The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return — and the greatest songs you’ll ever know are all made over and mashed up in Baz Luhrmann’s flashy jukebox musical Moulin Rouge!, which hit theaters 15 years ago on May 18, 2001.
Nicole Kidman stars as Satine, the beautiful courtesan who is the star of the eponymous club in turn-of-the-century Paris. Ewan McGregor is Christian, the penniless writer who falls in love with Satine despite her commitment to a truly vile duke, who has invested in the Moulin Rouge (and its upcoming theatrical production, Spectacular Spectacular) and promised to make Satine’s dreams of stage stardom come true.
The dazzling Camille retelling is packed with songs, covering everyone from Madonna to Nirvana to Marilyn Monroe, and we’ve ranked all the musical numbers in the movie. See our picks for the best below.
12. “Hindi Sad Diamonds”
The opening number of Spectacular Spectacular serves mostly as a reminder that the fictional play and the movie in which it exists share the same plot; it recalls Satine’s first appearance, awkwardly recycling about every third lyric from “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” over Indian-esque instrumentation. Also, Satine coughs.
11. “Come What May”
The first time we hear the lovers’ secret song almost doesn’t qualify as a musical number, since it’s mostly just a montage of Christian and Satine lying in bed and/or making eyes at each other, intercut with occasional shots of them singing “Come What May” in rehearsal. The song merits inclusion, however, for being the performance that makes their affair public knowledge, and sets the story in motion towards its tragic conclusion.
10. “Like a Virgin”
Zidler’s wacky interpretation of the Madonna classic, sung in the third person as an excuse for Satine’s missing supper with the Duke, is a weird comic interlude, made weirder by the brief interruption to check in with Satine, who is dying, and Christian, who is sad. Jim Broadbent can do no wrong, but “Like a Virgin” isn’t quite right.
9. “The Show Must Go On”
Queen is a much better fit for Broadbent than Madonna, and his version of “The Show Must Go On,” though somewhat redundant considering how many times he recites the cliché over the course of the movie, strongly punctuates a low point in the story. Satine and the Moulin Rouge’s army of seamstresses join in, but the song belongs to Zidler.
8. “One Day I’ll Fly Away”
Especially following McGregor’s dreamy solo ballad (“Your Song”), Kidman’s voice sounds a bit thin on hers. The viewer’s greatest concern during “One Day I’ll Fly Away” is likely wondering how (not to mention why) Satine got back into that corseted red dress, which took Marie so long to fasten the first time, after having taken it off (inexplicably, before anyone really even saw her wearing it) to seduce the Duke in her lace kimono. Maybe if she’d just stayed in her lingerie, she’d have more breath for those high notes.
7. “The Pitch”
The pitch for Spectacular Spectacular brings together all the major characters in a zany, impromptu mini-enactment of the plot of the entire movie (“and in the end does someone die?”). In short, it is a magnificent, opulent, tremendous, stupendous, gargantuan bedazzlement — a sensual ravishment.
6. “Lady Marmalade” / The Can-Can
Christian’s arrival at the Moulin Rouge brings the first taste of the movie’s crazy mash-up sensibility by mixing “Lady Marmalade” with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” all while Zidler sings about the merits of the can-can. Frenetically edited against a kinetic backdrop of high-kicking and skirt-swishing, the scene efficiently communicates the thrill and the strange danger of the nightclub. It also taught America’s favorite dirty French phrase to a whole new generation, courtesy of Christina Aguilera & Co.: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
5. “Come What May (Reprise)”
The final number, which brings back both the lovers’ secret song and the Bohemians’ anthem “Children of the Revolution,” serves as the showstopping finale of both Spectacular Spectacular and Moulin Rouge!, as Christian finds himself onstage when he tries to confront Satine. She wins him back — and Toulouse warns him that the Duke is trying to kill him! — without anyone in the audience ever suspecting for a second that Spectacular Spectacular is directly based on the lives of its performers. Nothing like live theatre!
4. “Sparkling Diamonds”
No rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” will never surpass Marilyn Monroe’s, but the Moulin Rouge! version ranks way up there. From Satine’s grand entrance (on a swing amid a cloud of glitter, naturally) to her tiny top hat to her brief “Material Girl” moment, “Sparkling Diamonds” is a dazzling introduction to the courtesan.
3. “El Tango de Roxanne”
Christian and the Narcoleptic Argentinean deliver a powerful performance of the Sting’s “Roxanne,” and NiNi “Legs-in-the-Air,” the meanest and most jealous can-can dancer of them all, almost redeems herself (after having literally ruined everything) with her fierce tango. The tension ramps up as the whole company joins the dance and the camera cuts to Satine, accepting a breathtaking diamond necklace from the Duke and then having it ripped from her neck when she fails to conceal her true feelings.
2. “Your Song”
SWOON. That’s all.
1. “Elephant Love Medley”
Christian and Satine’s super-mash-up duet at the end of Act 1 is the stuff that karaoke dreams are made of, and the opulent setting, twirly cinematography, and especially the opera-singing moon are all sweet icing on the elephant love cake. By the time “Heroes” transitions into “I Will Always Love You,” we’ve fallen as deeply in love with Moulin Rouge! as Christian and Satine have with each other.