Everyone remembers the Ghostbusters song, don’t they? Chances are that it’s playing in your head at the mere mention of it! The fact that we can recall it so quickly demonstrates why soundtracks and scores are so important to a movie. A successful musical accompaniment can convey the moods and ideas of a film both subtly and overtly, and become art forms in themselves (the beloved score for The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a notable example of this).
But sometimes a song not purposefully created for the movie is attached to a film in just the right way, and a magical effect is produced. The scene itself can become iconic and, in years to come, the song can transform into the movies’ signature piece, so that whenever is played it recalls memories of the film and the time period.
So let’s take a look at the eleven best marriages of original music and movie. Which ones make the cut? Why do they work so well together? I dare you to come away from this article without at least one of these songs stuck in your head!
1. "Johnny B. Goode" (A la Michael J Fox) - Back to the Future (1985)
Huey Lewis and the News’s input unfortunately doesn’t count here because the songs were written specifically for the movie. However, what does count is the part where, after successfully course-correcting his father’s future, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) joyfully belts out Chuck Berry’s hit "Johnny B. Goode".
It’s the perfect musical choice: It fits in with the '50s time period, Marty’s interests (he is a rocker after all), and the words match his character journey and his yearning to succeed. A classic piece of rock and roll, in a classic time travel story — in Marvin Berry’s words, the filmmakers truly gave us something that "really cooks."
2. "In Your Eyes" (Peter Gabriel) – Say Anything... (1989)
Sure, it’s very '80s, but so is the movie — and since when has that been a bad thing?
The lyrics, the beat... it’s all so passionate and uplifting, and as such "In Your Eyes" is the perfect choice for this classic romantic comedy, charting Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) and Diane Courts' (Ione Skye) romance. Reflecting how the two young characters feel about each other, the song simmers with powerful emotion, and it’s instantly recognizable with Peter Gabriel's voice, along with that unique image of handsome ol’ Cusack holding the boom box over his head.
What do you have when you put all of these pieces together? An iconic and endlessly parodied movie moment, that’s what.
3. "Stuck In The Middle With You" (Stealers Wheel) – Reservoir Dogs (1992)
With wild violence peppering his witty movies, suggesting that Quentin Tarantino's tastes are idiosyncratic is something of an understatement, but he definitely has an ear for perfect musical choices. He did after all use The Sweet’s "Ballroom Blitz" in a Kill Bill fight scene, however this particular choice surpasses that. Indeed, the above choice has got to be one of his all-time best scenes.
Following eight criminals and their fumbling attempt to steal diamonds, Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen) begins to torture Officer Nash (Kirk Baltz) to find out who the traitor is. As the snippy and sarcastic comments rack up, the song lyrics brilliantly parallel the situation:
“I got the feeling that something ain't right... Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you."
Its upbeat tempo only heightens the demented cruelty of the situation. The scene isn’t even that gory, but the contrast of its catchy tune helps ensure that the intense scenario seems far more brutal than it actually appears.
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4. "I Will Always Love You" - (Whitney Houston cover) The Bodyguard (1992)
OK, so not every musical match comes from a critically lauded film, and it’s certainly the case with this somewhat so-so offering. However, the power and potency of the song and the movie can’t be denied. Parodied famously by The Simpsons among many others, did you know that the song was originally a Dolly Parton tune? I didn't either, but I certainly know which one is more memorable.
All together now: “...and IIIIIIII-EEE-IIIIIIIIII-EEE-IIIIIII...“
5. "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Queen) - Wayne’s World (1992)
Wow, wasn’t 1992 a really great year for musical choices? And what better choice is there for the enthusiastic Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) than (arguably) one of the greatest rock songs ever?
Sure, it might not be the most obvious of selections (they are head banging metal heads after all) but the sheer exuberance of the song, and the happy way in which the characters sing along to it in the car is just so quintessentially relatable. The fact that its inclusion in the movie was almost denied (heh) is shocking to us now.
6. "Send Me On My Way" (Rusted Root) - Matilda (1996)
Younger readers may know this happy tune from its appearance in the first Ice Age movie, and while it's a fitting match to that sequence, its use in Matilda is far better. The song itself is upbeat and filled with good feelings and intentions down to its very core, much like its intelligent protagonist who, by all rights, should by downtrodden by the poor nurturing skills of her parents.
Never mind that you can’t tell what some of the lyrics are, it's exactly the kind of tune you’d have playing on a Saturday morning whilst making pancakes... damn, my mouth is watering at the very thought of it...
7. "All Star" (Smash Mouth) – Shrek (2001)
Admit it, as soon as you read the title, those first few notes came into your head. Apparently, "All Star" was originally put at the start of the movie until a better choice could be found. Needless to say, the filmmakers soon realized that they already had the perfect pairing.
Brash, hip and lively, it was certainly different to the kind of songs that we usually hear in fairytale/fantasy movies and, as a recently released single, its choice denotes the pop culture savviness which has come to define the movie series — and will no doubt continue to do so.
8. "Extreme Ways" (Moby) - The Bourne Series (2002-Present)
Like its protagonist and the aesthetic of the overall series, the musical choices of the Bourne franchise are a grounded, no-frills affair. Even so, The Bourne Ultimatum does manage to squeeze in a damn cool song, complete with that simple-yet-recognizable screech of violins and a catchy chorus to boot. Plus it’s another case in which the words match up with the story:
“Extreme ways are back again, Extreme places I didn't know, I broke everything new again, Everything that I'd owned... Oh baby, oh baby, Then it fell apart, it fell apart...”
If these lyrics don’t encapsulate the assassin Jason Bourne and his attempts to reconnect with his old life, I don’t know what does.
9. "I’ve Got You Under My Skin" (Sammy Davis cover) – Gamer (2009)
Yup, not a classic movie by any means — but filmmakers wondering how to create a chilling atmosphere through performances and music should take note of the scene above. The loving verses of the song take on a downright sinister meaning when Castle (Hall) sings them — he is able to mentally control Kable (Gerard Butler) and his minions after all.
Coupled with the eerie sight of the shadowy goons moving in unison, I can’t help but shudder... on a side note, how is Michael C. Hall not in more stuff? He’s excellent!
10. "A Real Hero" (College & Electric Youth) – Drive (2011)
Atmospherically musing on what constitutes a hero to soothing synthesiser strains, "A Real Hero" gives off a very '80s sort of vibe, which fully complements the pensive tale of a lovelorn — albeit murderous — getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) in his quest to protect a young mother (Carey Mulligan).
The song is used to such good effect in two key sequences of the movie that it’s intrinsically linked to Drive. It’s highly unlikely to be used as well in another film any time soon... though I always liked to be proven wrong!
Note: Playing the song whilst driving on a sunny evening simply doesn’t make you as cool as Ryan Gosling, even if you are wearing driving gloves and a jacket embroidered with a scorpion. Believe me, I’ve tried.
11. "Hooked on a Feeling" (Blue Swede) – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
It would have to feature on this list, wouldn’t it? In fact, no list of "best movie soundtracks" is complete without it — it’s one of the few compilations to actually be tied into the film’s plot after all. "Hooked on a Feeling" has been linked to Guardians of the Galaxy ever since its first trailer, and it will probably always be so.
Is it cheesy? Definitely, but it’s certainly lovable, and like the movie, it delivers an unabashedly positive vibe, with a cheeky and knowing wink all the while.
So there you have it! A collection of the best original song choices in all of Hollywood. Which is your favorite? Are there any I missed? Head on down to the comment section to share your thoughts!