All 6 Baz Luhrmann Movies, Ranked
His campy style may be divisive, but we can't help but love the flashy Aussie filmmaker.
The cinematic king of maximalism, Baz Luhrmann is finally back in theaters 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 favorite 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 honor of Elvis, we're ranking Luhrmann's admittedly limited oeuvre from the bad (ahem, Australia) to the great.
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
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
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 labored 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
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 theater, 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, Mýa, and Pink is a keeper, no question. —Sadie Bell
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 colorful 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
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