The music can sometimes MAKE the movie. Think about a film like Jaws, or for that matter any film scored by John Williams. Think about horror movies. Would anyone consider Psycho a classic if not for the music during the infamous shower scene? Imagine Halloween without John Carpenter’s creepy tune. We leave the theatres humming the tunes and they stay with us for years after.
But if a movie uses the right songs in it, it’s doubly effective as we sing the lyrics and always think of those movies and those scenes the songs were played during. Plus we need to run out and buy (or in today’s case download) the soundtrack. More important than the songs on the soundtrack is the placement of the song in the film.
This leaves a permanent mark on the film goer and could turn a normal theatre experience into an extremely memorable one. It is often the music or the songs that turn good scenes into classics. For this list we tried to keep it to lyrical songs and not scored music or themes.
20. Dazed & Confused (Richard Linklater – 1993)
Song – “Schools Out” by Alice Cooper
Hard to pick just one song from a movie with such an impressive soundtrack that they needed to release a Part 2, but we settle on the iconic song by Alice Cooper.
After all, in a film based on the wild night of the last day of school in a small Texas town, what better tune to come blaring through the screen when the bell rings? Kids come rushing out their respective schools, and it’s “no more teachers, no more books” for everyone. Bring on the booze, reefer, and crazy initiation traditions!
19. The Faculty (Robert Rodriguez – 1998)
Song – “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” by Class of 99 (Layne Staley, Tom Morello, Stephen Perkins, Martin Le Nobl and Matt Serlectic)
In Robert Rodriguez’s underpraised sci-fi horror flick, aliens have taken over a small town Ohio high school and in the tradition of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we quickly are trying to figure out who’s human and who’s alien. When only a motley crew of classmates are left they go to hunt down the “Queen” and where else to find her but at the football game on a Friday night.
As they pull up, Pink Floyd’s classic dystopian anthem begins to blare out (updated by a group of late-90s rockers). As the lyrics “we don’t need no thought control…” are sung the obviously alien infested football team lays brutal hits to their enemies as the crowd cheers holding signs of “Kill Kill Kill!” The song is both atmospheric and ironic, sending a not-so-subtle message about humans pack mentality.
18. Roger & Me/Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore – 1989/2002)
Songs – Roger & Me: “Wouldn’t it be nice” – Beach Boys
Bowling for Columbine: “What a Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong
Whether you agree or disagree with Michael Moore’s political stances, one cannot deny his success at making thought provoking and polarizing documentaries. One thing that allows his films to stand out is his perfect choices of music.
In his 1989 debut, Roger & Me, he shows his hometown, the now depleted Flint, Michigan and tries to find GM boss Roger Smith to ask why he outsourced nearly all the Michigan auto jobs and put so many people out of work. Moore marvelously juxtaposes the Beach Boys light and fluffy “Wouldn’t it be nice” while panning down a stretch of boarded up abandoned Flint homes.
In 2002’s Oscar winning documentary about America’s obsession with guns in the wake of the 1999 school shooting; Bowling for Columbine, Moore again juxtaposes music with imagery to make a compelling argument.
In a montage of historical footage depicting America’s involvement in violent foreign affairs, Moore plays Louis Armstrong’s classic “What a Wonderful World” with the final note of the song ending as the second plane strikes the World Trade Center tower and you hear people’s horrified reaction.
17. A Clockwork Orange – (Stanley Kubrick – 1971)
Song – “Singin in the Rain” – Gene Kelly (as sung by Malcolm McDowell)
One of the most controversial and horrifying scenes on the list; Kubrick’s classic tale of a young psychopath and his droogs who want nothing more than a little ultra-violence.
After breaking into the home of a writer and his wife, Alex DeLarge and his friends beat the man and rape the wife all while Alex (Malcolm McDowell) sings and dances to Gene Kelly’s title classic Singin in the Rain. Thousands of movie fans had that song forever ruined for them thanks to this scene and cannot picture anything other than Kubrick’s film over 40 years later.
16. Fight Club (David Fincher – 1999)
Song – “Where is my mind” – The Pixies
Fight Club is one of the biggest mind trips in modern movie history. SPOILER ALERT!!! David Fincher’s somehow translated Chuck Palahniuk’s anti-establishment novel into a narrative film where an unnamed narrator meets a jack of all trades soap make named Tyler Durden. Together they turn boredom into an underground sensation for the disaffected; Fight Club.
Fight Club evolves from boredom killer for the working class to full blown terrorist organization designed to even the playing field between the classes. As the narrator and his on/off girlfriend Marla seem to finally have the situation settled, they stare out the window as Project Mayhem’s plan comes to fruition.
As they watch all the corporate buildings around crumble, the Pixies, Where is my mind starts playing. The song perfectly complements the tone and ideas of the story. His final line to Marla during the destruction: “You met me at a very strange time in my life.” The song echoes the final imagery into the end credits seamlessly… well except for the… well let’s just say, you know you saw it.
15. American Psycho – (Mary Harron – 2000)
Song – “Hip to be Square” – Huey Lewis and the News
Brett Easton Ellis’s tale of murder amongst the consumer-driven upper class is a phenomenal take on American consumerism and greed. Add Christian Bale as sociopathic lawyer/murderer Patrick Bateman and you have a recipe for a “killer” movie experience. When Patrick is offended by a rival’s more expensive business card he does the rationale thing: invites him up to his bachelor pad for some drinks and axe-murder.
Obsessed with “things” and pop-culture, he gleefully plays Paul Allen (a pre-Oscar, Jared Leto) some classic Huey Lewis on his hip CD player. The song “Hip to be Square” is as Patrick Bateman describes as, “A song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should; because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also an important statement about the band itself!” He then proceeds to hack Paul to bits. It’s such a total leap into the twisted mind of a serial killer.