The 50 best uses of songs in movies

TONY ranks the coolest soundtrack moments of all time.

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40. "Making Time," the Creation, Rushmore (1998)

Here's the moment when Wes Anderson truly arrives, forever to live in the hearts of geeky obsessives with this montage of Max Fischer's extracurriculars, ranging from "bombardment society founder" to the director of the Max Fischer Players. The forgotten band that penned the tune, a lesser Who, supplies the attitude.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Watch the video for "Making Time" by the Creation

39. "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," the First Edition, The Big Lebowski (1998)

Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski knows his way around narcotics, but he's surely never had a trip quite like the bowling-alley dream sequence in the Coens' profanely funny comedy. Wagneresque chorines, scissor-wielding nihilists and a Kenny Rogers ditty combine for maximum, mind-altering surreality.—Keith Uhlich

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Watch the video for "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" by the First Edition

38. "Unchained Melody," the Righteous Brothers, Ghost (1990)

How many viewers wanted to take up pottery after watching this famous lovemaking sequence—scored to a sublime, Phil Spector–produced serenade? The romance is as shamelessly gloopy as Demi Moore's moist molding clay, but boy, does it make us swoon.—Keith Uhlich

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Watch the video for "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers

37. "Patricia," Perez Prado Orchestra, La Dolce Vita (1960)

If the films of Federico Fellini can be likened to one glamorous late-night party, unbound and spinning out of control, then here's the organ-drenched soundtrack, equal parts prim and perverse. A drunk party girl sheds her clothes (and shame) in this, the most notorious scene of the director's career.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Watch the video for "Patricia" by Perez Prado Orchestra

36. "Head Over Heels," Tears for Fears, Donnie Darko (2001)

In a terrific early scene from Richard Kelly's cult debut, Jake Gyllenhaal's depressive, time-traveling outcast takes a long walk down his high-school hallway. Assembled into a single, unbroken take, it's as if we're gliding through one morning in our own angst-ridden teen existence—but with a better soundtrack.—Keith Uhlich

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Watch the video for "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears

35. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the Rolling Stones, The Big Chill (1983)

Effortlessly evoking the disappointments of the boomer era, Mick Jagger's profound lyric lends weight to this movie's early knockout scene, a funeral procession for a suicide. As we get to know these reuniting friends, we only hope they'll get what they need. (This clip isn't the full sequence, but you get the vibe.)—Joshua Rothkopf

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Watch the video for "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones

34. "California Dreamin'," the Mamas & the Papas, Chungking Express (1994)

The beaches of Malibu are a world way from the crowded noodle stalls of Hong Kong, but damned if director Wong Kar-wai doesn't make it work. His missed-connection romance, between a world-weary cop and a pixieish young woman, gets a dreamy injection of urban ennui via John Phillips & Co.'s '60s pop hit.—David Fear

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Watch the video for "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas & the Papas

33. "I Got You Babe," Sonny & Cher, Groundhog Day (1993)

"Then put your little hand in mine," yowls Sonny Bono on the radio promptly at 6am, day after day after day, to the blinking frustration of cosmically trapped weatherman Bill Murray. Even as we laugh, the song's chorus takes on dark overtones—someone's "gotten" indeed. No other tune would have been as maddening.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Watch the video for "I Got You Babe" by Sonny & Cher

32. "My Sharona," the Knack, Reality Bites (1994)

The quintessential scene from Ben Stiller's Gen-X-catering romance takes place in a Food Mart as Winona Ryder and up-and-comers Steve Zahn and Janeane Garofalo "ironically" get down to this exuberant new-wave track. An embarrassed Ethan Hawke cringes on behalf of all involved.—Keith Uhlich

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Watch the video for "My Sharona" by the Knack

31. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane, Mo' Better Blues (1990)

Spike Lee originally named his jazz film after John Coltrane's epic four-part suite, before the musician's widow asked him to change the title. Thankfully, she let Lee borrow part of the song to add resonance to the movie's climax, in which Denzel Washington's troubled trumpeter starts a family and finally finds inner peace.—David Fear

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Watch the video for A Love Supreme by John Coltrane



Users say

31 comments
Stigs M
Stigs M

"Gimme Some Lovin" by the Spencer Davis Group in "Days of Thunder" was a notable omission.

I now also think the climatic scene to Warrior and The National's 'About Today' live version absolutely blew my  mind. Perfect combination! 

Aaron
Aaron

Somewhere Over The Rainbow - during the shoot out in Face/Off. Violence through the eyes of an eight year old.

bill
bill

You've missed a few good ones from the last decade, which other people in the comments have suggested. Forbidden Friendship - How to Train Your Dragon

dn
dn

Come on, man !!!! Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Twist and Shout Back to the future - johnny b good The mission - gabriel's oboe matrix etc etc

William White
William White

My vote goes to Remember by Josh Groban (Troy) and Ordinary by Train (Spiderman 2)

Supermanfriday
Supermanfriday

Two Tribes ...Supergrass( Robbie Coltrane) .....Florida Fantasy ..Midnight Express. Wandering Star ..Paint your Wagon.. Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia...Way out West ....The Real Me ....Quadrophenia.

Mazorko
Mazorko

Donnie Darko (2001): The Church - Under the milky way http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-6UJigii8U Argo (2012): Van Halen - Dance the night away http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iyX_iy8F6M 21 (2008): Peter Bjorn and John - Young Folks The Departed (2006): Dropkick Murphies - Shipping up to boston http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrc1prw96-Y Dirty Dancing (1987): Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes - The Time of My Life Performed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpmILPAcRQo Drive (2011): Kavinsky - Nightcall http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIpXQS5gaAw Kelly's Heros (1970): The Mike Curb Congregation - Burning Bridges http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA9581o27uA The Graduate (1967): Simon & Garfunkel - Scarborough Fair http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWxOTDYeWbU Drive (2011): College & Electric Youth - A Real Hero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bKGu45zHxo

awesome one
awesome one

What about Tuesday's gone happy Gilmore,schools out dazed and confused. Where is all of that.

nicole
nicole

Bill Murray's Karaoke cover of Roxy Music's of 'More than This' should have definitely been placed in the top 50 not to mention Sinatra's 'it had to be you in when harry met sally

john
john

Song to the siren. Lost highway. Patricia arquette!!! Sooo hot

yaka
yaka

does answer my question

clara alfieri
clara alfieri

Did you forget - the movie The Deer Hunter Cant Take My Eyes Off Your - Frankie Valli - 4 Seasons

00
00

Drive college ft electric youth - "a real hero" drive kavinsky "nightcall" drive desire's "under your spell" drive instrumentals by cliff martinez drive drive drive dri....

Kevin Wilson
Kevin Wilson

Well, thought out list - Kudos. One that HAS to be in the top ten though - "Falling Slowly" in Once. Its use near the beginning of the film was fantastic, and set the entire tone for the movie. But its use in the ending was the best use of music in a movie ending ever.

PJA_Master
PJA_Master

Oh and of course white Christmas in home alone when he's shaving. Great scene!

PJA_Master
PJA_Master

Great list bit it's missing dont you forget about me - Simple Minds from the breakfast club. Perfect match of song to movie.

Db
Db

Did I miss Clockwork orange or was it forgotten as well?

Smurfe
Smurfe

I really expected to see something from Forrest Gump (the entire soundtrack) and Dazed and Confused (the entire soundtrack)

Eelnodrog
Eelnodrog

Have yourself a merry little Christmas from The Victors, as the young soldier faces the firing squad!

AJRN
AJRN

Great list. You included so many that I thought you would miss.

jaspreet
jaspreet

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Lisa Thompson
Lisa Thompson

a Lovely day in 127 hours - the entire soundtrack of Into the wild dueling banjos in Deliverance the "little train song Harry and Hermione dance to in HP&the DH the Doors in what?every Vietnam movie

Lisa Thompson
Lisa Thompson

good call, digga; the entire movie was a set up of that movie - You're gonna love me from Dreamgirls should be here, too and and where are streets of fire,feed me from Little shop of horrors; sister act? and sweeney todd?the proclaimers in Beny & Joon

Luke
Luke

Kubrick dominates these lists and i love it !

Mike
Mike

No Streets of Fire?

WC
WC

No "Little Green Bag" from Reservoir Dogs?

Brainslks
Brainslks

So a song from an Adam Sandler movie beats out "La Marseilles" AND "AsTime Goes By" from "Casablanca"? Who's making these f*ing lists, chimps with typewriters?

Liam
Liam

Bird is the Word - Trashmen this was brilliant in Full Metal Jacket

jason
jason

how about "memories are made of this" in Veronika Voss?

TONY 50 best songs in movies playlist on Spotify