For many, a good soundtrack can be the key to making a film great. Whether you’re using a song to save time, such as “Head Over Heels” in Donnie Darko,” or using it to evoke a specific emotion in your audience, music plays a pivotal role in many films. Here is a list of the best music moments in film in that last 30 years. To be clear, we’re cutting it off at 1987.
What’s your favourite movie music moment? Tell us in the comments below.
“Stuck in the Middle With You” — Reservoir Dogs
Artist: Stealers Wheel
Reservoir Dogs marked a pivotal moment in Tarantino’s film career, and this scene is a great reminder of why. Laying an upbeat song like “Stuck in the Middle With You” over a torture scene always works. Viewer beware — you’re in for some gore with this one.
“Head Over Heels” — Donnie Darko
Artist: Tears for Fears
Tears for Fears played a huge role in the soundtrack for this movie, with their songs covering two incredible scenes — “Head Over Heels” and a famous cover of “Mad World.” This standout sequence manages to successfully sum up what it’s like to be in high school, while simultaneously introducing the film’s key characters, all in the span of two minutes and without the use of dialogue.
“Come and Get Your Love” — Guardians of the Galaxy
As it goes for every comic book movie, everyone in the theatre on opening night held their breath as Guardians of the Galaxy’s opening credits rolled. However, as soon as Chris Pratt pressed play on his walkman, rest assured we all knew this movie was going to be great.
“Bittersweet Symphony” — Cruel Intentions
Artist: The Verve
As Annette (Reese Witherspoon) drives off into the afternoon, leaving Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) behind to pick up the pieces of her unravelled life, “Bittersweet Symphony” provides the perfect send off to an intensely dramatic film and iconic movie scene.
“Tiny Dancer” — Almost Famous
Artist: Elton John
There’s something about “Tiny Dancer” that just brings emotion to a scene, and when a whole bus full of people are singing along to the classic track after a particularly emotionally charged moment, well, let’s just say there’s no shortage of goosebumps here.
“In Your Eyes” — Say Anything
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Another Cameron Crowe film with an incredible soundtrack and movie music moment. Say Anything’s iconic boombox serenade scene is the film’s defining moment and ultimate nod to the teen romance genre. Where have you not seen an adaptation of this scene? When Family Guy, South Park, and The Simpsons all make fun of something, you know it’s good.
“Love is Strange” — Dirty Dancing
Artist: Mickey & Sylvia
While “Time of My Life” obviously marks a huge music moment in film and is arguably one of the most memorable scenes in the last 30 years, the scene where Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) lip sync “Love is Strange” is often overlooked. This scene is great in so many ways — it’s raw, fun, and truly demonstrates the chemistry between the two co-stars that made this movie what it is. In fact, it wasn’t even meant to be in the film — it was originally a warm up that Grey and Swayze did to get into character, and the director liked it so much that it was added to the film.
“Layla” — Goodfellas
Artist: Eric Clapton
As Eric Clapton’s song about falling in love with George Harrison’s wife plays out, the goodfellas reign slowly comes to an end. There’s something about playing a slower ballad over an intense and violent scene, and Martin Scorsese didn’t miss a beat.
“Twist and Shout” — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Artist: The Beatles
This iconic scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off featured Ferris Bueller performing “Twist and Shout” on a parade float during his day off to loosen up his friend Cameron, and it’s great. Not to mention Matthew Broderick’s performance. John Hughes knew what he was doing.
“Hip to be Square” — American Psycho
A lot of people attribute this scene to being one of the film’s many satirical elements, but there’s something undeniably sinister about the way Patrick Bateman murders Paul Allen in this particular scene. The way he happily answers Paul’s question, “Is that a raincoat” is as equally disturbing as the way he blatantly prepares to murder him. “Hip to be Square” provides some comedic relief, but the way Bateman’s happy-go-lucky tone matches up with the song is also disturbing.
Club Fight Scene — John Wick
You can’t have a John Wick movie without a fight scene in a club. The first film nailed it, with John Wick chasing down his puppy-killer in a club to the sound of a thumping bass. It became so iconic that directors just had to put one in the film’s sequel, which might even be better than its original.
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” — 10 Things I Hate About You
Artist: Frankie Valli
One of my favourite Heath Ledger movies is 10 Things I Hate About You — the actor’s charisma, genuineness, and humour shines through in the 1999 film. One of the most memorable moments is when Patrick Verona sings to Kat on the football field. Fun fact: Ledger actually did sing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” …no lip syncing required.
“Everytime” — Spring Breakers
Artist: Britney Spears
The defining moment in Spring Breakers is when James Franco sits down at the piano and sings Britney Spears’ ballad “Everytime” to Faith, Candy, and Brit. At this point in the film, Alien has completely surrendered to the three girls, and this song completely captures all that emotion in one scene.The song choice was absolutely perfect and completely unexpected. It also pays homage to Spears’ best and most heart wrenching song — Spears wrote the track during a very difficult time in her life and it’s still one of her best hits.
“You Never Can Tell” — Pulp Fiction
Artist: Chuck Berry
Go to a Halloween party and there’s guaranteed to be a couple that knows the moves to this dance scene. There are a ton of great music moments in Tarantino’s classic 1994 film, but this is one of the most iconic.
“The Riddle of the Model” — Sing Street
A group of kids mimicking what looks like an 80s music video on MTV is just the best. This scene was spot on with capturing the love, emotion, and sweet naivety of being a teenager and being completely enthralled by rock n roll.
“Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” — Beetlejuice
Artist: Harry Belafonte
The original Belafonte recording was used during the dinner scene in Beetlejuice when all the adults are compelled to do a dance number to the song. It’s a classic Tim Burton touch, who has a way of mashing humour and obscenity in the perfect way.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” — Wayne’s World
It is virtually impossible to listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a group of friends — or alone — and not break out into song. This is also the kind of sing along where everyone seems to naturally know their part, from the designated background vocalists to the drawn out “Ohs.” This is one of the most relatable movie scenes in all of history.
“Fat-Bottomed Girls” — Aquarius
You know that feeling when you put on your favourite record from 10 years ago and completely get lost in the music? Kind of like travelling through time? This is exactly what you get with this scene, when Sonia Braga’s character decides to combat her neighbour’s noise by throwing on a classic completely losing herself in it. It’s beautiful.
“Free Bird” — Kingsman: The Secret Service
Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd
It’s hard to catch your breath watching this scene in Kingsman, which is literal non-stop action. Add “Free Bird” to the mix, and you’ve got a solid and completely insane action sequence.
“Bellbottoms” — Baby Driver
Artist: The John Spencer Blue Explosion
Baby Driver is best described as a car chase opera. What is a car chase opera? A film where not one single action scene can exist without music, and vice versa. This opening scene set the precedent for the whole film.
“Don’t Stop Me Now” — Shaun of the Dead
Using a Queen song during an action scene, or any scene for that matter, is a solid go-to. This rings true in Shaun of the Dead, the zombie apocalypse satire that stands the test of time.
“Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster” — Office Space
Artist: Geto Boys
Watching Peter Gibbons give zero f**ks during these scene was unreal. A notable mention goes out to “Still,” which was used during the printer stomping scene (also unreal).
“Sweet Emotion” — Dazed and Confused
As that orange Pontiac GTO rolls into the high school parking lot to the tune of “Sweet Emotion,” you’re immediately taken back in time to 1976, successfully setting the tone for the rest of the film.
“These Days” — The Royal Tenenbaums
Artist: Nico (Jackson Browne cover)
Wes Anderson films aren’t short of great musical moments. This particular scene in The Royal Tenenbaums sees Nico’s cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” fittingly playing as Gwyneth Paltrow takes her slo-mo descent from the bus.
“Where is My Mind” — Fight Club
After realizing Tyler Durden isn’t who you thought he was, Fight Club’s ending completely changes the course of the film. There’s also the line “You met me at a very strange time in my life,” which provides a chilling send off as “Where is My Mind” peaks.
“Lust For Life” — Trainspotting
Artist: Iggy Pop
Trainspotting iconic opener is made whole with the Iggy Pop track “Lust For Life”. As Ewan McGregor runs from the law, he delivers a memorable rant about the people who choose to live life by society’s standards.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” — Zombieland
The Zombieland survival rules include good cardio, limber up, double tap, beware of bathrooms, buckle up, travel light, don’t be a hero, know your way out, use the buddy system, check the back seat, and enjoy the little things. Oh, and be sure to play Metallica while kicking zombie ass.