by Michael Houck

Baz Luhrmann’s rock-biopic ELVIS hits theaters this week still glistening from its world premiere at Cannes, a screening that concluded with the festival’s longest standing ovation to date at a whopping 12-minutes. (Keep in mind, this follows the film’s 159-minute run time, so it must be good, right? Not everyone thinks so.) 

Luhrmann is one of film’s living auteurs, with a sprawling vision strung tightly together through strong (yet campy) direction, production design, cinematography, and use of music – all of which was greatly inspired by his pre-filmmaking career in Australia’s theatre and ballroom dancing scene. 

So, where will ELVIS rank among his filmography? Let’s look back at his first five films



Australia (2008)

Sorry Baz, but no one is surprised to see this at the bottom of the list. Long. Too long. Never entirely boring, but far too long without affecting the audience much at an emotional or entertaining level. It just exists. Nicole Kidman’s hair looks great throughout, and Hugh Jackman gives an ok performance. AUSTRALIA shows that much of what makes a good Baz Lurhmann film is the spectacle – and how he marries that to the story. This film just lacks experience. 


The Great Gatsby (2013)

This screen adaptation breathed new life into one of the most over-thought about books in American literature. Luhrmann cranks up the jazz with hip-hop\pop flare in both the score and choreography, which works incredibly well and makes for a striking and fun experience. He also aims his focus on mental health, which doesn’t work entirely. Joel Edgerton, Tobey McGuire, Isla Fischer, and Jason Clarke each take their turns baring their emotional best on screen, but the film belongs to Leonard DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. 


Strictly Ballroom (1992)

The film that started it all. Emotionally rich. Visually striking. The first of three films known now as the The Red Curtain Trilogy (including R+J and Moulin Rouge!), Lurhmann dove headfirst into the film industry with an instant classic, showcasing his ability to meld every aspect of the production into a cohesive enthralling experience. 


Romeo + Juliet (1996)

First off all, Miriam Margolyes. 

The film that inspired an entire generation to fall in love with Leonardo DiCaprio and think Shakespeare was cool (or at least digestible). Luhrmann moves the story to a grunge-dystopian California and and puts it up with rival teenage street gangs who bop to the likes of Garbage and Radiohead. (Kids, guns, and rock – what’s more American?)

R+J launches Claire Danes and Leo to instant stardom, but it’s John Leguizamo and Harold Perrineau who take turns stealing scenes. Yet, no one steals the show more than Kym Barrett’s costume design – floral shirts have never looked better.


Moulin Rouge! (2000)

The most Baz Luhrmanniest film Baz Lurhmann has Baz’d. And it works 100% of the time. 

Loud, punk, irreverent, romantic, camp – a visual and auditory cacophony from start to finish that never loses its footing.

Luhrmann’s only film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards – it was up against some other giants, IN THE BEDROOM and GOSFORD PARK; A BEAUTIFUL MIND took home the statue. Yet, MOULIN ROUGE! is the film that has endured the test of time, still screening periodically with an active fan base and inspiring a massively successful stage adaptation, which opened on Broadway in 2019 and has found continued success in 2022 following 2 years of COVID-related inactivity. 

It’s message is one found at the core of most Luhrmann films: All you need is love.