Swan Lake: A Pop Culture Darling

Over the last century, Swan Lake has become a quintessential ballet pop culture reference. Its iconic score, choreography, and costumes are synonymous with ballet performance and easily recognizable to anyone with even a casual ballet knowledge. While the 2010 film Black Swan may be the first to spring to mind, there are many examples from the last 100 years. Keep scrolling to watch just a few!


In the 1930s, Universal Pictures used the Swan Lake score in the opening credits of Dracula, The Mummy, and several other suspenseful films to heighten the emotion before the film began.

In the 1968 film Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand presents a spoof of Swan Lake in her performance as comedienne Fanny Brice. This number was based on a real-life Fanny Brice character, a swan ballerina from the 1930 film Be Yourself.

There is a long list of animated versions of the Swan Lake story including the 1981 anime Swan Lake, Barbie of Swan Lake (2003), and Swan Princess (1994).

Both the 2000 film Billy Elliot, about a boy finding his love for ballet and struggling for acceptance, and the subsequent 2005 stage adaptation feature Swan Lake performances by a grown up version of Bill. In the film, he performs Matthew Bourne’s notable all-male version of the ballet.

There are several examples of video game music influenced by the score of Swan Lake, perhaps most notably in the lead up to a battle in 1988’s Final Fantasy II. 

References to Swan Lake in modern pop music are frequent – two examples from the last decade include the costuming and ballet choreography in Taylor Swift’s 2014 “Shake It Off,” and the music box intro to Beyoncé’s “Sorry” from her 2016 visual album Lemonade.

Lastly, The Muppets have spoofed Swan Lake repeatedly on their iconic TV show, including a performance of “Swine Lake,” which features Miss Piggy and Rudolf Nureyev, and “Prawn Lake,” which recently trended on TikTok

What’s your favorite example of Swan Lake in pop culture? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media channels! And don’t forget to nab your tickets to PNB’s Swan Lake, which runs February 2 – 11, 2024 at McCaw Hall.

Featured Photo: PNB Company dancers in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake, photo © Lindsay Thomas.