Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Greenwald
Written by
  • Richard Christian Danus
  • Marc Reid Rubel
Produced byLawrence Gordon
CinematographyVictor J. Kemper
Edited byDennis Virkler
Music by
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • August 8, 1980 (1980-08-08)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[2]
Box office$23 million[2]

Xanadu is a 1980 American musical fantasy film written by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel and directed by Robert Greenwald. The film stars Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, and Gene Kelly in his final film role. It features music by Newton-John, Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard and the Tubes. The title is a reference to the nightclub in the film, which takes its name from Xanadu, the summer capital of Kublai Khan's Yuan dynasty in China. The city appears in Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an 1816 poem quoted in the film.

Xanadu was released in the United States on August 8, 1980, by Universal Pictures. A box-office disappointment, it earned negative critical reviews and was an inspiration (along with Can't Stop the Music) for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards to recognize the worst films of the year. Despite the film's lackluster performance, the soundtrack album became a commercial success around the world and was certified double platinum in the United States. The song "Magic" was a US chart-topper for Newton-John, and the title track (by Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra) reached number one in the United Kingdom and several other countries. The film has since become a cult classic for its mixture of 1940s music and culture with modern-day aesthetics.[3]


Sonny Malone is a struggling freelance artist in Los Angeles who has failed to find passion in his art. He tears one of his sketches and throws it into the wind, drifting toward a mural of nine sisters that suddenly comes alive. The sisters fly across Earth, but one of them roller skates through town and deliberately encounters Sonny. She kisses him before skating away, leaving him confused.

Returning to his old job of painting album-cover reproductions at AirFlo Records, Sonny is tasked with painting a reproduction for a group called the 9 Sisters. The cover shows the mysterious woman whom Sonny had met in front of an abandoned Art Deco-style auditorium. The photographer tells Sonny that the woman was not supposed to be on the cover but suddenly appeared in a few of his shots. After appearing in person, Sonny tracks her across town to the same auditorium, where she introduces herself as Kira but refuses to reveal anything else about herself.

Sonny also meets and befriends Danny McGuire, a former big-band orchestra leader turned construction mogul. Danny was romantically involved with a singer in the 1940s who resembled Kira, and her departure resulted in his own loss of creative passion. Kira encourages Sonny and Danny to open a nightclub at the auditorium called Xanadu, and the two begin working together as partners. Sonny and Kira also gradually fall in love, culminating in a magically animated sequence. On the night before the club's opening, Kira confesses to Sonny that she is actually Terpsichore, one of the Nine Muses of Olympus. She was sent to inspire the creation of Xanadu, but she cannot stay despite their mutual feelings. Sonny becomes upset at the revelation, and Kira departs Earth having fulfilled her duty.

Danny tells Sonny to keep pursuing Kira, encouraging him to not abandon his dreams as Danny had done after his own muse left him. Sonny manages to enter Kira's home by roller skating into the Muses' mural. Inside the realm of the gods, Sonny pleads with Kira's father Zeus to allow Kira to return to Earth, and Kira's sympathetic mother Mnemosyne attempts to influence Zeus. However, Zeus sends Sonny back to Earth. Kira professes her feelings for Sonny, and Zeus ultimately relents, allowing her to be with Sonny for "maybe just one moment, or forever." Kira and the Muses perform at the grand opening of the Xanadu club before returning to their realm. Sonny is initially saddened by their departure, but upon seeing a waitress with Kira's face, he starts a conversation with her.


The Muses

Members of the Tubes


Pan-Pacific Auditorium transformed into "Xanadu" via special effects

Originally conceived as a relatively low-budget roller-disco picture, a number of prominent performers joined the production, which evolved into a much larger project. However, roller skating was retained as a recurring theme, especially in the final scenes of the club's opening night.

Earlier versions of the story established that Sonny was the artist who created the mural from which the nine goddess sisters emerge. This provided a much stronger explanation for the Muses' interest in helping him achieve artistic success. However, continual rewrites and editing during production caused this plot point to be abandoned, except for one line spoken by Sonny as he laments his failure as a freelance artist: "I paint his van... I paint somebody else's mural..." This element of the plot was recycled and used in the later stage adaptation. The Marvel Comics adaptation published as Marvel Super Special #17[4][5] retained the more strongly emphasized connection between Sonny and the painting.

The plot of the 1947 film Down to Earth was used as the basis for Xanadu. In that film, Rita Hayworth plays Terpsichore, with Larry Parks as a stage producer. Gene Kelly's character, Danny McGuire, previously appeared in Cover Girl (1944). Kelly retired from acting and died in 1996.

Kenny Ortega and Jerry Trent served as choreographers.

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles was used for exterior shots of the nightclub. Sonny refers to the venue as "a dump" and the real Pan-Pacific Auditorium had fallen into disrepair. Danny remarks that "they used to have wrestling here," which was indeed true of the Pan-Pacific. The building was destroyed by fire a decade later. Xanadu's nightclub interior was built on Stage 4 of the Hollywood Center Studios beginning in 1979.[6]

Newton-John recalled problems with the script and the many story changes that occurred during filming.[7]


Main article: Xanadu (soundtrack)

The soundtrack album The soundtrack album reached number two on the UK Albums Chart and number four on the US Billboard 200. It has been certified double platinum in the US and gold in the UK. It contained five top-20 singles:

Musical numbers

The album grouped Olivia Newton-John's and ELO's songs on separate sides of the soundtrack album, and some songs heard in the film were excluded from the album. The following is the actual order in the film:

Home media

Xanadu was released on DVD on June 24, 2008. The Magical Music Edition features a "Going Back to Xanadu" featurette, the film's trailer and a photo gallery. A bonus music CD with the original soundtrack album was included, with no extra tracks.[citation needed]

The film was released on Blu-ray on March 8, 2016.[8] It has also been released in digital high-definition format for download and streaming.[9]


Box office

The film underperformed at the box office, grossing only $23 million against a reported $20 million budget, a total that was insufficient to offset all related costs and return a profit.[2]

Critical response

Universal canceled press screenings, suggesting that the studio was not confident in the film.[10] Variety called it "a stupendously bad film whose only salvage is the music."[10] Roger Ebert awarded the film two stars out of four, describing the film as "a mushy and limp musical fantasy" with a confused story, redeemed only by Newton-John's "high spirits" and several strong scenes with Kelly. Ebert criticized the choreography, saying that "the dance numbers in this movie do not seem to have been conceived for film."[11] He noted that large dance scenes were not photographed well by cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, who shot at eye level and failed to capture the larger patterns of dancers, with dancers in the background muddying the movement of the foreground.[11]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 30% of 43 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The website's consensus reads: "Not even spandex and over-the-top musical numbers can save Xanadu from questionable acting, unimpressive effects, and a story unencumbered by logic."[12] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 31 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable" reviews.[13] The German television show Die schlechtesten Filme aller Zeiten (English: The Worst Movies of All Time) featured the film in its third season. Janet Maslin wrote in her review: "Like The Wiz... Xanadu is desperately stylish without having any real style."[14]

A double feature with Xanadu and another musical released several months earlier, Can't Stop the Music, inspired John J.B. Wilson to create the Golden Raspberry Awards (or Razzies), an annual event recognizing the worst in cinema for a given year.[15] Greenwald won the first Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director, and the film was nominated for six other awards.


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Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Golden Raspberry Awards (1980) Worst Picture Lawrence Gordon Nominated
Worst Director Robert Greenwald Won
Worst Actor Michael Beck Nominated
Worst Actress Olivia Newton-John Nominated
Worst Screenplay Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel Nominated
Worst Original Song "Suspended in Time" Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards (2005) Worst "Musical" of Our First 25 Years Xanadu Nominated
Grammy Awards Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female "Magic" Nominated
Ivor Novello Awards Best Film Song, Theme or Score Jeff Lynne Won
Jupiter Awards Best International Actress Olivia Newton-John Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst Picture Xanadu Dishonorable Mention
Least "Special" Special Effects Nominated
Young Artist Awards Best Major Motion Picture – Family Entertainment Nominated
Best Family Music Album Xanadu Nominated


Cult following

Over the years, the film has developed a cult audience.[16]

Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the book for the musical based on the film, later called Xanadu "what happens when you let straight men near the musical... I blame cocaine. It's like people say, 'When you hear Ray Charles play, you can hear the heroin?' When you watch Xanadu, you can see the cocaine up on the screen."[7]

In 2000, an unauthorized stage show titled Xanadu Live! was performed in Los Angeles, with actors speaking the film's dialogue and miming the songs.[7]

Stage musical

Main article: Xanadu (musical)

A $5 million Broadway musical adaptation of the same name began previews on May 23, 2007, and opened (with Newton-John and songwriter Farrar in attendance) on July 10, 2007, starring Kerry Butler as Kira, Cheyenne Jackson as Sonny, and Tony Roberts as Danny. In the musical, Kira is the Muse Clio, not Terpsichore. Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa co-starred (in a plot twist new to the Broadway version) as evil Muse sisters. The show, which humorously parodied the plot of the film, was a surprise hit, receiving praise for its satirical approach, and was nominated for several Tony Awards.

The original cast recording was released in December 2007. The Broadway production closed on September 28, 2008, after 49 previews and 512 performances,[17] and a successful national tour followed.

See also


  1. ^ "Xanadu (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. August 19, 1980. Archived from the original on October 25, 2022. Retrieved October 25, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Higgins, Bill (December 21, 2018). "Hollywood Flashback: 'Xanadu' Was So Bad It Launched the Razzies in 1980". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on March 31, 2022. Retrieved June 6, 2022.
  3. ^ Chiu, David (August 12, 2020). "'Xanadu': Remembering The Cult Movie Musical's Amazing Soundtrack Album 40 Years Later". Forbes. Archived from the original on March 2, 2023. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
  4. ^ "Marvel Super Special #17". Grand Comics Database.
  5. ^ Friedt, Stephan (July 2016). "Marvel at the Movies: The House of Ideas' Hollywood Adaptations of the 1970s and 1980s". Back Issue!. No. 89. p. 64.
  6. ^ "The Xanadu Story chapter two". Don-O's Dump. Archived from the original on August 13, 2016. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Martin, Michael (May 25, 2007). "Springtime for 'Xanadu'". New York. Archived from the original on May 21, 2022. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
  8. ^ "Xanadu Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved June 19, 2024.
  9. ^ "Xanadu". Movies Anywhere. Archived from the original on July 30, 2019. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  10. ^ a b "Film Reviews: Xanadu". Variety. August 13, 1980. p. 23. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  11. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (September 1, 1980). "Xanadu". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 16, 2013. Retrieved October 5, 2010 – via RogerEbert.com.
  12. ^ "Xanadu". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 25, 2023. Edit this at Wikidata
  13. ^ "Xanadu". Metacritic. Retrieved August 25, 2023.
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 9, 1980). "Miss Newton-John in 'Xanadu'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  15. ^ Germain, David (February 26, 2005). "25 Years of Razzing Hollywood's Stinkers". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. p. 7D.
  16. ^ American Council of Learned Societies (1999). Garraty, John A.; Carnes, Mark C. (eds.). American National Biography. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-19-520635-7.
  17. ^ Gans, Andrew (January 20, 2007). "Xanadu Workshop – with Krakowski and Jackson – Presented Jan. 20–21". Playbill. Archived from the original on February 18, 2007. Retrieved January 29, 2007.