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Best Movie Songs: 30 Iconic Tracks In Film History
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List & Guides

Best Movie Songs: 30 Iconic Tracks In Film History

The best movie songs of all time can help enhance a film’s emotional impact, or elevate key scenes to something entirely unforgettable.


No matter how bad a film is, it can nearly always be redeemed by a stellar choice of music helping to make a painful watch worthwhile. In this run-down of the best movie songs of all time, however, there are no bad films (well, maybe a few), just a bunch of great tracks that can really tie a perfect watch together. And – for your own sake – there may be a few spoilers. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

Best Movie Songs: 30 Iconic Tracks In Film History

30: The Harptones: Life Is But A Dream (Goodfellas, 1990)

The soundtrack is key to Martin Scorsese’s mob classic. Generating moments of cutthroat tension and loved-up pain, Goodfellas’ judiciously picked musical accompaniments inspire awe. The Harptones’ diaphanous Life Is But A Dream, which plays over the famous wedding scene, helps create one of the movie’s few happier moments.

29: Simple Minds: Don’t You (Forget About Me) (The Breakfast Club, 1985)

Uniting the film’s characters in a bittersweet ending, Don’t You (Forget About Me) makes an already gorgeous closing scene all the more special. There’s no dialogue, just the characters as they leave their weekend detention, questioning whether or not they’ll still be friends in the coming weeks. The song encapsulates each character’s feelings in one simple refrain.

28: Electric Light Orchestra: Mr Blue Sky (Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2, 2017)

If there’s one thing Marvel movies have given us over the years, it’s no shortage of contenders for a place among the best movie songs. Their soundtracks are always phenomenal, even when the films aren’t. The crown for the best use of music in a Marvel film has to go to the always chirpy Mr Blue Sky, which kicks off Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 in a hilariously choreographed fashion, spurring the protagonists on as they fight what can only be described as a massive space monster. It’s a cracking start, cementing the film’s cheeky energy early on.

27: Seal: Kiss From A Rose (Batman Forever, 1995)

Picking just one song from Tim Burton’s Batman threequel is quite a task. With artists such as U2, PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star and Nick Cave all making contributions, the Batman Forever has one of the most complete soundtracks in movie history. For this list of the best movie songs, we had to go with the crème de la crème: Seal’s immortal Kiss From A Rose. Taking listeners through a whirlwind of spiralling emotions – joy, pain, confusion and bliss – the song evokes the same feelings as the film itself.

26: Johnny Cash: Tennessee Stud (Jackie Brown, 1997)

Director Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to country music, and Johnny Cash’s signature twang adds all the suspense of a classic cowboy flick to the iconic Jackie Brown scene in which Samuel L Jackson silently plots away in his car. Making an eerie moment just that little bit more suspicious, it proves that, when Tarantino is involved, nothing is ever what it seems.

25: Norma Tanega: You’re Dead (What We Do In The Shadows, 2014)

Perhaps the greatest film ever made (well… about vampires in New Zealand, at least), What We Do In The Shadows is frequently credited for throwing the endearing actor/director Taika Waititi into the spotlight. As the title credits roll over images of the film’s leads, this 1966 folk song sets the tone early on: you are dead, but at least you’re having fun. The simple acoustic progression, layered with Tanega’s vocals, creates a masterpiece of a song perfectly suited to the film.

24: Howard Shore: Concerning Hobbits (Lord Of The Rings: The  Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)

There’s something delightfully moving about this song. Whether it’s the blissful nostalgia it evokes, or the simply divine use of tin whistle, Concerning Hobbits can reduce you to tears in seconds, before lifting you up again, higher than you’ve ever been before.

23: Sufjan Stevens: Mystery Of Love (Call Me By Your Name, 2017)

Never failing to bring a tear to the eye, Mystery Of Love is not only one of the best love songs in Stevens’ discography, it easily slots in among the best movie songs of all time. Perfectly reflecting the film’s themes – love is confusing, alienating and, all in all, a mystery – this diaphanous tune plays as the viewer takes a journey through the glorious Italian countryside. There’s no better track to lead the way.

22: Survivor: Eye Of The Tiger (Rocky III, 1982)

Motivation put to music, Eye Of The Tiger can be found on every gym playlist worldwide, while its use in the third instalment of the beloved boxing franchise Rocky cements it as one of the best movie songs in Hollywood history. Played over a montage of competitive highs and lows, it empowers anyone who hears it, spurring viewers on to tackle whatever they may face.

21: Brie Larson: Black Sheep (Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, 2010)

Most everyone who hears Brie Larson’s version of this great Metric track feels it’s better than the original – and, true enough, it will blow you out of the water. Appearing in the film as a live performance, it also provides one of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’s standout scenes. Larson and her band practically leap out from the screen to deliver a performance right in your living room. You can’t go wrong with that.

20: Coolio: The Winner (Space Jam, 1996)

Yet another tricky pick from a star-studded soundtrack. The original Space Jam boasted a plethora of stellar artists to accompany a standout film. Sun-drenched and easy-going, this Coolio track perfectly captures the fun, laidback atmosphere of the movie. Play it at full volume.

19: Born Slippy: Underworld (Trainspotting, 1996)

This classic progressive house track can be heard at the end of the classic 90s British comedy Trainspotting. As Renton (Ewan McGregor) tries to leave his old life behind him, Born Slippy helps to create the film’s oddly optimistic ending, drawing a bouncing close to a gritty junkie nightmare.

18: Kendrick Lamar and SZA: All The Stars (Black Panther, 2018)

Another example of a superstar soundtrack perfectly built for a blockbuster film, Black Panther’s contributors – Travis Scott, James Blake and Khalid among them – only emphasise the importance of the movie itself. All The Stars is perhaps the most-recognised song on the album – and rightly so. SZA turns in one of her greatest performances to date, and the soundtrack’s executive producer, Kendrick Lamar, is as essential as ever.

17: Ryan Gosling: You Always Hurt The Ones You Love (Blue Valentine, 2010)

Normally, we’d be against including a ukulele-centric track among the best movie songs, but we’ll make an exception here. In perhaps the most moving scene in a film full of deeply emotional moments, Ryan Gosling plays this melancholic number while his co-star Michelle Williams dances in the dim light of a shop front. Gosling’s voice oozes sadness, and the song sticks with you long after the movie’s end.

16: Echo And The Bunnymen: The Killing Moon (Donnie Darko, 2001)

Commanding the opening scene of this angsty classic, The Killing Moon is the perfect mood-setter for the rest of the film, with broody guitar and mournful verses coming from frontman Ian McCulloch’s aptly-named band. Used in a masterful wordless introduction, the song tells us all we need to know about the title character – and, for many, it also offered an introduction to the fabulous Echo And The Bunnymen. We cannot ask for more than that.

15: Public Enemy: Fight The Power (Do The Right Thing, 1989)

As a recurring track in director Spike Lee’s magnum opus, Fight The Power is more a message than it is a part of the film’s soundtrack – though its repetition only heightens its impact as one of the best movie songs of all time. A staple cut for the boombox-carrying character Radio Raheem, Fight The Power can often be heard as Raheem walks about a Brooklyn neighbourhood, repeatedly shunning demands to turn his music down. Keeping the track playing long into the film serves as a reminder that we will fight back, no matter the cost.

14: Queen: Don’t Stop Me Now (Shaun Of The Dead, 2004)

In one of the greatest choreographed fight scenes in movie history, the product of a broken jukebox becomes a cinematic masterpiece as Shaun and his band of survivors brutally attack a Zombie to Queen’s delightful Don’t Stop Me Now. Thanks to the quirky style of director Edgar Wright, not a beat is missed. Who knew the zombie apocalypse could be so musical?

13: James Brown: The Boss (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, 1998)

Never has a song fit a scene so well. Big Chris (played by Vinnie Jones) and his son are ready for a dust-up, and James Brown’s commanding funk makes for a perfect accompaniment, making the scene as humorous as it is raw. Football’s former bad boy and Soul Brother Number One were the duo we never knew we needed.

12: Pixies: Where Is My Mind? (Fight Club, 1999)

There could have been no better choice to bring the cult classic Fight Club to a close. As the city begins to crumble, viewers are treated to Pixies’ roaring alt-rock classic Where Is My Mind? while doubtless asking themselves the exact same question. The snarling guitar riff, paired with bassist Kim Deal’s haunting backing vocals, creates a sensation of foreboding melancholy while also allowing the listener to reach a subtle sense of nirvana. It’s comforting to know you’re not the only one left wondering if everything you’ve just seen really happened.

11: Stevie Wonder: I Just Called To Say I Love You (The Woman In Red, 1984)

This – quite frankly – bizarre film features Gene Wilder obsessing over a woman he hasn’t met. This song, however, displays the movie’s sweeter side. With Stevie Wonder’s wonderfully smooth vocals, this love song has it all: a catchy hook, some terrific synthy keys and incredible harmonies. One of the best movie songs of the 80s, it helps to make a weird watch seem slightly more normal.

10: Audrey Hepburn: Moon River (Breakfast At Tiffany’s, 1961)

As the iconic Holly Golightly, sitting on her fire escape and looking out into the night, Audrey Hepburn strums her guitar and whisks us away with the wistful Moon River – a timeless classic that won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Hepburn’s vocals capture the 60s perfectly and have the uncanny ability to snatch you up and teleport you back in time. That is why we love it.

9: Nina Simone: Sinnerman (Hunt For The Wilderpeople, 2016)

In Taika Waititi’s second directorial appearance on this list of the best movie songs, the wonderful Sinnerman soundtracks a particularly frantic scene. Our two protagonists are seen running through the jungle, hunting while dashing from place to place in order to evade their captors. Nina Simone’s performance exquisitely captures the mood, her quick keys and strained vocals – along with the song’s subject matter – making for an incredibly well-worked piece of cinema.

8: The Beach Boys: Heroes And Villains (Fantastic Mr Fox, 2009)

This Wes Anderson masterpiece introduces viewers to its characters in a unique fashion. The sunshine integral to nearly every Beach Boys song is undeniably present in Heroes And Villains, making a funny, light-hearted scene all the brighter – something nearly every film needs.

7: Bon Iver and St Vincent: Roslyn (Twilight: New Moon, 2009)

The Twilight films aren’t famous for their scriptwriting, cinematography or even their storylines, but they never failed to deliver on their soundtracks. As haunting as it is moving, this New Moon staple finds Bon Iver and St Vincent’s vocal harmonies bouncing off a bluegrass guitar, resulting in not just one of the best movie songs, but arguably the best thing to come out of the whole Twilight franchise.

6: David Bowie: Starman (The Martian, 2015)

The use of David Bowie’s Starman in this Ridley Scott-directed sci-fi helps to create one of the greatest scenes in modern cinema. Throwing in a mixture of parallels between Earth and Mars, as well what’s happening in the space between, Starman provides the perfect soundtrack to a collision of moods and stunning visuals. Meanwhile, Matt Damon’s intergalactic botanist is this movie’s very own starman, doing everything he needs to survive.

5: Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Watchmen, 2009)

Everyone’s favourite folk-poet opens up this comic-book adaptation, which portrays a world not too different from our own. Relevant to both the film and our own times, Dylan’s bittersweet vocals offer a tale of warning, rife with melancholy and despair. The film isn’t particularly good, so maybe Dylan was warning us not to watch it…

4: Seu Jorge: David Bowie cover versions (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, 2004)

In this particularly unusual Wes Anderson film, we’re treated to beautiful reworkings of some of the best David Bowie songs, sung in Portuguese by the fantastic Seu Jorge. Each song represents a different chapter of the movie, and the beautiful, sun-kissed acoustic backing creates a deliciously hazy atmosphere. Often sung from the high points of a ship, these musical interludes offer small moments of respite among the rest of the film’s frantic noise.

3: Lana Del Rey: Young And Beautiful (The Great Gatsby, 2013)

Young And Beautiful drips with glamour, making for an excellent pairing with Baz Luhrman’s 2013 adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s era-defining novel The Great Gatsby. Del Rey’s enchanting vocals create an atmosphere so hypnotising they drag you into the movie’s world; capturing the film’s main message, as well as asking questions of its own, it’s the perfect, immersive mix of fascination and romance, finding its place with ease in this exquisitely-shot film.

2: Alex Turner: Stuck On The Puzzle (Submarine, 2010)

Everyone loves a coming-of-age movie, and, as a document of angst and youthful emotion that can be turned to at any time, Submarine is one of the best. Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner did the soundtrack and, with Stuck On The Puzzle, he captures the film’s beating heart in a way only no one else could. Magical stuff.

1: Randy Newman: You’ve Got A Friend In Me (Toy Story, 1995)

Topping our list of the best movie songs of all time, You’ve Got A Friend In Me never fails raise a smile. Whether it’s the childhood nostalgia, or just the sheer loveliness of Randy Newman’s songwriting, the track is like a sonic comfort blanket, protecting listeners from all harm. Used in the Pixar classic Toy Story, it carries the film’s message through thick and thin, and will always be one of the most cherished songs to hit the silver screen.

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