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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“When Doves Cry” by Prince (Purple Rain, 1984)

Twenty-six years old and at the peak of his purple pomp and power, Prince Rogers Nelson not only managed to write this stone-cold classic track in a single night, he also recorded and produced the whole thing single-handedly. A radical sound (baroque synths, slamming drum machine and a gaping void where the bassline should be) and ultravivid lyrics based on the stupendously vain Purple Rain plot made it the biggest-selling single of 1984. Even covers by Ginuwine and Damien Rice haven’t killed its strange allure.—James Manning

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“A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran (A View to a Kill, 1985)

The James Bond franchise has always had a knack for memorable songs, and you could argue that Duran Duran’s theme for A View to a Kill—the 14th film in the series, and the last to feature Roger Moore—was the best thing about an adventure flick otherwise afflicted by a superannuated leading man, Christopher Walken’s looney scenery-munching, and two of the dimmest Bond girls ever in Tanya Roberts and Grace Jones. Despite all that, hearing John Taylor’s basslines pop in surround sound was worth the cost of admission.—Steve Smith

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“Maniac” by Michael Sembello (Flashdance, 1983)

Okay, Flashdance checklist time: Jennifer Beals in spandex? Present and correct. Montage of vigorous dance training (and butt shaking) ready to go? Affirmative. All we need now is the ultimate fast-paced, smooth disco song to set it all off. Step forward, Mr. Michael Sembello, with this cowbell-tickling beauty. Sembello actually has a great pedigree as a musician—he played with Stevie Wonder as a teen, then later with Donna Summer, the Temptations, Michael Jackson and more. The world, however, will only remember him as the guy that soundtracked the ass gymnastics of Jennifer Beals. I’m sure he’s okay with that.—Oliver Keens

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“Pretty in Pink” by the Psychedelic Furs (Pretty in Pink, 1986)

If you’re going to make a movie in which your protagonist works at an oh-so-hip indie record store, you better make sure the soundtrack is equally cool. The accompanying album for this Molly Ringwald vehicle was filled with tunes by cult Brit faves like New Order and the Smiths. Though OMD’s “If You Leave” is the more enduring hit, the Psychedelic Furs’ tune (for which the movie was named) is the better song if you, like Ringwald’s Andie, ever felt like a weirdo and an outcast. (Let’s just forget that Andie hooks up with Andrew McCarthy’s cool guy and pretend that she stayed weird and kept working at Trax forever, okay? Okay.)—Amy Plitt

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“People Are Strange” by Echo & the Bunnymen (The Lost Boys, 1987)

Gloomy Brit rockers Echo & the Bunnymen were, in retrospect, a perfect choice for this cover: The band’s faithful-but-sorta-gothy rendition of the Doors’ 1967 hit set the right tone for The Lost Boys’ opening credits, which show the freaks and hippies and punks—and, ominously, missing children—that occupy the fictional town of Santa Carla, California. The tune was produced by original Doors member Ray Manzarek, which is the only explanation for the extended (and, ahem, unnecessary) keyboard jam in the middle of the song.—Amy Plitt

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“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes (An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982)

Pairing beautiful actors Richard Gere and Debra Winger in a smoldering romantic drama amounts to a no-brainer, so it's no surprise that An Officer and a Gentleman amounted to big box office. But there's no denying that a big part of the film's impact came from the unlikely "Beauty and the Beast"–style teaming of boozy English howler Joe Cocker (best known in 1982 from John Belushi's mimickry) and gently yodeling American cult-favorite singer Jennifer Warnes, in a sentimental ballad by all-star tunesmiths Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Will Jennings. "The song is no good. It isn't a hit," film producer Don Simpson said, but history begged to differ. —Steve Smith

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“She’s Like the Wind” by Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing, 1987)

Young minds will accept a lot of incomprehensible nonsense in the name of a good pop song, but was there a single teen who heard the first line of this song and didn’t do a double take: “She’s like the wind…through my tree.” What? Really? Huh. I mean, I guess… Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze contributed this song to the movie that soundtracked a billion prepubescent girls’ fantasies of what romance could be. Did it matter that the sheeny ’80s arrangement of the song was totally anachronistic to the film’s 1960s setting? Of course not. All that mattered was that Johnny was driving away while Baby cried. On YouTube, this is titled “Dirty Dancing sad scene.” Were truer words ever spoken?—Sophie Harris

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“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears (Real Genius, 1985)

Tears for Fears’ career peak, this spent two weeks at No. 1 in America in the first summer of Reagan’s second term, two months before the movie hit. The riff is the theme—chiming beach guitars that lead into two doomy keyboard chords. It lent an air of Cold War dread to a lighthearted college comedy that ends by condemning the military industrial complex’s exploitation of science. Thanks to Val Kilmer, indoor waterslides, laser-cooked popcorn, secret subdormitory lairs and this song, the movie showed that nerds can be cool and puckish.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“I Melt With You” by Modern English (Valley Girl, 1983)

Ah, back to the days when Nic Cage was a (believable) hunky male lead and “falling in love” montages were, like, totally a thing. British new-wavers Modern English released this one-hit wonder in 1982, and a year later—after reaching No. 7 on Billboard’s Top Tracks and getting decent airplay on MTV—it became Valley Girl’s romantic ballad, helping us believe in love between a pastel-pink Val gal and a punk-rock city slicker. The lyrics describe a couple making love as nuclear bombs fall, which we think Randy would have been pretty into. Fer sure.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins (Top Gun, 1986)

Loggins continued his soundtrack streak, which included hits from Caddyshack and Footloose, with this fist-pumper from Top Gun. Used in the film’s opening scene, “Danger Zone” sets the tone for what’s to follow: lots of aerodynamic stunts, confrontations between hotheaded dudes and a whole lot of jingoistic fervor. Reportedly, the film’s success led to a bump in Navy recruitment—no big surprise, since it looks like one big commercial for the armed forces.—Amy Plitt

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Users say

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.

Listen to Time Out's 50 best ’80s movie songs playlist on Spotify

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