Like the mockumentary or the Paul Thomas Anderson movie, the dance battle movie is a rare thing. While there are plenty of dance competition shows on television, there are very few movies that put a fictional spin on the idea of battling it out through dance. This weekend’s new release Battle of the Year 3D is such a movie, and has prompted us to look at the dance battle movie genre and pick out some of our favorites.
Although the genre is relatively thin, there are some pretty spectacular, or at least spectacle-filled, dance battle movies out there, each trying to put a different spin on a pretty basic concept. South Park said it best when they established the ground rules for a dance battle: someone dances in front of you or your group and you’ve been served, then you dance in front of them and then it’s on. That’s really all one needs to know.
Without further ado, allow us to serve up our choices for the 5 Best Dance Battle Movies.
Some might argue that the first Step Up (starring a young up-and-comer named Channing Tatum) put the dance battle movie back on the map, but a strong case could be made that its sequel, Step Up 2 the Streets, is the strongest in the series. Directed by Jon Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation), Step Up 2 the Streets has all the style audiences expect from a dance movie, from the flashy moves to the visually exciting set pieces. Case in point: the MSA team’s final dance in the rain.
For Chu, Step Up 2 the Streets was the first step on his rise to fame – he later helmed the Justin Bieber concert movie and then took over the G.I. Joe series – and for the franchise it was a pinnacle moment. Subsequent entries have used the blueprint from Step Up 2, but they have only found moderate success. Are the Step Up movies goofy? Most definitely, but they’re also the main name in dance movies right now.
For every type of dance, there’s typically a movie released to support it. Stomp the Yard took the idea of stepping (or stomping), rhythmically pounding one’s feet on the ground, and created an entire narrative behind it. A troubled youth living in LA moves to Atlanta for college and is soon courted by two of the university’s top fraternities in the hopes he can help them win a step show competition.
Sure, it’s not the most inspired subject matter, but with very few choices for dance movies in 2007, Stomp the Yard got the job done. It follows along with the typical dance movie blueprint – troubled youth makes good through dance – and it wasn’t an outright hit when it released. But, Stomp the Yard still has some unique dance sequences, and that’s really all that matters.
It would have been hard to make a list about dance battle movies, or dance movies in general, without including Dance Flick, a slapstick parody that poked fun at the recent flurry (back in the early to late 2000s) of dance movies. Although Dance Flick‘s jabs were mostly directed at films like You Got Served and Save the Last Dance, no film was safe. For as much as dance movies have their appeals, they are also inherently goofy. Dance Flick embraced that, and did its best to poke fun while being entertaining.
While not nearly as funny as the other Wayans Bros. parody films (e.g. Scary Movie, Don’t be a Menace…), there was still a lot to like about Dance Flick, especially for fans of the dance movie genre. On top of that, the film introduced us to the comedic talent that is Damon Wayans Jr., who some might also know from the TV series Happy Endings.
Who can forget Bring it On, the extremely cheesy cheerleader movie from 2000? Although the dancing in Bring it On isn’t necessarily “dancing,” per say, this is still one of the quintessential dance competition movies of this generation. It also might not fit perfectly into the dance battle genre, but many of its elements were duplicated by films like Step Up, and so we think it deserves a mention.
In a way, Bring it On created the blueprint for many of the dance movies that came after it, from the social outcast with the innate talent trope to the overly silly tryout montage. And it even spawned a whole series of off-brand sequels, like many dance movies do. Step Up set the groundwork for the new school, but Bring It On made the dance battle movie palatable to a wider audience. We also wouldn’t be surprised if Bring It On‘s success had something to do with Kirsten Dunst being cast as Mary Jane in Spider-Man.
The quintessential dance battle movie, Breakin’ is mocked by some and revered by others. That’s partly because it’s very dated, but it’s also because Breakin’ embraced its “cheesyness.” In fact, in some countries Breakin’ was released simply as Breakdance: The Movie, which says a lot about its story. Featuring the film debut of Ice-T, Breakin’ tells the story of a jazz dancer who eventually discovers an innate talent for breakdancing. Do you see the common theme here?
Without Breakin’, and its sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, we don’t know if there would even be a dance battle movie genre. Back in the ’80s, most dance movies were centered around things like ballroom dancing or tap dancing, where every movement was about beauty not necessarily expression. Breakin’, however, took breakdancing and brought it to the mainstream. We’d also like to point out that Breakin’ was one of the first movies to establish the rule that any dancer worth their salt needs to have a cool nickname.
Although we were pretty clear on our selections, there are two movies that came close to making the list: the documentary Planet B-Boy and, of course, You Got Served. You Got Served‘s reputation in the dance battle genre doesn’t need much justification, but Planet B-Boy is worth highlighting because it’s a tremendous documentary about the culture of B-Boy dancers. It’s also from the same director as Battle of the Year.
But what about you? Which dance battle movies are your favorite? What do you think of our choices? Let us know in the comments below.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina for more discussions on the intricacies of dance battle etiquette.