Most people are familiar with hip-hop, street dancing, or ballet-theme movies … but did you know that there are many tap dance movies out there, too? Other than being great watches during weekends, these movies can also serve as a source of inspiration or reference material if you’re a tap dance student.
This guide is the ultimate compilation of all the best tap dance movies. Give them a look!
Table of Contents
- How I Choose This Tap Dance Movies List?
- 10 Famous Tap Dance Movies To Get Your Shoes Tapping
- Final Words
How I Choose This Tap Dance Movies List?
The greatest requirement for a good tap dancing movie must have excellent sequences with a tap dance in it.
Besides having great choreography and good execution from the actors and actresses, I also look into the soundscape of each movie. After all, the most distinctive quality of a tap dance performance is the click of the clogs against the dance floor. Without the signature sound, it wouldn’t be tap dancing!
Typically (especially in old movies), live audio recording isn’t enough to fully capture the sound of the tap shoes. So, directors often use “tap boards” to work over the sound. I mostly rate each movie based on how well the dubbing of the tap boards is.
And last but not least, besides having great tap dancing scenes, the movie has to be good. From the plot to the cinematography, everything has to be just right to make a good old tap dance movie!
10 Famous Tap Dance Movies To Get Your Shoes Tapping
1. Singing in the Rain (1952) – Best tap-dancing movies of all time
- Directed by: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
- Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse
- Running time: 103 minutes
- IMDb rating: 8.3/10
Singing in the Rain is a classic American musical romantic comedy released in 1952. It is one of the best tap-dancing movies of all time. The movie offers a more comedic take on the cinema scene in Hollywood in the 1920s.
At the time, movies and actors were transitioning from silent films to “talkies” (movies with stereo sound and real voice.) The transition proved difficult for many people, including Donald “Don” Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).
The two have been cast for many romantic roles beforehand by their studio. Lina was convinced that they were in love despite Don’s protest.
Suddenly, the latest movie they’re cast in was changed at the last minute to a musical instead of a run-of-the-mill romance. Between the two, only Don could cover the singing part, while Lina – despite extensive training and practice – still did terribly on the vocals.
And that’s where Kathy, a bright, young aspiring actress, came into the picture. She was hired to record Lina’s performance with her voice.
And, of course, sparks flew between the veteran actor and the bright-eyed actress!
There were many beautiful scenes in the movie, but the most memorable must be the scene now known as simply the Singin’ in the Rain scene. Here, Gene Kelly sang and tap danced under the Rain. Arguably, it’s the scene that elevated the movie to its legendary status today.
2. The Artist (2011)
- Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
- Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Joel Murray, Ken Davitian, John Goodman
- Running time: 100 minutes
- IMDb rating: 7.9/10
The Artist, released in 2011, is a French comedy-drama movie set in the 1920s.
The protagonist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), is an adored actor with many fans. While recording his latest film project, he falls in love with a young ingénue named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).
It seems like Peppy reciprocates his feelings, but George – with a wife at home – is reluctant to cheat on her to be with Peppy. The relationship between the two is further strained and tested by the rise of sound in movies, which balloons Peppy’s career while slowly sinking George’s.
Though it is a modern movie, the director – Michel Hazanavicius – decided to film it using the black-and-white format, giving the movie a nostalgic appearance that’s rarely seen in today’s movies.
And, of course, like most musical movies set in this era, tap dancing is a staple. In the movie’s final sequence, the two protagonists perform some truly awesome tap dancing moves on stage.
This tap dancing film mimicked the style and feel of ballroom-esque tap dancing of the 20s extremely well. This is one of the reasons why it was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five!
It’s currently available on Netflix.
3. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
- Directed by: Michael Curtiz
- Starring: James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Richard Whorf
- Running time: 126 minutes
- IMDb rating: 7.6/10
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biographical musical film that revolves around the life of George M. Cohan, a Broadway legend with the nickname “The Man Who Owned Broadway.”
The movie starts with the scene of Cohan coming to the White House to receive the Congressional Gold Medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. At that moment, Cohan (played by James Cagney) begins to reflect on his life.
The movie goes over all of the major stages in Cohan’s life from his childhood performing in his family’s vaudeville. It documents his rise and growth through the years before becoming hugely successful and famous as an actor, songwriter, director, and producer that is best known for many patriotic productions like “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, and “Over There”.
The movie has many classic dance scenes befitting a documentary about one of the most legendary dancers. One of the scenes still talked about today is where James Cagney, playing Cohan, tap-danced down the stairs.
You cannot help but appreciate the lightness, confidence, and smoothness with which he literally glided down the steps!
4. Swing Time (1936)
- Directed by: George Stevens
- Starring: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
- Running time: 103 minutes
- IMDb rating: 7.5/10
Swing Time is a classic tap dance movie plus a musical comedy. It’s the centerpiece of the filmography of the legendary dancer and actor, Fred Astaire.
The movie follows Lucky Garnett (Fred Astaire), a gambler known for his risk-taking attitude, but also a dexterous and skillful dancer.
He’s supposed to be engaged to Margaret Watson (Betty Furness), a pretty woman, but gets cold feet by the end and the wedding is called off. Margaret’s father offers him a second chance: so long that he can make $25,000 (a huge sum at the time), he can marry her again.
So, Lucky set off to the Big Apple to seek fame and fortune. There, he meets the young and beautiful dance teacher Penny Carroll and the rest is (quite literally) history.
Though the plot and many aspects of the movie have been criticized, Swing Time has gone down into the history book as one of the best musicals ever produced. The tap dance scenes, portrayed masterfully by the dynamic duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, are nothing short of fantastic.
If you want a taste of how good their dancing is, check out this famous short clip from the movie.
5. Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940)
- Directed by: Norman Taurog
- Starring: Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, George Murphy, Frank Morgan
- Running time: 102 minutes
- IMDb rating: 7.3/10
Another movie featuring Fred Astaire, Broadway Melody of 1940 (also released in 1940), is set in New York City and focuses on the dance team of Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy).
Though they have the skills and the flair, the pair still struggles at the bottom of the heap of dance teams. They can’t bring themselves to stand out from the other groups in dance halls.
That is until Bob Casey (Frank Morgan) catches sight of Johnny’s moves and invites him to partner up with a famous Broadway star Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell).
Due to misunderstandings, Clare was paired up with Shaw instead of Johnny. But that’s not the end of the story. When Shaw fails to perform, Johnny steps up and proves himself again.
Although Fred Astaire is commonly associated with Ginger Rogers, he paired up with Eleanor Powell in this movie. Both were considered the best dancers of their time, and this is the only movie in which they danced together.
The movie has many excellently choreographed scenes, but the most compelling one, in my opinion, is the “Begin the Beguine” scene in the movie’s grand finale. It’s the scene where Fred and Eleanor visibly pull all of the stops and perform to their hearts’ rhythms.
6. Stormy Weather (1943)
- Directed by: Andrew L. Stone
- Starring: Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, Fats Waller, Nicholas Brothers, Ada Brown, Dooley Wilson
- Running time: 78 minutes
- IMDb rating: 7.3/10
Stormy Weather is a movie that has made history.
In an era where African Americans rarely ever appeared on the silver screen, Stormy Weather was one of the first movies that set the stage for them and cut through the tense racial atmosphere at the time.
The movie’s plot is quite familiar and basically has the same structure as all other musicals of the era. Stormy Weather follows Bill Williamson (Bill Robinson), a struggling performer.
He meets Selina Rogers (Lena Horne), a beautiful vocalist, and promptly falls in love. Bill promises that he will come back and they will be together once he has found success.
But as they both find success in their careers, they lose contact with one another. But during a musical stage show, they reunite and Bill has another chance to woo over the beautiful Selina again.
The movie prominently features many tap dancing scenes. Some of these have been remastered and upscaled to 4K resolution. For example, this iconic scene is considered to be one of the best tap dancing and jazz performances ever.
7. The Little Colonel (1935)
- Directed by: David Butler
- Starring: Shirley Temple, Lionel Barrymore, Evelyn Venable, John Lodge, Bill Robinson, Hattie McDaniel
- Running time: 80 minutes
- IMDb rating: 7/10
Unlike other movies on this list set in the jazzy 1920s, The Little Colonel is set in the period after the American Civil War.
Specifically, the movie is set in Kentucky in the 1870s and focuses on Colonel Lloyd (Lionel Barrymore). He is estranged from his daughter, Elizabeth (Evelyn Venable), after she elopes with a man from the north named Jack Sherman (John Lodge).
When her husband is prospecting for gold during the Gold Rush, Elizabeth comes home and revisits her father with her daughter, Lloyd (Shirley Temple).
The little girl, along with Colonel Lloyd, soon becomes tentative friends. After Jack returns from the prospecting trip, the family’s relationship, which is on the mend, becomes at risk. The bond between the little girl Lloyd and the Colonel is tested through many challenges.
One of the movie’s greatest scenes is where the Little Colonel (little girl Lloyd) is taught how to tap dance by Walker (Bill Robinson).
8. For Me And My Gal (1942)
- Directed by: Busby Berkeley
- Starring: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy
- Running time: 104 minutes
- IMDb rating: 7/10
For Me and My Gal is a musical released in 1942 that took inspiration from the life of the real vaudeville actors Harry Palmer and Jo Hayden, including the detail of him being drafted during World War I.
Jo Hayden (Judy Garland) and Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly) are struggling vaudeville actors hoping to make it big in the entertainment scene. However, a wrench is thrown into their plans when Harry is drafted and must go to war.
Not wanting him to go and potentially die on the battlefield, Jo injures Harry’s hand to keep him from being qualified for service.
However, since Harry considers the deed as cowardly and unpatriotic, he goes to war regardless and breaks up the pair. The movie chronicles Jo’s effort to reunite the pair again, even at the cost of having to go to war herself.
And, of course, since it’s a Gene Kelly and Judy Garland movie, many dancing scenes are involved. The film has many excellent tap-dancing scenes.
And not only so, but the pair also sang many songs that are still appreciated by many today. This tap dancing scene is considered one of the best in the movie.
9. White Nights (1985)
- Directed by: Taylor Hackford
- Starring: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Geraldine Page, Helen Mirren, Jerzy Skolimowski, Isabella Rossellini
- Running time: 136 minutes
- IMDb rating: 6.6/10
White Nights is a musical drama movie that was released in 1985. The title of the movie refers to the skies of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) which doesn’t get dark even at midnight during the summer. The movie is based mostly in this area.
White Nights follows the footsteps of Nikolai Rodchenko, a ballet dancer whose plane makes an emergency landing in Siberia. He’s recognized to be a defector and is brought into the custody of the Soviet police.
Nikolai gains the opportunity to return to Leningrad, where he meets his old love: an aging ballerina named Galina Ivanova (Helen Mirren).
Also at the city, he meets Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines), an American dancer who defected to the Soviet Union but soon grew disenchanted.
Together, they plotted their escape to the American Consulate and defect for a second time back to freedom.
The movie is a must-watch if you’re interested in the Cold War setting. And for fans of tap dancing out there, you won’t be disappointed with the many tap-dancing scenes in White Nights.
This scene, for example, is a tap dancing performance that’s almost perfectly executed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines.
10. Tap (1989)
- Directed by: Nick Castle
- Starring: Gregory Hines, Suzzanne Douglas, Joe Morton, Sammy Davis Jr.
- Running time: 111 minutes
- IMDb rating: 6.5/10
Even the movie’s name can tell you a lot about its content!
Tap is a dance drama movie released in 1989 that follows Max Washington (Gregory Hines), an ex-con who has just been released from jail. Although he was once a criminal, he’s also an excellent dancer.
Max reunites with his girlfriend, Amy (Suzanne Douglas), and he’s approached by Amy’s father (Sammy Davis Jr.) about joining a new dance production.
But before he can take Amy’s father up on his offer and turns his life around for good, Max’s former criminal associate, Nicky (Joe Morton), also comes around.
The movie is about Max’s choice between evil and goodness, whether he would pick dancing or lapse into the path of a criminal.
It’s a pretty nice plot. But the movie’s plot and acting pale compared to its dance performances. Many wonderful tap-dancing scenes in the film will delight you if you’re looking for a good dance sequence to match.
For example, this short cut alone from the movie can hook you into watching the full movie!
Suppose you don’t have anything else to watch on weekends, then put one of these best tap dance movies on! Better yet, you can binge through all ten movies. If you’re a fan of tap dancing, you’ll appreciate the many beautiful dance scenes the movies in this tap dance movies list can offer.
Which movie is your favorite, and which scene is the one you love the most? Feel free to tell us in the comment section below!