The 30 Greatest Movie Songs

     April 24, 2019

Johnny and Baby Final Lift Scene

From the time when silent films needed musical accompaniment to the year when every child on Earth was singing “Let It Go,” original songs have played an important role in evoking emotion and telling memorable stories in movies. Whether it signals a warning to audiences in a horror film or sets the scene for romance in a love story, a memorable song can be the viewer’s best friend. How many of these unforgettable movie songs do you already know by heart? Some of them have become such classics you might not have even known they were from movies!

Over the Rainbow

The Wizard of Oz was such an important film that it is still changing lives 80 years after it first graced the silver screen in 1939. Its music is a big part of its charm. “Over the Rainbow” is a sweet ballad that was written for the film. Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) sings the song while she is daydreaming in Kansas before she makes her journey to Oz.

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Image via MGM

Judy Garland sang “Over the Rainbow” so beautifully that it became her signature song. “Over the Rainbow” was composed by Harold Arlen, and Yip Harburg wrote the lyrics. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song during the 12th Academy Award ceremony. The song has since been covered by such artists as Olivia Newton-John and Eva Cassidy.

Shallow

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper had such a strong connection on screen in the 2018 film A Star Is Born that viewers started speculating that they must have a real-life romance. “Shallow” is the beautiful duet that the two performed together in the film. It can actually be heard three different times in the film and is its signature song.

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

“Shallow” is a romantic duet that’s considered a folk pop and country power ballad. Lady Gaga wrote “Shallow” with Anthony Rossomando, Mark Ronson, and Andrew Wyatt. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and numerous other accolades, including four Grammy award nominations.

Glory

Performed by John Legend and Common, “Glory” is the gorgeous theme song from Selma, the 2014 film that depicted a crucial moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The film follows the 1965 marches to Selma, Alabama. In addition to performing “Glory” with John Legend, Common is one of the stars of Selma.

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Image via Paramount

“Glory” received widespread critical acclaim and was a hit song. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 2015 ceremony, and it won the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media. John Legend and Common performed the song at both the Grammy Awards and the Academy Awards ceremonies.

Mrs. Robinson

The soundtrack to the controversial 1967 movie The Graduate became a symbolic soundtrack for the youth of a generation. “Mrs. Robinson” was one of the most recognizable songs from the film. The memorable tune was written by Paul Simon, and it was performed by Simon & Garfunkel.

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Image via Embassy Pictures

“Mrs. Robinson” hit the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and it was the first rock song to win the Record of the Year award at the Grammys. Mrs. Robinson is the name of the infamous character in The Graduate who seduces young Benjamin. Her song was critically acclaimed along with the film.

Suicide is Painless

The instrumental version of “Suicide is Painless” is beloved among television fans as the theme song to the iconic 1970’s television show M*A*S*H. However, the song first appeared in the feature film M*A*S*H that the TV show was later based on. The song’s title and lyrics are ironic, and many people are surprised at how young the lyricist was when it was written.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

The lyrics to “Suicide is Painless” was written by 15-year-old Mike Altman at the request of his father, according to the song’s composer Johnny Mandel. Suicide is, of course, very painful for all involved, so the title comes from the fact that the song is written in the film as a joke, and director Robert Altman intended for it to be stupid. Nevertheless, it has had a lasting impact on listeners.

Stayin’ Alive

John Travolta strutting his stuff down the streets of New York City as “Stayin’ Alive” sounds from the screen is indelibly etched into the brains of those who saw Saturday Night Fever on the big screen in the 1970’s. The Bee Gees disco hit became one of their signature songs, and it is one of the most easily recognized song in cinematic history.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

“Stayin’ Alive” became the number one song in the U.S. in February 1978. It was performed by the three brothers who made up The Bee Gees: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, and Maurice Gibb. Although the lyrics are a bit heavy, the tune itself has an upbeat feel. The Bee Gees made a music video to help promote the tune in the early days of music videos.

9 to 5

“9 to 5” became such a popular song for Dolly Parton that many people don’t even realize that she originally wrote it for the film of the same name. The song is an anthem to inspire those who are working hard in thankless desk jobs while longing for something more in life. The catchy tune was featured on the soundtrack to the 1980 film and on Dolly’s album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin starred in the female buddy film. The song “9 to 5” rose to the very top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has since been used in the Broadway play that was based on the film. Dolly Parton still performs “9 to 5” in her concerts, and a sequel to the 9 to 5 film is now in development. It will no doubt feature the lovable song.

Moon River

From the very first few notes “Moon River” is a song that evokes a mood and a memory. Written by Johnny Mercer and composed by Henry Mancini, “Moon River” was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and then it won two Grammy Awards in 1962 for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

“Moon River” was written specifically for Audrey Hepburn’s eccentric character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. An instrumental version is the first one that’s heard in the movie, then the audience later sees Holly singing it while playing guitar later. Covers of “Moon River” have appeared in many films and television shows since it first enchanted listeners.

Beauty and the Beast

The soundtrack to Disney’s 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast is undeniably gorgeous, and many people don’t realize that there is a tragic story behind the deep, heartfelt tunes. Lyricist Howard Ashman, who also served as an executive producer on Beauty and the Beast, was dying of AIDS as he wrote the lyrics to the song in the film. He ultimately died at age 40 before the movie was released.

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Image via Disney

Alan Menken composes the title song “Beauty and the Beast”, and Howard Ashman wrote the lyrics. It won the Oscar at the 64th Academy Awards. Menken acknowledged Ashman when accepting the award. “Beauty and the Beast” was performed by Celine Dion, and Peabo Bryson. It was also performed in the film by Angela Lansbury as her character Mrs. Potts.

Gangsta’s Paradise

“Gangsta’s Paradise” is a rap song from the 1995 film Dangerous Minds. Performed by rapper Coolio and featuring the singing of L.V., “Gangsta’s Paradise” starts with a line from a Bible verse. It tells the story of a young man whose life is so tough that he doesn’t know if he’ll live to see his next birthday yet “too much television watching” has him chasing dreams.

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Image via Buena Vista Pictures

“Gangsta’s Paradise” samples some of the 1976 song “Pastime Paradise” by Stevie Wonder. Coolio is known for including profanity in much of his music, but he left it out of “Gangsta’s Paradise” because Wonder wouldn’t allow it. Because it sampled a previously released song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” was not eligible for an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

Lose Yourself

No matter how you feel about controversial rapper Eminem, you probably can agree that the critically acclaimed film 8 Mile is a wonderful movie. “Lose Yourself” was the lead single from the film’s soundtrack, and it tells the story of a young man who is desperately chasing his dream. It’s about losing oneself in the music and a dream.

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Image via Universal Pictures

“Lose Yourself” proved to be the most successful song in Eminem’s career, and it won two Grammy Awards and an Oscar. The American Film Institute later included the song in its list of 100 Greatest Songs from American Films. A music video of “Lose Yourself” showcased several scenes from 8 Mile.

When Doves Cry

There’s no denying that Prince was one of the greatest musical artists of all time. He was at his creative and popular peak when he made the film Purple Rain in 1984. “When Doves Cry” was written and recorded for the film. The song topped the charts when it was initially released, and it continues to be heralded as one of Prince’s great songs.

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Image via Warner Bros.

“When Doves Cry” was believed to be about Prince’s romance with singer and musician Susan Moonsie. It was written and composed after Prince had already completed the other songs for the movie, yet it would go on to be the film’s most recognized song. A music video for “When Doves Cry” features scenes from the movie.

Take My Breath Away

Written for the 1986 film Top Gun, “Take My Breath Away” is a powerful love song performed by the band Berlin. It was written by Tom Whitlock and Giorgio Moroder. The music video to “Take My Breath Away” features scenes from the film, and it was included on the film’s 2004 DVD release.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

The recording of “Take My Breath Away” so impressed the producers of Top Gun that they decided to add more romantic scenes between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis to better showcase the song. It ultimately was played during a much-discussed love scene in the film. “Take My Breath Away” won both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award.

(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life

Performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is the most beloved and iconic song from Dirty Dancing. The jovial song takes a look at all the fun that two lovers have together, and it won many awards, including the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

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Image via Vestron Pictures

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is featured during the most famous dance scene in Dirty Dancing where the two lead characters come to a crucial point in their love story. The song was written by John DeNicola, Franke Previte, and Donald Markowitz. It was later used in episodes of shows such as Beverly Hills, 90210.

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won Academy Awards for Best Original Song. The song was performed by B. J. Thomas, and the version that appeared in the film also included an extra instrumental break.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” was first offered to Ray Stevens, yet he chose to sing a different song from the soundtrack instead. It became a hit song for B.J. Thomas after the movie was released, and the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

“If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” was written by Cat Stevens for the endearing, unusual 1971 film Harold and Maude. The song celebrates freedom and doing what one truly wants to do in life. That represents the free spirit that Maude (Ruth Gordon) embraces in the film.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Harold and Maude is known for its incredible soundtrack with multiple songs by Cat Stevens, but no soundtrack was initially released. In fact, it didn’t get a soundtrack release until 2007, and then it was just a limited release soundtrack on vinyl. Although “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” wasn’t released until Stevens put it on his 1984 album Footsteps in the Dark: Greatest Hits Vol. 2, audiences immediately loved it.

Hopelessly Devoted to You

“Hopelessly Devoted to You” was written for the 1978 mega-hit movie musical Grease. John Farrar, Olivia Newton-John’s long-time songwriter and friend, wrote the song when it was decided that the character Sandy needed an extra song. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is sung from the perspective of a young girl pining for the one she loves.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Olivia Newton-John performed “Hopelessly Devoted to You” at the 21st Grammy Awards, and it has become one of her signature songs that she almost always performs in concert. Although “Hopelessly Devoted to You” did not originally appear in the play, the 2007 revival of the play, and it was also included in the 2016 telecast version of the play.

When You Wish Upon a Star

Disney magic often extends to the music on its classic soundtracks. That was certainly true for the 1940 animated film Pinocchio. “When You Wish Upon a Star” was written for the movie by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington. It is performed in the film by Jiminy Cricket; Cliff Edwards provided the voice for the character.

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Image via Disney

“When You Wish Upon a Star” is an irrepressibly hopeful song that reminds the listener than no request is too extreme if they believe in their dreams. “When You Wish Upon a Star” has become a song that represents Disney to fans. The first seven notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star” are used as horn signals on Disney Cruise Line ships. The song was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of their 100 Greatest Songs in Film History.

The Way You Look Tonight

“The Way You Look Tonight” is a romantic ballad from the 1936 film Swing Time. It is told from the perspective of a man who is acknowledging that he will always remember the way that his love looks in the moment. Performed by Fred Astaire, “The Way You Look Tonight” was written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.

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Image via RKO Radio Pictures

“The Way You Look Tonight” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1936. In the decades since the song first graced the silver screen, it has appeared in several other feature films, including the 1991 remake of Father of the Bride. Singer Olivia Newton-John covered it for her album Warm and Tender, and dozens of other artists have covered the song.

I’ve Seen It All

“I’ve Seen It All” is a stark but somehow sweet song performed by the character Selma in the 2000 movie Dancer in the Dark. Björk portrayed Selma in the film, and its soundtrack was called Selmasongs. Björk wrote the song with Lars von Trier and Sjón. “I’ve Seen It All” is told from the perspective of a woman who is observing all she’s already experienced in life.

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Image via Fine Line Features

Björk performed “I’ve Seen It All” with actor Peter Stormare in Dancer in the Dark, and she performed it with Radiohead singer Thom Yorke for the film’s soundtrack. Each duet had its own music video. “I’ve Seen It All” was nominated for an Oscar, and Björk performed the song at the 73rd Academy Awards ceremony.

Can’t Help Falling in Love

“Can’t Help Falling in Love” is now considered one of Elvis Presley’s signature songs. It was originally recorded by Elvis for the 1961 movie Blue Hawaii. Written by Hugo Peretti, George David Weiss, and Luigi Creatore, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” has a melody based on the old French love song “Plaisir d’amour”.

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Image via Paramount

Elvis Presley’s one-of-a-kind voice help make the song easily recognizable. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was a bit hit at the time, and it has only continued to grow in popularity over the years. Elvis traditionally always closed his concerts with “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, and it would ultimately be the last song he ever performed live.

My Favorite Things

When Maria (Julie Andrews) sings “My Favorite Things” to the wide-eyed children in The Sound of Music, movie magic happened. This is the song that established the special relationship between the reluctant nanny and the seven children who needed her. “My Favorite Things” was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

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Image via Twentieth Century Fox

“My Favorite Things” is a song that reveals a lot about the leading lady of The Sound of Music. It reveals the sweet ways that the character comforts herself with things she loves. “My Favorite Things” was included in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs as one of the best songs in movie history, and it has been covered by artists such as Lorrie Morgan and John Coltrane.

My Heart Will Go On

As the theme song for the blockbuster movie Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On” was performed by Celine Dion. Will Jennings wrote the lyrics for “My Heart Will Go On”, and James Horner composed the music. It would go on to become one of Celine Dion’s signature songs. The song is told from the perspective of someone looking back on a great love.

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Image via Paramount

“My Heart Will Go On” is now seen as the love ballad of Jack and Rose. The critical acclaim for “My Heart Will Go In” rolled in, with the song winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1998 and multiple Grammy Awards. “My Heart Will Go On” was played frequently on the radio, and it permeated pop culture for over a year after its release.

The Power of Love

“The Power of Love” is the jovial rock song that was written for the 1985 mega-hit movie Back to the Future. Written by Huey Lewis, Chris Hayes, and Johnny Colla, “The Power of Love” is performed by Huey Lewis and the News. It would become their first number-one hit song, and it was nominated for an Oscar.

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Image via Universal

This upbeat tune appears multiple times in Back to the Future, and it was later used in both sequels to the movie. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) performs a version of the song in the film, and the Huey Lewis and the News version is heard in the film, too. The music video for “The Power of Love” is tied to the film with Christopher Lloyd appearing as Dr. Emmett Brown in the video.

Safe and Sound

The Hunger Games was a dark, dystopian tale that reveals the worst in human nature. The 2012 movie was based on the novel by Suzanne Collins. “Safe and Sound” is a hauntingly beautiful song performed by Taylor Swift and the group The Civil Wars, and it is a hopeful song among darker ones.

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Image via Lionsgate

Taylor Swift wrote “Safe and Sound” with Joy Williams, John Paul White, and T-Bone Burnett. It is meant to express the empathy and compassion that hero Katniss feels for her little sister and others in The Hunger Games. “Safe and Sound” was critically acclaimed, and it won the Grammy award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.

Best That You Can Do

“Best That You Can Do”, which is often referred to as “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”, was written for the 1981 flick Arthur. The inimitable vocals of Christopher Cross help the song stand out as a beautiful ode to love in New York City. Christopher Cross wrote the song with Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, and Peter Allen.

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Image via Warner Bros.

Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli starred in Arthur, but they do not appear in the music video for “Best That You Can Do”. Instead, the music video features Cross performing the song with studio musicians and a separate love story unrelated to the film. “Best That You Can Do” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1982.

White Christmas

“White Christmas” has become a standard Christmas song that’s played by many artists all through the holiday season every year. It started a song that was written for the 1942 musical movie Holiday Inn. Irving Berlin wrote the music and lyrics for “White Christmas”, and it won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the 1943 Academy Awards.

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Image via Paramount

Bing Crosby performs “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn as a duet with Marjorie Reynolds. However, the actress’s voice was dubbed by Martha Mears for the song. “White Christmas” would later be used in the film White Christmas and many other holiday movies. Bing Crosby’s solo rendition of “White Christmas” has the distinction of being the best-selling single in the world.

Through the Eyes of Love

“Through the Eyes of Love” is the theme from Ice Castles, a 1978 movie that centers around the love between a hockey player and an ice dancer who loses her eyesight in a terrible accident. The song is played in the film during a climactic scene when Lexie (Lynn-Holly Johnson) once again competes as a skater with the support of her boyfriend Nick (Robby Benson).

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Image via Columbia Pictures

Marvin Hamlisch composed “Through the Eyes of Love” and other music in the film, and Carole Bayer Sager wrote the lyrics. Melissa Manchester performed it. It has become a signature song of Manchester’s, and she frequently performs it in concert. “Through the Eyes of Love” also became the theme song for Victor and Nikki on The Young and the Restless.

Rainbow Connection

“Rainbow Connection” is the whimsical, hopeful song that was created for the 1979 feature film The Muppet Movie. Written by Kenneth Ascher and Paul Williams, “Rainbow Connection” is performed by Kermit the Frog in the movie. It was Muppet creator Jim Henson who lent his voice to Kermit in the film and song.

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Image via Associated Film Distribution

The last time a song about rainbows had such a grab on audience was Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow,” and Allmusic observed how “Rainbow Connection” also communicates to audiences that the character wants “something more in life”. The song was nominated for an Oscar, but it didn’t win. “Rainbow Connection” had been covered by many singers such as Kenny Loggins and Judy Collins.

Things Have Changed

“Things Have Changed” was written for Wonder Boys. Bob Dylan is known for epic storytelling within his music, and his song “Things Have Changed” is no exception. While his earlier song “Times They Are a Changin’” was beloved as a rallying cry for change, “Things Have Changed” tells a story of man whose trying to accept his life is changing and any minute “all hell may break loose”.

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Image via Paramount

Curtis Hanson directed both Wonder Boys and the music video to “Things Have Changed”. The video features footage of the film and Dylan performing the song. “Things Have Changed” won the Oscar, and Bob Dylan performed at the Academy Award ceremony via satellite from where he was touring in Australia.

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