The best music moments in movies: perfect songs for perfect scenes
Great music choices in brilliant movies.
Sometimes, a song fits in a movie so perfectly that it's hard to imagine the scene without it. At the same time, it's then impossible to hear that song without thinking of the scene. Yes, we're thinking mainly of Stuck In The Middle With You on that latter point.
Here are our top 20 moments where music and movie meet in perfect harmony.
Best music moments in movies
1. Reservoir Dogs (1992) - Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealer's Wheel)
Tarantino's genius when it comes to selecting music for his films is beyond doubt, having repeated the trick too many times for it to be a fluke. However, possibly his greatest moment was this skewing of Stealer's Wheel's jovial 70s hit to become the soundtrack for an excruciating torture scene. Hold on to your ears.
2. Rocky III (1982) - Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor)
It's a montage, with Eye of the Tiger. What could be more amazing than that?
3. Fight Club (1999) - Where Is My Mind (The Pixies)
It's an obvious one, but no less powerful because of it. David Fincher knew what song to end the movie on - Where is my Mind indeed.
4. Apocalypse Now (1979) - The End (The Doors)
What a way to start a film. The Doors' epic masterpiece soundtracks a seven-minute montage which sets the scene for what's about to come. Mindblowingly good.
5. Easy Rider (1969) - Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)
A use of music so successful that the song was almost immediately adopted as a biker anthem following the film's release. And to think it was originally only used as a placeholder, with director Peter Fonda having wanted Crosby, Stills and Nash to record the soundtrack. Get your motor running people.
6. Wayne's World (1992) - Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
It's an obvious one, but a goodie. Bohemian Rhapsody was, of course, already regarded as an all-time classic with some pretty tasty visuals of its own but Wayne's World came along and added more with the iconic headbanging scene when Freddie and the gang bring in the rock bit. Don't pretend you've never done this yourself, 'cos you know you have.
7. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) - Oh Yeah (Yello)
A 1961 Ferrari and a kid bunking school. What could go wrong? Oh yeah.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Richard Strauss)
Stanley Kubrick's use of Strauss' piece never fails to set the hairs on the back of your neck on end. So effective, and so famous that it has become practically shorthand for "entrance music" ever since; including, brilliantly, being used as the theme music for the Apollo space program.
9. The Graduate (1967) - The Sound Of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel)
An inspired, and at the time, unusual choice by Mike Nichols and Sam O'Steen, The Sound of Silence had already been a hit single some three years earlier. They used the track intending to substitute it for original music as was the style at the time, but found that the lyrics - expressing the thoughts of Benjamin Braddock that he cannot share with anyone else - and atmosphere fitted too well to be changed. 36 years on, they definitely made the right choice.
10. Trainspotting (1996) - Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Danny Boyle, like Tarantino, is incredibly adept at finding the right music for the right moment, with no finer example than this brilliant use of Lou Reed's anthem to soundtrack Renton's overdose. Calming, disturbing, nostalgic and scary all at once. A bit like Lou himself to be fair.
11. The Exorcist (1973) - Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield)
Possibly the most famous of all pop music used in movies, this quasi-classical motif will forever be associated with chills down the back of the spine, and general eeriness. Its use also set Virgin Records and Richard Branson on the course to greatness, so if you enjoyed Virgin Coke, you have Mike, and The Exorcist to thank.
12. Goodfellas (1990) - Layla (Derek & The Dominoes)
Debate rages about why Scorsese chose the second half of Eric Clapton and friends' masterpiece to soundtrack the montage of Jimmy's murder victims being discovered in Goodfellas; some suggest the song - a tale of betraying your friend for what you want the most - chimes with themes in the movie; others just think the mournful tone fits the mood at that point. Either way it's a powerful moment of music and movie.
13. Full Metal Jacket (1987) - These Boots Are Made For Walkin' (Nancy Sinatra)
A brilliant use of music, Nancy Sinatra's hit works on a variety of levels: "you've been a messing, where you shouldna been a messing" plays on the presence of America in Vietnam; the soldiers were last seen in Boot Camp, where boots were instruments of oppression, now they are instruments of power; finally, the prostitute striding towards them in boots of her own gives a literal flavour to proceedings. Very clever Mr Kubrick.
14. Donnie Darko (2001) - Head Over Heels (Tears For Fears)
A very clever use of exactly the right music, the Head Over Heels sequence from Donnie Darko is right up there with the best. Introducing elements of nearly all of the characters in two and half minutes without requiring any dialogue, the pacing and lyrical content of the song and the editing of the film combine perfectly to create a brilliant passage.
15. Shaun Of The Dead (2004) - Don't Stop Me Now (Queen)
Yes, it's a second outing of Queen in this list, but fully worth it, even if Shaun isn't keen. A perfect ridiculous accompaniment to the beating of zombie John, the fact that the pool cue hits are in time just adds to the effect.
16. Boogie Nights (1997) - Sister Christian (Night Ranger), Jessie's Girl (Rick Springfield), 99 Red Balloons (Nena)
Similarly to Stuck in the Middle With You and 23 Strawberry Letter, the three-track medley used in Boogie Nights provides a brilliant contrast to the rising tension in the scene; in this case of the drug deal about to go wrong. Two soft rock anthems during the build-up and one crazy Europop hit for when it really hits the fan: perfection.
17. The Big Lebowski (1998) - Just Dropped In (The First Edition)
A song said to be about warning of the dangers of LSD consumption, sung by country legend Kenny Rodgers, to soundtrack a bowling-alley-on-drugs fantasy sequence with Saddam Hussein manning the counter? Yep, that'll work nicely.
18. Do the Right Thing (1989) - Fight the Power (Public Enemy)
A track that is good it it used twice in Do The Right Thing. We get it at the start of the movie and in one of the film's most devastating moments. The furiosity found in Do The Right Thing is perfectly capture in Public Enemy's opus - and vice versa.
19. Jackie Brown (1997) - Strawberry Letter 23 (Brothers Johnson)
Another Tarantino masterclass, the use of this slinky, laidback funk-soul number is perfectly juxtaposed against the obvious and growing tension that something bad is going to happen real soon. The quietening of the track as the car drives into the distance simply adds to the brilliant effect.
20. Good Will Hunting (1997) - Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
There must be something about Gerry Rafferty and cinematic violence. Already appearing on this list as the voice of Stealer's Wheel, he lends his sultry tones to soundtrack this scene of a punch-up on a basketball court. Maybe actors just really hate his vocals.
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