Glitzy and gaudy and completely over-the-top

31 days of cult classics | Modern Mrs Darcy

Long before Moulin Rouge! or The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann made his directorial debut with Strictly Ballroom. It’s a weird and wonderful film packed with theatricality based on Luhrmann’s own experiences with ballroom dancing as a kid growing up in rural Australia (yes, really).

strictly ballroom

Luhrmann has said he wanted to have “the silly, heightened style of any old Hollywood movie–but deal with serious issues.” The silly and serious clash in Strictly Ballroom when outsider Scott shakes up the established ballroom dancing subculture with new moves (gasp!) and improvised dance routines (horrors!)

The ballroom veterans are deadly serious about their dance moves, and Luhrmann highlights the absurdity with cartoonish close-ups, garish costumes, and cheesy cover songs (like Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time).

But the film’s message is earnest: “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived,” and it’s impossible not to cheer for the underdog as he takes on the establishment.

Everything about Strictly Ballroom is excessive and exaggerated. It’s glitzy and gaudy and completely over-the-top. It’s a ton of fun, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched it.

American fans have embraced Strictly Ballroom as a cult classic. (It’s just a classic in Australia.) And even if you’ve never seen it, perhaps you’ve seen Dancing with the Stars? The dance competition show is based on Luhrmann’s film.

Seen it? How many times? (I think I’m at a solid 15–it was my favorite cult film in high school!)


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This is the sixteenth post in a series, 31 Days of Cult Classics. You can click here to see a list of all the posts, updated everyday in the month of October.


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  1. Anne says:

    I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen it. Less than 15 but more than a few. I’ve always liked it. I like most dance movies (Dance with Me with Vanessa and Chayanne??). I didn’t know DWTS was based on Strictly Ballroom. Neat tidbit.

    • Anne says:

      Hmmm. I’ve never watched it with that in mind. My kids aren’t ready for it, and they’re 10 and under. (But they think Disney movies are scary.) I wouldn’t hesitate to show them the ballroom dancing scenes on their own. I think the whole movie would be fine for most middle schoolers and definitely okay for 13 and up.

    • Laura says:

      As I recall it has nothing extremely objectionable. It does have risque costumes and dance moves. I guess they’re pretty tame now in the age of Miley Cyrus & Co. . . . A little bad language but not, as I recall, any of the REALLY bad words . . . .
      Oh, I love this movie. It’s a cult classic among my parents and siblings and me. I don’t know that I’ve quite made it to 15 viewings though. 🙂

    • Karlyne says:

      My grandgirls, who have never seen the whole Wizard of Oz or any of the “scary” Disney movies or even “Arsenic and Old Lace”, adore this movie! There is one awkward scene where the director and secretary are in bed, but it goes by very quickly (and nothing shows) and went right over their heads. I can’t think of any other questionable scenes, though.

      Our favorite lines are “A little musicality, please!”,
      “What do I want?!? I want Ken Rawlins to walk in here and say, ‘Pam Short has broken both her legs and I want to dance with you!”
      “That was unexpected.”
      Oh, dear, there are too many to recount!

      • Anne says:

        Hahaha! I just laughed out loud (in the coffee shop) to “That was unexpected.” I say that ALL THE TIME and I’d forgotten that was where it came from. 🙂

    • Karlyne says:

      Moulin was a lot of fun, but Strictly Ballroom is, at times, genius! It starts out almost as a cartoon with characters being caricatures of themselves, but it ends up as pure, beautiful happy-ever-after story!

  2. melyssa says:

    Oh my heck! Top favorite movie – I quote it all the time. Especially being a dance teacher myself, you have NO IDEA how often I want to bellow “ARMS, CLARY!!!!” but sadly, no one gets it. Although my boss has been known to turn around with a crazy look in her eyes during Nutcracker rehearsal and mutter, “I’ve got my happy face on…”

    SUCH a quotable movie – just adore it.

  3. Crystal says:

    Finally! Someone else who has even heard of Strictly Ballroom 🙂 My sisters and I watched this all the time as kids. I’ve never counted, but I know I’ve seen it at least 30 times. My favorite quote: “Did I fail him as a mother?” hahaha

    • Melissa says:

      Yes! Love that quote, that and “You’re a gutless wonder!” Has to be said with the right intonation and accent – I love this movie!

  4. Kelty says:

    Aaaaaaaahhh!!! Totally a Cult Classic. So glad to know I’m not alone on this one. Australian movies are so freely and wonderfully opulent and ridiculous, especially this one. It was my reintroduction to the song “Time after Time” , which promptly made it on to many a romantic songs mix tape after that.

    I do believe it’s netflix streaming. Might have to watch tonight.

  5. Alison says:

    Ohhh, Anne, you have made my heart sing!! It was such a joy to see one of my favourite movies make it to your list, especially being an Aussie!!! I was 16 when this movie came out, and I saw it in a restored theatre that completely added to the whole experience of watching the film – at the end, the whole audience stood up and applauded, and it is one of my most treasured memories.

    There’s a newer Australian dance mockumentary too, ‘Razzle Dazzle: A Journey Into Dance’, all about a kids dance competition complete with brats, dance mums and imperviously strict teachers. You’ll love it!!

    I am completely in love with Australian movies in general, and I get such a kick out of seeing anyone who’s not an Aussie express their love – or even appreciation – for them too. ‘The Dish’ is another of my all-time favourites, and I could rattle off so many more (The Castle, Charlie and Boots, Muriel’s Wedding, Kenny, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Black Balloon, Shine, Lantana, Crackerjack (and anything made by Working Dog Productions) oh, I could go on and on an on).

    Something I’ve often wondered, and you ladies might be able to help me with – do you ever have any trouble ‘getting’ some of the humour? Australian humour is unique on so many levels, and there are often times I’ll be watching something and really appreciate the fact that I understand the context simply because I am an Aussie, and wonder how it works for people who aren’t.

    ‘Time After Time’ was a favourite song of mine before the movie, and it became solidly cemented in top place after seeing it. So much so that it was our wedding song, and the song that I kept coming back to while we were divorced (and now while restoring our marriage 🙂 ) I hear or think of the song, and am reminded time and time again that most definitely, a life lived in fear is a life half lived. Funny what you can get from a dance movie 🙂

  6. Erin says:

    Strictly Ballroom is in my top three movies of all time! I think I saw it four times in the theater. I actually did show it to my kids (ages 7 and 9) this summer. There are some risque moments, but not anything I’d object to. I’m just now remembering that when I made my mom watch it, she totally didn’t get the mockumentary aspect: “Wait. Are they being serious?” (And all of this makes me want to go watch this and Best in Show!)

  7. Emma says:

    Yay for Aussie films! I definitely think of it as a cult classic over here (in Australia) too though. I also absolutely recommend The Castle!

  8. Sarah Pope says:

    I love Strictly Ballroom!!! I’ve definitely seen it at least 20 times and I’m bad about quoting it and singing along as I watch.
    The best part is when I was taking a summer dance intensive in middle school I got to take Flamenco Classes from ‘Fran’s’ father in the movie. He is just as intense in real life, and I was so star struck!
    Thanks for featuring this movie!

  9. Rebecca says:

    I had never heard of this and watched it on Netflix instantplay for the first time last night. Too much fun! Definitely not appropriate for kids — a lot of foul language and a bedroom scene.
    The hardest/funniest part of watching this was that “Scott” and my husband could be twins (well, except for the brown eyes — my hubby’s are grey/blue). My kids could see the screen and kept saying things like “WHOA! It’s DAD! With makeup!!! Haaaahaaa! Can dad dance like that?” Thanks for the heads up — it was a nice break after raking a million leaves.

  10. Michelle says:

    As an Australian, it’s a classic for me. I was in high school when it came out and we were all in love with Paul Mercutio!!! The other Australian classic you need to check out is The Castle – it’s hilarious!

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