While visuals are a huge part of what ultimately defines movies, it is the combination of imagery and sound that completes the full cinematic experience. Even before the advent of “talking pictures” in the late 1920s, musical scores accompanied films in one way or another, whether it was through live accompaniment from a performer or a synchronized gramophone record system.
As the film industry became more mainstream and commercialized, the use of popular songs and music generally increased. Now, soundtracks and scores are an integral part of the moviegoing experience. Sometimes, filmmakers and producers are hoping to capture a zeitgeist by tying a film’s release to a popular hit. Older songs might be chosen to invoke a certain period of time.
More often, blockbuster films will feature original songs. These songs may be inspired by the content and the tone of the film and occur in a non-diegetic way, such as during a montage sequence or in the credits. Other times, the song can be performed by the characters of the film in narrative form. Regardless, a successful music scene has the potential to become iconic, and with it, the song itself.
Some filmmakers view the curated soundtrack just as important as the films itself; for example, writer-director Quentin Tarantino often incorporates favorite songs from his vast music collection into scenes in his movies. Other examples include James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which had an Awesome Mix Vol. 1 that carried important meaning for the main character in the plot of the film, while also hitting the top of the charts in real life.
With a long, grand history spanning more than a century, Stacker compiled the 100 greatest movie songs using data from the American Film Industry’s 100 Years Project. The survey, which occurred in 2004 (hence no recent tunes like “Let It Go” from Frozen), asked a selection of jurors from across the movie industry to evaluate music and lyrics “featured in an American film that set a tone or mood, define character, advance plot and/or express the film’s themes in a manner that elevates the moving image art form.” The cultural impact and legacy involving the song were also important criteria in the selection process.
Click on to see some of the most important songs that stuck with audiences long after the credits rolled.
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#100. ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’
– Film: Risky Business (1983)- Performer(s): Bob Seger- Music/Lyrics: George Jackson, Tom Jones III
In the most iconic scene of Tom Cruise’s coming-of-age film Risky Business, Cruise’s character Joel Goodson has a bit of fun after being left home alone by his parents. Sliding on the hardwood floor in just a buttondown and underwear, Joel lip syncs and dances to the classic song “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger. Since then, this scene has been parodied by sitcoms, commercials, and even other films.
#99. ‘Hakuna Matata’
– Film: The Lion King (1994)- Performer(s): Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Jason Weaver, Joseph Williams- Music: Elton John- Lyrics: Tim Rice
Disney’s animated film The Lion King contained a number of original songs that became instant classics, including “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Circle of Life.” “Hakuna Matata,” however, carried thematic importance to the film; Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) teach young Simba the meaning of these words, which translate to “no worries,” in a catchy song that showcases Simba’s growth from cub to adult lion through montage. Not only is the Elton John/Tim Rice-written song still popular to this day, but so is the phrase itself.
#98. ‘All That Jazz’
– Film: Chicago (2002)- Performer(s): Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger- Music: John Kander- Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Originally featured in the 1975 stage musical Chicago, the opening number “All That Jazz” stuck in the minds of viewers from the Oscar-sweeping 2002 film adaptation. In the film, the number is performed by Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly in a Chicago club, with the performance intercut with scenes of protagonist Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) initiating an affair. The song showcased the overall flashy vibe of the film, and Zeta-Jones, 10 years after winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Chicago, would return to the awards ceremony to perform the song on the film’s 10th anniversary.
#97. ’42nd Street’
– Film: 42nd Street (1933)- Performer(s): Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Ensemble- Music: Harry Warren- Lyrics: Al Dubin
One of the earliest musical films was 42nd Street, a backstage musical that focuses on a Broadway director and the newcomer star of what is to be his final Broadway show. The song entitled “42nd Street” serves as the finale of the film, performed by actress Ruby Keeler. The film may not be as popular with modern audiences, but the song and the story from which it originated from had a renaissance through a popular 1980 Broadway musical adaptation of the original film.
– Film: Footloose (1984)- Performer(s): Kenny Loggins- Music/Lyrics: Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford
Probably as or even more popular than the film Footloose is the song of the same name, written and performed by musician Kenny Loggins and the film’s co-writer Dean Pitchford. The success of the song and the film surprised even Loggins himself. It went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of the biggest hits of 1984. The song plays in both the opening and the finale of the film. Blake Shelton even tried his hand at a cover for a 2011 remake of the original movie.
#95. ‘(We’re Off on the) Road to Morocco’
– Film: Road to Morocco (1942)- Performer(s): Bing Crosby, Bob Hope- Music: Jimmy Van Heusen- Lyrics: Johnny Burke
Comedy legends Bing Crosby and Bob Hope teamed up for the film Road to Morocco, with the pair singing the fast and catchy song as their characters ride a camel to a nearby city. The cheeky fourth-wall breaking song (“We’d tell you more (uh-ah) but we would have the censor on our tails”), which admittedly has a number of stereotypes and jokes in its lyrics (“The men eat fire, sleep on nails and saw their wives in half”), isn’t well remembered by audiences today, but it was undoubtedly a hit in the 1940s, with separate versions of the song including a solo recording with Crosby and a duet reuniting Crosby with Hope.
#94. ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’
– Film: The Big Chill (1983)- Performer(s): The Temptations- Music/Lyrics: Eddie Holland, Norman Whitfield
The Big Chill centers around a group of friends reuniting in adulthood after a tragedy, but one musical moment offered a moment of respite. In one scene, Kevin Kline’s character puts on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Temptations as a little piece of nostalgia, and the characters proceed to dance to the song in the kitchen while clearing the table and washing dishes after dinner. While the song didn’t originate from the movie itself, it represented an important moment for this fictional group of friends from college.
#93. ‘Lose Yourself’
– Film: 8 Mile (2002)- Performer(s): Eminem- Music: Eminem, Jeff Bass, Luis Resto- Lyrics: Eminem
The hard-hitting rap song “Lose Yourself” by Eminem sums up his character B-Rabbit in the film 8 Mile. The lyrics describe the character’s struggles to gain respect from other hip-hop artists in the area. It is still one of Eminem’s most popular works, and it even won the Best Original Song category at the Academy Awards the year it was released—the first hip-hop song to ever do so. However, Eminem did not show up to the ceremony, believing he wouldn’t win. The rapper made up for this by performing “Lose Yourself” at the 2020 Oscars ceremony, nearly two decades later.
#92. ‘Long Ago (and Far Away)’
– Film: Cover Girl (1944)- Performer(s): Gene Kelly, Martha Mears (dubbing Rita Hayworth)- Music: Jerome Kern- Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
The 1944 comedy musical Cover Girl had everything, including leading stars in Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth. Hayworth portrayed a chorus girl who finds stardom and Kelly co-stars as her boyfriend. “Long Ago (and Far Away)” is the most popular number from the film, sung by Kelly and Hayworth’s characters, albeit with the latter dubbed by singer Martha Mears. The song hasn’t lasted through the decades, but it was heavily covered throughout the 1940s by artists like Bing Crosby and Jo Stafford.
#91. ‘Let the River Run’
– Film: Working Girl (1988)- Performer(s): Carly Simon- Music/Lyrics: Carly Simon
Inspired by the script for the romantic comedy-drama Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver, Carly Simon wrote and performed “Let the River Run” as a “hymn” to New York City. The song played over an opening sequence that followed the Staten Island Ferry, and it went on to win the Oscar, Golden Globe, and the Grammy for Best Original Song. “Let the River Run” still occasionally surfaces in modern-day popular culture. It was recently featured in episodes of The Simpsons and Castle Rock.
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#90. ‘Seems Like Old Times’
– Film: Annie Hall (1977)- Performer(s): Diane Keaton- Music: Carmen Lombardo- Lyrics: John Jacob Loeb
Woody Allen’s most famous film, the Oscar-winning Annie Hall, had a memorable sequence in which Diane Keaton’s character (the eponymous Annie Hall) performs the popular 1940s song “Seems Like Old Times” for an audience. Keaton would go on to win Best Actress at the Oscars, and the song was repopularized by its inclusion in the film.
#89. ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’
– Film: Young Frankenstein (1974)- Performer(s): Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle- Music/Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Writer-director Mel Brooks generally includes comedic musical numbers in his films, and one of the earliest and most famous examples is featured in the 1974 film Young Frankenstein. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) and his monster (Peter Boyle) sing and tap dance to the classic song “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” with the monster hilariously shouting incoherent words while Wilder’s Frankenstein mostly plays it straight. In the film, the performance doesn’t end well, but real-life audiences found the scene quite memorable and funny.
#88. ‘Do Re Mi’
– Film: The Sound of Music (1965)- Performer(s): Julie Andrews, Ensemble- Music: Richard Rodgers- Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
One of the many iconic numbers from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical The Sound of Music has the character of Maria, played by Julie Andrews, teach the von Trapp children about the musical scale using mnemonic devices. The film version of the song finds Maria and the children riding their bikes and frolicking through Salzburg, with the song getting a reprise later in the movie. The song gained a life of its own, and even now it’s often used as a fun tool for musical education.
#87. ‘Buttons and Bows’
– Film: The Paleface (1948)- Performer(s): Bob Hope- Music: Jay Livingston- Lyrics: Ray Evans
Bob Hope’s comedy Western The Paleface featured a song called “Buttons and Bows,” which features Hope playing the accordion while traveling on a wagon. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and had a presence on the radio for a time. However, the most popular rendition of the song was actually by Dinah Shore in 1947, with her cover hitting #1 on the charts.
#86. ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’
– Film: Dirty Dancing (1987)- Performer(s): Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes- Music: Frank Previte, John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz- Lyrics: Frank Previte
The iconic climax of the film Dirty Dancing features Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey dancing to the Frank Previte-written song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which itself became a pop culture phenomenon. The song was written for the movie and featured a Grammy-winning duet between Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. It went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. Dirty Dancing is parodied to this day, with “The Time of My Life” almost always accompanying said parodies.
#85. Come What May
– Film: Moulin Rouge! (2001)- Performer(s): Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor- Music/Lyrics: David Baerwald
The song “Come What May” has a somewhat serendipitous history within the filmography of director Baz Luhrmann; while originally intended for his film Romeo + Juliet, the song eventually found its way into Moulin Rouge! Not only did the song become a hit, but it holds importance to the film’s story and characters. It serves as the romantic theme between the characters played by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, with the two using the song to declare their love for one another.
#84. ‘Put the Blame on Mame’
– Film: Gilda (1946)- Performer(s): Anita Ellis (dubbing Rita Hayworth)- Music/Lyrics: Doris Fisher, Allan Roberts
Most popular songs to come out of 1940s Hollywood were showstoppers that carried a sense of optimism, but the 1946 film Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth, had a bit of a darker edge. The titular character of Gilda sings the song “Put the Blame on Mame,” which connects the titular character to some of the most destructive and cataclysmic disasters in American history, like the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The song helps characterize Hayworth as a femme fatale, even though singer Anita Ellis dubbed over Hayworth’s voice for the song.
#83. ‘The Rose’
– Film: The Rose (1979)- Performer(s): Bette Midler- Music/Lyrics: Amanda McBroom
Outlasting the Bette Midler drama The Rose is the song of the same title. Not originally written for the movie by Amanda McBroom, the pop song nevertheless played during the credits of the movie and became a hit. Since then, The Rose has been recorded by a number of artists, with one of the more famous versions performed by country singer Conway Twitty.
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#82. ‘Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead’
– Film: The Wizard of Oz (1939)- Performer(s): Ensemble- Music: Harold Arlen- Lyrics: E. Y. Harburg
After terrifying the denizens of Munchkinland and the Emerald City, the Wicked Witch of the West is finally defeated by Dorothy (Judy Garland) and friends. Immediately after, the Munchkins burst into song to spread the news. The ensuing tune is just one of the many iconic songs and sequences from the film, which is already full of such popular characters and scenes. Even today, the song is used by the general public to express distaste for anyone who has been recently defeated.
#81. ‘I’m Easy’
– Film: Nashville (1975)- Performer(s): Keith Carradine- Music/Lyrics: Keith Carradine
Robert Altman’s epic film Nashville featured a number of different characters and vantage points depicting the country and gospel music scenes, with the film leading up to a gala concert. “I’m Easy” was written and performed by actor Keith Carradine, who performs the song in character and leads several different women to believe that the performance was for them. “I’m Easy” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1976 and continued to be a hit that year.
#80. ‘Springtime for Hitler’
– Film: The Producers (1967)- Performer(s): Ensemble- Music/Lyrics: Mel Brooks
The entire premise of The Producers centers on a grift by fictional Broadway producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom to profit from making the worst musical ever. The result? “Springtime for Hitler.” That’s also the opening number of this fictional musical, leading to disgusted audience members leaving the theater—until the grift backfires. The song featured again in the 2001 Broadway adaptation of the film, extended with a number called “Heil Myself.” “Springtime for Hitler” showed up once more in the 2005 film adaptation of the Broadway show.
#79. ‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)’
– Film: Arthur (1981)- Performer(s): Christopher Cross- Music/Lyrics: Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, Peter Allen
The comedy Arthur focused on a drunken New York billionaire who falls in love with an ordinary girl, even though he is promised to someone else via an arranged marriage. With the lyrics “When you get caught between the moon and New York City,” the theme song from Christopher Cross summed up the character and the personality of the title character. The song was covered by Fitz and the Tantrums when the film was remade in 2011.
#78. ‘9 to 5’
– Film: Nine to Five (1980)- Performer(s): Dolly Parton- Music/Lyrics: Dolly Parton
The centerpiece of not only the film 9 to 5, but also one of Dolly Parton’s top albums. The song “9 to 5” helped skyrocket the singer to national fame. She also stars in the film, which focuses on three women outwitting their sexist and egotistical boss. The fast and catchy theme song quickly hit the Billboard Country Chart and was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s experiencing something of a modern resurgence in 2020 as a popular theme for TikTok creators.
#77. ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’
– Film: The Sandpiper (1965)- Performer(s): Chorus- Music: Johnny Mandel- Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
Drama film The Sandpiper, one of several movies starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, was not well received and has since been lost to obscurity. On the other hand, the film’s love theme titled “The Shadow of Your Smile” had a longer life, winning an Oscar for Best Original Song. Afterward, it would be covered by numerous artists like Nancy Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
#76. ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’
– Film: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)- Performer(s): Judy Garland- Music/Lyrics: Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane
While “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a traditional mainstay during Christmas, lesser-known are the origins of the song, which made its debut in the musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Superstar Judy Garland performed the song in the film, and cover versions from Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more artists followed. Today, the song is still present on Christmas albums from modern-day artists like Sam Smith and Michael Buble.
#75. ‘Up Where We Belong’
– Film: An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)- Performer(s): Joe Cocker, Jennifer Warnes- Music: Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie- Lyrics: Will Jennings
The romantic film An Officer and a Gentleman had a soulful theme song in “Up Where We Belong,” a collaboration between the film’s composer Jack Nitzsche, singer-songwriter Jennifer Warnes, and singer Joe Cocker. Warnes was already known for her work on previous soundtracks and had always desired to sing a duet with Cocker. The song reflected the happy ending of the film, and it quickly shot up in the charts, not only in the United States but in many other countries as well.
#74. ‘Rainbow Connection’
– Film: The Muppet Movie (1979)- Performer(s): Jim Henson (as Kermit the Frog)- Music/Lyrics: Paul Williams, Kenny Ascher
Musicians Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher were given the challenge to open The Muppet Movie with an original song that would feature Kermit the Frog playing the banjo. What resulted was “Rainbow Connection,” a song that connected the film’s theme of rainbows with the fact that there are a number of songs already about rainbows. The song grew in popularity outside of the Muppets, although plenty of Muppets media afterward would reprise the famous tune.
#73. ‘Isn’t It Romantic?’
– Film: Love Me Tonight (1932)- Performer(s): Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald- Music: Richard Rodgers- Lyrics: Lorenz Hart
The musical Love Me Tonight featured a repertoire of original songs, one being “Isn’t It Romantic?” Within the film, actors Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald perform the song, with Chevalier’s character starting the number, numerous other characters singing in-between, and finally ending with MacDonald’s princess character finishing the song off. Among the many artists who would eventually cover the song were Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald.
#72. ‘Good Morning’
– Film: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)- Performer(s): Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds- Music: Nacio Herb Brown- Lyrics: Arthur Freed
The classic musical Singin’ in the Rain is not only considered to be one of the best musicals of all time but one of the greatest movies in history. An upbeat and happy depiction of the changing film industry of the 1920s, the song “Good Morning,” originally from the 1939 film Babes In Arms, remains a popular song to this day. The iconic and energetic dance sequence features Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds.
#71. ‘(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy’
– Film: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)- Performer(s): James Cagney- Music/Lyrics: George M. Cohan
Originally written for the Broadway musical Little Johnny Jones by George M. Cohan, the song commonly known as “(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy” was popularized by the 1942 movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, which starred James Cagney as Cohan. The film featured Cagney performing many of Cohan’s songs, including “Give My Regards to Broadway,” but one of the more famous numbers featured him performing “(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
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#70. ‘Summer Nights’
– Film: Grease (1978)- Performer(s): John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John- Music/Lyrics: Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey
While Grease had its start on the stage, the musical would find greater popularity through Hollywood and the 1970s film adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. “Summer Nights” had the two protagonists excitably recall their summer affair with each other, before they faithfully encountered each other again in school. Along with “You’re The One That I Want,” “Summer Nights” not only led Grease to a higher pop culture status but became a hit song in its own right.
#69. ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’
– Film: Bright Eyes (1934)- Performer(s): Shirley Temple- Music: Richard A. Whiting- Lyrics: Sidney Clare
As a child, Shirley Temple was one of the most iconic performers in Hollywood, singing, dancing, and acting in a number of films. The film Bright Eyes written for and cast with Temple in mind, featured a number in which Temple’s character sings in an airplane, with the plane being the titular “good ship.”
#68. ‘Streets of Philadelphia’
– Film: Philadelphia (1993)- Performer(s): Bruce Springsteen- Music/Lyrics: Bruce Springsteen
The film Philadelphia was one of the earliest movies to focus on HIV and AIDS—to help make audiences feel comfortable learning about the condition, director Jonathan Demme asked Bruce Springsteen to write and perform a mainstream song that would invite general moviegoers. The song won an Oscar for Best Original Song, along with a number of Grammy Awards. Curiously, the song performed better on the charts in Europe than in the United States.
#67. ‘Nobody Does It Better’
– Film: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)- Performer(s): Carly Simon- Music: Marvin Hamlisch- Lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager
While it is unusual for James Bond theme songs to have a different title than their respective movies, Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me had no problem breaking through to listeners. As with all Bond themes, this song plays during the elaborate title sequence of the movie, with Carly Simon’s sultry tune serving as a “lust-drunk anthem” to Bond’s sexual prowess. The song would continue to be covered in the decades to follow, remaining one of the most popular Bond songs in the history of the series.
#66. ‘Suicide Is Painless’
– Film: M*A*S*H (1970)- Performer(s): Chorus- Music: Johnny Mandel- Lyrics: Mike Altman
When directing the original M*A*S*H film, Robert Altman gave stipulations about the theme song: It had to be titled “Suicide Is Painless,” and it had to be “the stupidest song ever written.” Altman eventually recruited his then-14-year old son Mike to write the lyrics, who succeeded in doing so in only five minutes. After the M*A*S*H film, the song went on to become the theme song of the highly popular M*A*S*H television show.
#65. ‘I Will Always Love You’
– Film: The Bodyguard (1992)- Performer(s): Whitney Houston- Music/Lyrics: Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton’s country song “I Will Always Love You” was a hit in the 1970s, and the song would relive that success in various iterations in the decades to follow. Probably the most famous cover of the song came from Whitney Houston for the film The Bodyguard, where she portrays an actress and singer protected from a stalker by the titular bodyguard (Kevin Costner). Houston’s version is still popular in the present day, showing up in modern films like Spider-Man: Far From Home. Artists young and old continue to cover the song, including a recent dance version by Sarah Washington.
#64. ‘My Favorite Things’
– Film: The Sound of Music (1965)- Performer(s): Julie Andrews- Music: Richard Rodgers- Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
The venerable soundtrack of The Sound of Music is supported by a number of memorable songs, including “My Favorite Things.” The film version of the song has Maria (Julie Andrews) sing to the von Trapp children during a thunderstorm, calming them down by listing her most favorite menial things. John Coltrane would later record a 14-minute jazz version of “My Favorite Things,” and the song still remains beloved today.
#63. ‘Thanks for the Memories’
– Film: The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)- Performer(s): Bob Hope, Shirley Ross- Music: Ralph Rainger- Lyrics: Leo Robin
What became one of Bob Hope’s signature songs came from the musical comedy film The Big Broadcast of 1938, the last in a series of variety show anthology films. “Thanks for the Memories” came about in a scene between Hope’s character and the character played by Shirley Ross. The two play a divorced couple who meet up and reminisce about the good times and bad times they shared together.
#62. ‘Beauty and the Beast’
– Film: Beauty and the Beast (1991)- Performer(s): Angela Lansbury (as Mrs. Potts)- Music: Alan Menken- Lyrics: Howard Ashman
This love ballad from Disney stalwarts Alan Menken and Howard Ashman underscores the definitive scene from the film Beauty and the Beast. Within the context of the film, the characters Belle and Beast are realizing their true feelings for each other, culminating in a ballroom dance sequence that required technically complex animation. The song is performed by the character of Mrs. Potts, relaying the “tale as old as time.” The song has been covered countless times (most famously for the film’s end credits by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson). It’s included in the Broadway adaptation of the film and was included in the 2017 live-action remake.
#61. ‘Get Happy’
– Film: Summer Stock (1950)- Performer(s): Judy Garland- Music: Harold Arlen- Lyrics: Ted Koehler
Judy Garland’s final film with studio MGM and actor Gene Kelly was Summer Stock, in which Garland unveiled her rendition of the song “Get Happy.” Years later, Garland would perform the song in a duet with Barbra Streisand on The Judy Garland Show. The song would pop up in other pop culture media for decades, including Twin Peaks, House, Glee, and Saturday Night Live.
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#60. ‘It Had to Be You’
– Film: When Harry Met Sally (1989)- Performer(s): Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr.- Music: Isham Jones- Lyrics: Gus Kahn
The song “It Had to Be You” has a long history in film, being featured in movies from the 1930s to the 1990s. But the most famous use of the song was in When Harry Met Sally, with an upbeat rendition of the song by Harry Connick Jr. essentially serving as the theme to the movie. The song has also appeared in Casablanca, Annie Hall, A League of Their Own, and Show Business.
– Film: West Side Story (1961)- Performer(s): Marni Nixon (dubbing Natalie Wood), Jimmy Bryant (dubbing Richard Beymer)- Music: Leonard Bernstein- Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
The film adaptation of Broadway musical West Side Story is full of showstoppers and dancing tunes, but one of the more famous sequences from the film simply finds the two romantic leads singing to each other on a fire escape. Tony (Richard Beymer), the “Romeo” of the duo, meets up with his “Juliet” Maria (Natalie Wood), although both actors were dubbed for the singing portions of the scene. “Tonight” was heavily covered by other artists of the era, most prominently by Shirley Bassey.
#58. ‘Gonna Fly Now’
– Film: Rocky (1976)- Performer(s): DeEtta Little, Nelson Pigford- Music: Bill Conti- Lyrics: Carol Connors, Ayn Robbins
Even those who don’t consider themselves film buffs will recognize the Rocky theme song, even if they didn’t know that it has a title. In one of the most famous montage sequences in cinema history, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) undertakes a difficult workout regiment, ending with the iconic shot of Rocky running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum and striking a victory pose. The sequence is often parodied by other films and television shows, often with “Gonna Fly Now,” or at the very least, a parody or soundalike song.
#57. ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’
– Film: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)- Performer(s): Noel Harrison- Music: Michel Legrand- Lyrics: Alan and Marilyn Bergman
The song “The Windmills of Your Mind” is the result of a collaboration between French composer Michel Legrand and American lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, with the English version of the song first appearing in the heist film The Thomas Crown Affair. Within the film itself, the dramatic song plays during the opening credits and also during a scene in which the eponymous Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) flies a glider. The song title is a nod to Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and was meant to reflect Crown’s ambivalent feelings about going forward with the heist.
#56. ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’
– Film: Gigi (1958)- Performer(s): Maurice Chevalier- Music: Frederick Loewe- Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
The 1958 musical Gigi is considered one of the last great musicals from studio MGM, and as such contains a number of significant musical numbers. The tune “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” is often associated with Maurice Chevalier, who portrayed an old debauchee; near the beginning of the film, he sings a jovial song about little girls. The song also found life in Broadway adaptations of Gigi, along with appearances in commercials and covers from people like Bing Crosby.
#55. ‘Flashdance… What a Feeling’
– Film: Flashdance (1983)- Performer(s): Irene Cara- Music: Giorgio Moroder- Lyrics: Keith Forsey, Irene Cara
Irene Cara’s only #1 song on the charts was for Flashdance, a film that very much carried the style of music videos and followed a young woman (Jennifer Beals) aspiring to be a professional ballerina. The song “Flashdance… What a Feeling” had music by Italian disco and electronic artist Giorgio Moroder and joined other popular songs from the film such as “Maniac.” The song, which won an Oscar, was used in the opening sequence in which Beals’ character performs a dance routine for an audition.
#54. ‘Shall We Dance?’
– Film: The King and I (1956)- Performer(s): Marni Nixon (dubbing Deborah Kerr), Yul Brynner- Music: Richard Rodgers- Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
The show tune “Shall We Dance?” was impactful enough that it became the namesake of a popular 1995 Japanese film. The original Rodgers and Hammerstein song found the characters of Anna and the King of Siam in a disagreement concerning love and infatuation, resulting in a dance number. The film version of The King and I featured Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, albeit with Marni Nixon dubbing the former.
– Film: Goldfinger (1964)- Performer(s): Shirley Bassey- Music: John Barry- Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley
While Bond fans may debate the best James Bond opening theme overall, fans of the franchise would likely point to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” as an all-time classic. With booming orchestration and Bassey’s roaring voice, the song conveyed the cold nature of the eponymous villain. Bassey has since re-recorded and performed the song, culminating with a tribute at the 2013 Academy Awards celebrating 50 years of Bond films.
– Film: Porgy and Bess (1959)- Performer(s): Loulie Jean Norman- Music: George Gershwin- Lyrics: DuBose Heyward
The 1935 opera Porgy and Bess eventually became a 1959 musical film of the same name, retaining all of the original folk and spiritual musical numbers. One significant song from the opera is “Summertime,” which is reprised numerous times through the story; the film version has Loulie Jean Norman perform the song. While Porgy and Bess may be controversial today for how it depicts African Americans, “Summertime” has endured, having been covered by artists from Sam Cooke to Janis Joplin.
– Film: Fame (1980)- Performer(s): Irene Cara- Music: Michael Gore- Lyrics: Dean Pitchford
As the title may imply, the film Fame depicts a number of young people at New York’s High School of Performing Arts, working their way through auditions to achieve their own taste of fame. The theme song, also called “Fame,” was sung by Irene Cara, who also acted as one of the lead characters of the film. In one iconic scene, the song inspires students to dance in the street. The song also won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
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#50. ‘Rock Around the Clock’
– Film: Blackboard Jungle (1955)- Performer(s): Bill Haley and His Comets- Music/Lyrics: Bill Haley and the Comets
The rock ‘n’ roll song “Rock Around the Clock” was written in 1952, but it entered the public consciousness through a rendition by Bill Haley and His Comets. This version’s use in the opening of the film Blackboard Jungle is credited to the skyrocketing success of the song. The song served as a sort-of anthem to the rebellious teenage youth of the decade that was depicted in the film.
#49. ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’
– Film: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)- Performer(s): Donald O’Connor- Music: Nacio Herb Brown- Lyrics: Arthur Freed
In an early scene of Singin’ in the Rain, Donald O’Connor’s character tells Gene Kelly’s character about the importance of comedy for their audiences and proceeds to perform a physically exhausting slapstick comedic dance number. O’Connor performs many pratfalls, jumps, gags, and backflips, making this number possibly one of the epitomes of physical comedy. Urban legend has it that O’Connor was bedridden for days after filming. The sequence is often paid tribute to, with the show Glee attempting a reenactment, along with a performance of the song from Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Saturday Night Live.
#48. ‘Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)’
– Film: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)- Performer(s): Doris Day- Music/Lyrics: Ray Evans, Jay Livingston
Many songs in films are used to set a tone, but in the case of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” had an important role in the actual story. Performed by actress Doris Day, the song is sung by her character in hopes that her son will hear it and avoid danger. The song became Doris Day’s signature song in real life, and it gained a different form of popularity when English football fans took it up as a losing anthem.
– Film: Song of the South (1946)- Performer(s): James Baskett- Music: Allie Wrubel- Lyrics: Ray Gilbert
One of the most well-known songs is the catchy “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which originated from Disney’s controversial film Song of the South. Though the song endures, the film itself contains a number of elements considered to be racist. In the ensuing decades, Disney has invoked “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” in entirely separate contexts, such as in more inclusive Disney television programs or at some of the company’s theme parks.
#46. ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’
– Film: Funny Girl (1968)- Performer(s): Barbra Streisand- Music: Jule Styne- Lyrics: Bob Merrill
The biographical stage musical Funny Girl focused on the life of Fanny Brice, with Barbra Streisand taking on the role of Brice in both the stage and eventual film adaptations. This musical number has a bit of an angry and defiant context within the film, with Brice being the one telling all who’ll listen to not “rain on her parade.” Streisand has performed the song live on multiple occasions, and it was reintroduced to audiences through the show Glee when it was performed by actress Lea Michele.
#45. ‘That’s Entertainment’
– Film: The Band Wagon (1953)- Performer(s): Fred Astaire, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant- Music: Arthur Schwartz- Lyrics: Howard Dietz
Penned specifically for the film The Band Wagon, the song “That’s Entertainment” quickly became synonymous with MGM Studios and Hollywood in general. Cast members Fred Astaire, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray, and Oscar Levant perform the song in the movie as their characters plan out a new Broadway show as a career comeback.
#44. ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’
– Film: Beaches (1988)- Performer(s): Bette Midler- Music/Lyrics: Larry Henley, Jeff Silbar
The song “Wind Beneath My Wings” had an extended lifespan lasting throughout the 1980s, recorded by a number of artists from 1982 into the early ’90s. It took until 1988 for the song to really chart, with a version by Bette Midler gracing the soundtrack of the film Beaches. Thanks to the emotional context of the film, the song became a #1 single. The song plays near the end of the film when a key character passes away from a terminal illness.
#43. ‘The Way You Look Tonight’
– Film: Swing Time (1936)- Performer(s): Fred Astaire- Music: Jerome Kern- Lyrics: Dorothy Fields
Back in the days when film studio RKO still had a presence in Hollywood, the film Swing Time was thought to be one of the more successful musicals of its time. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in this dance musical, with the tune “The Way You Look Tonight” emerging as the most popular song from the film. In a tender scene, Astaire’s character sings the song to Rogers’ character as she washes her hair in an adjacent room.
#42. ‘Luck Be a Lady’
– Film: Guys and Dolls (1955)- Performer(s): Marlon Brando, Ensemble- Music/Lyrics: Frank Loesser
The signature song of the musical Guys and Dolls is “Luck Be a Lady,” sung by the gambler Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) as he is making a bet that could determine his relationship with a romantic interest. The 1955 film adaptation found Brando singing the number in what was essentially the climax of the film. Beyond Guys and Dolls, “Luck Be a Lady” was also immensely popular thanks to a rendition from Frank Sinatra, who happened to co-star in the film as a different character.
#41. ‘New York, New York’
– Film: On the Town (1949)- Performer(s): Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin- Music: Leonard Bernstein- Lyrics: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
The stage musical On the Town and its film adaptation focused on three sailors on shore leave exploring the city of New York. The film featured Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin as the sailors enamored with “New York, New York.” The song was still referenced and parodied in the decades that followed, although the song shouldn’t be confused with the “Theme from New York, New York.”
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#40. ‘Fight the Power’
– Film: Do the Right Thing (1989)- Performer(s): Public Enemy- Music/Lyrics: Carlton Ridenhour, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, Keith Shocklee
The opening credits of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing featured an intense dance number from Rosie Perez set to an equally intense hip-hop song by Public Enemy. The song makes numerous references to civil rights and African American figures, and samples from other sources like the music of James Brown. Within the film, the character of Radio Raheem carries a boombox that blares the song throughout different points of the film.
#39. ‘Days of Wine and Roses’
– Film: Days of Wine and Roses (1962)- Performer(s): Chorus- Music: Henry Mancini- Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
The film Days of Wine and Roses depicted two adults on a slow downward spiral due to alcoholism. The theme song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer is appropriately somber and was powerful enough to win the Best Original Song trophy at the Academy Awards. Other singers such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Shirley Bassey have covered the song.
#38. ‘Theme from Shaft’
– Film: Shaft (1971)- Performer(s): Isaac Hayes, Chorus- Music/Lyrics: Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes made history by becoming the first African American to win Best Original Song at the Oscars, winning for the funk and soul theme from the blaxploitation film Shaft. The song is a call-and-response that relays the coolness and sex appeal of the protagonist, John Shaft (Richard Roundtree). The song is often referenced and parodied, especially for the exchange between Hayes and background singers in which he is interrupted by dropping profane words (“Shut yo’ mouth!”).
#37. ‘Swinging on a Star’
– Film: Going My Way (1944)- Performer(s): Bing Crosby- Music: James Van Heusen- Lyrics: Johnny Burke
The popular standard “Swinging on a Star” was first introduced by Bing Crosby in the film Going My Way. Crosby’s character is a priest teaching kids at a new parish. The fun song that compares humans to animals is featured in a scene in which Crosby connects with the children.
– Film: Mary Poppins (1964)- Performer(s): Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Ensemble- Music/Lyrics: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
Out of all of the songs that the Sherman brothers wrote for Disney’s adaptation of Mary Poppins, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is one of the most memorable numbers despite being based on a long nonsensical word. In the film, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) uses the word when asked if she was at a “loss for words”—the word essentially means “something to say when you have nothing to say.” The scene caps off with a song-and-dance number featuring Bert the chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke).
– Film: West Side Story (1961)- Performer(s): Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Ensemble- Music: Leonard Bernstein- Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
The original stage version of West Side Story found the Puerto Rican girlfriends of the Sharks gang arguing about their conflicting likes and dislikes in regard to the United States, but the 1961 film version changed the dynamic. The film version of “America” added the Sharks as well, with the women taking the side of America while the men stated their distaste.
#34. ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’
– Film: Shall We Dance (1937)- Performer(s): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers- Music: George Gershwin- Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
One of the highlights of the film Shall We Dance is a dance duet on rollerskates between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a number called “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” The song famously made light of regional pronunciation and dialect differences with lyrics like “You like tomato / And I like to-mah-to.” The song was featured in other movies, including When Harry Met Sally.
– Film: Hair (1979)- Performer(s): Ren Woods, Ensemble- Music: Galt MacDermot- Lyrics: Gerome Ragni, James Rado
Hair, the musical centered on hippie culture during the Vietnam War. The 1979 film adaptation began with the number “Age of Aquarius,” which established the tone and the characterization of the rest of the movie. When the song was initially released as a single, it was put in a medley with the song “Let the Sunshine In,” arguably a more popular song from the musical.
#32. ‘I Got Rhythm’
– Film: An American in Paris (1951)- Performer(s): Gene Kelly- Music: George Gershwin- Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin originally composed “I Got Rhythm” in 1930, and they included the song in their Broadway musical Of Thee I Sing. Two decades later, the song was the centerpiece of the film An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly. In the most memorable scene, Kelly’s character sings the song and tap dances along with French children to whom he has taught a little bit of English.
#31. ‘Theme from New York, New York’
– Film: New York, New York (1977)- Performer(s): Liza Minnelli- Music: John Kander- Lyrics: Fred Ebb
More commonly known as “New York, New York,” the theme song for Martin Scorsese’s film of the same name surpassed the movie in terms of pure cultural impact. Liza Minnelli recorded the initial version of the song for the film, but the later version by Frank Sinatra became more popular. Both the tune and the lyrics are well known by the public, especially in the actual city of New York.
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#30. ‘Stormy Weather’
– Film: Stormy Weather (1943)- Performer(s): Lena Horne- Music/Lyrics: Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler
The 1943 film Stormy Weather was significant for having one of the earliest examples of an African American cast in Hollywood cinema. The film is actually named after the song, which was initially written in 1933 and meant to convey a sense of disappointment and pining. The 1943 film stars Lena Horne in a lengthy sequence that also featured dancing from Katherine Dunham.
#29. ‘Born to Be Wild’
– Film: Easy Rider (1969)- Performer(s): Steppenwolf- Music/Lyrics: Mars Bonfire
With Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s film Easy Rider serving as a prime example of counterculture media in the 1960s and ’70s, it was appropriate that the song “Born to Be Wild” accompanied it. The rock song, though somewhat considered heavy metal, comes from the band Steppenwolf and played in scenes of Fonda and Hopper riding their motorcycles across the country. The song is still considered a classic and is often used in films and commercials.
#28. ‘Some Enchanted Evening’
– Film: South Pacific (1958)- Performer(s): Giorgio Tozzi (dubbing Rossano Brazzi)- Music: Richard Rodgers- Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
One of the more popular Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers is “Some Enchanted Evening,” which originated from their 1949 musical South Pacific. It is a love song from the male lead, who describes a stranger and vows that he will see her again. In the film, the male lead Emile is portrayed by Rossano Brazzi, although he is dubbed in singing parts by the bass singer Giorgio Tozzi.
#27. ‘Unchained Melody’
– Film: Ghost (1990)- Performer(s): The Righteous Brothers- Music/Lyrics: Alex North, Hy Zaret
The song “Unchained Melody” was originally recorded in 1955 for a little-known film called Unchained, but a 1965 re-recording of the song by the Righteous Brothers would popularize it. The song experienced a resurgence in the 1990 film Ghost. A scene between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore found the two sharing a sensual moment at the pottery wheel. The famous scene, which was accompanied by Unchained Memory, would be parodied in popular culture long after the film’s release.
#26. ‘The Trolley Song’
– Film: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)- Performer(s): Judy Garland- Music/Lyrics: Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane
A number of musical standards were introduced thanks to the period piece Meet Me in St. Louis, one such being “The Trolley Song.” The film’s star Judy Garland was the center of this complex number, which of course had her character travel on a crowded trolley. “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,” she sings. The lyrics were inspired by a popular (at the time) children’s picture book.
#25. ‘High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)’
– Film: High Noon (1952)- Performer(s): Tex Ritter- Music: Dimitri Tiomkin- Lyrics: Ned Washington
Also simply called “High Noon,” this song is the theme of a movie by the same name and is played throughout the film. High Noon is a Western starring Gary Cooper, and the theme song describes Cooper’s character Will Kane and his moral dilemmas. The song is also known by a title inspired by its opening lyrics, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’.”
#24. ‘Ol’ Man River’
– Film: Show Boat (1936)- Performer(s): Paul Robeson- Music: Jerome Kern- Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
One of the earliest musicals to ever grace the Broadway stage was Show Boat, which depicted people on a Mississippi riverboat during the Reconstruction Era. The show tune “Ol’ Man River” dives straight into the hardships of African Americans, comparing their many trials and tribulations with the flow of the river. The film version had Paul Robeson leading the ultimately hopeful, but somewhat bittersweet, song.
#23. ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’
– Film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)- Performer(s): B.J. Thomas- Music: Burt Bacharach- Lyrics: Hal David
Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote the musical score for the classic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but their work for the film also included the equally treasured song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” The song plays during a happy montage centering on Butch (Paul Newman) and Etta (Katherine Ross). The song is still a standard in modern-day pop culture, and has often appeared in other films like Forrest Gump and Spider-Man 2.
#22. ‘Everybody’s Talkin”
– Film: Midnight Cowboy (1969)- Performer(s): Harry Nilsson- Music/Lyrics: Fred Neil
Fred Neil had written and performed “Everybody’s Talkin’” in 1966, but the song reached new heights a couple of years later when Harry Nilsson recorded a cover for the film Midnight Cowboy. Serving as the theme for the Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight movie, both the song and the film are synonymous with each other. The song has since appeared in other films, including Forrest Gump, Borat, and The Hangover Part III.
#21. ‘Jailhouse Rock’
– Film: Jailhouse Rock (1957)- Performer(s): Elvis Presley- Music/Lyrics: Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller
The film Jailhouse Rock was conceived with Elvis Presley in mind, and the singer-actor starred as a prisoner who later becomes a rock star upon his release. The title song, “Jailhouse Rock,” was the basis for a musical number that is thought to be Presley’s greatest moment on the big screen, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of his career. The song was also covered by The Beatles and Queen in later years.
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– Film: West Side Story (1961)- Performer(s): Jimmy Bryant (dubbing Richard Beymer), Marni Nixon (dubbing Natalie Wood)- Music: Leonard Bernstein- Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Also titled “There’s a Place For Us,” “Somewhere” was another memorable love song between the characters of Tony and Maria in the musical West Side Story. Taking a break from all of the gang warfare and dancing, the two characters sing a somber song about finding a better place and reaffirming their love for each other even amidst the violence. Covers by Barbra Streisand and The Supremes were also highly popular.
#19. ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’
– Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)- Performer(s): Adriana Caselotti (as Snow White)- Music: Frank Churchill- Lyrics: Larry Morey
The innovative and legendary Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cemented Disney’s tradition of turning out sweeping, fairytale-inspired musicals. In the song “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Snow White, voiced by Adriana Caselotti, shares her fantasies about her dream love with her dwarf friends. As with many Disney standards, the song has seen a number of pop covers, along with a few jazz interpretations as well.
– Film: Cabaret (1972)- Performer(s): Liza Minnelli- Music: John Kander- Lyrics: Fred Ebb
The character of Sally Bowles sings the title song in the musical Cabaret. The scene is set in a night club during the rise of Nazi Germany, and it is essentially an ode to escapism—and to invite others to do the same. Liza Minnelli portrays the character in the film version, and for her performance in the film, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress.
#17. ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’
– Film: My Fair Lady (1964)- Performer(s): Marni Nixon (dubbing Audrey Hepburn)- Music: Frederick Loewe- Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
The heroine of the musical My Fair Lady, named Eliza Doolittle, sings “I Could Have Danced All Night,” a song in which she expresses her excitement and elation after dancing with her tutor. Julie Andrews portrayed Eliza on Broadway, but the film put Audrey Hepburn in the role, with Marni Nixon as her singing voice. The song also had a role in the 1996 film The Birdcage in a scene with Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Robin Williams, and Dianne Wiest.
#16. ‘Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)’
– Film: A Star Is Born (1976)- Performer(s): Barbra Streisand- Music: Barbra Streisand- Lyrics: Paul Williams
Before the latest version of A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga came the previous iteration of this story, which starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. “Evergreen” was the main theme of the film, and it was co-written by Streisand and Paul Williams. Think of it as a precursor to Cooper and Gaga’s “Shallow,” as it’s one of the songs that the two lead characters perform together.
#15. ‘Cheek to Cheek’
– Film: Top Hat (1935)- Performer(s): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers- Music/Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a legendary Hollywood duo, appearing in 10 films together and often teaming up for huge dance numbers. One such film was Top Hat, which included a scene in which Astaire sings the song “Cheek to Cheek” to Rogers as they dance together. The song would be revived in the next century by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, who collaborated on Bennett’s album of high-profile duets, also called “Cheek to Cheek.”
#14. ‘My Heart Will Go On’
– Film: Titanic (1997)- Performer(s): Celine Dion- Music: James Horner- Lyrics: Will Jennings
James Cameron’s epic romance and disaster film Titanic was a box office and pop culture phenomenon and a large piece of that success is owed to the theme song performed by Celine Dion. Now considered to be Dion’s signature song, the power ballad plays throughout the film in some form or another, as it is also incorporated into the musical score by the song’s co-writer James Horner. The song remains highly influential to this day, in both cinema and pop culture.
– Film: Funny Girl (1968)- Performer(s): Barbra Streisand- Music: Jule Styne- Lyrics: Bob Merrill
The biographical musical film Funny Girl, based on the life and career of Fanny Brice, starred Barbra Streisand in her feature film debut, reprising her role from the Broadway musical that the film is adapted from. “People” was one of the first songs written for the musical, centering on the point of Brice’s life when she is in a relationship with Nicky Arnstein. Afterward, Streisand would often include “People” in her usual performance repertoire.
#12. ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’
– Film: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)- Performer(s): Marilyn Monroe (also partial dubbing by Marni Nixon)- Music: Jule Styne- Lyrics: Leo Robin
Carol Channing introduced the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the original 1949 Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but it was bombshell and icon Marilyn Monroe who brought it to the big screen. Monroe’s character performs the song, describing how one can exploit men for their money and riches. As the title of the song implies, diamonds are also a reoccurring element throughout the whole movie.
#11. ‘The Man That Got Away’
– Film: A Star Is Born (1954)- Performer(s): Judy Garland- Music: Harold Arlen- Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
Every iteration of A Star is Born has its own iconic song, and the 1954 Judy Garland version has “The Man That Got Away.” Composer Harold Arlen had already provided Garland with another career-boosting song in “Over the Rainbow,” and “The Man That Got Away” provided Garland with the most important music scene in the film. The sequence, all shot in one take, features Garland’s character performing the song in front of a small, musicians-only crowd in a night club.
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#10. ‘The Sound of Music’
– Film: The Sound of Music (1965)- Performer(s): Julie Andrews- Music: Richard Rodgers- Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
The title song of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music is an introduction to the character of Maria, and how her carefree nature complements the natural world. The iconic opening scene of the film adaptation sees Julie Andrews in the role of Maria wandering an open field and declaring that “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” Both the tune and lyrics are still referenced in popular culture, with one significant example in the film Moulin Rouge!
#9. ‘Stayin’ Alive’
– Film: Saturday Night Fever (1977)- Performer(s): The Bee Gees- Music/Lyrics: Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb
As famous as John Travolta’s star turn in Saturday Night Fever was one of the main singles from the soundtrack, the Bee Gees classic “Stayin’ Alive.” Featuring the brothers’ usual falsetto tones, the song matches the film’s theme of surviving on the streets, with the song opening the film and showing Travolta’s character going on his usual rounds about the city. The film received a sequel titled Staying Alive, but it was critically lambasted.
#8. ‘The Way We Were’
– Film: The Way We Were (1973)- Performer(s): Barbra Streisand- Music: Marvin Hamlisch- Lyrics: Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Barbra Streisand continued her film career through the 1970s, with one of her hits during the decade being the romantic film The Way We Were, which co-starred Robert Redford. The title song of the film, which was also the name of Streisand’s studio album that coincided with the film’s release, described the melancholic relationship between the characters played by Redford and Streisand. The song boosted Streisand’s career and won her an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
#7. ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’
– Film: Pinocchio (1940)- Performer(s): Cliff Edwards aka “Ukulele Ike” (as Jiminy Cricket)- Music: Leigh Harline- Lyrics: Ned Washington
Continuing Disney’s early streak of successful animated films was Pinocchio, a retelling of the classic tale of a wooden puppet who desires to become a human boy. The song “When You Wish Upon a Star” plays during the opening and closing of the film. It is sung by Cliff Edwards as the character of Jiminy Cricket. Since then, the song has been associated with Disney as a brand, and an instrumental version accompanies the Disney logo at the beginning of every Disney film.
#6. ‘Mrs. Robinson’
– Film: The Graduate (1967)- Performer(s): Simon & Garfunkel- Music/Lyrics: Paul Simon
Simon & Garfunkel and their music had a large presence in the Dustin Hoffman film The Graduate, with “Mrs. Robinson” probably being the most important song on the film’s soundtrack. In the context of the film, Hoffman’s character is seduced by an older woman named Mrs. Robinson, and the upbeat folk-rock song plays during the scene, creating an uncomfortable context that mirrors Hoffman’s discomfort. The song is intertwined with the movie, along with another Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence.”
#5. ‘White Christmas’
– Film: Holiday Inn (1942)- Performer(s): Bing Crosby- Music/Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Now a traditional Christmas song, “White Christmas” gained popularity through a version by Bing Crosby. First performed for Crosby’s NBC radio show, the song was also used in scenes depicting Christmas in the Crosby film Holiday Inn. It became a lasting example of how popular and successful secular Christmas songs could become.
#4. ‘Moon River’
– Film: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)- Performer(s): Audrey Hepburn- Music: Henry Mancini- Lyrics: Johnny Mercer
The song “Moon River” was performed by Audrey Hepburn for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but the song held personal importance for songwriter Johnny Mercer. The lyrics were based on his childhood experiences and memories, and the success of the song helped to revive his songwriting career. The song remains memorable, and also won an Oscar for Best Original Song.
#3. ‘Singin’ in the Rain’
– Film: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)- Performer(s): Gene Kelly- Music: Nacio Herb Brown- Lyrics: Arthur Freed
The film Singin’ in the Rain featured a number of standards and old classic tunes, with the song “Singin’ in the Rain” very obviously being the inspiration for the film’s title. The classic movie has a number of iconic scenes filled with energy, but perhaps none are more memorable than Gene Kelly singing and dancing to the song while splashing around in rain puddles. The optimistic song proved to have longevity in popular culture, and it’s still being used in television and film to this day.
#2. ‘As Time Goes By’
– Film: Casablanca (1942)- Performer(s): Dooley Wilson- Music/Lyrics: Herman Hupfeld
Casablanca is one of the definitive romance movies in cinematic history, and part of it owes to the song “As Time Goes By.” Originally written in 1931, the song featured heavily in the 1942 film as a reoccurring motif. Sam, played in the film by Dooley Wilson, plays it at Humphrey Bogart’s request. Warner Bros. would use the song for their brand long after the film’s release, including it with their studio production logo at the beginning and end of their films.
#1. ‘Over the Rainbow’
– Film: The Wizard of Oz (1939)- Performer(s): Judy Garland- Music: Harold Arlen- Lyrics: E. Y. Harburg
The ballad “Over the Rainbow” is the centerpiece of what is considered to be one of the greatest musical moments in film history, with Judy Garland performing the piece in The Wizard of Oz. Garland portrays Dorothy Gale, who vies to find a place where there isn’t any “trouble.” The song is essentially Dorothy’s “I want” song in which she expresses her desires. Possibly surpassing the original version in popularity is a cover by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, which turned the song into a ukelele-focused piece that has become a popular wedding song beloved by couples the world over.
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