club” dance break almost made us want Saturday detention.
When you’re stuck in Saturday detention all day with a bunch of teenagers you don’t like, what else are you supposed to do but dance? We can only assume that was the thought process of the cast of “The Breakfast Club” when the group of misfits were so bored with their day, they started dancing to Karla DeVito’s “We Are Not Alone.”
There’s nothing quite like Emilio Estevez playing air guitar or Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy twisting on the library’s countertops.
“Singing’ In the Rain’s” titular number is quintessential Gene Kelly.
They’re called classic movies for a reason, and Gene Kelly impressed when he performed the titular number in the 1952 oldie “Singin’ in the Rain.”
After he leaves Kathy with a goodnight kiss, Don Lockwood takes to the streets and taps out his feelings in the pouring rain.
Jennifer Beals solidified “Flashdance” as an instant classic.
“Flashdance” threw Jennifer Beals in headfirst into the wild world of competitive dancing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sure, the film birthed the incredible “Maniac” scene as well as the rainshower move, but the true star of the show is Alex Owens’ audition scene in the final moments of the movie.
Combine her unorthodox audition with Irene Clara’s “What A Feeling” and it’s unforgettable.
Tom Cruise made dancing in your underwear cool for “Risky Business.”
Before there was Maverick in “Top Gun” and Ethan Hunt in “Mission Impossible,” Tom Cruise was an up-and-coming actor in the 1983 comedy “Risky Business.” As with any ’80s teen movie, Cruise was left to his own devices as his parents conveniently left town for the duration of the movie, and one of the best dance clips of all times resulted. If you ever catch yourself dancing in your underwear to classic rock, you have Tom Cruise’s character Joel to thank.
The twist scene in “Pulp Fiction” is a Quentin Tarantino classic.
It’s inspired many a Halloween costume, and for good reason. Uma Thurman and John Travolta created a cinematic classic in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” You know the scene we’re talking about: Travolta’s Vincent Vega is tasked by his boss Marsellus with entertaining Marsellus’ wife Mia Wallace, which brings the two to ’50s-style diner Jack Rabbit Slims for a dancing competition. Mia says, “I want to dance. I want to win. I want that trophy. So dance good.” And the rest is history.
The Six Merry Murderesses took no prisoners in “Cell Block Tango” of “Chicago.”
“Chicago” is an everlasting Broadway staple and 2002 film adaptation added some cinematic value to the already classic musical. While all of the dance numbers are impressively choreographed, the “Cell Block Tango” in particular stands out to us, due to its sinister and badass nature and the Six Merry Murderesses of Cook County Jail taking no prisoners with their dark, girl-power attitude.
John Travolta solidifed himself as a dancing force in “Saturday Night Fever.”
“Saturday Night Fever” was one of Travolta’s first major film roles before “Grease,” and his role as Tony Manero solidified him as the King of Disco in our hearts forever, with a little help from The Bee Gees.
West Side Story is the pinnacle of American dance.
Jerome Robbins is arguably one of the best choreographers of our time, and his legacy and style are perfectly exemplified in “West Side Story,”particularly in the Prologue scene where we’re introduced to the Sharks and the Jets. There are a number of classic dance numbers in the movie-musical, but none quite compare to this particular movement, where we’re given a sample of everything Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein can do in nine minutes.
The Snow Dance in “Memoirs of a Geisha” is emotional and powerful.
“Memoirs of a Geisha” details the story of a young girl who is sold to servitude only to become one of the most iconic geishas of all time.
One of the most memorable parts of the film is when Sayuri performs the Snow Dance. While the dance is meant to represent the story of a woman being cheated on by her husband and succumbing to the elements of the blizzard, in the film it is the moment that Sayuri impresses the crowds and cements herself as the most celebrated geisha.
“Drumline” makes us regret any party we went to where there wasn’t a choreographed dance number.
This whole movie is filled with song and dance, but one of the best dance scenes might be the Sigma Pary dance routine.
The movie follows Devon Miles as he stars on the school’s marching band – but also has the time to find interest in Laila.
In this scene, Laila proves that one of the best ways to get the attention of your crush is to bust out into an awesome, choreographed dance routine.
“Save the Last Dance” featured many memorable dance scenes, including Derek’s hip-hop tutorial.
Many credit Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum’s “Step Up” with the dance fusion movement, but Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas were the first to blend genres in “Save the Last Dance.”
The melding of ballet and hip-hop, which is an allegory for the racial and classist tensions in society, can be seen throughout the film. But they come together when Sara (Stiles) auditions for Julliard, as Derek (Thomas) supports and coaches her from the wings.
The tango in “The Wedding Planner” is a turning point in Steve and Mary’s relationship.
What is better than a romantic comedy? A rom-com with a plot tied around the concept of dance.
Mary meets and falls for Steve before realising that he is engaged to Fran, the woman who Mary is planning a wedding for.
Steve and Mary fight because of their feelings for each other – including an amazing angry tango dance.
The two, of course, work things out in the end and share one last dance together.
“You Can’t Stop the Beat” is the best ending dance in “Hairspray”.
“Hairspray” tackles topics like race and body shaming all through song and dance, and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is the perfect dance scene to end the movie on a note of optimism.
For a brief moment, everything in this world is great – “The Corny Collins “show is officially integrated, Tracy and Link have a romantic moment, Edna Turnblad is finally feeling herself and Little Inez is voted Ms. Teenage Hairspray.
This massive group dance makes it hard to stay in your seat.
The opening credits in “Do the Right Thing” are iconic.
The opening credits of “Do the Right Thing” feature four minutes of dance the make the movie’s message more powerful.
Rosie Perez stunned audiences with her powerful moves to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” which she told Entertainment Weekly took about eight hours to film. Spike Lee later said that the scene was inspired by “Bye Bye Birdie’s” opening sequence, according to Slate.
The barn dance in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is seven minutes of “Excuse me, what?”
This film might not be the most well-known oldie out there, but you haven’t seen a dance scene until you’ve seen the barn routine in 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” To sum things up for you, seven brothers are basically in a dance-off to win over the affections of seven potential brides (though we only count six in this scene), and things get a little wild. There’s jumping, flipping, twisting, two-stepping, and everything in between.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.