A romantic musical fantasy that was a combination of beach life, music, Greek mythology and roller skating, the film Xanadu was a sparkling fantasy that flopped at the box office.
Directed by Robert Greenwald, the film starred Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly, and centers around a fantasy storyline of finding the woman of his dreams and making something old new again.
Beck plays Sonny Malone a young artist who is trying to create memorable art but can’t make enough money as a freelance artist. He continues to do reproductions for the windows of a record store, and paints the cover of a new album from the Nine Muses.
The woman on the album cover becomes his obsession, mainly because he met her by chance when she collided with him, kissed him and roller skated away.
She is Kira, played by Newton-John, and has emerged from a mural – a portal from the past of Greek muses. Kira is supposed to inspire Sonny but breaks the rules by falling in love with him.
Sonny meets Danny (played by Gene Kelly) who still has a dream to turn a dilapidated club, Xanadu, into a fabulous club again. And because of Kira, Sonny goes through the portal to the past, to try and gain Kira back in his life and bring Danny’s dream to reality.
With an odd and weak story, the film’s soundtrack was its key – featuring music from Electric Light Orchestra, Newton-John, Cliff Richard and The Tubes – the extensive musical interludes with dancers and animation were the film’s big screen appeal.
Released in August 1980 by Universal Pictures, the film was a flop, with across the board bad reviews from critics and fans not interested in the spectacle of music, fantasy and dance. Made for $20 million, the film made $22.8 million at the box office.
Yet, its soundtrack was a huge success. The singles Magic and Xanadu both hit number one on the UK and US Billboard charts, and the album was declared double platinum in 1981 and received positive reviews by critics.
One side of the album was all about Newton-John, while the other side was ELO, each featuring five songs. Newton-John’s side featured Richard, The Tubes and Kelly.
And although this film has a cult-status, it was also the film that led to the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards, given to the worst films of the year.