Earlier this year the Golden Globes crowned Austin Butler their Best Actor for his performance as the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley, in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis. And with Elvis being granted eight Oscar nominations too it looks like Luhrmann’s bedazzling biopic may have a successful awards season.
While most are focusing on the accent Butler refuses to drop, praise should also be awarded to the director that gave him this role. The beloved Australian filmmaker is best known for films that reflect his glitzy stage beginnings.
From the Red Curtain Trilogy (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo+Juliet & Moulin Rouge!) where his directorial career began to the Oscar nominated Elvis, a Luhrmann production promises camp costumes, pantomime villains and mashup melodies.
Read more: How historically accurate is Elvis?
By ranking his films to date, Luhrmann’s filmography can share in Elvis’ spotlight.
6. Australia (2008)
Much like its mixed critical response at the time, Australia is a mixed bag of a movie which comes out as an arduous mess, and clocking in at 2 hours, 45 mins, it's an uncomfortable watch.
What’s missing from Australia is all the Luhrmann trademarks that audiences had grown to expect by his fourth film. While Australia attempts to grapple with the country’s history of colonisation and eugenics, the hammy drama of the film takes away from some very dark truths.
In Luhrmann’s attempts to romanticise and villainise Australian history, he fails at both.
5. The Great Gatsby (2013)
Luhrmann's F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation experienced a similarly lukewarm reception from critics, as the prosaic mastery of the book was not well reflected in this remake.
Gatsby showcases Luhrmann’s directorial skill at depicting large scale hedonism, and the limp script is glossed over with magnificent party scenes. Despite the grandiose scale of the adaptation that oozes opulence, the soundtrack also leaves a lot to be desired.
The electro-swing beats may be an attempt to modernise the roaring '20s, but the Fergie, Q-Tip, GoonRock track already feels dated.
4. Elvis (2022)
Elvis — a box office hit for the director in 2022 — is a fever dream of Presley’s life and Luhrmann succeeded in creating a bedazzling spectacle worthy of the King rather than a gritty factual biopic.
In true Luhrmann fashion, Elvis chooses glitz over a faithful adaptation to his source material and it works wonders. Much like Austin Butler can’t imagine himself as anyone but Elvis, there was no better director than Luhrmann to encapsulate kitsch showmanship of the man himself.
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But Tom Hanks’ poor accent prevents the Colonel from the pantomime villainy audiences have grown accustomed to, detracting from Luhrmann’s movie magic.
3. Strictly Ballroom (1992)
This off the wall romantic comedy is an excellent debut that showcases everything Luhrmann is about: gaudy romance at its best.
His directorial debut came when he put his critically acclaimed play onto the big screen. Revealing a talent and flair for the dramatic, Strictly Ballroom’s dance scenes and track choices cannot be faulted.
It is a love letter to the ballroom scene that the director heralds from and the dance mum that raised him, offering up a depiction of white Australia — warts and all — while maintaining an endearing eye.
2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Luhrmann is a master at bringing the stage to the big screen and his Red Curtain Trilogy finale Moulin Rouge! is no exception.
The adaptation of the popular musical is a success because every actor keeps the drama and comedy of the musical stage, and Richard Roxborough’s creepy Duke is a particular highlight of theatrical menace.
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As no Luhrmann film is complete without tragedy, Moulin Rouge! provokes tears by the final curtain.
1. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
There has never been “a tale of more woe” than this Shakespeare play, and Luhrmann does this tragedy a great service in his adaptation. From the kitsch catholic idolatry that fills Juliet’s room, to the religious spectacle of Tybalt reloading his gun, one could fill a book with the symbolism of Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
When modern audiences think of Romeo & Juliet, they see Verona beach, hear Garbage’s Crush and picture Mercutio’s stunning drag performance. Luhrmann’s adaptation takes Shakespearean verse, places it on the East Coast and somehow delivers a retelling worthy of the most famous love story of all time.
Much like every character is destined to meet their fate, Luhrmann is fated to directed certain films. No other contemporary director would have done the capes of Elvis justice, no other would have had the gall to turn Romeo + Juliet into camp gang warfare.
Audiences go to a Luhrmann film to suspend their belief leaving encrusted in diamanté fantasy no matter how tragic the tale.
Watch a trailer for Elvis