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Photo: Gramercy PicturesThe Big Lebowski

The 50 best uses of songs in movies

Time Out New York ranks the coolest soundtrack moments of all time

Matthew Singer
Edited by
Matthew Singer

Can you make a movie without music? Sure, plenty have. The real question, though, is should you? Let’s face facts: some of the greatest scenes in movie history are memorable precisely because they’re soundtracked by the perfect song. They’ve been called ‘needle drops’ – recognisable tunes that punctuate a film at just the right moment. And when done right, they don’t just elevate the moment, they become inextricably linked to it.

Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are generally considered the masters of the needle drop, and they’re well represented on this list of the best uses of songs in movies. But they’re far from the only filmmakers to have woven music into movies and made magic. To clarify, we excluded songs made specifically for the film itself – so that meant forgetting about ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. But that still left us with a ton of pop, rock, jazz and classical bangers to choose from. Here’s our playlist.


🎵 The 40 best musical movies of all-time
🎘  The 50 best songs from 80s movies
🎸 The 50 best 90s movies, ranked
🔥 The 100 best movies of all-time

50. “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away),” Enya, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

In David Fincher's latest antiseptic thriller, the murderer has all the usual instruments of torture: poison gas, sharp scalpels, immobilizing slings. But most harrowing of all? A taste for blasting Enya's cloying hit song at eye-glazing volume. (We don't have the clip—and wouldn't want to ruin the killer's identity for you anyway—but here's that cool trailer again.)—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Download "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)" by Enya

49. “Hip to Be Square,” Huey Lewis and the News, American Psycho (2000)

True to the spirit of the novel, this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's serial-killer satire uses Huey's catchy hit single to score the cutthroat dispatching of a Wall Street rival. Christian Bale alternates gleeful critical assessments with grisly ax thwacks, making this superficially slick '80s tune emblematic of the ultimate Reagan-era hollow man.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch American Psycho

Download “Hip to Be Square” on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News


48. “You Never Can Tell,” Chuck Berry, Pulp Fiction (1994)

Of the many peppy, pop-culture-charged scenes in Quentin Tarantino's landmark crime comedy, few pack the giddy punch of this Jack Rabbit Slim's musical number, set to a Chuck Berry jaunt. Uma Thurman slinks with feline grace, and John Travolta proves he's still got the Tony Manero moves.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch Pulp Fiction

Download "You Can Never Tell" on Amazon

Watch the video for "You Never Can Tell" by Chuck Berry

47. “He Needs Me,” Shelley Duvall, Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

The lilting love anthem from Robert Altman's 1980 Popaeye was brilliantly repurposed by Paul Thomas Anderson for his quirky romance: Adam Sandler races to join inamorata Emily Watson in Hawaii. When they finally embrace, the music flourishes and the rush is palpable.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch Punch-Drunk Love

Download "He Needs Me" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "He Needs Me" by Shelley Duvall


46. “Some Velvet Morning,” Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, Morvern Callar (2002)

A psychedelic groove of soap-opera strings and lyrical menace accompanies Samantha Morton, lost in her headphone cloud, as she cruises to her McJob at the supermarket. It's a perfectly rendered Gen-Whatever moment, an interior mood that few filmmakers have nailed as expertly as Scotland's Lynne Ramsay.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Morvern Callar

Download "Some Velvet Morning" on Amazon


Watch the video for "Some Velvet Morning" by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra

45. “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” Bob Dylan, Watchmen (2009)

Zack Snyder's faithful-to-a-fault adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's influential graphic novel is a dud, save its mesmerizing, Bob Dylan–scored opening-credits sequence. Dylan's folk prophecy poetically complements the history of the story's superhero protagonists, from their WWII heyday to a Vietnam-era fall from grace.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch Watchmen

Download "The Times They Area a-Changin'" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "The Times They Are a-Changin'" by Bob Dylan


44. “Natural’s Not in It,” Gang of Four, Marie Antoinette (2006)

Sofia Coppola's threading of anachronistic postpunk into her portrait of the 18th-century queen prompts head-scratching among historical purists. But kicking things off with Gang of Four's Marxist critique is inspired: The song immediately puts displays of conspicuous consumption within contextual air quotes. (Here's the trailer, with a taste of Gang of Four at the 0:30 mark, along with other artists.)—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch Marie Antoinette

Watch the video for "Natural's Not in It" by Gang of Four

43. “Danny Boy,” Frank Patterson, Miller's Crossing (1990)

It's ironic enough for an Irish crime boss to be assassinated in his bedroom while listening to this ballad. Yet the Coen brothers rev up the humor massively by having the wistful gent (the mighty Albert Finney) actually survive the hit, returning a hail of submachine-gun fire while his favorite song calmly concludes.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Miller's Crossing

Download "Danny Boy" on Amazon


Watch the video for "Danny Boy" by Frank Patterson


42. “These Days,” Nico, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Gwyneth Paltrow is immortalized as the alluring, raccoon-eyed Margot Tenenbaum in Wes Anderson's slo-mo tracking shot, which captures a sweet reunion, a hint of nostalgia and the filmmaker's signature coziness, all wrapped up in the Teutonic loveliness of Nico's quiet voice. If Anderson's choices were always this restrained, he'd be a giant.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch The Royal Tenenbaums

Download "These Days" on Amazon

Watch the video for "These Days" by Nico

41. “Imagine,” John Lennon, The Killing Fields (1984)

This Oscar-winning drama about an American journalist and his captured Cambodian translator uses John Lennon's hit to end on a high note. The former Beatle's wish-list lyrics and the moment's emotional uplift—a tearful reunion—make such utopian fantasies seem both noble and absolutely necessary.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch The Killing Fields

Download "Imagine" on Amazon


Watch the video for "Imagine" by John Lennon

40. "Making Time," the Creation, Rushmore (1998)

Here's the moment when Wes Anderson truly arrives, forever to live in the hearts of geeky obsessives with this montage of Max Fischer's extracurriculars, ranging from "bombardment society founder" to the director of the Max Fischer Players. The forgotten band that penned the tune, a lesser Who, supplies the attitude.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy Rushmore on Amazon

Download "Making Time" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Making Time" by the Creation

39. "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," the First Edition, The Big Lebowski (1998)

Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski knows his way around narcotics, but he's surely never had a trip quite like the bowling-alley dream sequence in the Coens' profanely funny comedy. Wagneresque chorines, scissor-wielding nihilists and a Kenny Rogers ditty combine for maximum, mind-altering surreality.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch The Big Lebowski

Download "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" by the First Edition


38. "Unchained Melody," the Righteous Brothers, Ghost (1990)

Many things about this supernatural drama are endearingly silly, including Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore’s sensual pottery session – but it would have much sillier if it were soundtracked by practically any song other than the Righteous Brothers’ blue-eyed soul classic, a song so swooning and ethereal you could put it over stock footage from a sausage factory and eyes would get misty. —Matthew Singer

Buy, rent or watch Ghost

Download "Unchained Melody" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers

37. "Patricia," Perez Prado Orchestra, La Dolce Vita (1960)

If the films of Federico Fellini can be likened to one glamorous late-night party, unbound and spinning out of control, then here's the organ-drenched soundtrack, equal parts prim and perverse. A drunk party girl sheds her clothes (and shame) in this, the most notorious scene of the director's career.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch La Dolce Vita

Download "Patricia" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Patricia" by Perez Prado Orchestra


36. "Head Over Heels," Tears for Fears, Donnie Darko (2001)

In a terrific early scene from Richard Kelly's cult debut, Jake Gyllenhaal's depressive, time-traveling outcast takes a long walk down his high-school hallway. Assembled into a single, unbroken take, it's as if we're gliding through one morning in our own angst-ridden teen existence—but with a better soundtrack.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch Donnie Darko

Download "Head Over Heels" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears

35. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the Rolling Stones, The Big Chill (1983)

Effortlessly evoking the disappointments of the boomer era, Mick Jagger's profound lyric lends weight to this movie's early knockout scene, a funeral procession for a suicide. As we get to know these reuniting friends, we only hope they'll get what they need. (This clip isn't the full sequence, but you get the vibe.)—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch The Big Chill

Download "You Can't Always Get What You Want" on Amazon

Watch the video for "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones


34. "California Dreamin'," the Mamas & the Papas, Chungking Express (1994)

The beaches of Malibu are a world way from the crowded noodle stalls of Hong Kong, but damned if director Wong Kar-wai doesn't make it work. His missed-connection romance, between a world-weary cop and a pixieish young woman, gets a dreamy injection of urban ennui via John Phillips & Co.'s '60s pop hit.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch Chunking Express

Download "California Dreamin'" on Amazon

Watch the video for "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas & the Papas

33. "I Got You Babe," Sonny & Cher, Groundhog Day (1993)

"Then put your little hand in mine," yowls Sonny Bono on the radio promptly at 6am, day after day after day, to the blinking frustration of cosmically trapped weatherman Bill Murray. Even as we laugh, the song's chorus takes on dark overtones—someone's "gotten" indeed. No other tune would have been as maddening.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Groundhog Day

Download "I Got You Babe" on Amazon

Watch the video for "I Got You Babe" by Sonny & Cher


32. "My Sharona," the Knack, Reality Bites (1994)

The quintessential scene from Ben Stiller's Gen-X-catering romance takes place in a Food Mart as Winona Ryder and up-and-comers Steve Zahn and Janeane Garofalo "ironically" get down to this exuberant new-wave track. An embarrassed Ethan Hawke cringes on behalf of all involved.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch Reality Bites

Download "My Sharona" on Amazon

Watch the video for "My Sharona" by the Knack

31. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane, Mo' Better Blues (1990)

Spike Lee originally named his jazz film after John Coltrane's epic four-part suite, before the musician's widow asked him to change the title. Thankfully, she let Lee borrow part of the song to add resonance to the movie's climax, in which Denzel Washington's troubled trumpeter starts a family and finally finds inner peace.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch now Mo' Better Blues

Download A Love Supreme on Amazon

Watch the video for A Love Supreme by John Coltrane

30. "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen, Wayne's World (1992)

Queen’s grandiosity was well out of vogue in the grunge ‘90s, and Saturday Night Live wasn’t exactly the cultural juggernaut it used to be, either. And yet, the combination of the two resulted in one of the most iconic movie moments of the entire decade, in what’s easily still the best big-screen spinoff of an SNL sketch ever. Wayne, Garth and friends’ headbanging singalong reinvigorated interest in the band just months after Freddie Mercury’s death, sending their then-17-year-old power ballad shooting to No. 2 on the charts and cementing it as a karaoke staple for the rest of time. It’s a better tribute to Queen’s legacy by itself than all of Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Download "Bohemian Rhapsody" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen

29. "Perfect Day," Lou Reed, Trainspotting (1996)

Whether Reed's tune is a direct reference to heroin has been long debated, but what isn't arguable is how effectively Danny Boyle employs it—as an overdosing Ewan McGregor imagines he's in a shag-carpeted coffin. The song's blissful lyrics make this junkie nightmare even more disturbing; it's the "perfect" example of needle-drop irony.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch Trainspotting

Download "Perfect Day" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Perfect Day" by Lou Reed


28. "Old Time Rock and Roll," Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Risky Business (1983)

From 1983—a time when the whole world could love Tom Cruise unreservedly—comes this euphoric scene of geeked-out underwear dancing, set to the scratchy bar-band stylings of Bob Seger. Cruise even jumps on a couch and it's okay.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Download "Old Time Rock and Roll" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

27. "Oh Yeah," Yello, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

John Hughes, that poet of teen-pop angst, was bound to appear on this list somewhere. Not so surprisingly, it's via this Swiss-recorded dance beat, a perfect complement to the Ferrari-stealing antics of the title character. Just try not smiling (devilishly) when you hear it.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Download "Oh Yeah" on Amazon


Watch the video for "Oh Yeah" by Yello


26. "Blue Moon," Sam Cooke, An American Werewolf in London (1981)

David Naughton's lupine transformation is set to Cooke's crooning cover of the Rodgers and Hart standard, making it the most memorable (and jarring) of John Landis's wink-nudge musical choices. Rick Baker's groundbreaking makeup work may bring on the howling, but this lunar ballad adds a dark dose of levity.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch An American Werewolf in London

Download "Blue Moon" on Amazon


Watch the video for "Blue Moon" by Sam Cooke

25. "Tiny Dancer," Elton John, Almost Famous (2000)

Never underestimate the healing power of Elton John: As the '70s rock band of Cameron Crowe's autobiographical drama piles into its tour bus, everyone's in a funk. Then this uplifting 1971 tribute to an L.A. lady comes on, and soon, everybody is singing along—including you.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch Almost Famous

Download "Tiny Dancer" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John


24. "Rock Around the Clock," Bill Haley and the Comets, Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Rock & roll was the soundtrack to juvenile delinquency, so how better to kick off a film about high-school hoodlums than with a real poodle-skirt scorcher? Bill Haley's 1954 B-side turned on tons of teens to this raucous new sound—the first use of rock music in a movie, but far from the last, Daddy-o.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch Blackboard Jungle

Download "Rock Around the Clock" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets

23. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," the Delfonics, Jackie Brown (1997)

This impassioned 1970s single is the soul of Quentin Tarantino's most romantic movie: Robert Forster's grizzled bail-bondsman hears the tune in the living room of beleaguered, beautiful client Pam Grier. It sends him from charmed to infatuated—and straight to the record store.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch Jackie Brown 

Download "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" by the Delfonics


22. "Hurdy Gurdy Man," Donovan, Zodiac (2007)

This near-primal scene starts with two young adults flirting in a Corvair at a lovers' lane, until the headlights of a mysterious car pull up behind them. Suddenly, the song on the radio can only signify evil. By the time David Fincher returns to Donovan's sinuous groove in his closing credits, the tune has been transformed. (A clearer clip of the scene is here.)—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Zodiac

Download "Hurdy Gurdy Man" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Hurdy Gurdy Man" by Donovan

21. "The Sound of Silence," Simon and Garfunkel, The Graduate (1967)

Hello darkness, my old friend: The signature track off the duo's 1966 album perfectly underscores Dustin Hoffman's descent into suburban bummersville, as the song's melody casts a melancholic pallor over his interchangeable lazy afternoons and numbing sexual trysts.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch The Graduate

Download "The Sound of Silence" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel

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

Buy, rent or watch The Silence of the Lambs

Download "Goodbye Horses" on Amazon 

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

Buy, rent or watch Mean Streets

Download "Be My Baby" on Amazon 

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

Buy, rent or watch Fight Club

Download "Where Is My Mind?" on Amazon

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

Buy, rent or watch The Hunger

Download "Bela Lugosi's Dead" on Amazon 

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

Buy, rent or watch Pee-wee's Big Adventure

Download "Tequila" on Amazon

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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Download "Ride of the Valkyries" on Amazon 

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

Buy, rent or watch Badlands

Download "Gassenhauer" on Amazon

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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Download "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" on Amazon

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

Buy, rent or watch Beau Travail

Download "The Rhythm of the Night" on Amazon 

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

Buy, rent or watch Easy Rider

Download "Born to Be Wild" on Amazon 

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

10. "Sister Christian," Night Ranger/"Jessie's Girl," Rick Springfield, Boogie Nights (1997)

The sad rise and fall of porn star Dirk Diggler reaches its catharsis in this legendary sequence, a drug deal gone awry. First, we're introduced to the den of berobed crackhead Alfred Molina, jamming to his "awesome" mixtape and the aggressive triumphalism of Night Ranger's hair-metal anthem. Then (after an unexpected cassette flip) the music shifts to Rick Springfield's puppy-eyed rocker, as our hero slips into a dangerous situation beyond his control. Watch Mark Wahlberg's complex close-up as the chorus builds: He's half in awe of the song—perhaps it's the kind of music Dirk wishes he himself could record—and half cognizant of his own ruination. For all of his subsequent genius, director Paul Thomas Anderson has never eclipsed this scene.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Boogie Nights

Download "Sister Christian" on Amazon

Download "Jessie's Girl" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Sister Christian" by Night Ranger and "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield

9. "Layla," Derek and the Dominoes, Goodfellas (1990)

One could cull a top-ten-song list just from Martin Scorsese's landmark crime epic, the most influential movie of the 1990s. The director was yoking pop music and images with a deftness no one could touch; for the sake of our list, we'll go with this montage of whacked comrades, set to the forlorn piano outro of Eric Clapton's early-'70s radio staple. The party is over as goons meet their long-telegraphed ends: slain in a pink Caddy, hanging in a meat truck and gunned down in the private living room of a "made guy," where a promotion takes a shocking turn. Even as you watched the sequence for the first time, it felt like a classic—and still does. (We can't embed the specific part, but here's a link to it.)—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Goodfellas

Download "Layla" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "Layla" by Derek and the Dominoes


8. Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield, The Exorcist (1973)

The most signature piece of music to ever grace a horror movie (and now an instant evocation of creeping doom), Mike Oldfield's prog-rock composition was selected for this 1973 blockbuster's opening theme after an entire original score was rejected by director William Friedkin. In the piece's tinkling piano and synths, you can hear a premonition of the iconic soundtracks of John Carpenter to come. Early in the film itself, you seen Ellen Burstyn strolling down a leaf-strewn Georgetown street. Children cavort in costume—it's Halloween. Nuns pass, their robes billowing in ghostly waves. Suddenly Burstyn stops, noticing two priests having a heart-to-heart conversation. "There's not a day in my life that I don't feel like a fraud," one of them says, anguished. Everyone's faith is about to be tested. (Above is the trailer—brace yourself—and here's a link to the scene.)—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch The Exorcist

Download Tubular Bells on Amazon 

Watch the video for Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield

7. Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin, Manhattan (1979)

Gershwin wrote his groundbreaking high-art-meets-lowbrow work in 1924 as a "musical kaleidoscope of America." But after fellow Brooklynite Woody Allen set his film's opening montage of local landmarks and crowded avenues to the composer's signature tune, you can't help but think of one specific city whenever you hear those joyously jazz-inflected fanfares. Cinematographer Gordon Willis's peerless black-and-white Gotham tour combined with Gershwin's vintage ode fully captures the poetry and sound of the streets. This is late-'70s NYC recast as an old-fashioned urban wonderland, a version of past and present Manhattans linked together with every skyscraper shot and slinky piano run.—David Fear

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Download Rhapsody in Blue on Amazon

Watch the video for Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin


6. "Stuck in the Middle with You," Stealers Wheel, Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Tarantino has already made several appearances on our list, yet here is the sequence that stands above all his others. QT places Stealers Wheel's benign folk-pop tune over an unlikely scene in which a cop is tortured at great length by the psychotic, razor-wielding Michael Madsen. What starts as a playfully meta moment with "Mr. Blonde" doing some swaggering dance moves turns deadly serious by the time of the infamous ear slicing, when the song's playful cries of "Pl-ee-ee-ease!" might double as unanswered cries for mercy. Along with Tarantino's impeccable musical taste, it makes for an instantly memorable set piece—the first of many in the filmmaker's oeuvre.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch Resevoir Dogs

Download "Stuck in the Middle with You" on Amazon

Watch the video for "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel

5. "In Your Eyes," Peter Gabriel, Say Anything... (1989)

Let's say your true love has broken up with you, and you're going to blast something on a boom box outside their window to win them back. Most people would probably pick one of the era's soft-rock hits or power ballads; then again, most people aren't Lloyd Dobler. Kudos to Cameron Crowe for picking Peter Gabriel's sincere confessional as the perfect offbeat choice for John Cusack's heart-on-his-sleeve hero to serenade dream girl Ione Skye. Thanks to the combo of the song's testimony to soulmate salvation and Cusack's misfit sensitivity, the scene has become an iconic moment of hopeless romanticism, parodied a million times over yet still able to bring tears to our eyes.—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch Say Anything...

Download "In Your Eyes" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel


4. "We'll Meet Again," Vera Lynn, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Vera Lynn's sentimental 1939 tune became a WWII anthem for the British, a heartfelt promise that England's sons and daughters would be reunited come what may and normal existence would resume. Stanley Kubrick's repurposing of Vera Lynn's keep-your-chin-up ditty for his satirical zero-sum game, however, put a stake through any prevailing notions of optimism; life after wartime was a now thing of the past. In an era when sick humor was the only sane reaction to notions of nuclear Armageddon, Kubrick's keenly realized callback to this old favorite, playing over a parade of mushroom clouds, goes way beyond irony. It's a punch line to the blackest joke imaginable. (Our clip includes the scene beforehand.)—David Fear

Buy, rent or watch Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Download "We'll Meet Again" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "We'll Meet Again" by Vera Lynn

3. "The End," the Doors, Apocalypse Now (1979)

Jim Morrison's spellbinding 12-minute dirge was originally intended as a breakup song, but with its explicit evocations of patricide and incest (as well as the lead singer's animalistic vocalizations), the tune evolved into something more allegorical, a larger consideration of the violent beast inside us all. The mythic stature of this pop magnum opus only increased when Francis Ford Coppola placed it over the trancelike prologue of his 1979 Vietnam war epic. Helicopters slide cagily through the frame, a forest is devastated in a slo-mo napalm bombing, and Martin Sheen's somnolent visage—caught somewhere between dream and reality—floats over it all. Morrison and the band's apocalyptic lament evokes the horrors of a war as vividly and aptly as do the images.—Keith Uhlich

Buy, rent or watch now Apocalypse Now

Download "The End" on Amazon 

Watch the video for "The End" by the Doors


2. "In Dreams," Roy Orbison, Blue Velvet (1986)

"Candy-colored clown...," requests the deranged Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) to his dandyish friend Ben (Dean Stockwell) in a womblike parlor. What has curious collegian Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) gotten himself into? David Lynch's epochal 1986 freak-out doesn't lack outr sequences, but there's something especially unnerving about this prolonged detour behind suburban closed doors (freaky ladies sitting around listlessly, Hopper's terrifyingly bug-eyed countenance). It famously climaxes with Ben lip-synching to Roy Orbison's soaring lost-love ballad using a work light as a microphone. It's a nightmare you never want to wake up from.—Keith Uhlich

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1. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Richard Strauss, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

It builds, softly, with three ascending notes...then an eruption of strings and woodwinds, punctuated by colossal timpani hits. That's when the light crests over a gigantic planet—the view of a sunrise as seen from an orbiting space station, or witnessed by God Himself. Stanley Kubrick wanted to use classical compositions instead of the commissioned (and discarded) Alex North score to attain an appropriately massive soundtrack to his cerebral sci-fi masterpiece, and Richard Strauss's tone poem supplies the film's opening moments with an immediate sense of scope and grandeur: This is what the majesty of the universe sounds like. Everyone from Elvis Presley to the makers of cat-food commercials has since hijacked this Nietzsche-inspired work for their grand entrances, but Kubrick got there first; by the time 2001's title credit shows up under that sustained musical burst, the combination of sound and image has already transported you to infinity and beyond.—David Fear

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