Break dancing is one of the greatest cultural staples of the vibrant, energetic 80s and 90s. It represented the young – yet mighty – hip-hop movement that was quickly gaining popularity and attention everywhere.
Of course, filmmakers caught onto the trend. From old-school directors like Joel Silberg with his 1984 cult-classic Breakin’ to Anne Fletcher with the 2006 summer-hit Step Up, you’re basically spoiled for choice.
In this post, City Dance will review the top 8 best break dance movies you should check out if you’re interested in the genre!
Top 8 Greatest Break Dance Movies to Watch
1. Wild Style (1983)
According to many movie critics, Wild Style is “the most important hip-hop movie, ever.” Though it may not have a big budget or award-winning cinematography, what the director – Charlie Ahearn – achieved was the atmosphere. The movie encapsulated the early days of the hip-hop movement perfectly. It’s also considered to be the first hip-hop theme movie.
Wild Style follows the footsteps of the main character Zoro – an anonymous, yet extremely talented and famous graffiti artist in NYC. The movie’s plot concerns Zoro’s struggle as he tries to balance out his life and relationships with his work.
The movie’s highlight is its documentation of 80s hip-hop culture, from breaking, rapping, to spraycan art.
2. Breakin’ (1984)
While Wild Style isn’t exactly a movie about breakdancing specifically, it’s a good introduction to the culture. If you need a movie that’s more to-the-point, try Joel Silberg’s 1984 Breakin’ (also known as Breakdance 1984).
The movie – like most hip-hop productions at the time – doesn’t have a lot of cinematographic value. Don’t try to watch it expecting Coppola-level direction or script, you’ll leave disappointed.
Instead, focus on the retro charm of the movie. It was created during the height of the hip-hop movement, after all. Then, pay close attention to the breaking performances and moves. Many of the moves are extremely good and disarming.
The plot involves Kelly, a dancer and also a ballerina. One day, she gave her classmate – Adam – a lift home and accidentally saw his friends doing breaking “battles” with one another. Intrigued, she joined in and found enjoyment out of the complex body movements of breaking.
It’s a rather obvious plot. Nevertheless, the cultural value of the movie is undeniable. Breakin’ is basically a time capsule record of what breakdancing looked like in its infancy.
3. Beat Street (1984)
In the same year that Breakin’ was released, Beat Street came out, too.
Unfortunately, like the last two films, Beat Street wasn’t the best view as a movie. The cinematography isn’t the best. However, as a documentary film, Beat Street is an excellent title if you wish to learn more about street culture in the 80s.
Beat Street is your standard coming-of-age, involving a group of friends in the Bronx. The main character is Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis) whose younger brother, Lee, is a b-boy in a crew called Beat Street Breakers. The movie also looks into the dynamic between the brothers and their friend Ramon, who was a graffiti artist.
The movie has some serious breaking performances. However, where Beat Street shines was its aesthetic. All of the scenes shot on the street were done without any touch-ups or cleaning. This attention to detail (or lack thereof) is the reason why Beat Street is such a valued item on hip-hop lovers’ “To-Watch” list.
4. You Got Served (2004)
After the Golden Age of Hip-Hop (80s-90s) passed, people became a lot less interested in the theme. Still, there are plenty of contemporary titles that are worth at least a watch. Among which is, of course, You Got Served.
Written and directed by Chris Stokes and released in 2004, You Got Served follows Elgin and David. They were the leads of a dance crew that’s known to be the best in LA.
Critics didn’t like You Got Served at all and it received negative reviews almost out of the gate. Nevertheless, the movie proceeded to become a financial success thanks to its great dance scenes and faithful recreation of the hip-hop aesthetic and culture.
5. B-Girl (2009)
B-Girl was part of the resurgence of hip-hop/breakdance movies in the late 2000s. The movie is about the challenges faced by Angel, a breakdancer in Brooklyn, as she tried to balance her life and personal relationships with her passion as a b-girl.
It is a plot that has been used by virtually all dance movies up to that point. As a result, B-Girl wasn’t very warmly received by critics on grounds of its plot.
What saved it from being completely forgotten was the excellent performance of Julie Ulrich, the actress behind Angel. The many breaking scenes in the movie were done very well, making it one of the better breakdance battle movies to watch if you’re in the mood for some spectacular movements.
6. Step Up (2006)
Step Up was a big name back in the day. While it didn’t receive very good critical acclaim, it scored very well among the audience (according to Rotten Tomatoes).
The movie is rather cheesy and the dialogues leave a lot to be desired. Nonetheless, no one can say that the choreography isn’t good. In the movie, you will see every kind of style, ranging from ballet all the way to breakdancing. If you’re looking for an old breakdancing movie, Step-Up has some good moves to show you.
Step Up’s main character is Tyle Gage (played by Channing Tatum), a troubled youth who is sentenced to 200 hours of community service by a judge. While mopping the floors at the Maryland School of Arts, he found Nora, a ballerina who’s trying to incorporate breakdancing into her classical ballet routine.
Nora tried to convince Tyle – who has experience as a street dancer – to tutor her. As expected, sparks fly.
It is an incredibly indulging show and may not be to everyone’s taste. It’s still worth a shot just for the choreography alone!
7. Step Up 2: The Streets (2008)
Following the relative financial success of Step Up, the sequel Step Up 2: The Streets was announced and subsequently released in 2008. The formula of the movie remains the same: dancing sprinkled with romance. They only have a different cast of characters this time.
Step Up 2’s main character is Andie West, a Marylander high schooler who dreams of becoming a street dancer. It is your run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story from then on as Andie tries to find her place in life, facing challenges and tests along the way.
As always, the movie isn’t very popular among critics. But, exactly like other breakdance movies on the list, the dance moves and choreography are praised. Step Up 2 is a decent late 2000s movie to watch when you got nothing else on your list.
8. Kickin’ It Old Skool (2007)
Kickin’ It Old School isn’t a very good example of breakdance movie’s excellence. It received very negative reviews from critics due to its many irrelevant pop references and unfunny jokes. So, watching this movie could be a pretty painful experience.
The movie is about Justin Schumacher, a breakdancer who slips into a coma in 1986 due to a head injury. He awakes 20 years later with the mindset of a 12-year-old boy. The movie documented his time trying to find old teammates in his breakdance crew and revive their career, even if it’s only for a short while.
Overall, the plot is more unique than other breakdance movies we’ve seen. The movie would have been given a better rating had the execution been better.
The only good thing that came out of this movie is the choreography, which is decent.
Kickin’ It Old Skool is a tentative recommendation for when you have nothing else to watch.
These famous breakdancing movies, while they’re not Oscar-material, will definitely sate your thirst for some smooth breakdance moves.
Which title have you watched? Which is your favorite (and least favorite)? Tell us in the comment!