The 50 best uses of songs in movies

TONY ranks the coolest soundtrack moments of all time.

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20. "Goodbye Horses," Q Lazzarus, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

When cross-dressing serial killer Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb primps and sashays in a strange interlude from Jonathan Demme's suspense classic, he's listening to this enrapturing pop song. The queasy scene became a pop-cultural touchstone, parodied by everyone from Kevin Smith to Family Guy.—Keith Uhlich

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Watch the video for "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus

19. "Be My Baby," the Ronettes, Mean Streets (1973)

From the moment the wall-of-sound drums kick in to Harvey Keitel's head hitting his pillow, Martin Scorsese's 'hood opera takes personalized-jukebox cinema to a new level. When the song's harmonies sync up with the Super-8 credits, it's like Scorsese's career in miniature: movies and mobsters, street culture and pop culture.—David Fear

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Watch the video for "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes

18. "Where Is My Mind?," Pixies, Fight Club (1999)

"Trust me, everything's going to be fine," says Edward Norton in the final seconds of David Fincher's unclassifiable thriller, as the skyline explodes outside the window. Buildings fall, two hands clasp tenderly, and the future is uncertain. The keening voices of Frank Black and Kim Deal seal the mood.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Watch the video for "Where Is My Mind?" by Pixies

17. "Bela Lugosi's Dead," Bauhaus, The Hunger (1983)

The classic opening of Tony Scott's horror film forever linked goth rock, smoky NYC clubs and vampires. Dancing behind a grate, Peter Murphy lip-synchs to his band's ominous single as bloodsuckers David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve scope out the gyrating bodies for the night's prey.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Watch the video for "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus

16. "Tequila," the Champs, Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

What's a manchild like Pee-wee Herman to do when he knocks over a group of hulking bikers' motorcycles? Lace up a pair of platform shoes, hop atop the bar and get down to the horn-bleating cocktail-lounge staple, of course.—Keith Uhlich

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Watch the video for "Tequila" by the Champs

15. "Ride of the Valkyries," Richard Wagner, Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola's hijacking of this operatic leitmotif to score a chopper attack is a stroke of demented genius: Wagner's German Romantic bombast mocks the notion of American militarism in Vietnam, even as it makes Col. Kilgore's air-calvary strike sound like a blow from the hammer of the gods. (The specific scene isn't available online, but this trailer has a large chunk of it starting at 1:30.)—David Fear

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Watch the video for "Ride of the Valkyries" by Richard Wagner

14. "Gassenhauer," Carl Orff, Badlands (1973)

For a story about criminal lovers on the run, Terrence Malick's 1973 debut achieves a rare degree of innocence, largely due to this German composer's shimmering, percussive masterwork (also used in True Romance). Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen create an Edenic paradise in the woods; you hope it lasts forever.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Watch the video for "Gassenhauer" by Carl Orff

13. "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," Harry Belafonte, Beetlejuice (1988)

Most onscreen possessions lead to screaming. But singing? In this hilarious sequence from Tim Burton's inventive horror-comedy, an uptight dinner becomes an exhilarating musical number set to Harry Belafonte's calypso standard. All meals should be like this, jumbo-shrimp bogeymen and all.—Keith Uhlich

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Watch the video for "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" by Harry Belafonte

12. "The Rhythm of the Night," Corona, Beau Travail (1999)

A black-clad Denis Lavant bursts into ecstatic dance with this 1994 club hit—and in one fell swoop, Claire Denis nudges her modern Billy Budd adaptation into the sublimely surreal, turning a cheesy Italian techno-disco song into an expression of repressed gay desire finally finding its form. (The song kicks in at the 0:50-second mark.)—David Fear

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Watch the video for "The Rhythm of the Night" by Corona

11. "Born to Be Wild," Steppenwolf, Easy Rider (1969)

Steppenwolf's classic-rock staple became a hippie anthem once Dennis Hopper included it his tale of two dudes hitting the open road. Blasting over Hopper and Peter Fonda tooling down the highway on their Harleys, the song set off an explosion of soundtracks featuring the music of the '60s counterculture.—David Fear

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Watch the video for "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf



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