Step Up

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The Step Up franchise has only an eight year span to its name but has already racked up an impressive five films. That’s one film every two years – but what makes Step Up so enduring in cinemas?

Step Up first appeared in 2006 with a young Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan (now Jenna Dewan-Tatum) leading the cast. The film was the typical under privileged-hero-comes-good story but catered for a teenage audience and wasn’t just a soppy romance (it had dance and a decent story to boot). The film took over $110m worldwide and spawned Step Up 2: The Streets in 2008. Looking back it’s not a surprise to see Tatum didn’t decide to re-join the series and instead two new love interests created a film extremely similar in story to the first. Despite that, the film grossed better than the original taking $150m worldwide with Step Up 3D and Step Up Revolution taking around $160m and $140m respectively. The new film, Step Up All In, is set to do similarly impressive business this month.

What would the Step Up series be without dancing? Nothing I tell you. The use of dance is fairly consistent throughout the series with an average count per film of over 18 dances. The exception to this is the third release (13 dances) as it focuses more on big dance events than showing too much training and preparation. This fits its impromptu musical style with couples doing big dance numbers on streets.

Dance training is a big part of Step Up too, especially in the first film where dancers trained 14 times. This was bound to happen as the story is based around the two leads working together towards a final year dance piece and expectedly since then the number has diminished ( the franchise average is just over 7 showings per film). The fifth film, All In, shows just 4 training instances and like Step Up 3D focuses on a handful of main dance events, but unlike that film they don’t impress, but rather over-complicate scenes. Most of the dancing in All In bizarrely comes from brief moments from single characters usually doing a random five second jive in the street and prove much less entertaining than the other films offerings. Dance training is shown to be a worthwhile commitment in Step Up (14), The Streets (8) and Revolution (7) while montages obscure the data in Step Up 3D (3, they do work hard I promise). Step Up All In however suggests that doing minimal work and entering competitions last minute is the best option for success as it includes very few training scenes for such elaborate shows.

Old characters are reused throughout the franchise with a predictable increase as the films go on. This is usually boosted by a number of side characters repeatedly being thrown into the dance crew mix with one character, Moose, played by Adam G Sevani, appearing in four of the five films to date. Every time these old or new crew members are introduced it’s done so in an Ocean’s Eleven style, and always seems reminiscent of the family atmosphere well known from that and the Fast and the Furious series. This works well to a point, but it’s worth noting that the films all follow a near identical storyline. Interestingly the first Step Up is the only film to avoid the ‘enter a competition with a dance crew’ formula; it may be worth the franchise revisiting the originals two-person dance partners (or perhaps even one person – imagine!) routine to shake the tired template up a bit.

One aspect of the film we can’t collect data for is the weird street-danger vibe created by almost all of the films. This means the dancers think they’re essentially criminals and gangsters (in The Streets they’re even called terrorists due to a flash mob on a train…) It’s all very over the top and when they start dance-offs in clubs it always ends in both sides blowing up their chests and appearing ultra aggressive, a situation that isn’t just laughable, but also confusing and a bad example for children. If there are any life lessons to learn from all of this it’s that:

Step Up – vandalism leads to a bright future.
Step Up 2: The Streets – viral videos and flash mobs are illegal, dangerous and a terrorist act.
Step Up 3D – okay, so this is the exception. This is musical theatre without the singing…
Step Up Revolution: Viral videos are illegal again… and a dance group (The Mob) is apparently dangerous (it’s not).
Step Up All In: people who act like swaggering gangsters fall out with friends for absolutely no reason.

Step Up might not be the best franchise in the world, and you’d be hard pushed to find many film critiques to admit to liking these, but the series has evolved from a decent dance drama (Step Up) to big and bright dance films (the rest). It’s a shame the most recent film couldn’t keep up the standards left before it, but you never know, there’s always Step Up 6…

What we learnt from...

Step Up

Breaking the law and community service can lead to great things
Car park dancing gets you everywhere
Street dance and ballet are perfect partners
Street kids work hard, give up easy, then work hard again
Rich kids suck
Some boyfriends ain’t worth keeping. Especially the ones with a record deal. Hold on…
Sometimes being called Moose is all that’s important.
Dancing in public is seen as a terror threat. Don’t do it kids
Trampolines and lasers make dancing that much more fun.
Don’t have a dance off with Channing Tatum
Follow your dreams: Dancing, filmmaking, it’s all good in the hood
Some corporate bullies can become angelic post dance event
When creating a dance group make sure to cater for all personality quirks and ethnicities
Sandy from the O.C. has another life
Asian stereotypes are fine in dance movies
Don't throw a woman up in the air if she isn't ready
Don't dance with random hot blondes if you have a loving girlfriend
Pay checks aren't better than friends