When Baz Luhrmann gets behind the camera you can be sure you’re getting ready to view a spectacle. Luhrmann has only made six feature films in his career but he has absolutely made his name with those few features. He takes advantage of the medium of film in ways that few others do, creating sequences that wow audiences. With his newest movie, Elvis, that hasn’t changed.
But where does Elvis fit into the pantheon of Baz Luhrmann? While there’s a lot that his movies have in common, there’s just as much that makes each one unique, so ranking them is no easy task, but we’ll give it a try anyway. Here’s all of Baz Luhrmann’s feature films, ranked.
If there’s a movie on this list that you might have forgotten about entirely, it’s probably Australia. The movie had a lot going for it on paper, an epic period piece starring two huge names in Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. The pair find themselves thrown together in the early 1940s, and an unlikely romance blossoms.
The movie wasn’t a huge a flop, it’s Luhrmann’s second highest grossing film to date worldwide, but those audiences have largely moved on from it and critics were never that impressed. It’s a beautiful movie, to be sure. Baz Luhrmann’s trademark visuals are on display here as ever. The problem is that the characters played by Jackman and Kidman just feel insubstantial. It’s an odd couple pairing and an unlikely romance that we’ve seen too many times before. Maybe if Luhrmann and Jackman make a musical together, the second time will be the charm.
5. The Great Gatsby
It actually pains me to put The Great Gatsby so low on this list. While the movie has a lot in common with Australia, being a box office hit and a critical pan at the same time, it’s certainly not a movie people have easily forgotten. Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the title character and he’s right at home in the heart of excess that is Luhrmann’s Roaring ‘20s.
In the end, if you’re looking for an emotionally powerful and resonating adaptation of one of the greatest American novels ever written, this is not that movie. If, however, you are looking for exactly the movies you might expect Baz Luhrmann to make out of one of America's greatest novels, it is exactly that. If you let yourself get caught up in Luhrmann’s Gatsby, and you should, you’ll still find something to appreciate here, even if Carey Mulligan doesn’t love her own performance.
Baz Luhrmann’s newest feature tells the story of the life of Elvis Presley and his longtime manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis himself was a man known for the way he performed his music as much as he was the music itself, and in that, he’s perfect fodder for a Baz Luhrmann movie. Fans of Elvis are almost certain to enjoy Luhrmann’s stylish take. Everybody else will be an Elvis fan by the end.
Elvis tries to do a lot by telling the story of the entire professional career of one of the most famous men in the history of the world in one movie, even a long one. It’s possibly a bit more than the movie can handle, but there is still a lot to love here, including a pair of solid performances from Austin Butler, in a star-making turn, as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Parker.
3. Romeo + Juliet
The works of William Shakespeare have been adapted thousands of times in hundreds of different ways. We’ve seen traditional and modern interpretations of Romeo & Juliet but Baz Luhrmann’s version of the classic tale is both, setting the movie in the modern day, but using only Shakespeare’s dialogue. When you have Shakespeare as your screenwriter you’re already off to a pretty good start.
If nothing else, Romeo + Juliet will forever be remembered as the movie that, along with Titanic, caused a generation of teen girls to put Leonardo DiCaprio posters on their walls. But the movie isn’t just eye candy. It’s a solid Shakespearean adaptation and a great stylized Baz Luhrmann movie all at once.
2. Strictly Ballroom
Baz Luhrmann’s first movie is a low budget affair that was seen by very few people upon its original release, but it became something of a cult hit, allowing Luhrmann the opportunity to make every other movie on this list. It’s the story of an epic battle between one man and the ballroom dancing establishment. Yes, that sounds silly, that’s the point.
Part mockumentary and part rom-com, we just don’t see movies like Strictly Ballroom very often. It is so clearly the passion project of a creator trying to make his vision come to life with no money. And he does that. While the movie is the beginning of Luhrmann’s career, one can easily see his voice has already taken shape. Strictly Ballroom is the only comedy on this list and it’s so good that one is forced to wonder why.
1. Moulin Rouge
Based on critical response, Moulin Rouge is not the best movie made by Baz Luhrmann. That’s actually still Strictly Ballroom, but there is little doubt that if Ballroom had a bigger budget, it would have become something like Moulin Rouge. Luhrmann’s one true musical, using covers of modern songs in a story that takes place at the end of the 19th century, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor lead an excellent cast in a movie that feels like a dream induced by too much absinthe, but it makes you wish you had another glass.
Moulin Rouge unapologetically revels in itself, and it’s difficult not to go along for the ride. Moulin Rouge is a perfect example of everything Baz Luhrmann is capable of when he makes a movie, and that makes it the best Baz Luhrmann movie so far.
If part of the reason we love movies is the escapism they provide, then Baz Luhrmann is a director with few equals. Each of his movies has something about it that makes it feel not only like it’s from another time or place but another universe. Each one brings reality and the surreal together in new and creative ways. Luhrmann probably isn’t done directing yet, so his greatest work may still be in our future.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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