As Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have proved in recent weeks, nothing makes a movie
Gallery | 21 Favorite Movie Music Cues
'The Graduate' (1967)
Song: "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel
Why We Love It: Released in 1965, "The Sound of Silence" exploded after Mike Nichols used it in his game-changing feature 'The Graduate.' The song features heavily in the film, notably in the striking opening credits and during the melancholy and ambiguous ending.
'Midnight Cowboy' (1969)
Song: "Everybody's Talkin'" by Harry Nilsson
Why We Love It: The controversial 1969 Best Picture winner with Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman is famous for very many things ("I'm walkin' here!"), but its most indelible mark on pop culture might be the use of Nilsson's twangy classic.
'Easy Rider' (1969)
Song: "Born to be Wild" by Steppenwolf
Why We Love It: If you have a list of best music cues without "Born to be Wild," your list explodes on itself like a dying star.
'Rocky III' (1982)
Song: "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor
Why We Love It: Somewhat serious question: what did sports teams play to pump up the home crowd before "Eye of the Tiger" was used so often and memorably in 'Rocky III.' If you don't love hearing this song, we have a prediction: pain.
Song: "Let's Hear it for the Boy" by Deniece Williams
Why We Love It: When it comes to dance-training montages, none can top Kevin Bacon and Chris Penn in the original 'Footloose' in terms of pure joy. The only downside to watching this clip: the '80s Bar Mitzvah staple "Let's Hear it for the Boy" will now be stuck in your head for the foreseeable future.
'Back to the Future' (1985)
Song: "Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News
Why We Love It: It's heavy.
'Top Gun' (1986)
Song: "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins
Why We Love It: Perhaps a controversial choice among Kenny Loggins soundtrack songs -- after all, this could easily be "Footloose" or "I'm Alright" -- but "Danger Zone" so perfectly fits with 'Top Gun' that it's hard to imagine anything being better. You know you still speed whenever this comes on the car radio. For you Berlin fans out there, "Take My Breath Away" was a close runner-up here.
'Say Anything' (1989)
Song: "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel
Why We Love It: For everyone who always wanted to have John Cusack hold a boombox over his head outside their window, this is for you.
Song: "Layla" by Derek and the Dominos
Why We Love It: Forget Tarantino (even though he'll appear later on this list); Martin Scorsese is the king of the needle-drop, and his use of the "Layla" piano exit in 'Goodfellas' -- a film with dozens of amazing songs -- is one of the best music cues ever. Scorsese reportedly played the song on-set to make sure the timing of the montage was just right.
'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' (1991)
Song: "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" by Bryan Adams
Why We Love It: It's hard to remember now, but back when Kevin Costner was the biggest star in Hollywood (he was), this was the biggest song ever (it was). Think: "My Heart Will Go On," but if it was actually a pretty great song. Yours truly may or may not have cried when his cassette copy of the soundtrack was eaten by his parents's car stereo.
'The Lion King' (1994)
Song: "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" by Elton John
Why We Love It: Performed in the film by Nathan Lane, Kristle Edwards, Joseph Williams, Sally Dworsky and Ernie Sabella and then in the credits by Elton John, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy. 'The Lion King' also won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1998, likely making this the only song to ever grab an EGOT.
'Pulp Fiction' (1994)
Song: "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield
Why We Love It: "Vincennnnntttttt, I'm on the intercom." Quentin Tarantino has nothing on Scorsese when it comes to music, but QT piled on the great cues in his breakout film. You can choose any one of them, but the pick here is "Son of a Preacher Man." Disco.
'Fight Club' (1999)
Song: "Where is My Mind?" by The Pixies
Why We Love It: Before he was "David Fincher, Oscar Chaser," David Fincher was the man behind down-and-dirty films like 'Se7en' and 'Fight Club.' The latter of those films -- still underrated in its brilliance to this day -- uses one of The Pixies biggest pop hits to score the destruction of the country's credit history. Not bad, Mr. Fincher. Not bad.
'Almost Famous' (2000)
Song: "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John
Why We Love It: "You are home."
'The Royal Tenenbaums' (2001)
Song: "Everyday" by Van Morrison
Why We Love It: Like Scorsese, Tarantino and Crowe, Wes Anderson is a maestro when it comes to using pop music in movies. From 'Bottle Rocket' to 'Rushmore' and all the way through 'The Life Aquatic,' 'The Darjeeling Limited' and 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' Anderson always finds somewhat forgotten hipster gems than wind up getting continuous play in your iTunes. (Just me?) Consider this inclusion of Van Morrison's "Everyday" -- used to its melancholy best a the end of the wonderful 'Royal Tenenbaums' -- as a lifetime achievement award for Mr. Anderson.
Song: "Happy Together" by The Turtles
Why We Love It: You haven't lived until you've seen Nicolas Cage serenade Nicolas Cage with this bit of classic '60s bubblegum pop.
'The Departed' (2006)
Song: "Shipping Up to Boston" by The Dropkick Murphys
Why We Love It: Here's Scorsese again, showing he's still got enough zip on his fastball to turn a music cue into a moment of cultural significance. Where would Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox be without 'The Departed' bringing 'Shipping Up to Boston' into the zeitgeist?
Song: "Panama" by Van Halen
Why We Love It: "Let's do this dance, boys!" After a night of wild revelry -- and a movie of the same constitution -- what other song can you play while doing a drunken parking-lot donut in your cop car besides Van Halen? The answer is no song.
'The Fighter' (2010)
Song: "How You Like Me Now?" by The Heavy
Why We Love It: Because after being used in David O. Russell's outstanding boxing-cum-family dramedy, "How You Like Me Now?" reached ubiquity in summer movies ('Horrible Bosses' and 'The Change-Up') as well as at sporting events. It's also the most demonstrative song you can imagine, perfect for the story of Mickey Ward. Listen to this, then strut around your office like a peacock. (Or don't.)
Song: "A Real Hero" by College (feat. Electric Youth)
Why We Love It: 'Drive' might not have been as good as you hoped (or as good as the cool-kid film writers would have you believe), but it was iconic for at least one reason (not the frivolous lawsuit): the soundtrack! It's awesomesauce, and "A Real Hero," which features multiple times in the Nicolas Winding Refn film, is the compilation's best.
Song: "Yellow Ledbetter" by Pearl Jam
Why We Love It: It isn't classic like some of the others on here, but closing the wonderful cancer dramedy '50/50' with Pearl Jam was one of the best musical decisions of 2011. As producer and star Seth Rogen said, "Every time I hear that song, I see a pile of money in flames." It was worth it.
[Top Photo: Everett Collection]
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