If you couldn’t already tell, I love making lists. And from my experience on the interwebz, people generally enjoy reading lists. Granted, this one isn’t at all objective and won’t result in much argument for that reason (though someone will probably find something to complain about), but I’ve been wanting to write this for quite a while.
So let’s talk about music choices in film. The right song can evoke a myriad of emotions when played against a particular scene. The combination of images and music is vital for a good film to become a great film, and since I love both film and music, I had to share a few of my absolute favorite musical moments.
(Note: I’ve decided to include both movie musicals and non-musicals in this list. I did not include animated films because that list would be far too long. Also note that some videos may contain spoilers and/or NSFW content.)
25. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen (featured in Shaun of the Dead)
Let’s start this list off on a lighter note (because it’s going to get dark very soon). If you’ve never seen Shaun of the Dead, stop reading this and go find it. It’s hilarious, gruesome, and generally heartwarming (for a zombie film). In this particular scene, Shaun and the gang fight off a horde of the undead inside their local pub with a soundtrack courtesy of the jukebox. Not only is the Queen song hilariously out of place in the scene, but the characters actually acknowledge the ridiculousness of it all during the battle.
24. “By the Sea” (featured in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
Plenty of Broadway fans can find something wrong with this Tim Burton-helmed adaptation, but I genuinely loved it. Though “By the Sea” isn’t necessarily my favorite song from the musical, this sequence in the film was so well done. Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) imagines herself in a blissful relationship with Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), singing sweet nothings into his ear. What makes this scene great is Sweeney’s complete indifference to Mrs. Lovett–he essentially ignores everything she says to him, but Mrs. Lovett continues to tell him about how wonderful their wedding will be.
23. “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed (featured in Trainspotting)
I almost chose the opening sequence of this one over the “Perfect Day” scene, but after watching both of them, I realized this is definitely the better scene. Renton (Ewan McGregor) overdoses on heroin at his dealer’s flat and slips into unconsciousness while Lou Reed croons about his “perfect day” in the background. The deceptively sweet song perfectly exemplifies Renton’s intense high (and honestly, it’s a little frightening). [NSFW for graphic heroin use.]
22. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (featured in Do the Right Thing)
I honestly don’t think any other song would have been as perfect a fit for this film as “Fight the Power.” The entire film is incredible, but this scene is one of the defining moments. Proud Italian Sal refuses to put pictures of black celebrities on his Wall of Fame, which leads to three of the neighborhood guys bursting into his pizza shop and blasting some Public Enemy. Despite the boombox, the atmosphere is tense, and shit soon hits the fan.
21. “Führe Mich” by Rammstein (featured in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1)
Have you ever seen an opening sequence so intense you sat back in your seat and thought, “Holy shit, this is gonna be great“? That’s how I felt when I sat down to watch Lars von Trier’s latest foray into cinematic controversy. There isn’t any sex in this scene–instead, the audience gets a cold open on an alley, snow drifting gracefully on to the asphalt. We catch glimpses of a body on the ground, and suddenly…fucking Rammstein. That song hits you like a brick wall. I had no idea what was going on in the first few minutes, but damn, that tune brings you right to attention. (Note: Skip to 1:44)
20. “Origin of Love” (featured in Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
I’m not a huge fan of love songs in musicals, but this one is an exception. Instead of singing about a certain person, Hedwig relays the Greek myth about soul mates to her audience, and the accompanying animation is simply beautiful. If you’re unfamiliar with the myth, here it is in a nutshell: Humans originally had four arms, four legs, and one head with two faces. They also had three genders (male, female, and “androgynous). When the gods feared that the humans would eventually overpower them, Zeus split them into two halves so they would be forced to roam the earth searching for their counterparts.
19. “Hey Boy, Hey Boy” (featured in The American Astronaut)
Sometimes musical moments come out of nowhere and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. This is definitely one of those moments. The American Astronaut is technically a musical, but who the hell knows what any of the songs have to do with space pirates and women on Venus. This song happens early on, and the circumstances are kind of hilarious. Interplanetary trader Samuel Curtis stops by a bar (in space!) and gets followed into the bathroom by two sinister-looking strangers. While Samuel is sitting in his stall, the strangers put on a record and start singing and dancing inside the bathroom. That’s it, that’s the whole scene.
18. “Please, Mr. Jailer” (featured in Cry-Baby)
This film is cheesy gold and Johnny Depp is at his absolute dreamiest in it. There are plenty of great songs, but “Please, Mr. Jailer” has always been my favorite. Cry-Baby gets thrown in jail and goody-two-shoes-turned-bad-girl Allison gets on the hood of a car and begs the jailer to “let [her] man go free.” Allison is a babe herself, and with the rest of the girls shaking their stuff for the inmates, this is one sexy number.
17. “Man of Constant Sorrow” (featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou?)
This is an amazing song by itself, but paired with George Clooney and the rest of the Soggy Bottom Boys crooning with that Southern drawl, it’s perfect. O Brother, Where Art Thou? has one of the best soundtracks, but “Man of Constant Sorrow” is definitely the highlight. And it’s even central to the plot! And this isn’t even a musical! Bonus points!
16. “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” by Frankie Valli (featured in 10 Things I Hate About You)
First of all, 10 Things I Hate About You is probably my favorite romantic comedy of all time. There, I said it. What’s not to love? Heath Ledger as a bad boy gone soft? Check. Julia Stiles as a badass feminist outsider? Check. Based on a Shakespeare play? Check mate. The single most romantic moment in this film is when Patrick (Ledger) tries to win Kat (Stiles) over by serenading her with Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” (complete with a marching band!). I may scoff at most movie romances, but this scene made me swoon.
15. Accordion Intermission (featured in Holy Motors)
This is one of the few instrumental moments on the list, but I just had to include it. If you want a more in-depth explanation of the film, you can check out my review, but for now, I’ll just talk about one scene. Mr. Oscar becomes several different characters over the course of the film, but appears to take a “break” to play the accordion with an army of street musicians. The tune is surprisingly catchy, and even though it doesn’t contribute anything to the plot, this little intermission makes the rest of the movie that much sweeter.
14. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (featured in Wayne’s World)
This scene needs no introduction. This song will forever be associated with a car full of dudes head-banging to a sick guitar solo, and that’s perfect. I don’t even need to say anything else. Just bask in the awesomeness that is Wayne’s World. Party on.
13. “Still” by Geto Boys (featured in Office Space)
Yes, it’s the infamous fax machine destruction. The Office Space soundtrack is about 95% gangsta rap and I love it (the fact that a white guy named Michael Bolton listens to it just adds to the appeal). The office’s useless fax machine gets destroyed by three disgruntled employees with some baseball bats. It’s a gloriously satisfying scene, especially with the words, “Die, motherfucker, die” playing over the destruction.