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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“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (Rocky III, 1982)

We’ll wager that it’s physically impossible to hear the fiery opening riff of this song and not want to punch the living daylights out of Mr. T in a boxing ring. Or Sylvester Stallone, depending on which fighter you rooted for in Rocky III, the film that “Eye of the Tiger” was written for (apparently at Stallone’s personal request, after the rights for Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” couldn’t be secured). Either way, it’s a heavyweight knockout of an ’80s air-guitar classic.—Tristan Parker

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“Oh Yeah” by Yello (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986)

Does anyone hear these synth drums and vari-speed vocals without picturing Cameron’s dad’s ill-fated Ferrari? This electronic oddity from Swiss band Yello is now synonymous with covetousness of all kinds—playing behind fast cars, women walking out of pools and even ice-cold bottles of beer. But John Hughes did it first, using the 1985 single to illustrate the pure lust with which two teenage boys drink in a bright red, 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder. Oh yeah.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Holiday Road” by Lindsey Buckingham (National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983)

Buckingham was perhaps the first bedroom musician working in the multiplatinum mainstream. The songs of the Fleetwood Mac guitarist always exuded a youthful, homespun charm, as he stacked his clean, busy guitar picking and boyish vocals into giddy, nostalgic shuffles. “Holiday Road” used only 23 words, turning orgasm harmonies and synthetic hand claps and dog barks—the cheap effects that came with your Casio keyboard—into a pop masterpiece. The video is surprisingly dark, depicting office work as dystopian slavery. “It’s a long way down the holiday road” becomes more Orwellian than John Hughesian.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“Kokomo” by The Beach Boys (Cocktail, 1988)

How powerful was “Kokomo”? Along with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” this sunny taste of tropical bliss made the soundtrack for an otherwise unremarkable Tom Cruise film one of 1988’s biggest albums. The song also resuscitated the flagging fortunes of the Beach Boys, earning them a record for the longest span between No. 1 chart hits (from 1966’s “Good Vibrations” to this one). Still, one demographic had ample cause to resent “Kokomo”: travel agents besieged by morons trying to book trips to the fictitious paradise.—Steve Smith

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“Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera (The Karate Kid, Part II, 1986)

The golden age of Cetera reached a glorious apex with this slow-dance classic from the second installment of the iconic ’80s martial arts trilogy (sorry, Hilary Swank, we’re electing to forget The Next Karate Kid was ever made). The Karate Kid, Part II revisits plotlines set forth by its predecessor—underdog hero Daniel LaRusso is still shooting for girls way out of his league (in this case the radiant Tamlyn Tomita) while trying to avoid becoming a bully’s punching bag—but the sequel ups the ante by shifting the scene to Japan and introducing themes of familial honor and communal duty. Like a knight in an oversize cable-knit sweater, former Chicago frontman and black-belt balladeer Cetera swooped in to score a knockout hit that fittingly oozes both glory and love.—Michael Chen

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“Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop, 1984)

This insanely catchy synth-pop earworm is the only conceivable reason why you would know the name Harold Faltermeyer—unless you’re a deeply devoted student of ’80s pop, in which case you know the German keyboardist, composer and producer regularly punched keys and twiddled knobs for Donna Summer, Patti LaBelle, Glenn Frey and (gasp) La Toya Jackson, among others. Harold F. burnished his fame with another Grammy-winning theme, 1987’s “Top Gun Anthem,” but we prefer the tune that reminds us of Eddie Murphy’s horsey laugh.—Steve Smith

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“When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” by Billy Ocean (The Jewel of the Nile, 1985)

An upbeat slice of squeaky-clean neoprene soul from the tidy English R&B star behind “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run),” this bubbly hit might have been the best thing about The Jewel of the Nile, sequel to the 1984 smash adventure-comedy Romancing the Stone. Paradoxically, the best thing about the official video—Jewel stars Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito as dancing, lip-synching backing vocalists—got the clip banned by the BBC, since the celebs weren’t union members.—Steve Smith

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“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship (Mannequin, 1987)

Blame—or thank, depending on your perspective—perpetual hit-maker Diane Warren for this glorious bit of cheese. The tune itself is your standard ’80s synth-driven ballad, performed by the third coming of Jefferson Airplane (yes, the same group responsible for “We Built This City”). Though it hews close to the plot of Mannequin—a man and his magical department-store dummy against the world!—the song’s theme of love conquering all was universal enough to make it a worldwide smash. Cowritten by Albert Hammond Sr., the song was one of Warren’s earliest hits, leading to her first Oscar and Grammy nominations.—Amy Plitt

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“Cry Little Sister” by Gerard McMann (The Lost Boys, 1987)

Before Twilight or The Vampire Diaries, there was this teen vampire horror flick, starring the two Coreys (Haim, RIP, and Feldman) in their first role together, and a baby-faced Kiefer Sutherland. The coterie of bloodsuckers at the film’s center were dressed up in goth garb (it was the mid-’80s, when that kind of thing was still considered weird); the movie’s theme song, by British songwriter Gerard McMann, is similarly goth-lite, sounding like what would result if a Hollywood exec listened to a Sisters of Mercy album and asked for a blockbuster-friendly copycat.—Amy Plitt

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“Flashdance… What a Feeling” by Irene Cara (Flashdance, 1983)

Who knew that welding could be so damn sexy? The producers of Flashdance obviously did, and so did ’80s disco don Giorgio Moroder, who cowrote this HiNRG pop workout to soundtrack the film. Jennifer Beals’s exotic-dancer–welder protagonist also seems to dig the track as she writhes around a gym to it, watched creepily by her dog.—Tristan Parker

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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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