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Film / Xanadu

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"Where time stops and the magic never ends."
A place where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu
(It takes your breath and it'll leave you blind)

And now, open your eyes and see
What we have made is real
We are in Xanadu
(A dream of it, we offer you)
—The title song


For the trope previously called Xanadu, please see here.

What has Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, that guy from The Warriors (Michael Beck), roller skates, lots of glowing blue people, all to an Electric Light Orchestra soundtrack?

The 1980 movie musical Xanadu is a story about a frustrated artist named Sonny Malone (Beck) who paints album covers for a living and is unhappy about it. By tossing some of his drawings into the wind, he somehow brings a painting on a wall of nine girls to life and one of them — Kira (Newton-John) — finds and kisses him. Shortly after, he meets Danny McGuire (Kelly), a former big band leader. The two strike up a friendship and, with encouragement from Kira, make plans to convert an abandoned building (The Pan Pacific Auditorium) into a roller disco. Sonny and Kira, meanwhile, fall in love, with there being the slight complication that she's actually the Greek Muse of Dance and Choral Singing (yes, really) and was only sent to bring Xanadu into creation. Soon, she will have to return home, just as Xanadu will be opening.


The titular roller disco's title comes from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "Kubla Khan" and refers to a province where Khan establishes his pleasure garden. Naming a movie about a muse with a reference to a notoriously unfinished poem that was conceived under the influence of drugs was a very ironic (and some might say appropriate) choice.

Widely panned by critics, it found a cult audience. It has now been adapted into a stage musical that doesn't even bother to hide how camp the whole thing is.

After seeing a 99-cent double feature of this movie and the Village People movie Can't Stop the Music, publicist John J.B. Wilson was inspired to create the Golden Raspberry Awards, aka "The Razzies". (Both were nominated for the inaugural Worst Picture Award, with Can't Stop the Music winning.)

  • Here's a sample of Xanadu.
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  • Here's the title song

"Your tropes will shine for you, Xanadu":

  • I Always Wanted to Say That
    Danny: Opening night...whatever you want, it's on the house! You know, I've always wanted to say that line!
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Danny and Sonny.
  • Jukebox Musical: The stage musical version is essentially one for the Electric Light Orchestra, whose leader, Jeff Lynne, produced most of the music for the film. The stage version adds "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic."
  • Landmark of Lore: Pan Pacific Auditorium and the Hollywood Sign.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Sonny is a normal human, while Kira, with whom he falls in love, is one of the Muses from Mount Olympus.
  • Medium-Shift Gag: An interlude courtesy of Don Bluth, his first post-Disney animation work.
  • The Musical: The only thing that was considered quality work was the music — everything else, not so much. The Broadway version was a cheerfully absurd Refuge In Funny/Refuge In Cool Music laugh-fest with a load of Take Thats at the movie.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Sort of; in the opening title, there's a slight implication of aliens in the form of a UFO flying across a picture of Earth, which is further helped along by a robot-like thing showing up in a musical number. However, unless you're The Nostalgia Chick, you may not have noticed. The "robot-like thing" is actually a steam locomotive—though one could see how the Chick might've been seeking any respite at that point...
  • No Fourth Wall: In the end of the stage adaptation, Melpomene appears by herself, without Calliope, since her actress was doubling as Aphrodite, which she remarks on. Also, a remark is made about the shorter running time of the musical, since, at the time, they were playing next door to the revival of Gypsy, and they often remarked that "Patti LuPone has yet to let go of her daughter!"
  • The Oner: The "Suspended in Time" scene consists of a three-and-a-half minute long slow zoom from a full-length shot of Kira to a closeup of her head while she sings the song.
  • Phosphor-Essence: Olivia Newton-John's character, due to being The Muse.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: It is loosely based on Classical Mythology.
    • For example; Kira would be better off as muses Euterpre (Flutes and lyrics) and Terpsicore (Dance). Also; At one point, Zeus (a guy noted for his penchant for carnal relations on many levels) states that the Gods are above such things as carnal relations.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A Broadway musical in 2007 that, unlike most examples of the trope, had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.
  • Shared Universe: Implied. Prior to this film, Gene Kelly also played a character named "Danny McGuire" in the film Cover Girl (no relation to the cosmetics company). This film is later referenced in Down To Earth (sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan), which features Rita Hayworth (who was also in Cover Girl) as "Terpsichore", but uses the name "Kitty" in her Earth form). See "Shout-Out" below. It should be mentioned that all three of the films in question were released by Columbia, while this movie was released by Universal.
  • Shout-Out: Gene Kelly's character has the same name and much of the same backstory as the character he played in the 1944 film Cover Girl; Danny's backstory in Xanadu sounds suspiciously like a version of Cover Girl without the happy ending.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: As idealistic as it gets.
  • Song Style Shift: "Dancin'" alternates between 40's-style swing and New Wave rock.
  • Step Three: Profit: 1) Meld Glam Rock and Big Band. 2) ??? 3) Profit with a Starlight Express Expy.
  • Sugar Bowl: This may be an adult version of this.
  • The Television Talks Back: When Kira tries to prove she really is a Muse, she uses her power to make a gangster on a movie on a TV ask Sonny if he should off his captive or not.
  • Tron Lines: Kira's entrances and exits are filled with glowing lines.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: The musical version takes some scripted swipes at the movie and how lame it was.
  • "You!" Exclamation: So Sonny has been painting an album cover featuring Kira. Later, when he sees her on the street, he yells out "You!" (and she answers "Me!").


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