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Theatrical poster
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Produced by Lawrence Gordon
Joel Silver
Written by Marc Reid Rubel
Starring Olivia Newton-John
Gene Kelly
Michael Beck
Music by Olivia Newton-John
Electric Light Orchestra
Barry De Vorzon
John Farrar
The Tubes
Cliff Richard
Cinematography Victor J. Kemper
Editing by Dennis Virkler
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) August 8, 1980
Running time 93 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Gross revenue $22,762,571

Xanadu is a 1980 American musical/romance film directed by Robert Greenwald. The title of the film is a reference to the poem "Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which is quoted in the film. Xanadu is the name of the Chinese province where Khan establishes his pleasure garden in the poem.

Xanadu stars Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, and Gene Kelly, and features music by Newton-John, Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard, and The Tubes. The film also features animation by Don Bluth.



Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is a talented artist who dreams of fame beyond his job, which is the uncreative 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. Having quit his day job to try to make a living as a freelance artist, but having failed to make any money at it, Sonny returns 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 passing in front of an art deco auditorium (the Pan-Pacific Auditorium). This same woman collided with him earlier that day, kissed him, then roller-skated away, and Malone becomes obsessed with finding her. He finds her at the same (but now abandoned) auditorium. She identifies herself as Kira (Olivia Newton-John), but she will tell him nothing else about herself. Unbeknownst to Sonny, Kira is one of nine mysterious and beautiful women who literally sprang to life from a local mural in town near the beach.

Sonny befriends a has-been big band orchestra leader-turned-construction mogul named Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly). Danny lost his muse in the 1940s; 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 (she is Terpsichore, the muse of dance). The other eight women from the beginning of the movie are her sisters and fellow goddesses, the Muses, and the mural is actually a portal of sorts and their point of entry to Earth.

Danny and Sonny envision converting the abandoned Auditorium into a vibrant new club.

The Muses visit Earth often to help inspire others to pursue their dreams and desires. But in Kira's case, she has broken the rules, 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 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 Kira and Sonny's behalf. Kira 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. But Zeus ultimately sends Sonny back to Earth. After Kira expresses her feelings for Sonny in the song "Suspended In Time," Zeus and Mnemosyne decide to let Kira go to him for a "moment, or maybe forever" (mortal time confuses them), and the audience is left to wonder her fate.

In the finale of the movie, Kira and the Muses perform for a packed house at Xanadu's grand opening, and after Kira's final song they return to the realm of the gods in spectacular fashion. With their departure, Sonny is understandably depressed, but that quickly changes when Danny has one of the waitresses bring Sonny a drink. The waitress is an exact look-alike of Kira. Sonny approaches this enigmatic doppelgänger 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


The film barely broke even at the box office and had a mixed critical reception, with a percentage of 41% from the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The soundtrack (No. 4 Billboard), however, was a commercial success. It was certified double platinum and 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)
  • "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)

1980 film production

Pan-Pacific Auditorium transformed into "Xanadu" via special effects.
  • Gene Kelly's role of Danny McGuire is revived from the film Cover Girl which co-stars Rita Hayworth. It was to be Kelly's final motion picture role.
  • As noted in the DVD extra, the film was originally conceived as a relatively low-budget roller disco picture. As "name" 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.
  • The Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles was used only for exterior shots. Xanadu's nightclub interior was built on Stage 4 of the Hollywood Center Studios (1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue, Hollywood) beginning in 1979.[1] 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.
  • 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. Unfortunately, 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...". The 1980 Marvel Comics adaptation retained the more strongly emphasized connection between Sonny and the painting.

Musical numbers

The album grouped Olivia Newton-John (ONJ) and ELO's songs into the opposite 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; segué into...
  • "Whenever You're Away From Me" excerpt - Danny playing on the clarinet, at the beach; segué into... soft instrumental underscoring of "Xanadu" with Sonny drawing and painting; segué into... extended intro to "I'm Alive" (only a portion of which is in the soundtrack album).
  • "I'm Alive" (ELO) - on the film's music track, as Muse wall paintings come to life.
  • "Whenever You're Away From Me" excerpt - Danny again playing the clarinet, at the beach.
  • "Magic" (ONJ) - on the film's music track, while Kira is roller skating in the dark auditorium while Sonny watches and talks to her.
  • "You Made Me Love You" (ONJ) (non-soundtrack LP track released as B-side of the "Suddenly" single) - on Glenn Miller record played by Danny in the ballroom of his home; segué into...
  • "Whenever You're Away From Me" (Gene Kelly and ONJ) - Danny and Kira singing and dancing in the ballroom. According to the DVD special, this was the last sequence filmed.
  • "Suddenly" (ONJ duet with Cliff Richard) – on the track as Kira and Sonny rollerskate through the recording studio.
  • "Dancin'" (ONJ duet with The Tubes) – Big Band female trio lip-synchs to ONJ's self-harmony; in fantasy / concept discussed by Danny and Sonny, in the auditorium, leading to choice of "Xanadu" as the name of the club.
  • "Don't Walk Away" (ELO) - on the film's music track during Sonny and Kira animation sequence.
  • "All Over the World" (ELO) - on the film's music track in the "franchised glitz dealer" store, with Danny running through various dance steps, and some rollerskating, as he tries on different outfits.
  • "The Fall" (ELO) - on the film's music track, as Sonny rollerskates toward (and through) the Muse wall painting.
  • "Suspended in Time" (ONJ) – Kira sings.
  • "Drum Dreams" (ELO) (non-soundtrack LP track released as B-side of the "I'm Alive" and "All Over The World" singles) - beginning of Xanadu opening night roller disco sequence, with Danny leading the group on skates; segué into...
  • "Xanadu" (ONJ and ELO) - Kira sings.
  • "Fool Country" (ONJ) (non-soundtrack LP track released as B-side of the "Magic" single) - Kira in various costumes, singing; segué into...
  • "Xanadu" reprise, Kira singing; dancing with the other 8 Muses; they disappear, then Kira disappears.
  • "Magic" (ONJ) reprise, on the film's music track, fades out as Kira reappears.
  • Instrumental riff from "Xanadu", Kira and Sonny become silhouetted; "The End"
  • "Xanadu" (ONJ and ELO) short version, over closing credits.

Home media release

Xanadu was re-released on DVD June 24, 2008. The "Magical Music Edition" features a "Going Back to Xanadu" featurette, the film's theatrical 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.

2007 Broadway production

A $5 million Broadway musical adaptation of the film began previews on May 23, 2007, and opened (with Olivia Newton-John and John Farrar in attendance) on July 10, 2007 starring Kerry Butler as Kira, Cheyenne Jackson as Sonny and Tony Roberts as Danny. Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa co-starred (in a new plot twist to the Broadway version) as "evil" Muse sisters. The show was a surprise hit, was nominated for several Tony awards, and the original cast CD was released December 2007. The Broadway production closed on September 28, 2008 after 49 previews and 512 performances.[2]

Awards and nominations

Nominated: Best Pop Female Vocal Performance - Magic Olivia Newton-John
Nominated: Best Major Motion Picture - Family Entertainment
Won: Razzie Award for Worst Director (Robert Greenwald)
Nominated: Worst Picture
Nominated: Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay
Nominated: Worst Actor (Michael Beck)
Nominated: Razzie Award for Worst Actress (Olivia Newton-John)
Nominated: Razzie Award for Worst "Original" Song ("Suspended in Time")
Nominated: Worst "Musical" of Our First 25 Years


See also

Other films released during the late 1970s disco craze

External links


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