Entertainment

All 6 Baz Luhrmann Movies, Ranked

His campy style may be divisive, but we can't help but love the flashy Aussie filmmaker.

Design by Mallory Rosten for Thrillist
Design by Mallory Rosten for Thrillist
Design by Mallory Rosten for Thrillist

The cinematic king of maximalism, Baz Luhrmann is finally back in theatres this summer with his latest fantasia, Elvis, a biopic of another consummate showman. When it debuted at Cannes Film Festival, Elvis was met with mixed reactions. But isn’t that almost always the case with Luhrmann, one of those filmmakers who engenders “love him” or “hate him” reactions with almost nothing in between?

Luhrmann has his thing: He loves rooftops and fireworks and pop music and frenetic zooms. He loves truth and beauty and sweeping, doomed romance. His movies are baldly emotional and visually overwhelming. There’s a reason why Luhrmann became the favourite director to a whole gaggle of tweens between dousing Leonardo DiCaprio in rain in Romeo + Juliet and having Ewan McGregor profess his love via song in Moulin Rouge!

In honour of Elvis, we’re ranking Luhrmann’s admittedly limited oeuvre from the bad (ahem, Australia) to the great.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

6. Australia (2008)

Oh, boy. Oh, man. Aur naur. If anything, Australia had the potential to be the most Baz Luhrmann movie the guy ever made: a historical epic set in a period of violent transition in the director’s home country, starring almost every Australian actor who ever made it big in Hollywood (and if they didn’t star, you can bet the script at least scooted across their desk). The twilight of the cattle ranching business corresponded with two world wars and the horrors of the Aboriginal Stolen Generations in a chaotic and compelling time in the country’s past. Unfortunately for Baz, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, and the great nation Down Under, Australia marks the nadir of his career, a tonally confused, punishingly long descent into absolute madness, like a couple thousand doomed steers running full tilt toward an impossibly large cliff. To the movie’s credit, it also has a scene where Jackman pours a bucket of soapy water all over his bare torso, so there’s that. –Emma Stefansky

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

5. Elvis (2022)

A heartthrob decked out in rhinestones who lures audiences with his swinging hips? Of course, Elvis Presley makes sense as a Baz Luhrmann hero. And when Luhrmann’s elaborate biopic is working in tandem with Austin Butler’s sensational performance as The King, it soars. At the same time, Elvis is a mess-caught between Luhrmann’s impulses and his desire to abide by a traditional biopic formula. On the flip side of Butler, who works perfectly, there’s Tom Hanks as Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker. Hanks is going for it and it is deliberately goofy. While the interpretation admittedly grows on you, it doesn’t work for everyone. But what Luhrmann gets about Elvis is his showman’s ability to make an entire crowd see stars, and you might too. –Esther Zuckerman

  Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

4. The Great Gatsby (2013)

Some purists may scoff at Luhrmann’s garish interpretation of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s classic, but there’s also much to love in the director’s adaptation of the novel most everybody reads in high school. For one, Luhrmann certainly understands how to throw a good party, and the introduction of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby at his estate, framed by fireworks, is one of the most thrilling (and memed) reveals in recent cinematic history. And while the addition of a framing device is laboured and Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway is lackluster, there are spectacularly kinetic performances from DiCaprio and then-newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, a perfect Jordan Baker. Luhrmann may struggle when the champagne goes flat and the drama seeps in, but he understands the excess that makes the idea of Gatsby so alluring. –EZ

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

3. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Every Baz Luhrmann movie radiates opulence, but none of his films are a finer example of that special Baz opulence than his Y2K classic Moulin Rouge! The final entry in the “Red Curtain Trilogy,” his first three feature films that explore elements of the theatre, this jukebox musical is a decadent ode to Old Hollywood musicals and vaudeville. The filmmaker orchestrated a Broadway-like set out of a soundstage to recreate the late-1800s Parisian cabaret of his dreams, spotlighting a love story between performer and courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman) and a romantic young poet (Ewan McGregor). The production and costume design are decadent, the performances are as witty as they are seductive, and you can’t help but sing along to the iconic song choices-especially the inspired choice of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” With all of its dizzying and stylish quirks, it’s long been up for debate just how “good” Moulin Rouge! is. Let’s be real: Its “silly love songs” work, and any movie that calls for a cover of “Lady Marmalade” performed by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, MĂ˝a, and Pink is a keeper, no question. –Sadie Bell

Ronin Films
Ronin Films
Ronin Films

2. Strictly Ballroom (1992)

A dance bacchanalia in romantic-comedy form, Strictly Ballroom established the Baz Luhrmann template: decadent, manic, hyperemotional. What started as a play based on Luhrmann’s own background as a ballroom dancer became his big-screen inauguration when Australian producers thought to expand it into a movie. Compared to later projects, this is Luhrmann at his most restrained. Still, you can see the colourful effervescence that would soon define his directorial palette. In protagonist Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), another Luhrmann hallmark emerges: the ambitious, misunderstood outsider searching for love and success. Scott is too idiosyncratic to compete in the ballroom scene, so he’ll have to convince his critics to take him seriously with the help of a new partner (Tara Morice) who catches his romantic eye. –Matthew Jacobs

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

1. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

It’s a testament to Shakespeare’s enduring power that Hollywood continues to be obsessed with making “modernized adaptations” of The Bard’s greatest works, and it’s a testament to Baz Luhrmann himself that his Romeo + Juliet, styled as a beachy, contemporary crime drama between two warring American mafia families, hits as well as it does. His maximalist, otherworldly sensibilities mesh so well with the over-the-top drama of one of the most famous romances ever written that you wonder why all Shakespeare adaptations don’t follow the same format. (Imagine, if you will, the coked-up insanity of Baz Luhrmann’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) Leonardo DiCaprio, still baby-faced, and an arch yet vulnerable Claire Danes match each other beat-for-beat as the titular star-crossed lovers, while intermittent scenes are spiced up with a few high-octane gangland gunfights. No one builds a world like Baz does: The archaic weapons of the play are replaced with guns called “Dagger” and “Rapier,” and the characters correspond with each other through a fictional postal service called “Post Haste.” The film works itself up to a fever pitch, deftly capturing the swirling hysteria of youthful infatuation running rampant through costume parties, up balconies, and down neon-lit city streets, until ultimately cut short much too soon. –ES

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Entertainment

Why the Shocking Twist in 'Bodies Bodies Bodies' Is So Killer

The A24 horror-comedy has a lot to say about how logged on we are today.

A24
A24
A24

This story contains spoilers about the ending of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies.Even if you’ve tried to game the TikTok algorithm to feed you videos from #fashiontok, #foodtok, or whatever else you might be interested in, when you open the app, you tend to be inundated with a whole lot of discourse. In many ways, it’s incredible how attuned young people are in knowing who they are and how comfortable they are having frank conversations. But in other ways, sometimes it can feel like quick-hit platforms have a tendency to deduce real issues or strip things of their meanings-whether that’s teens self-diagnosing themselves with mental illness, or people labelling musicians as “female or male manipulator artists” without ever listening to their music.

A24’s latest horror comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies (out now in theatres) about a group of 20-somethings partying during a hurricane that turns into a hunt for a killer is like a movie downloaded from the current millennial-Gen-Z cusp moment of the internet we’re in. When the trailer for the movie directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe, based on a story from “Cat Person” author Kristen Roupenian, dropped earlier this year, it made that very clear. In just over a minute and a half, we hear the cast of cool girl breakouts yelling, “You’re always gaslighting me,” “you fucking trigger me,” “you’re so toxic,” and “you’re silencing me.” Even the movie’s tagline is, “This is not a safe space.”

Bodies Bodies Bodies is very much logged onto millennial/Gen Z social media-isms throughout, from lines hilariously pieced together by the Twitter zeitgeist to scenes featuring TikTok dances. The movie operates on a delectable kind of slasher-movie paranoia, making the audience just as unsure as the slumber party gone wrong with who is killing them off left and right. But given how much of a playful satire it is of contemporary youth culture, it ends up being a twist that feels all but inevitable, and couldn’t be more razor-blade sharp.

A24
A24
A24

Once the torrential downpour stops and the sun comes up, it seems as if Maria Bakalova‘s Bee is about to be our Bodies Bodies Bodies final girl, now that she’s realized how much her relationship with Sophia (Amandla Stenberg) is based on lies. As a test to see how easily Sophie can lie-and therefore deny killing all of her friends from midnight until dawn-Bee asks her if she cheated on her with Myha’la Herrold’s Jordan. It’s a fact that Bee already knows to be true, considering she came across a pair of panties in Sophie’s car that matched a bra she noticed in Jordan’s bag. When Sophie denies it, Bee tries to take her phone (which Jordan admitted would have texts about their recent hook-up on it), and the two start fighting outside in the remnants of the storm. Bee eventually pulls a phone out of the mud, and it looks like the WiFi and cell phone service that was gone all night is finally back. Thinking she’ll pull up the evidence she needs-and confirmation to get the hell out of there-she’s surprised when Sophie says, “That’s not my phone,” and even more surprised to see what’s on it.

It turns out that it belongs to David, Pete Davidson’s coked-out rich kid character whose parents’ house they’re partying at and was the first one to die in the movie. They know it’s David’s phone because it opens to a TikTok, soundtracked by the lockdown classic TikTok song “Bored In The House” by Curtis Roach and Tyga, that shows him waving around his dad’s decorative but very real sword (!) to try to open a champagne bottle (!), idiotically waving it towards himself, only to slice right into his own neck. As it turns out, nobody killed David-not an intruder, not Jordan, not Sophie, not Alice’s (Rachel Sennott) older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) she knew nothing about (except for the fact that he was a Libra moon), and not their friend Max (Conner O’Malley) who left early the night before. David accidentally killed himself, and hysteria is what killed everybody else. You could say that it’s almost predictable that it turns out to be a clout-chasing TikTok that led to the movie’s murderous spiral of events. Although, that would undercut what Reijn and DeLappe are trying to say with the darkly funny movie with an especially dark, funny twist. Like TikTok or Twitter, the movie is a constant feed of discourse, buzzwords, and blanket statements that snarkily laugh at and with its ensemble. There are many moments in particular that drive this home-like Alice trying to be sympathetic in talking about mental health, only to make the conversation about her, and David ridiculing his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) for getting all of her thoughts from Twitter after she says he “gaslights” her. On top of that, David picks up the sword and tries to go viral to begin with because his masculinity felt threatened by Greg, who did the trick in the first place.

While it would be downright terrifying if a party with people who are supposedly your best friends turned into a slasher flick, in Bodies Bodies Bodies, the horror isn’t a vengeful or heartless killer. Everybody may become a psychopath of sorts when they feel physically threatened or legitimately toxic name-calling and backstabbing ensues, but Bodies Bodies Bodies and its devilish twist is about the humour and horror in the devoid way we can use social media today more than anything else. Like Sophie and Bee’s terrified realization at the end, it makes you want to log off for awhile… right after you post a 100K-worthy tweet about it.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She’s on Twitter and Instagram.

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