As we embark on another awards pre-season, and anticipate the legions of “For Your Consideration”-style advertising we have to look forward to over the coming months, we felt it an opportune moment to highlight a film that is unlikely to be figuring largely in those conversations: this week’s “Battle of the Year” starring widely disliked person Chris Brown alongside Joshes Holloway and Peck. Because the funny thing is, no matter how B-grade its cast, formulaic its plot or potentially jingoistic its premise (“Bring that trophy back for AMERICA”) there will be a certain segment of the Playlist population who will don sunglasses and fake mustaches and go see it. It’s a dance movie, you see, and the love that a shockingly high proportion of us bear this unworthy genre is one of our best kept secrets.
Well, we’re outing ourselves with this list. “Battle of the Year,” as the name suggests is about an international dance battle that, the trailer tells us, was established and pioneered by the US of fucking A, yet Amurica has not won it in 15 goddamn years, which I think we can all agree is totally wack. So in an effort to dethrone the current holders (those wily, disciplined but likely soulless and potentially communist Koreans) a ragtag bunch of talented misfits from disparate crews across the nation must put aside their diff… oh I don’t think we need say more. Because no one but the foolhardiest naif will be going into this for the plot; it will all be about the dancing, most specifically, the dance battles in which the troupe must prevail along the route to restoring National Pride and learning about Teamwork and Friendship and Sacrifice and Twerking. How will the dance-off sequences stack up? We’ve assembled 15 of our all-time favorites to get us in the mood.
“You Got Served” (2004)
Dance Style: Hip Hop
Rival Crews: David (Omarion) and Elgin (Marques Houston) are BFFs who live to dance in underground dance battles (MC’d by Steve Harvey aka “Mr. Rad”) in this seminal dance-off flick (directed by B2K’s manager Christopher Stokes). When rich white boy Wade (Christopher Jones) and his crew introduce money into the mix, the fallout (as well as their own shady dealings with drug dealer Emerald) drives a wedge through the group, and they splinter into separate dance factions. Which leaves Elgin’s Li’l Saints and Wade’s Crew to face off at the MTV Big Bounce for the cash prize of 50 large.
Who Got Served? When Li’l Saints and Wade’s Crew tie, judge Li’l Kim announces the tiebreaker is a no-rules, “straight hood” affair. David reunites with Elgin to trounce Wade’s Crew to the thumping “Pump It Up” by Joe Budden. While both crews bring sick tricks and synchronization, the Li’l Saints’ b-boy skills and showmanship put them over the top. Still, it’s hard not to think that Wade’s Crew was robbed… but there’s no arguing with the applause-o-meter.
See Also: Quite a few of the new crop of dance films featured here owe a debt to “You Got Served” but one we didn’t have room to include is David La Chapelle‘s documentary on krumping, “Rize” which also culminates in a final battle.
Dance Style: Hand Jive
Rival Crews: While the kids from Rydell High go apeshit doing the hand jive during their school dance, which is being broadcast live on the Corny Collins Show, the scheming Cha Cha DiGregorio (Annette Charles) ditches her wild man partner, Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) to cut in on Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) in order to secure her place at the top with the school’s best dancer.
Who Got Served? Unfortunately, our heroine Sandy, who stomps out of the gym at the first sight of Cha Cha and her skirt whirling madness (lotta granny panties exposed in this number). Beautiful, clueless Danny jumps right in step with Cha Cha and their raunchy moves steal the show and win them the trophy. Sandy may have lost this battle, however, she sure doesn’t lose the war.
See Also: No battles per se, but “Saturday Night Fever,” obvs.
“Step Up 2: The Streets” (2008)
Dance Style: Hip Hop
Rival Crews: While Andie (Briana Evigan) and her new art school crew (including 3 time “Step Up” franchise regular Adam Sevani as Moose), battle her old crew the 410 IN THE RAIN, the more exciting dance-off happens in the beginning of the film when she battles Channing Tatum in the club, with excellent use made of the incongruous trampoline installed in the floor.
Who Got Served? Andie of course. One doesn’t simply win against C-Tates in a dance battle. The young trainee takes her great abs and gets them to art school to enhance her hip hop street dancing with something a bit more avant garde. And as this is Tatum’s only appearance in the sequel to the film that made him a star, you know he’s going to dominate.
See Also: Its lack of direct battles excludes it, but the first “Step Up” is so adorable that stars Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan fell in love and got married for ever and ever for reals and had real babies in real life, so come on.
Dance Style: Breakdancing/Body Popping
Rival Crews: Our heroes Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers) team up with jazz ballet dancer (remember when Jazz Ballet was a thing?) Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) and face down Electro Rock, a threesome who had previously schooled them only by having a secret weapon in their line-up: a girl! And yes, that’s Ice-T in his debut (he now considers the film “wack”) and “Boardwalk Empire” dude Christopher MacDonald in a suit.
Who Got Served? This time out, Electro Rock go down when it’s proved that Ozone’s slick moves and Turbo’s (incredible) popping are are complemented by Kelly’s high-kicks and back flips. But also, the audience kinda gets served for anything that isn’t a dance scene, suffering under the yoke of terrible acting, and some eye-gougingly awful ‘80s costumes. Still, spotting Jean Claude Van Damme (Black unitard, from 9 mins) in an early beachside scene is a marvellous pause-and-rewatch moment.
See Also: Turbo’s dance with a broom
“Step Up 3D” (2010)
Dance Style: Hip Hop
Rival Crews: Aspiring filmmaker Luke (Rick Malambri) houses his diverse band of a Lost Boys/dance crew, House of Pirates, in a Brooklyn warehouse squat, recruiting Natalie (Sharni Vinson) after he spots her on a club security camera, and basically kidnapping Moose (Adam Sevani) from his NYU dorm. They battle House of Samurai, led by richy rich Julien (Joe Slaughter), who is, gasp!, a former Pirate, and Natalie’s brother.
Who Got Served? While the entirety of “Step Up 3D” is an insane surrealist nightmare that makes little to no sense (though it serves as the seed for some of the almost Communist ideals that are espoused in the even more nonsensical “Step Up Revolution,” wherein there are no dance-offs, just dance flash mobs battling against The Man), it features some of the best battles in the series, probably because director Jon M. Chu is more concerned with the 3D capabilities than the story itself. The ultimate battle at the World Jam is one of the flashiest and best of the series. And obviously, the Samurai get served and the Pirates remain supreme. The embed is poor quality but the link beneath will bring you to a better version.
See Also: That scene in HD on youtube
“Fast Forward” (1985)
Dance Style: ’80s streetdancing, a little breaking, a lot of high kicks.
Rival Crews: It’s small-towners with big dreams vs. the big bad city that threatens to eat them alive, in this Sidney Poitier-directed film, as a fame-obsessed troupe from Sandusky, Ohio journey to New York City for their big break. But first, they gotta learn how to survive in the urban jungle, and more specifically in The Zoo, a club that houses the freshest dancers in NYC. First time they go, they get truly schooled, but they return stronger than ever and hellbent on dance floor revenge…
Who Got Served? Second time out and the Zoo residents get a taste of their own medicine as the Ohioans break, pop and high kick rings around them. And, in case you didn’t realize how much more streetwise these kids have become, NUN-CHUCKS. Unfortunately their winning Zoo battle (number 2) is unavailable online so the one below is the less impressive first one, that they lose to the flashy urbanites (conspiracy???).
See Also: Here’s where the plucky youngsters win over the upscale attendees at a stuffy convention dinner by sheer force of pep, but really, just try and find the second Zoo battle. The one with the nun-chucks.
“West Side Story” (1961)
Dance Style: Urban Jazz Parkour
Rival Crews: Street gangs The Sharks and The Jets are locked in a bloody race war that they dance out on the streets of New York.
Who Got Served? Love. Love gets served. It’s hard to distinguish who actually wins since this 1950s New York adaptation of “Romeo & Juliet” ends tragically in death for both sides. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get awesome, Jerome Robbins-choreographed and directed dance along the way. Using the urban environment (even if it is a set) as a prop, Robbins creates an energetic and masculine style of dance that seems a natural extension of gesture and movement. This is perfectly laid out in the opening/prologue, when the gangs dance out a turf war, setting the tradition in place for future dance battles. Just play it cool boy, real cool.
See Also: The Gym Mambo number, the film’s other dance-off.
“Stomp The Yard” (2007)
Dance Style: Stepping, with a dash of krumping
Rival Crews: Theta Nu Theta and Mu Gamma Xi. Yes. Fraternities. More specifically two rival fraternities from Truth University, of whom the Gammas are the 7-time National Stepping Champions and who are not afraid to play a little dirty to keep their title and their girls (specifically Meaghan Good, the provost’s daughter). Underdogs Theta, on the other hand, recruit DJ (Columbus Short), a talented street dancer nursing guilt that his brother (Chris Brown) was killed in a street-dance-related feud.
Who Got Served? With a plot as un-be-liev-ably formulaic and manipulative as this one (witness DJ getting inspired to pledge by visiting Heritage Hall to look at pictures of Dr. King and Rosa Parks) the dancing had better be good, and it is—it’s actually pretty great, even if those fey fraternity hand gestures are kind of unintentionally hilarious. The climactic battle is terrific as the two frats face off for the championship, matching and one-upping each other brilliantly until DJ (eye-roll) busts his deceased little brother’s signature move to win the title for Theta.
See Also: The opening dance-off, featuring Chris Brown, which, while distractingly shot and hyperedited, is still pretty impressive.
“Beat Street” (1984)
Dance Style: Breakdancing
Rival Crews: The Beat Street Breakers (played by real-life crew the New York City Breakers) vs. The Bronx Rockers (The Rock Steady Crew). They face off most spectacularly (and lengthily) in the Roxy nightclub scene where, helpfully color coded red and blue, members of both crews pull off, one after the other, some of the sickest, freshest, dopest breakdancing moves YOU WILL EVER SEE. The rest of the movie is an interesting 80s artifact about various aspects of emerging hip hop culture, not just dance, but DJing, graffiti art etc., but it’s really the dancing, and this scene in particular, that wins the film a position in the all-time hall of fame.
Who Got Served? The consensus seems to emerge that the Breakers win, but to be honest if anything, we think the Rockers shade this. Not that it really matters because dance is the winner here.
See Also: The subway battle, while shorter, is pretty good too.
“Strictly Ballroom” (1992)
Dance Style: Ballroom. Paso Doble, to be precise.
Rival Crews: While there’s a more direct dance-off earlier in the film, between arrogant but talented young pup Scott (Paul Mercurio) and ugly duckling Fran’s (Tara Morice) gypsy family (in which obviously the preening Scott gets schooled in the nature of dancing with the heart vs. dancing with the feet), it’s the final dance at the Pan-Pacific Championships we have to include here. Fran, whose swan transformation is one of the best achieved in the history of cinema, finally gets to dance with the hunky Scott, and by dancing his new, illegal steps, they take on not only their opponents, but the stuffy Ballroom Establishment (personified by sleazy chairman Barry Fife, complete with Trump-esque tan-and-wig combo).
Who Got Served? In a deliriously crowdpleasing finale (to what some of us consider Baz Lurhmann’s broadest, daftest and best film by a million miles) Scott and Fran stick it to The Man through the sheer amazingness of their routine, which continues to the beat of the audience’s applause, despite disqualification. As the crowd then invades the dancefloor to the tune of “Love is in the Air” in an orgy of renewed Ballroom fervor, we defy you not to want to do the same.
See Also: The final Tango in “Take The Lead.”
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (1985)
Dance Style: Pop Jazz
Rival Crews: Both Janey (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Natalie (Holly Gagnier) are vying for a prized position as a Dance TV regular, and will stop at nothing to get that spot.
Who Got Served? Of course, since it’s a tie between Janey and Natalie (and their respective partners), it comes down to a good old fashioned dance-off. Janey and love interest Jeff (Lee Montgomery) pull out all the stops, including the “Dirty Dancing” overhead lift, and even several Olympic floor routine-worthy tumbling passes. Needless to say, Natalie, despite that sparkly leotard, gets served. The icing on the cake is SJP’s best friend, played by Helen Hunt with truly disturbing bangs, driving a horse and chariot onto the dance floor for some reason.
See Also: Parker is even bouncier in the audition scene.
“Planet B-Boy” (2007)
Dance Style: Breakdancing, or as the practitioners call it, B-Boy
Rival Crews: Japan’s Ichigeki and South Korea’s Last For One face off for first place in the the documentary about the international breakdancing contest that inspired “Battle of the Year” (Benson Lee directs both films too).
Who Got Served? While Last For One takes first prize in the contest for their more straightforward hip hop and breaking, Ichigeki takes Best Show for their incredibly creative and boundary-pushing performance, incorporating modern dance movement, samurai philosophy and performance art into their work. In a particularly moving moment, Ichigeki crew member Katsu strokes the dance floor in a gesture of mourning for his father. Still, the athleticism and precision of Last For One cannot be denied.
See Also: Well, “Battle of the Year,” we guess (trailer here). We can’t help but feel there might be a slight less all-Asian feel to the fictionalized finale, but since director Benson Lee‘s clearly loves this world, we’re hopeful the dances will deliver.
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954)
Dance Style: Barndancing
Rival Crews: The six unmarried brothers who’ve come down from their farm to show off their newly-acquired mad dance skillz at a barnraising, vs the stuffy, “respectable” suitors courting the girls they like. We realize this pick might not have a whole lot of street cred but actually watch this scene and tell us that, with the dissing of the other “crew” and the athleticism of some of the moves (the beam work is especially impressive, not to mention the leapfrogging) this scene doesn’t belong in the Dance-Off pantheon.
Who Got Served? Oh, the grey-clad original suitors get handed their marching orders when the disputed womenfolk leap into the arms of the respective brothers. And then it devolves into a fight. And then the brothers kidnap the women and basically hold them hostage until they fall for them, Stockholm syndrome-style. Thus proving that it’s not just the worst excesses of hip-hop culture that can lay claim to violence and endemic misogyny. Yee-haw!
See Also: Director Stanley Donen had some kind of uncanny genius for staging dance scenes and while we’d be hard pressed to count them as dance-offs, needless to say Gene Kelly vs. A Lamppost and Donald O’Connor vs. A Wall in Donen’s “Singin’ in the Rain” are among our favorites ever.
“House Party” (1990)
Dance Style: Hip Hop, while Martin Lawrence DJs
Rival Crews: Kid ‘n’ Play (Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin) versus their lady loves Sydney (Tisha Campbell) & Sharane (AJ Johnson). While certainly not as bitter a rivalry as some others on this list, the scene certainly features some fantastic moves, in a dance-off that is, like the whole damn film, refreshingly good-humored and exuberant.
Who Got Served? Weeeell, clearly Kid ‘n’ Play win out as they get the last move (which is kind of like getting the last word in an argument) but we’ve gotta show our gender bias and give Sharane and Sydney props for rising to the challenge and for doing it, in Sharane’s case, in a yellow, cinched-waist, thigh-length unitard that maybe 4 people born of woman on Planet Earth could ever have gotten away with.
See Also: Anything except the “House Party” sequels which will make you sad.
Dance Style: Streetdance with ballet elements
Rival Crews: Initially, it’s the ballet dancers vs. the street dancers as a visionary ballet teacher (Charlotte Rampling) allows a scrappy street troupe headed by Carly (Nichola Burley) to use her rehearsal space on condition they include her stuck-up ballet dancers in the troupe. But, in a development that will surprise no one who has ever seen a dance movie ever, it turns out that Ballet and Street are not as incompatible as they first thought and soon they bond. Then the real battle emerges, between the newly-minted Breaking Point and the reigning kings of the U.K. streetdance scene The Surge.
Who Got Served? With “Britain’s Got Talent” alumni, real-life troupes Diversity and Flawless making up the majority of the cast, we’re actually kind of hard pushed to pick a winner, as the dance scenes are pretty great. However, narrative dictates that at the end it’s Breaking Point’s day and, despite some iffy camera work in the finale that means we’re not always looking at what we want to see, we’re happy to call it their way too.
See Also: “Streetdance 2,” made 2 years later has a pretty cool salsa dance-off in a boxing ring.
The lines occasionally blur between dance competition and dance-off, but we tried to stick mostly to the latter, which involves some kind of one-on-one battling, so the famous twist from “Pulp Fiction,” the audition from “Flashdance,” the sequences from “Dirty Dancing” and both “Hairspray” movies didn’t quite make the grade, although we love them all—and many of them were featured in our broader 25 iconic dance scenes feature. And while the dance-off phenomenon has also spawned a great deal of other -offs in moviedom, like the walk-off (“Zoolander“); rap-off (“8 Mile); riff-off (“Pitch Perfect“); and the cheer-off (“Bring It On“) we decided to keep it to dancing for now.
However just as frequently as it’s been affectionately co-opted, the purity of the form has been degraded by lazy screenwriters going for a cheap gag in lackluster comedies like “Starsky and Hutch,” “White Chicks,” “Disaster Movie,” “Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” “American Wedding” and “Bride Wars” to name just a few. And in case you hadn’t noticed, we take our dance-offs way too seriously to have anything to do with any of those. Still, though, we’re not quite sure what to do with this clip from “Once Bitten” in which two women, one of whom is Lauren Hutton, vie for the attentions of Jim Carrey, but it’s the sort of thing you just have to share so here you go.
Aaaaand, boom, we’re out, yo. Any bitches fronting about our selections can throw down in the comments or in the nearest empty swimming pool. Otherwise, see you at regionals. –Jessica Kiang, Katie Walsh