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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The top 10 songs from ’80s movies (slide show)

  • “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Pretty in Pink, 1986)

    It’s a classic prom-DJ rookie mistake: playing the same song over and over again on a seemingly endless loop. But if the formal faux pas must be made, as it is during the climactic scenes of the 1986 John Hughes–written Cinderella story, Pretty in Pink, let the song be the yearning, melancholic, yet totally danceable “If You Leave,” by British new-wavers OMD. After all, whether your date is a Blane or a Duckie, there is no better setting than the prom to make this impassioned plea: “Promise me just one more night, then we’ll go our separate ways.” Score!—Michael Chen

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  • “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” by John Parr (St. Elmo’s Fire, 1985)

    Watch the Brat Packers ache beautifully: Rob Lowe, adorned with a sax strap but no instrument, can’t put his horndogging ways behind him. Demi Moore is too coked-up to avoid sleeping with married men. And Judd Nelson has to somehow become okay with being Judd Nelson. How dazzling, then, that given these specific psychological issues, a perfect theme song was found in an anthem written months earlier, for wheelchair-bound Canadian athlete Rick Hansen, the original “man in motion.” Two-hit wonder John Parr moaned the lyrics, but the schmaltz should be properly credited to composer David Foster, who never kicked a cheesy synth-trumpet sound out of bed for eating crackers.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin (Top Gun, 1986)

    Tom Cruise, having already bonked Rebecca De Mornay on a Chicago El train to the strains of Phil Collins in Risky Business, mounts Kelly McGillis in soft blue light to the erotic keyboard riff of Berlin’s Oscar winner. The L.A. band finally earned its name, working with a titan of the German discotheque scene. Giorgio Moroder—the genius behind cinematic classics like Blondie’s “Call Me,” “The NeverEnding Story,” “Chase” and more—slow-jams it down to the point where the synth-bass line twangs like a Japanese shamisen. It’s hard to believe this is the man who made “I Feel Love.” Much like it’s hard to believe Top Gun director Tony Scott shot this jingoist flick after The Hunger, which spun MTV and advertising editing techniques into abstract gothic art. Not only can pioneering artists make sex-glossed pop for the masses, they do it better than the rest.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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  • “Purple Rain” by Prince (Purple Rain, 1984)

    The album that accompanied His Purpleness’s 1984 flick isn’t merely a good soundtrack; it’s one of the most innovative records of the past few decades—maybe even of all time. Miraculously, the Academy Awards recognized that too—the album earned the Best Original Song Score Oscar in 1985. (To accept the award, Prince wore a sparkly purple cape, and brought Lisa and Wendy with him to the stage. Of course.) The title ballad provides the film’s climactic moment, when Prince’s character, the Kid, realizes his potential (with the help of Lisa and Wendy, who, in the film’s lore, provided the song’s inspiration), and becomes a star.—Amy Plitt

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  • “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel (Say Anything…, 1989)

    If there exists a more indelible image of a pining lover trying to get through to a former flame than the sight of John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, boom box hoisted overhead to reach Ione Skye’s Diane Court, then we have yet to see it. Instrumental in transforming Peter Gabriel from art-rock loon to adult-rock sophisticate, “In Your Eyes” got an added touch of swoonworthy oomph from Youssou N’Dour’s soaring support vocals.—Steve Smith

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  • “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (Dirty Dancing, 1987)

    Before the sex scene that launched a thousand suburban pottery studios, Patrick Swayze made our hearts throb as misunderstood dance instructor Johnny Castle in this young-love story. The duet soundtracks the movie’s finale, its lyrics standing in for dialogue while Johnny and Baby say it all with their eyes and their hips. At the first chorus, even the dancing stops for a moment—all action is suspended as Medley and Warnes’s voices take center stage. The sweetest moment hits just after the five minute mark, when Swayze actually mouths the words to the song, just like your actual boyfriend would.—Sarah Theeboom

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  • “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins (Footloose, 1984)

    The Mount Rushmore of 1980s movie songwriters looks like this: Kenny Loggins, Kenneth Loggins, Ken “The Log” Loggins, Kenny freakin’ Loggins. After dumping ’70s yacht-folk songwriting partner Jim Messina, this son of the American West Coast trimmed his beard, teased his mullet and went mainstream pop. “I’m Alright” in Caddyshack. “Playing with the Boys,” from the homoerotic volleyball scene in Top Gun. And his apex, “Footloose.” A jumped-up, plastic rockabilly lick powers this gleefully dumb shuffle, which soundtracked Kevin Bacon’s grudge-dancing in an empty barn, a classic cheeseball musical montage of choreographed frustration that would later be applied to detention (The Breakfast Club), skateboarding (Gleaming the Cube) and groin stretching (Bloodsport).—Brent DiCrescenzo

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  • “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News (Back to the Future, 1985)

    Who cares that no one can remember which Back to the Future scene this smash single appears in? (Okay, nerds, it’s right at the beginning, when Marty’s skateboarding to school, and later, when he kisses Jennifer.) The song’s pulverizing power renders all nit-picking irrelevant. Listen to “The Power of Love” now—go on, hit play!—and you’ll get that same rush of excitement you felt the first time you saw the DeLorean open its gull-wing doors in the movie. Great Scott!—Sophie Harris

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  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. (Ghostbusters, 1984)

    Who you gonna call? Ghostmashers!!! Right? No? Believe it or not, Ghostmashers was Dan Aykroyd’s original vision for Ghostbusters, a movie that changed the way kids would think about ghosts (and marshmallows) forever. Let us rejoice that good sense prevailed, and Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song was given wings to become one of cinema’s greatest and silliest anthems. Watch the delightful video, crank up the volume and wonder why anyone bothered making pop music or movies at all after this gigantic cultural peak.—Sophie Harris

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  • “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club, 1985)

    There are some truly great songs on this list, but none that strike at your emotional jugular quite the way “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” does—right from the get-go. Can you honestly say you’ve never air-guitar-ed along to those opening two chords? Or yelped along to Jim Kerr’s outrageous “Hey! Hey! Hey! Heeeey!” chant that immediately follows? Yet part of the song’s tremendous power is the way it keeps pulling away just as its excitement peaks: “Will you walk away?” murmurs Kerr as the song faux-fades, before its final climax.

    “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was the perfect match for John Hughes’s gorgeous teen study The Breakfast Club. We watched the kids transform before our eyes, but we simply didn’t know if any of these newfound identities would stick for longer than a weekend. In the context of the movie, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays as a lover’s forget-me-not—but equally as plea to those newly discovered selves. (The teens’ note to the assistant principal reads, “What we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.”) And with Judd Nelson’s righteous fist pump at the movie’s end, how could we ever forget?—Sophie Harris

     Download on Amazon

“If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Pretty in Pink, 1986)

It’s a classic prom-DJ rookie mistake: playing the same song over and over again on a seemingly endless loop. But if the formal faux pas must be made, as it is during the climactic scenes of the 1986 John Hughes–written Cinderella story, Pretty in Pink, let the song be the yearning, melancholic, yet totally danceable “If You Leave,” by British new-wavers OMD. After all, whether your date is a Blane or a Duckie, there is no better setting than the prom to make this impassioned plea: “Promise me just one more night, then we’ll go our separate ways.” Score!—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon



Watch the videos: The top 10


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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