The 50 best songs from ’80s movies

Bust out your leg warmers and warm up your Roger Rabbit—it’s time to hit the ’80s disco of your dreams

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40

“We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” by Tina Turner (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985)

Could there be anyone more perfect to sing the opening lines of this song than Tina Turner? “Out from the ruins,” she rasps. “Out from the wreckage… Can’t make the same mistakes this time.” Of course, in the context of postapocalyptic desert fantasy Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Turner is singing as Aunty Entity, ruler of outlaw outpost Bartertown. But Turner’s real-life story as a true soul survivor imbues the song and her performance in the movie with something truly extraordinary. Hail, warrior queen!—Sophie Harris

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39
“Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)” by Phil Collins (1984)

“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins (Against All Odds, 1984)

There’s a certain class of song within this list—those soundtrack tunes that far outperformed their movies. You don’t realize that this most powerful and ballady of power ballads is from a Jeff Bridges cheese-noir flick until you go searching for it on No Jacket Required. We have become so used to terrible romances lifting their titles from established songs, we forget that some songs became established via terrible romances. A leftover from his 1981 solo debut, “Against All Odds” gave the former Genesis man his first American No. 1 hit in 1984.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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38

“Crazy for You” by Madonna (Vision Quest, 1985)

Does anyone, other than amateur wrestlers, remember Vision Quest, in which Matthew Modine played a high-school wrestler romantically pinned by an older woman (Linda Fiorentino)? Most likely the only thing most people recall about the flick is the onscreen debut of Madonna, who performs the most indelibly winsome ballad of her career (“Can’t you feel the weight of my stare?”) in the role of a local bar singer. So potent was the song that the film was renamed Crazy for You in the U.K. and Australia.—Steve Smith

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37

“Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen (Dirty Dancing, 1987)

Sure, the rhymes are suspect (“Hungry eyes/I feel the magic between you and I”). And the grammar is downright deplorable (same line: “between you and I”). But this isn’t about rules. Rules are what brought us to this sticky predicament in the Catskills, summer 1963. No, this is about unleashing the carnal, forbidden passion that rebellious hip-shaker Patrick Swayze and good-girl-going-bad Jennifer Grey feel, locked in a gaze as they tighten their frame on the dance floor. All by himself, underrated hit-maker Eric Carmen delivers the magic and then some.—Michael Chen

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36

“Together in Electric Dreams” by Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (Electric Dreams, 1984)

Soundtracking the mood of a film that depicts a lighthearted love triangle among a man, a woman and a computer isn’t easy, but the Human League’s Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder nailed it here. The upbeat, sunny synth chords, bouncy computer rhythms and Oakey’s soaring vocals will force a smile even if you’ve just been dumped by both your human partner and your laptop.—Tristan Parker

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35

“The NeverEnding Story” by Limahl (The NeverEnding Story, 1984)

The aural equivalent of soaring through clouds on Falkor’s back, this never-ending theme song glides from fade-in to fade-out with almost no buildup in between. But who needs structure when you have that divine descending vocal run floating over impressionist washes of synth? That Midas of pop music, Giorgio Moroder, had his golden fingers all over this track, so it should surprise no one that its English and French versions topped the charts all over Europe that year. At the start of the video clip, U.K. singer Limahl mugs into the camera with a smoldering seriousness that would be laughable if he didn’t also have the mullet to pull it off.—Sarah Theeboom

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34

“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon (Working Girl, 1988)

Melanie Griffith is your average outer-boroughs girl dreaming of making it in the world of teased hair, cinch-waisted trench coats and capes that is 1980s Wall Street. She commutes by boat to Manhattan, as Carly Simon sings of silver cities rising in the fog with enough pomp to make the Staten Island Ferry seem like a golden steamship full of salt-of-the-earth immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Simon’s semispiritual mumbo jumbo is all “We Are the World” chorus, all the time, set to a pseudo-African rhythm in slo-mo. It’s a chorus as wide and high as Sigourney Weaver’s shoulder pads, with that epic octave jump. There’s no way Simon could have intended the lump in the throat that arrives when seeing the World Trade Center in the video, but it’s there all the same.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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33

“The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper (The Goonies, 1985)

Arrr, mateys, no treasure hunt be complete without this spunky Cyndi Lauper hit accompanying the swashbuckling exploits. A perfect musical representation of the plucky “Goonies never say die!” spirit, “Good Enough” also gave us a two-part gem of a video that stars a treasure trove of ’80s notables—Mikey, Chunk, Data and the rest of the Goonies gang; Lauper’s adopted WWF wrestling family (the Fabulous Moolah, the Iron Sheik, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper); Goonies creator and producer Steven Spielberg; and Lauper’s friends, a then-unknown all-girl band called the Bangles. When adventure’s afoot, put on your “slick shoes,” fire up this track, do the “Truffle Shuffle” and, no matter what, don’t go up Troy’s bucket!—Michael Chen

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32

“Put a Little Love in Your Heart” by Annie Lennox & Al Green (Scrooged, 1988)

Originally a sweet and cooing hit for Jackie DeShannon in 1968, this gooey, soulful number was given a full-on ’80s power remake for the movie Scrooged, performed by a twosome that only a movie studio could dream up: Annie Lennox and Al Green. The clap-along gospel rhythm and showboating vocal coda even managed to put a smile on Bill Murray’s miserly face in the movie.—Oliver Keens

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31

“Absolute Beginners” by David Bowie (Absolute Beginners, 1986)

Directors, beware. When you commission Bowie to pen your cinematic theme, he is more likely to follow his own muse. “Absolute Beginners” is the Thin White Duke at a midlife crisis, reflecting on his own past. It is a sad and fatalistic song, about starting over while knowing that you cannot. Bowie gave his session players vague commands, like “Think green” and “Sound Brazilian.” The result was a melancholic recasting of the jazz-club rock & roll of Aladdin Sane. Bowie, then 39, casually leans up against the stiff groove as if it were a streetlight. The verses languidly hold on for 40 bars—Bowie never wants it to end, but knows that it must. This would be his last commercial chart hit, almost willfully. God knows what it has to do with Julian Temple’s too bright and bowdlerized musical film of 1950s mores. The movie bombed, partly because it could hardly live up to the expectations set forth by its brilliant theme.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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Watch the videos: 40–31


Users say

3 comments
Kevin L
Kevin L

C'mon, guys -- how could you miss "This Woman's Work," by Kate Bush (from "She's Having a Baby," 1988)?  That song would make the songwriters of almost every other song on your list blush, especially a ghostbuster song!? 

Roman T
Roman T moderator

How The Power of Love isn't number one is beyond me.

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