The 10 Best Uses of Music from Different Eras of The Movie Story

5. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s attempt at a World War II epic the likes of The Dirty Dozen and Kelly’s Heroes. While there are certainly a number of historical inaccuracies in this film in its depiction of World War II, this is a Quentin Tarantino film and it is all about entertainment and his pop culture orientated world.

As such, the David Bowie song ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ by David Bowie from the soundtrack of the 1982 film Cat People is used. The film is set in 1944, long before this song was made and before Bowie was even born.

This is a classic example of Quentin Tarantino using his extensive knowledge of pop culture by using this song and its dramatic sound to show that the big showdown in the film is about to happen, and that Shosanna is ready to enact her revenge.


4. Back To The Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Although Back To The Future is a 1980s classic, it absolutely revels itself in the 1950s. 1980s teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back to 1955 where he has to adapt to a new way of life, including the music his teenage parents love.

This film was made in 1985, but features music from 30 years earlier to reflect the time period Marty McFly is sent to, and also to show what an outsider he is as he is in a strange land and time. When Marty plays ‘Johnny B. Goode’ at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, he plays a 1980s era guitar solo at the end, and everyone looks at him, having no idea what he just played.


3. Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009)

Despite being a superhero movie, Watchmen is ultimately about the disillusionment people feel as they get older and realise the world can be a horrible place. A group of superheroes called the Watchmen have worked together from the 1930s onwards, and were at the peak of their powers during World War II, only for the group to crumble after both internal and political turmoil due to the effects of the Vietnam War.

Although set in 1985, this film uses various songs from the 1960s, the characters’ heyday as superheroes before becoming disillusioned. The 1960s was about revolution and great change in society, but those dreams were shattered. The Bob Dylan song ‘Times, They Are A-Changing’ plays during the opening credits showing how the heroes were young, motivated and successful in the 1930s and 1940s, but eventually the group disbanded and society deemed them to be unnecessary and a thing of the past.

Other 1960s songs are used as well to emphasise this point, such as ‘All Along The Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix plays during a combat scene during the Vietnam War, and ‘The Sound Of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkle plays during the funeral of one of the fallen Watchmen.


2. The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013)

Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel The Great Gatsby had a lot of criticisms upon its release, one of which being its use of contemporary music despite being set in the 1920s.

The soundtrack consists of songs by Lana Del Rey, Kanye West, Jay Z, Gotye, Beyonce Knowles, and more. This was done to have songs the audience will know and will be able to relate to more, but also creates a modern atmosphere for a story set a long time ago, and done so in Baz Luhrmann’s extravagant style of filmmaking.

The Lana Del Rey song ‘Young And Beautiful’ in particular is used to great effect when Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) are reunited after not seeing each other for years and immediately fall in love again. The passion of the song really synchs well with the affection Gatsby and Daisy are showing each other.


1. Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)

No one in the modern age of cinema does extravagant and colourful films like Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann. Over a decade before The Great Gatsby was made, Luhrmann made his overwhelming musical Moulin Rouge. The energy of the performances, dance sequences and crazy visuals make this film real eye candy, but perhaps the music is the real star of the film.

Moulin Rouge is set in 1899 in Paris just as the 20th century is about to start, but the film uses songs from the late 20th century, made long after the story’s setting, that are sung by the cast in the fashion of songs from this era. The songs’ lyrics and meanings are used to advance the plot, and create a new spin on the songs’ meanings. This film uses so many hit songs that it took the filmmakers two years to acquire the rights to use all of them.

Some songs include ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ by Marilyn Monroe is sung when Satine (Nicole Kidman) is sensually singing to all the men in the club so she can get diamonds and money from them. She then sings ‘Material Girl’ by Madonna to explicitly say that she is more interested in material goods than love. ‘The Show Must Go On’ by Queen, used to say Satine will continue performing despite dying from tuberculosis.

When Christian (Ewan McGregor) is professing his love to Satine, he sings a combination of songs by The Beatles, Kiss, U2, David Bowie, Joe Cocker, and more. That is only one sequence in the whole movie where various songs are combined together in melody. There are so many examples that it could be a list article in itself.

Author Bio: Matt Wilson is a professional writer from Melbourne, Australia. His passion for cinema has always been a part of him and he aspires to be a screenwriter or a novelist. He particularly enjoys the films of Michael Cimino, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Verhoeven, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino.