There are two types of people in this world: People who love the “Step Up” movies, and people who haven’t seen them all. The franchise began as a straightforward teen romance in 2006 but quickly evolved into a series of lavish pop spectacles, propelled by cheesy melodrama and bolstered by elaborate dance choreography, performed by some of the greatest dancers in the world. As the films get crazier, so too does our love of the quirky cast and their over-the-top shenanigans; think “Fast & Furious,” if the franchise found its outlandish tone in the second film instead of the fifth. The sixth feature film in the series, “Step Up: Year of the Dance,” has just arrived on home video, so let’s take a look back at this whole, wonderful franchise:
6. "Step Up: Year of the Dance" (2019)
The sixth installment in the series, directed by Ron Yuan (“Unspoken: Diary of an Assassin”), ignores the previous films and instead tells the familiar story of working-class dancers and rich dancers overcoming their differences in China. In many respects, “Step Up Up: Year of the Dance” moves back to the franchise’s roots, with relatively grounded drama and a subplot about urban crime. But the film dabbles in broad strokes, with the protagonists incorporating kung fu into their choreography, a plot point that sounds like a big deal -- and a major selling point for the sequel -- only to get largely overshadowed by the otherwise conventional plot. Entertaining but never superlative, with choreography that sometimes but doesn’t always stack up to the zeniths of the series, “Step Up: Year of the Dance” simply has more good ideas than good moves.
5. "Step Up" (2006)
The first installment of the “Step Up” series, about an impoverished street dancer who vandalizes an art school and gets recruited for a show by an upper-class fancy dancer while he’s doing community service, isn’t the crazy and imaginative pop ’n’ lock extravaganza the sequels would become. But it’s a decent “Dirty Dancing” riff with likable performances by Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, whose natural chemistry pops off the screen. “Step Up” is an undeniably sweet teen romance, but most importantly it set the stage for the films that came afterwards.
4. "Step Up: All In" (2014)
The fifth “Step Up” movie, like the fifth “Fast and Furious” movie, is the film that united most of the cast of the previous installments for a spectacular team-up. The results aren’t nearly as slick as “Fast Five,” and the tone is so silly it sometimes veers away from joyful camp and into half-hearted wackiness, but the thrill of seeing all these characters together doing wild choreography is still there. The mad scientist number is a hoot, the finale with the sand zombies is even hootier, and the romance between the two robots (which doesn’t get nearly enough screen time) is absolutely adorable.
3. "Step Up Revolution" (2012)
“Step Up Revolution” is the story of a group of impoverished Miami flash-mob dancers who are trying to get to a million views on YouTube so they can make a lot of money, but all of their stunts look like they’d cost a fortune. Meanwhile, the daughter of a wealthy hotel magnate (who’s scheming to gentrify the neighborhood) is given only one summer to become a successful dancer or else she has to join the family business. Absurdly plotted but ecstatically staged, “Step Up Revolution” is just the kind of over-the-top nonsense we desperately crave from the series. Only the weirdo ending -- in which the artists who spent the whole film protesting corporate sell-outs are rewarded with, and openly celebrate, an opportunity to sell out to an arguably worse corporation -- keeps “Step Up Revolution” from total greatness.
2. "Step Up 2 The Streets" (2008)
The film that set the “Step Up” series on its new path, and introduced the world to filmmaker Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “In the Heights”) takes the class-warfare dynamic of the original “Step Up” and reframes it as, if you turn your head ever so slightly, a series of elaborate heists. Briana Evigan stars as a street dancer who’s forced to join a snooty school if she wants to stay in town, and along the way she starts a crew full of misfits to prove their eccentric styles have a place in academia and the pop dance environment. Absolutely sincere entertainment, with a memorable ensemble cast of professional dancers who dazzle in one great scene after another. The climax, set in the rain, is an all-timer.
1. "Step Up 3D" (2010)
Chu’s follow-up to “Step Up 2 The Streets” takes the dance genre to new arenas, sending the previous film’s funny sidekick, Moose (Adam G. Sevani) to New York City with his best friend Camille (Alyson Stoner), where he almost immediately dance-fights a samurai and gets recruited by a league of nearly superhuman dancers who have an awesome lair above a club, which -- naturally -- will be shut down if they don’t win the big dance-off. “Step Up 3D” nimbly bounces from one bizarre stylistic influence to the other, from “Road Warrior” numbers to aquatic ballet, from spy=movie tangos to elaborate laser shows, as though all bets were off and only the unfettered love of dance and cinema really mattered. “Step Up 3D” is sensationalist genre entertainment as its most earnest and enjoyable.