The Very Best of the Best Uses of Song in a Film

I’m almost surprised at myself that I haven’t written an article along these lines yet! It was in conversation with my brother about Fight Club, that I was inspired to finally get a list together!

Safe in the knowledge that I don’t in fact have all the answers, I posed the question to my Twitter followers. And there were a lot of responses! So that it’s not just me and my suggestions, I’ve also included a handful of the responses received from Twitter in this post.

Small disclaimer, I’ve tried not to include songs “performed” by the characters, so that rules out songs from musicals etc.

Your favourite might not be in this list, but that’s okay, you can let me know your favourite in the comments at the end!

I hope you enjoy reading and listening!

Where is my Mind – Pixies (Fight Club)

If you have even the slightest idea of what Fight Club is about, you’ll know why this song is just so perfect. Coming in right at the end of the film, and paired with some of the most beautiful visuals you’ll see, makes for an incredibly memorable ending. It’s a haunting track, and possibly even my favourite use of a song in a film.

 

Wake Up – Rage Against the Machine (The Matrix)

Having only watched The Matrix for the first time last year (yes I know!), I spent many years being unaware that this awesome Rage Against the Machine song featured in it. It perfectly suits the action-packed nature of the film and makes for a truly badass ending. I feel pumped just thinking about it!

 

Hero – Regina Spektor ((500) Days of Summer)

The fact that I spent a long time debating which song from (500) Days of Summer to put into this list is testament to how wonderful this soundtrack is! It could’ve just as easily been Hall & Oates, The Temper Trap, or the other Regina Spektor song! However what made me pick this over the others is the visuals it is paired with. The song on its own is melancholic and heartbreaking, the scene without the song is devastating, but the two together? Try and hold back the tears, seriously.

 

You Never Can Tell – Chuck Berry (Pulp Fiction)

Tarantino sure knows how to pick a soundtrack, and this oft imitated but never bettered scene in Pulp Fiction is amongst the finest example. Impossible to listen to this song without breaking into the twist. I urge you to try!

 

Shipping Up To Boston – The Dropkick Murphys (The Departed)

The inclusion of this should be no surprise! I adore Boston and I adore this film! Not only is a great song, it fits so perfectly in The Departed that I couldn’t not include it.

 

Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen (Shaun of the Dead)

Three people rhythmically beating an old zombie to death with pool cues whilst Don’t Stop Me Now plays is never not entertaining! It also provides us with wonderful exchanges like; “Kill the Queen!”, “What?!”, “THE JUKEBOX!” Edgar Wright consistently makes good choices when it comes to picking songs for his films, and this is easily one of the best.

 

Don’t You (Forget About Me) – The Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club)

It is the ultimate, iconic, literal fists in the air movie moment. Triumphant and euphoric, there is no way I can’t associate this song with this film now, and vice versa, which is truly the sign of a perfect match.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen (Wayne’s World)

By my own rules, perhaps I shouldn’t include this one. I mean, with the characters singing along is it technically a performance song?! For Bo Rhap and for Wayne’s World I am willing to break the rules however, because how could I not include this one?! Plus I don’t really think it counts as a performance per se! It’ll make you laugh just thinking about it, and whilst Bo Rhap has popped up in many a film since, this is easily the best!

 

Perfect Day – Lou Reed (Trainspotting)

Whilst some accused this scene of glorifying drugs, with Perfect Day playing in the background whilst Renton heavily overdoses, I would argue against this. To Renton maybe this was his perfect day, to us, it is an unsettling, startling, odd and wonderful pairing which just works! Plus I don’t think many would want to go through the same terrifying experience that Renton does!

And over to the Twitter responses…

Tiny Dancer – Elton John (Almost Famous) 

Just when the ensemble at the centre of this glorious film (a rock band and their groupies) breaks down and reaches rock bottom, this anthem blasts out and unites them in a beautiful sing-song on the tour bus. You cannot help but join in and sing along. – @FionaUnderhill

 

Mad World – Michael Andrews feat. Gary Jules (Donnie Darko)

As the dust settles in the closing minutes of Donnie Darko, Gary Jules’ Mad World plays sombrely as final character arcs are touched upon. The music matches the tone of the film beautifully and the emotional conclusion is enhanced by it’s accompaniment as it unfolds in one of the best movie and song pairings ever on screen. – @murphysbordom

 

Sabotage – Beastie Boys (Star Trek Beyond)

For pure cinematic punch-the-air joy, you need look no further than this year’s Star Trek Beyond. A ripping sci fi yarn that culminates with the enemies master plan being defeated by of all things…the Beastie Boys’ and their seminal 1994 track, Sabotage. It makes hardly any sense why the character owns this song, and the technobabble provided makes even less but for one shining moment you forget all of that, you just sit back and smile at the most ingeniously soundtracked action sequence in recent memory. – @Jonny_C85

 

Stuck in the Middle (With You) – Steelers Wheel (Reservoir Dogs)

Firstly, it’s a great song. Secondly, it just ‘fits’ the scene by being so ludicrously at odds with the action happening on screen. Madsen is brilliant as the psychotic Mr Blonde, and his light-on-the-feet, jovial dancing while torturing the Police Officer is just what you’d expect from his (clearly) unhinged character. Great stuff, and absolutely spot on choice of song. – @MrFilmFan

 

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan (Watchmen)

I will maintain that the opening credits to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen are the best of all time, but they wouldn’t be without the help of this song, The Times They Are A-Changing. Perfectly supporting the gorgeous visuals which fill us in on 30 years of American history with a comic book twist, the song encapsulates the changing world on both a political level and on a superhero level in an Alternate Reality mid-20th century America. – @RuhBuhJuh

 

Montage – Swiss Army Man

It just feels so epic. I mean, all of the songs in SWISS ARMY MAN feel that way, but this one just feels slightly more epic than the rest. It’s also very funny, but it also takes the movie to a whole other level. Because while it’s playing, the film is showing us that, although dead, Radcliffe’s character is more alive and more in love than any of us will probably ever be or feel or are. It’s actually sort of heartbreaking, now that I’m looking back at it. But yeah, it’s an inspiring song/scene that’s all about being alive and free and loving who you love. – @judgmentalnerd

 

I Want You Back – The Jackson 5 (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Dancing Baby Groot…need there be an explanation! – @Sameeralam94

My Twitter friend has put it rather succinctly, but I can elaborate. The whole Guardians soundtrack is great really, and the music plays an intrinsic part in the film. The ending however is unashamedly joyful, and this great song plays a part in that as Baby Groot gets his groove on. You can’t help but smile!

 

Lord Knows/Fighting Stronger – Meek Mill (Creed)

In any great Rocky movie there’s a training montage. Adonis Creed is running through the streets of Philadelphia to Lord Knows by Meek Mill, a rapper who is from the great city. That song is paired with the instrumental of Fighting Stronger, a staple in the Rocky franchise. To have a song that blends the old and the new so well, is symbolic of what this movie did. Passing the old guard of Sly to the new in MBJ. – @EmblemT_15

 

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Santa Esmerelda (Kill Bill Vol. 1)

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood turns what should be a really tense and silent duel into an incredibly fun and memorable one, which is something that typifies the tone of Kill Bill as a whole. Both movies have extreme violence and homage classic kung-fu films, but the difference is that Tarantino, through unusual use of music, creates a sense of fun and excitement that makes the films such a joy. – @apuffofjack

Head Over Heels – Tears for Fears (Donnie Darko)

Honestly, I’m not good with why I like things, but it feels like the perfect fit between scene & song to me. The scene – the sweep through the school introducing us to many of the characters who will be important to the film is already amazing. The song ties it all together – the scene was clearly edited to match up with it and it’s so well done you can pretty much lift it straight out of the film & watch it as a music video. Plus I love the song so I’m biased! – @poprockgeek

 

(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life – Bill Medley & Jennifer Warner (Dirty Dancing)

One of the most adored romantic movies of all time needs a rousing number as Baby and Johnny take to the stage for the movies finale. It’s hard not to sing along but it’s impossible to not have a little dance too. Listen to the lyrics, it’s all about having the time of your life, and in each other’s company, Baby and Johnny most definitely did. – @bartonj2410

You can listen to all of these songs as a Spotify playlist!

What is your favourite use of a song in a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

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5 comments

  1. I couldn’t choose out of all of these options. So many good songs but it is the effect when added to the film that makes them. It really does add to it. Great work in putting this list together.
    I have been really impressed by the music in Peaky Blinders. If you’ve not experienced it you should have a watch

    Liked by 1 person

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