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The 14 Best Uses Of Rock Songs In Movies

17 January 2014 | Features, Other Lists | by Christopher Spencer

orck song uses movies

Music in movies has always been just as important as the direction and screenplay. They can be truly defined by their scores, while music-less films are often boring and uninteresting. And sometimes films can use a particular song very well.

So if scores define a film, then a song can and does define a scene. There are always plenty to choose from and here are the 15 most unforgettable rock song uses in movies. Note that we have excluded songs written specifically for the film and have instead selected scenes where the song predates the film.


14. Argo

The Song: “Dance the Night Away” – Van Halen

Why it’s unforgettable? Argo’s setting of 1979-1980 obviously makes for the unlimited possibilities of awesome songs released in that time. And Van Halen’s groovy riff gives a good sense of place and time.

The song was used rightly in the film because Argo is really a dark comedy in some ways, and the showing of how big everything is for a fake film in the scene is a nice prod to Hollywood. The song is cool on its own, and here, used in the sights of the Beverly Hills Hotel circa ’79, the title defines the scene.


13. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

The Song: “Kashmir” – Led Zeppelin

Why it’s unforgettable? Well mainly because it doesn’t make sense towards the scene. When Ratner (Brian Backer) is desperate for advice, Damone (Robert Romanus) gives out his free five-point plan, which is relationship gold. He tells Ratner as number 5 point “When it comes to making out, whenever possible, play Side One of Led Zeppelin IV.” Unfortunately, the songs really on Side One of Led Zeppelin IV would kill the mood quicker than “Hallelujah.” So Ratner, in the next scene with Stacy, plays Kashmir, from Physical Graffiti.

The quick scene is funny, yes, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s reaction is one of confusion and question, as Ratner sits there thinking Damone is right. In any case, the song would have worked better than “The Battle of Evermore”, and we are all thankful for that.


12. American Hustle

The Song: “10538 Overture” – Electric Light Orchestra

Why it’s so unforgettable? Ok, yes the film was only released last year, is still in limited cinematic release and is sweeping the awards run. So you may think it’s a little early to consider any scene or song from this film unforgettable. But ELO is the exception.

This 70s song for a 70s-set film is used twice in the film, to introduce the main aspect of the con, a fake Sheikh, and then again at the end of the film when the twist is still fresh. The hammering riff from Jeff Lynne mixed with triumphant violins gives an uplifting feel to a film which, without the song, would have been very nearly subpar.


11. Zombieland

The Song: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” – Metallica

Why it’s so unforgettable? Being played during the opening credits always accelerates those credits to being awesome (see number 13). Zombieland is no exception. Being an awesome film, it needs an awesome soundtrack and Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” kicks this off.

The awesome heavy metal riff being played with slow motion zombie deaths makes you wonder why don’t all zombie films have heavy metal music. And Metallica is dark, but also cool, just like Zombieland.


10. Boogie Nights

The Song: “Livin’ Thing” – Electric Light Orchestra

Why it’s so unforgettable? Like numbers 20 and 12 before, this is a song used because the film is set in the time when the song was released. But you can somehow tell that director Paul Thomas Anderson used it because of its title in relation to the scene.

Used in the final scene, where washed up porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) has been given another shot. Rehearsing his lines before getting up to whip out the infamous member Dirk has had but we haven’t seen. It’s a thing to behold. A living thing. And so the bouncy and fun riff comes through making you feel a little happy at a film, which is the opposite of that.


9. American Beauty

The Song: “American Woman” – Guess Who

Why it’s so unforgettable? It is rare for a song to have so much in common with a film, but not to have been written for it. American Beauty uses “American Woman” so well that it sounds like it was written for the film.

As Carol Burnham (Annette Bening) finds sexual pleasure with Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher), Lester Burnham (the amazing Kevin Spacey) finds mental pleasure by smoking weed. As these scene cut together, Guess Who’s sexy groove-a-thon rocks through which will bring a smile to anyone’s face. As it sure did to Lester.


8. The Twilight Zone Movie

The Song: “Midnight Special” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Why it’s so unforgettable? The Twilight Zone Movie might not be the most well known film. It’s a real oddity that’s really livened by two things: the end sequence with John Lithgow, and the opening.

As a lonely car winds down the road, the opening arpeggios of CCR’s smooth ballad play through the darkened dawn. Then, Albert Brooks and Dan Ankroyd begin to sing with the drum riff coming through. This is a really fun scene, mainly because they sing it terribly. A fun opening, before things get scary. Really scary.



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  • Christine Silberberg

    Dude, I don’t know how the hell you put in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica from freaking Zombieland (a good movie, I’ll admit), yet you left out the CLASSIC “When the Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash in the Dawn of the Dead remake. I mean WTF? And not for nothing, but how do you leave out “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd from The Devil’s Rejects? You’ve got some good films in here, but man, you seriously dropped the ball.

    • Gravitynaut

      As far as zombie movies are concerned, Shaun of the Dead’s usage of “Don’t Stop Me Now” is a far more appropriate and awesome usage of a song. It should be on this list over half of these choices.

      • Christine Silberberg

        I agree, that is absolutely deserving of being on this list. I don’t understand how the authors of these things come up with them TBH.

  • Hadassa Noble

    How could you not have Highlander in this list?

  • Eimantas Genevičius

    Where is the “Fight Club” ending with the Pixies?

  • antiutopia

    No man, “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous.

  • Rust

    The “Hip to be Square” scene in American Psycho is amazing.

  • The top five are “pitch perfect.” See what I did there? Anyhoo, I cannot here the refrain from Layla without thinking of dead bodies (in fact my wife and I always shout out dead bodies when the song comes on the radio).

    As someone else said in an earlier comment, Tiny Dancer’s placement in Almost Famous is one that needs to be on this list. I tend not to be that big of a fan of Cameron Crowe’s films (never hate them, but never really love them either) but damn, that guy knows just what song and just when to include it – second/third only to Scorsese and/or Tarantino, in that regard.


    the departed, shipping off to boston?? wtf that was the best

  • Vince Duggan

    Just watched “Kingsman” – Freebird.

  • Klaus Dannick

    “In Dreams” from Blue Velvet.

  • Allister Cooper

    I’d include ‘Still In Hollywood’ by Concrete Blonde during that restaurant scene in The Hidden :).

  • Manfred Winter

    Blackboard Jungle (Rock around the clock)?

  • Randy van Rijn

    For me, number 1 should be Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ at the finale of ‘The Devil’s Rejects’…

  • Pici
  • Daniel Koehnen

    Wheres “The Devils Rejects” with Lynyrd Skynyrds “Freebird” at the End ? 🙁

  • QueenK

    I really thought I would see Sympathy for the Devil from the end of Interview with a Vampire in this list.

  • Ted Wolf

    missing one of the most iconic moments, Old Time Rock ‘n Roll from Risky Business.

  • Gravitynaut

    “Don’t Stop Me Now” from Shaun of the Dead seems to get overlooked in lists like this, which is a shame, because it’s better than half the entries in this list IMO. The scene is awesome, the song is awesome, and they fit together like peas and carrots.