25 Memorable Movie Dance Scenes

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It’s officially been three decades since Tom Cruise slid across that hardwood floor in his skivvies—today marks the 30th anniversary of Risky Business. To remind ourselves of a time when the only couch Cruise jumped on was his own and celebrate the movie’s most famous scene, we’re counting down 25 of the most memorable dance scenes in film.

25. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

OK, so you didn’t actually invent Post-It notes. What’s the next-best way to stick it to your former high-school tormenters? Well, if you’re Romy and Michele, you change into the shiniest dresses you can find, perform a hilarious interpretive dance to Cyndi Lauper and ride off in a helicopter.

24. Young Frankenstein (1974)

At this point in the Mel Brooks classic, Frankenstein’s Monster (Peter Boyle) is so tame he’ll perform an elegant soft-shoe in a top hat and tails. Things go delightfully haywire, however, when a stage light explodes and he catches a glimpse of fire.

23. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Napoleon Dynamite is rivaled only by Borat in the “movies ruined by being quoted to death” category, but it’s much harder to replicate Napoleon’s sweet moves. Maybe it’s the moon boots?

22. Funny Face (1957)

Audrey Hepburn’s goofy beatnik dance is so recognizable it was even paired with AC/DC and used in a Gap ad to sell skinny jeans.

21. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Duckie (Jon Cryer) would give anything to “squeeze her, don’t tease her, never leave her,” and he chooses to express his unrequited love through the majesty of Otis Redding. The pained expressions, the fist pumps, the pelvic thrusts and the coolest mustard-yellow-blazer-and-bolo-tie ensemble ever all add up to make a fantastic scene, leaving us with one of pop culture’s greatest mysteries: How could Andie have possibly chosen Blane, the kid with a name like a major appliance and a personality as enthralling as dry toast, over The Duckman?

20. Royal Wedding (1951)

Fred Astaire’s filmography would certainly provide enough material to fill this list on its own, but perhaps the legendary dancer’s most iconic performance is his “ceiling dance” from 1951’s Royal Wedding where, thanks to a specially built revolving set, he appears to defy gravity.

19. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Little Olive’s “Super Freak” routine is a sly commentary on the way pageants sexualize young girls, but it’s also where everything comes to a head and her dysfunctional family comes together to support her. They may have their differences, but they’ll always be there to get down to Rick James.

18. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Athlete, brain, criminal, princess, basket case—here, they’re all united through the majesty of dance. Take that, Principal Vernon!

17. The Blues Brothers (1980)

We’re not supposed to question how a crowd of people on the street can a) hear Ray Charles singing “Shake a Tail Feather” from inside his music store and b) all happen to know some pretty intricate choreography to the tune. Instead, we just enjoy it—especially those adorable little kids around the two-minute mark who can do the Bony Maronie with the best of ‘em.

16. West Side Story (1961)

There are plenty of impressive dances to choose from in West Side Story, including some grade-A ballet-fighting, but nothing matches the spectacle of the school-dance scene where, after the Jets and the Sharks try to one-up each other in the mambo, star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria catch a glimpse of each other from across the gym.

15. Grease (1978)

Okay, so the implication from Grease’s most famous number—that in order to get boys to like you, all you need to do is completely change your personality and dress sluttier—is a little problematic. But there’s something about the way Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) get down in that carnival Shake Shack in their matching black outfits that makes us table our concerns.

14. Scent of a Woman (1992)

In Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino proved he could deliver a seriously debonair tango like no other. If he can lead a dancing novice like Donna (Gabrielle Anwar) so well, imagine what he could do with a professional partner. Hoo-ah!

13. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Time Warp is one of those dances with the added convenience of instructional lyrics. It’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right—easy enough that even total squares like Brad and Janet can get the hang of it.

12. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Disco may have (mercifully) died decades ago, but this John Travolta performance to the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing” lives on, oft parodied but never paralleled.

11. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

We’d be fools if we didn’t include this iconic scene from a John Hughes classic. While his friends freak out about their futures, Ferris (Matthew Broderick) hops atop a parade float and leads the city of Chicago in a rousing rendition of “Twist and Shout.” Businessmen shake it in their offices, girls lift up their skirts and a bunch of people appear out of nowhere to do the “Thriller” dance. Best Von Steuben Day ever!

10. (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Who among us hasn’t had a big stupid grin on their face and Hall & Oates playing in their head after finally bedding the guy or gal they’ve been pining over? Things escalate to hilarious effect for Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in (500) Days of Summer, however: strangers high-five him, Harrison Ford winks at him as his reflection, cartoon birds show up and soon enough, a crowd of people is dancing behind him to celebrate the fact that he’s just gotten laid.

9. An American in Paris (1951)

This Gene Kelly classic not only celebrates dance—it builds its climax around a 16-minute ballet sequence that reportedly cost over $500,000 to shoot. Kelly was awarded an honorary Oscar for “his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film” after this movie was released, and it’s easy to see why. Try not to get goosebumps as he and Leslie Caron sway in silhouette above.

8. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

A bar full of bikers is no match for Pee-Wee’s “Tequila” moves. After all, he’s a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

7. The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Coen Brothers  and company put a trippy comic spin on some Busby Berkeley-style choreography as The Dude, drugged by Jackie Treehorn, descends a staircase and drops in to see what condition his condition is in.

6. Do The Right Thing (1989)

Rosie Perez flexes and boxes her way through Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” during the opening credits of this essential Spike Lee joint, hinting at the film’s themes of confrontation, strength and those who have been marginalized battling for recognition.

5. Risky Business (1983)

It’s the dance that inspired this list, one so ubiquitous it’s turned up everywhere from a series of Guitar Hero ads to Dancing With the Stars.

4. Footloose (1984)

Hooray, the evil city council’s dancing ban has been lifted just in time for prom! Bust out that Kenny Loggins and go to town.

3. Dirty Dancing (1987)

Any movie that calls itself Dirty Dancing is, of course, going to have a lot of memorable footwork to choose from: Johnny teaching Baby to move her hips. The famous crawl across the floor to “Love is Strange.” The sexy bedroom dance. Nothing stands out more than the movie’s finale, however, when Baby finally nails that lift.

2. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are absolutely deserving of that Jack Rabbit Slim’s twist-contest trophy, and you can tell by their faces that they intend to bring it home. Dancing is serious, guys.

1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

It was over 60 years ago that Gene Kelly gleefully splashed in puddles and charmed us all, but this scene still remains one of the most instantly recognizable movie dance sequences—and rightfully so. Is it possible to watch it without humming along and hoping for rain?

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