The new college a cappella movie, “Pitch Perfect,” is already a bonafide hit in limited release, having achieved the highest per-screen gross at the box office last weekend. But does this mean music-free singing will suddenly be the cool thing on campuses across the nation? Maybe not, but perhaps it could be a hot trend on the big screen, if Hollywood decides to produce some a ca-copycats.
Well, the studio execs needn’t only look to the Anna Kendrick-led musical for inspiration. Below we’ve highlighted 15 earlier a cappella performances from the movies -- a surprising amount of which star Will Ferrell.
“Afternoon Delight” by The Channel 4 News Team in ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy’ (2004)
Not only are Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner one of the funniest comedy quartets since the Marx Brothers, they’re also quite a match as far as musical talent goes. Who needs a harp or a piano when you’ve got the out-of-nowhere harmonizing of Ron, Brian, Brick and Champ, the last of which is great with the sound effects necessary for this tune originally recorded -- with musical accompaniment -- by the Starland Vocal Band.
“Boogie Nights” by The Tone Rangers in ‘The Break-Up’ (2006)
Maybe more memorable is the dinner scene rendition of Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which John Michael Higgins’s character attempts to get going with a table full of amateurs. But better is this “very funky groove”<a href="http://www.spike.com/video-clips/8rv154/the-break-up-gary-confronts-the-tone-rangers"> performed by him and his trained a cappella ensemble</a>, which goes right on singing Heatwave’s disco classic while their leader forces an interrupting Vince Vaughn to literally get down on the floor by kicking his butt.
“Who Will I Be” by Demi Lovato in ‘Camp Rock’ (2008)
The thing about singing a cappella is that you can really show off your vocal talents, as long as you’re simply singing solo and not “so low” that nobody can hear you (this is a problem for a character in ‘Pitch Perfect’ too). Fortunately, Mitchie Torres (Lovato) finds her volume and wows her fellow music campers with this original tune. And the audience of the Disney movie are made certain that the teen starlet can really belt one out.
“Next to Last Song” by Bjork in ‘Dancer in the Dark’ (2000)
Warning: not only is this clip and song a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film, but it’s also highly depressing either way. While Selma (Bjork) is technically singing a cappella within the real world of this devastating Lars von Trier film, the character usually hears music in her head, as if she’s living in a musical, and during those numbers we hear the accompaniment as well. But this raw final performance is so much more powerful because her voice is all by itself... until it’s silenced forever.
“Crazy in Love” by Antique Gold in ‘Good Luck Chuck’ (2007)
If you want to impress a lady, dressing up as a penguin and jumping out of a giant present to sing a Beyonce tune might be a bit much. However, kicking off with a senior barbershop quartet harmonizing on that same modern and youth-associated song is a good, cute start and probably just plenty. Three of the gentlemen in this scene (Charlie Metzger, George Metzger and George Wakeman) are from the group Antique Gold, which had won the 2006 Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Seniors Quartet Championship. Sadly, their tenor (Tom Bates) died the very same year, so he was replaced for the film and at many live shows by Marty Lovick.
“Show Me the Way to Go Home” by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw in ‘Jaws’ (1976)
What do you do when you’re at sea with a couple of men and you’ve just heard an unbelievable and unforgettable first-hand tale of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis followed by a solo performance from an orca in the distance? Sing a shanty, of course, or maybe an old English folk song like this one with lyrics that fit the mood and circumstances. Until it’s done, or until the shark you’re after makes an appearance.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by The Muppets Barbershop Quartet in ‘The Muppets’ (2011)
During the big show to raise money to save the Muppet Theater, one of the acts is a barbershop quartet consisting of Sam the Eagle, Rowlf the Dog, Link Hogthrob and Beeker, who harmonize a rendition of Nirvana’s breakout single. This much to the dismay of a celebrity guest/kidnap victim Jack Black, who thinks they’re ruining one of the greatest songs of all time. We respectfully disagree, Jack; this cover is lots of fun and will probably instead introduce a new generation to that great song.
“Ice Cream”/”Serenade” by The Buffalo Bills in ‘The Music Man’ (1962)
We can’t talk about a cappella performances and especially barbershop quartets without acknowledging the four bickering school board members who are brought together in song by musical con artist Harold Hill. The film didn’t need to round them up, though, as these men (Wayne “Scotty” Ward, Bill Spangenberg, Vern Reed and Al Shea) were cast together as a pre-existing barbershop quartet, The Buffalo Bills, who had also already played the characters on Broadway. And they are sincerely great.
“I Gave My Love to Erin” by Will Ferrell and others in ‘The Other Guys’ (2010)
Oh, look, Will Ferrell is singing a cappella again, something all those years at ‘Saturday Night Live’ likely contributed to -- especially his accompaniment-free portrayals of Robert Goulet. So let’s take notice of another singer among the Irish pub crowd crooning in this scene: bass vocalist Barry Carl, who was one of the members of the group Rockappella, famous for the theme song for and regular appearances on ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago?’
“(They Long to Be) Close to You” by Rick Moranis in ‘Parenthood’ (1989)
Burt Bacharach may get more credit for composing the music for this song, and The Carpenters are certainly the best known for performing it, but the recently deceased lyricist Hal David must be remembered for penning the words. And that’s especially true when you look at a music-free rendition, even if it is harmonized to Bacharach’s melody. Most of all, though, let’s give Rick Moranis a round of applause for his Muppet-ish vocals in lead and backing parts.
“I Wonder Why” by The Definitions in ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ (1986)
“Charlie has a really great voice.” Yes, and of course that’s really Nicolas Cage, along with a young Jim Carrey plus Harry Basil and Glenn Withrow, as far as we know all performing their own vocals as a high school doo-wop group with a very schooltime sort of name. This particular Dion and the Belmonts tune was mentioned by name in the screenplay, though as a second choice to The Edsels’ “Rama Lama Ding Dong.”
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Lurie Poston and Elizabeth Yozamp in ‘Step Brothers’ (2008)
There’s an discernable difference between an ideal family and one that’s trying too hard to seem perfect. And here you can deduce immediately that there are problems under the hood with this unit, as father Derek (Scott) is obviously both overcompensating and reaching for distractions in having his clan sing Guns N’ Roses in perfect four-part harmony during a road trip. His wife (Hahn) isn’t even trying anymore, but at least they can count on precocious young Tommy to one day join a million-dollar boy band, or at least be a star of the college a cappella scene. As Will Ferrell’s brother, clearly Derek is just trying to compete with the rest of his movies on this list.
“Countdown to Love” by The Sorels in ‘Streets of Fire’ (1984)
When their tour bus is commandeered during a rescue of a rock star, a doo-wop group begins serenading the young singer and the mercenary team she’s with, and ultimately it pays off as a sort of audition. The guys in the group are played by comedian Robert Townsend, Forrest Gump co-star Mykelti Williamson, Grand L. Bush and Stoney Jackson. And just listening this time, there’s Rick Moranis again.
“These Eyes” by Michael Cera in ‘Superbad’ (2007)
Being able to carry a tune can save your butt in tough situations, and that’s super true for Evan (Cera) when he finds himself in a room of a party with a bunch of crazed coke heads who think he’s some other guy with a beautiful voice. So, he starts into a classic from The Guess Who, and while not really that beautiful, it is decent enough to get by. The threatening older guys around him even help out by joining in with a little backup. If Evan is hoping to join a singing group next year in college, he doesn’t have to work too hard on his voice. But his dance moves are another thing altogether.
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards in ‘Top Gun’ (1986)
Some might mis-remember this famous scene, which really helped to bring the Righteous Brothers oldie back, as more of a karaoke-type bar singalong. But Maverick (Cruise) is smooth and managed to get the large, military-filled room to quiet down so that he and Goose (Edwards) could serenade Kelly McGillis properly with only their voices. Eventually all of America’s armed forces (seemingly) join in, and the hot shot pilot has shown the woman the heights of his charm and his power over a room. Too bad, at first, it turns out she’s the one with real authority.