Xanadu (film)

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, Gene Kelly (in his final film role), and Michael Beck, and features music by Newton-John, Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard, and The Tubes.

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

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. This city appears in Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem that is quoted in the film.

A box office disappointment, Xanadu earned negative critical reviews and was an inspiration for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards to recognize the worst films of the year. Despite the lackluster performance of the film, the soundtrack album became a huge commercial success around the world, and was certified double platinum in the United States. The song "Magic" was a U.S. number one hit 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 around the world. The film has since become a cult classic for the way it mixes the storyline from an old-fashioned 1940s fantasy with modern aesthetics featuring late 1970s and early 1980s rock and pop music on the soundtrack as well as for fans of Newton-John.[citation needed]


A large mural of the Nine Muses of Olympus comes to life, with the women emerging from the painting and flying into the sky. One of them returns to Earth.

Sonny Malone is a talented artist who dreams of fame beyond his job, which is the non-creative task of painting larger versions of album covers for record-store window advertisements. As the film opens, Sonny is broke and on the verge of giving up his dream. He quits his day job to try to make a living as a freelance artist, but after failing to make any money at it, Sonny resigns himself to returning to his old job at AirFlo Records. After some humorous run-ins with his imperious boss and nemesis Simpson, he resumes painting record covers.

At work, Sonny is told to paint an album cover for a group called The Nine Sisters. The cover features a beautiful woman in front of an art deco auditorium (the Pan-Pacific Auditorium). Earlier that day, this same woman had collided with him, kissed him, then roller-skated away. Malone now becomes obsessed with finding her, but discovers that no one knows who she is. He finds her at the same auditorium, now abandoned. She identifies herself as Kira, but she will not tell him anything else about herself (other than a cryptic comment about living with her sisters in an apartment on "the second floor"). Unbeknownst to Sonny, Kira is one of the Muses that emerged from the mural.

Walking near the beach, Sonny befriends Danny McGuire, a has-been big band orchestra leader turned construction mogul. Danny lost his muse in the 1940s (who is seen in a flashback scene to bear a startling resemblance to Kira), and Sonny has not yet found his muse. Kira encourages the two men to form a partnership and open a nightclub at the old auditorium from the album cover. She falls in love with Sonny, and this presents a problem because she is actually an Olympian Muse ("Kira's" real name is Terpsichore). The other eight women from the beginning of the film are her sisters and fellow goddesses, the Muses, and the mural is actually a portal of sorts and their point of entry to Earth. When Sonny finds out that Kira is a muse, he gets upset; Kira leaves and then abandons Earth. In a conversation between Danny and Kira it becomes apparent that Kira was Danny's muse years ago and that Danny had also fallen in love with Kira, but when Danny discovered that Kira was a muse he walked away from her, abandoned his music, and went into construction, which he had always regretted. Now Danny counsels Sonny not to be alone and regretful like he has become and to pursue his muse, telling him that if Kira can visit Earth, there must be a way Sonny can visit Kira's home, a forbidden place called Xanadu. Sonny then realizes that the mural on the wall of the muses is a portal to Xanadu and he crashes through the portal by roller skating at high speed into the mural.

The Muses visit Earth often to help inspire others to pursue their dreams and desires, but in Kira's case, she has violated the rules by which Muses are supposed to conduct themselves, as she was only supposed to inspire Sonny but has ended up falling in love with him as well. Her parents, presumably the Greek gods Zeus and Mnemosyne, recall her to the timeless realm of the Olympian gods. Sonny follows her through the mural and professes his love for her. A short debate between Sonny and Zeus occurs, with Mnemosyne interceding on behalf of Kira and Sonny. Kira herself then enters the discussion, saying the emotions she has toward Sonny are new to her; if only they could have one more night together, Sonny's dream of success for the nightclub Xanadu could come true. Zeus ultimately sends Sonny back to Earth. After Kira expresses her feelings for Sonny, Zeus and Mnemosyne decide to let Kira go to him for a "moment, or maybe forever." They cannot keep these straight because mortal time confuses them, and the audience is left to wonder what her fate is to be.

In the finale, Kira and the Muses perform for a packed house at Xanadu's grand opening, and after the final song, Kira and the Muses all return to the realm of the gods in spectacular fashion. With their departure, Sonny is understandably depressed. But that quickly changes when Danny asks for a drink for Sonny from one of the waitresses—a waitress who looks exactly like Kira. Sonny approaches this seeming double and says he would just like to talk to her. The film ends with the two of them talking, in silhouette, as the credits begin to roll.


The Muses

Members of the Tubes

Musical numbersEdit

The album grouped Olivia Newton-John (ONJ) and ELO's onto separate sides of the album, and some tunes were excluded from the album. The following is the actual order in the film:

  • Instrumental medley of "Whenever You're Away from Me" and "Xanadu", over first part of opening credits
  • "Whenever You're Away from Me" excerpt: Danny plays the clarinet on the beach at the break of dawn
  • Instrumental underscoring of "Xanadu" with Sonny drawing and painting
  • Extended intro to "I'm Alive" (only a portion of which is in the soundtrack album)
  • "I'm Alive" (ELO) from the film's album soundtrack as the Muses from the wall mural come to life
  • "Whenever You're Away from Me" excerpt with Danny again playing the clarinet at the beach
  • "Magic" (ONJ) from the soundtrack: Kira and Sonny have their first conversation while Kira is roller skating in the dark auditorium
  • "You Made Me Love You" (ONJ) (non-soundtrack LP track released as B-side of the "Suddenly" single): Featured on Glenn Miller record played by Danny in the ballroom of his home
  • "Whenever You're Away from Me" (Gene Kelly and ONJ) from the soundtrack with Danny and Kira singing and dancing in the ballroom. This song was heavily influenced by Frank Sinatra.[citation needed] According to the DVD special, this was the last sequence filmed.
  • "Suddenly" (ONJ duet with Cliff Richard) from the soundtrack as Kira and Sonny roller-dance through the props in the recording studio
  • "Dancin'" (ONJ duet with The Tubes) from the soundtrack: In the auditorium, Danny and Sonny imagine differing visions of their ideal club. Sonny's hard-rocking glam band and Danny's Big Band female trio lip-synching to ONJ's self-harmony musically and physically merge into a unified whole, leading to agreement on "Xanadu" as the name of the club
  • "Don't Walk Away" (ELO) from the soundtrack during a romantic animated sequence featuring Sonny and Kira as fish and birds (animation by Don Bluth).
  • "All Over the World" (ELO) from the soundtrack: In the "franchised glitz dealer" store (the Beverly Hills Fiorucci), Danny runs through various dance steps and does some rollerskating as he tries on different outfits
  • "The Fall" (ELO) from the soundtrack: Sonny finds the Muse wall mural and roller-skates through its portal entrance into Xanadu to find Kira
  • "Suspended in Time" (ONJ) from the soundtrack: After Zeus sends Sonny home, a dejected Kira sings about her love for Sonny
  • "Drum Dreams" (ELO) (non-soundtrack LP track released as B-side of the "I'm Alive" and "All Over the World" singles) begins the Xanadu opening night roller disco sequence, with Danny leading the group on skates
  • "Xanadu" (ONJ and ELO): Kira sings and is reunited with Sonny
  • "Fool Country" (ONJ) (non-soundtrack LP track released as B-side of the "Magic" single): Kira sings and dances in various costumes with the other eight Muses backing her up
  • "Xanadu" reprise: Kira sings and dances with the other eight Muses. They disappear into the heavens with Kira following a moment later
  • "Magic" (ONJ) reprise from the soundtrack as Sonny stares at the empty revolving dance floor, now disillusioned that Kira is gone
  • Instrumental riff from "Xanadu": Kira (as a Xanadu waitress) and Sonny become silhouetted; "The End"
  • "Xanadu" (ONJ and ELO) short version over closing credits


The plot of the film Down to Earth (1947) was used as the basis for Xanadu. In the film, Rita Hayworth played Terpsichore, and Larry Parks played a producer of stage plays.

Kelly's character Danny McGuire shares the same name as a character Kelly previously played in the film Cover Girl, which also starred Rita Hayworth.


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

The film was originally conceived as a relatively low-budget roller disco picture. As a number of prominent performers joined the production, it evolved into a much larger project, while retaining rollerskating 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 lost, 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 plot point was recycled and used in the stage adaptation of the film. The Marvel Comics adaptation published as Marvel Super Special #17[2][3] retained the more strongly emphasized connection between Sonny and the painting.

Danny McGuire, who appeared in Cover Girl, also appears in Xanadu. The film was Gene Kelly's final film role, except for compilation films of the That's Entertainment! series. Kenny Ortega and Jerry Trent served as choreographers.

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles was used for exterior shots of the nightclub. Xanadu's nightclub interior was built on Stage 4 of the Hollywood Center Studios (1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue, Hollywood) beginning in 1979.[4] Sonny refers to the Auditorium as "a dump", which was a fair characterization of the Pan-Pacific by then. Danny jokes that "they used to have wrestling here", which was a true statement about the Auditorium. The building would be consumed by fire a decade later.


Universal cancelled press screenings of Xanadu, suggesting that they were not confident in the film[5] and it went on to receive negative reviews. Variety called it "a stupendously bad film whose only salvage is the music".[5] Roger Ebert gave the film two stars, 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 from Kelly. Moreover, Ebert criticized the choreography, saying "the dance numbers in this movie do not seem to have been conceived for film."[6] He noted that mass dance scenes were not photographed well by cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, who shot at eye level and failed to pick up the larger patterns of dancers, with dancers in the background muddying the movement of the foreground.[6]

With a combination of contemporaneous and modern reviews, Xanadu today holds a "Rotten" rating of 27% from Rotten Tomatoes, based on 41 reviews, and the consensus states "Not even spandex and over-the-top musical numbers can save Xanadu from questionable acting, unimpressive effects, and a story unencumbered by logic."[7] The German television show Die schlechtesten Filme aller Zeiten (in English The worst movies of all time), in which the hosts Oliver Kalkofe and Peter Rütten present a bad movie in each episode, featured the movie in its third season. Janet Maslin wrote in her review "Like The Wiz...Xanadu is desperately stylish without having any real style."[8]

A double feature of Xanadu and another musical released at about the same time, Can't Stop the Music, inspired John J.B. Wilson to create the Golden Raspberry Awards (or Razzies), an annual event "dishonoring" what is considered the worst in cinema for a given year.[9] Robert Greenwald won the first Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director, and the film was nominated for six other awards.

Over the years, the film has developed something of a cult audience.[10]

While the film was moderately successful, the soundtrack album (UK #2, US #4), was a major hit. It was certified Double Platinum in the US and Gold in the UK, and also spent one week atop the Cashbox and Record World Pop Albums charts. The soundtrack contained five Top 20 singles:

  • "Magic" – Olivia Newton-John (No. 1 (4 weeks) Pop, No. 1 (5 weeks) AC, certified gold)
  • "Xanadu" – Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra (No. 8 Pop, No. 2 AC, No. 1 (2 weeks (UK)))
  • "All Over the World" – Electric Light Orchestra (No. 13 Pop, No. 45 AC)
  • "I'm Alive" – Electric Light Orchestra (No. 16 Pop, No. 48 AC, certified gold)
  • "Suddenly" – Olivia Newton-John/Cliff Richard (No. 20 Pop, No. 4 AC)

Home mediaEdit

Xanadu was re-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 soundtrack album was included. The CD was the film's standard soundtrack album, i.e. with no extras such as omitted tracks.

The film was officially released on Blu-ray on March 8, 2016. In addition, it was released in Digital HD for download and streaming.[11]

Stage musicalEdit

A $5 million Broadway musical adaptation of the same name began previews on May 23, 2007, and opened (with Newton-John and songwriter John 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, and was nominated for several Tony Awards. The original cast recording was released December 2007. The Broadway production closed on September 28, 2008 after 49 previews and 512 performances.[12] A successful national tour followed.

Awards and nominationsEdit

Won: Best Film Song, Theme or Score (Jeff Lynne)
Nominated: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance – "Magic" (Olivia Newton-John)
Nominated: Best Major Motion Picture – Family Entertainment
Nominated: Best Family Music Album
Won: Worst Director (Robert Greenwald)
Nominated: Worst Picture
Nominated: Worst Screenplay
Nominated: Worst Actor (Michael Beck)
Nominated: Worst Actress (Olivia Newton-John)
Nominated: Worst Original Song ("Suspended in Time")
Nominated: Worst "Musical" of Our First 25 Years
Nominated: Least "Special" Special Effects

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "XANADU (A)". British Board of Film Classification. August 19, 1980. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  2. ^ "Marvel Super Special #17". Grand Comics Database.
  3. ^ Friedt, Stephan (July 2016). "Marvel at the Movies: The House of Ideas' Hollywood Adaptations of the 1970s and 1980s". Back Issue!. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing (89): 64.
  4. ^ "The Xanadu Story chapter two". Donosdump.com. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Har. (August 13, 1980). "Film Reviews: Xanadu". Variety. p. 23. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (September 1, 1980). "Xanadu". Chicago Sun-Times. rogerebert.com. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  7. ^ "Xanadu". Rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 9, 1980). "Xanadu (1980) MISS NEWTON-JOHN IN 'XANADU'". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Germain, David (Associated Press) (February 26, 2005). "25 Years of Razzing Hollywood's Stinkers". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel Company. p. 7D.
  10. ^ American Council of Learned Societies (1999). John Arthur Garraty, Mark Christopher Carnes (eds.). American national biography. 1. Oxford University Press. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-19-520635-7.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  11. ^ "Xanadu". Movies Anywhere. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  12. ^ Gans, Andrew "Xanadu Workshop – with Krakowski and Jackson – Presented Jan. 20-21" Archived February 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Playbill, January 20, 2007. Retrieved on January 29, 2007.

External linksEdit