Movie Features

Moulin Rouge! Turns 20: Ranking the Iconic Musical Numbers

Twenty years ago, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! brought life back to movie musicals. While they had been a staple of the 1950s and ’60s, they lost popularity over the decades. Then in 2001, Luhrmann wowed the world with this original jukebox musical—a musical that uses popular songs instead of original ones. This iconic film is one-of-a-kind, full of bright colors and fun dance numbers, and featuring a baby-faced Ewan McGregor wearing a fedora. What really makes this movie memorable, however, are the songs. Most of the songs are clever twists on popular favorites. The musical numbers either deliver big emotional moments or hilarious jokes—or both.

Without further ado, here is this fan’s rating of the musical numbers in Moulin Rouge! 


12. Hindi Sad Diamonds

20th Century Studios

This number is full of bright colors, but there are so many performers that it’s even more overcrowded than most shots in this movie. At this point in the movie, we no longer care about the ensemble—we just want to see the emotional drama between Satine (Nicole Kidman) and Christian (Ewan McGregor). This song really only serves the purpose of showing some of the play they’ve spent the whole movie working on. The lyrics are repetitive and pointless, and the cultural appropriation hasn’t aged well… at all. 


11. Like a Virgin

20th Century Studios

This number is all kinds of weird. I know it’s meant to be comic relief, but watching a middle-aged man sing this Madonna song is not that funny to me. The choreography, along with Jim Broadbent’s performance, makes it weirder. Add a solo from the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) that nobody needed, and it’s officially the strangest performance in the film. Both of these actors kill it in this movie, but this isn’t their best moment.


10. Come What May

20th Century Studios

As the only original song in a movie full of beloved bangers, this song has big shoes to fill. And it fulfills its goal! It makes me want to cry every time. Christian writes this song for Satine so that every time she sings it, he will know she still loves him. It helps the lovers through a hard time when they must be apart. As a number, however, it falls a little short. It’s not as visually interesting or dramatic as other numbers. Instead, it’s a montage of Christian and Satine rehearsing or meeting secretly, and they sing the song in little pieces, which leeches out some of the emotional weight.


9. The Can-can 

20th Century Studios

This number happens pretty early on in the film and serves as a good tone setter. It really captures the bright swirl of colors and frantic energy of the rest of the film. It also gives us the first taste of just how wacky this movie’s song combinations can be by mixing “Lady Marmalade” with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” along with Jim Broadbent singing the Can-can. Overall, though, the lack of emotional connection in this song keeps it from being a favorite. It sets the scene well but doesn’t focus on any of the main characters. Also, some of the close-ups are just a little too garish. 


8. The Show Must Go On

20th Century Studios

This haunting number belongs to Zidler, a character without much emotional depth. In this song, though, we see how much it pains him to cause Satine pain. Jim Broadbent is an incredibly talented actor, and his facial expressions tell us volumes more than his words. We see a darker side of the Moulin Rouge here. While most of the movie portrays the dancers as happy and pleasure-seeking, this number is full of darker toned shots that move languidly. We see the layer of despair that lies beneath their joy. This may not be the most fun scene in the show, but it is powerful.


7. One Day I’ll Fly Away

20th Century Studios

Kidman’s voice is haunting in this number. Up to this point in the show, all we have seen is Satine’s act. In front of the Duke, in front of Zidler, in front of Christian. She becomes the person she thinks they want her to be: flawless, sexy, and here for a good time. But in this solo, we see Satine’s true feelings for the first time. While she may not hate being a courtesan, she feels like a bird trapped in a cage. She longs to fly away, and while she feels drawn to Christian, she knows their love cannot be real, and it cannot last.

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6. Elephant Love Medley

20th Century Studios

This number, an ambitious mash-up of twelve different love songs, shows the strength of the Moulin Rouge! medleys. The performance makes the song feel more like a conversation. These characters have totally different worldviews: Satine cynically believes love makes people act like fools, while Christian believes love is like oxygen. In the beginning, they are practically fighting. As they sing, however, we watch Satine lower her walls and the two fall in love. By the end of the song, they are all in.


5. The Pitch

20th Century Studios

This number makes zero sense divorced from the film, but in context, it’s hilarious. At this point in your watching experience, if you were thinking, “I don’t know about this movie—it’s a little weird,” this will be the moment you turn it off. It’s all the corniest parts of Moulin Rouge: over-the-top acting, random sound effects, unnaturally fast cuts. But if you’re along for the absurd, wild ride, this song is the comic peak. The cast is trying to convince the Duke to invest in a play that they are making up on the spot. That element of improv adds to both the comedy and the frantic energy. Like all the best numbers in this musical, it ends with a laugh. The Duke delivers my favorite, most memified line: “Generally, I like it.”


4. Your Song

20th Century Studios

This number is both audibly and visually spectacular (spectacular). Ewan McGregor begins this as a monologue, and when Christian can no longer stand Satine’s (hilarious) antics, he bursts into song. It’s a perfect example of the number one rule in musicals: when your emotions are too great to speak, you sing. As an added surprise, his voice is clear and beautiful. Satine is instantly silenced and stares at him, speechless, like basically everyone watching. As he sings, we are treated to several colorful, dreamlike sequences. First, the couple twirls across the roofs of Paris, dancing around the Eiffel Tower and being showered with glitter. Next, they kiss in front of the ornate, iconic red and gold heart. After ending on this emotional explosion, we get a moment of comedy when Christian reveals that he is not a duke like Satine thought, but a penniless writer!


3. Sparkling Diamonds

20th Century Studios

This number is one of the precious few moments in this loud, chaotic movie where the entire cast falls quiet. They watch spellbound as Satine is lifting down to the crowd following a cascade of glitter. Cast in dramatic blue light, in contrast to the bright reds of the rest of the scene, she sings her solo. It is a perfect introduction to this beautiful and ultimately tragic character, and Kidman plays it with the perfect level of seduction. As an added bonus, this is also the scene where we get a Shakespearean case of mistaken identity. Zidler promises the Duke an audience with Satine, while Toulouse promises Christian the same. She mistakes Christian for the Duke, and hilarity and sexual innuendos ensue.

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2. Come What May (Reprise)

20th Century Studios

This number is the emotional climax of the show. Knowing she’s about to die, Satine can’t let Christian leave without knowing that she really loves him. She sings the song he wrote for her, the secret between them. The shots alternate between close-ups of the two lovers’ faces, because they are all that matters in this moment. Christian sings the song in return, and the two reunite on stage. Once they are back together, we get a big, dramatic moment on stage, surrounded by lights, colors, and extras. A true, fitting musical ending to their love story! Plus, we get the added bonus of a close-up on the Duke’s pissed-off face. 


1. El Tango de Roxanne

20th Century Studios

This number is the real showstopper. After weeks of evading the Duke, Satine is finally going to be with him. Christian originally said he didn’t care, that he wanted Satine no matter what. But when it comes down to it, he finds that jealousy is driving him mad. The Argentinian opens the song, and his throaty voice and the sexual nature of his tango set up the high emotional stakes so powerfully. McGregor gives an equally emotional performance, his sweet tenor voice mixing with that of the Argentinian. It then cuts between the deep reds, quick movements of the tango and the cold blue stillness of Satine and the Duke. In the end, Satine sees Christian, bathed in red and drowning in sorrow, and she cannot go through with it. 

Moulin Rouge! is available for rent or purchase on VOD services.

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