Top Ten: Uses of Pop Songs in Movies

I didn’t come up with this one all on my own!

This was the brainchild of our good buddy John over at Pint O’ Comics. They are doing an episode around the same time as this list wherein they are naming their Top 5 uses of pre-existing pop songs in movie scenes, and he thought it would be a rad idea if we at SWO Productions coincided with their show. So for the month of March, our Top Ten List Challenge was the same topic.

The rules were dictated to us as follows: It has to be a scene from a movie, not from TV. I wanted to use “The Final Countdown” from Arrested Development or “Carry On Wayward Son” from Supernatural, but… nope. Cinema only. Fair enough!

Secondly, it had to be a pop song. No classical music like “Ride of the Valkyries” from Apocalypse Now. I guess that works. A lot of movies use classical or instrumental tunes, and the Pint wanted to focus on more modern music and its inclusion.

And lastly, I think if I followed his rules right, it had to be a song that existed before the movie and wasn’t created for it. So no “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky! Sadness. Also, nothing from a musical unless it was using non-original scores. Which… how often does that happen? Rock of Ages? Ugh.

This was hard! And not as easy to research as a lot of my other lists. Typically I can just type something into the ol’ web and start making a big ol’ cut down list. But here, there was a lot of Googling “Best movie scene song”, “Best song in movie”, “Best use of song movie scene”, and the like until I could put together a whole ten. To be fair, a few sprung right to mind, but many came from searches that led to me to go “Oh, right, that!”… including my eventual #1!

I threw in a few more protocol for just self-imposed standards: I have to have seen the movie, so no just cherry-picking popular ones that I may not have seen (I broke this rule once, but I’ll explain why when I get there), and, while not a rule, preferential treatment was doled out by how much I like the song.

THAT… was a lot of rules and standards, all told! So what shook out of that tree? Here we go!

#10. Dawn of the Dead – “Down With The Sickness”

I originally had the end scene of Bridesmaids here where the ladies rock out to “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, but a late recollection made me add this instead!

The remake of Dawn of Dead lacks the political undertones and joyful campiness of the original, but injects a lot of intensity, viciousness, and humor. I’d honestly call it a draw; they are both great. And one of the (if not THE) most memorable scene of the movie is this before-the-storm montage of the characters adjusting to life in the mall.

It’s not just that they used Down With The Sickness, which is fitting enough for a zombie movie. It’s that they used the Richard Cheese jazzified remix that sounds just like mall muzak. The original version wouldn’t quite fit the playful cuts of this moment, but the remake does, while also inserting a subtle sense of dread at what is to come.

As a kind of my one Honorable Mention: the Chopsticks scene from Big. That is a fantastic scene and would have been higher on the list if I could convince myself it was a pop song. But I’m a rules stickler!

#9. Risky Business – “Old Time Rock And Roll” by Bob Seger

Okay, here’s where I broke my self-imposed rule: I’ve never seen Risky Business. I have no idea what it’s even about. I don’t know anyone personally who has scene Risky Business. It could well just be this scene, over and over.

But I feel like I’ve seen approximately thirty-eight different parodies or homages or riffs to this classic scene of Tom Cruise having a blast to Old Time Rock And Roll. The scene and the song are etched onto a dark side of my brain because it was pop zeitgeist in my childhood, so I just can’t deny it.

All of the variations I have seen of this in my life probably adds up to one (1) feature-length movie anyway.

#8. American Psycho – “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis & The News

Christian Bale is so damn goofy in this scene. It almost comes across as just bad acting or scenery chewing in how corny he is as he gives his little exposition on Huey Lewis & The News. But he and the movie find the line of quality, dance on top of it, and never cross over.

Patrick Bateman’s massacre of a colleague ends up just being a scene that is vicious and terrible, but as a viewer, you can’t help by like it because of the catchy song and Bale’s whimsy. It holds up a mirror to your own desensitization, giving the movie an exemplary moment of its whole theme.

#7. Beetlejuice – “Day-O” by Harry Belafonte

It’s impossible to hear this song and NOT think of Beetlejuice. Possibly more than any other pairing that listed here, this song and movie are inextricably linked.

It’s part of the movie hiding how dangerous and wicked the titular ghost is when he uses this song as a mostly harmless display of his abilities. This is the Beetlejuice we would end up getting a Saturday Morning cartoon of; fun and goofy and kid-friendly to hide the malice underneath.

I do miss that cartoon, though.

#6. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – “I Touch Myself” by The Divinyls

This is my off-the-wall choice that no one will agree with, and it didn’t show up in any of my research or asking of others. This was all me. I will always think of Austin and the fembots if/when I hear this song. It’s a blast when the song kicks in and Austin shows them that he isn’t in their trap… they were in his.

The cigarettes, the underwear, the pelvic thrusting. Wonderful.

I know I said before I wasn’t putting tons of weight on the movies themselves, but for this and the next two entries, it sure doesn’t hurt that they are from flicks I adore. When you watch them as much as I have, these moments just get carved in.

#5. Guardians of the Galaxy – “Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone

The opening credits of Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring an adult Peter Quill after the first scene shows the death of his mother, is a lot of fun. An obviously less distressed Quill shuffling across a desolate planetscape populated only by lizard creatures, occasionally stopping to kick one away or use another as an improvised microphone, gives a great introduction to the man he grew up into. He is a loner sure, but the memory of his mother is still with him in its own way.

The scene, wonderful as it was, was only improved upon in Avengers: Endgame when we get an outsider perspective on it: an oblivious Star-Lord singing out-loud and poorly to himself as he makes the trip towards the Power Stone.

#4. Shaun of the Dead – “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen

Oh, Shaun of the Dead. Why don’t I appreciate this movie more? And by that I mean, “I love it, but I feel like I am always defending Hot Fuzz in comparison to it”. Both are terrific. And better than The World’s End!

This scene does some of the best juxtaposing in the entire horror/comedy genre as the huddled protagonists are forced to fend off an invading horde of the undead as a jukebox blares the Queen hit and attracts ever more. It should be tense because the heroes are in dire straits… but then you watch them all clubbing zombies with pool cues in time with the tune, and you don’t realize doom is coming. You’re too busy laughing and bobbing your head.

#3. Watchmen – “The Times They Are A-Changing” by Bob Dylan

A lot of the choices until now are ones I can see some eyebrows raised at. They aren’t scenes that came up over and over–if at all–in my research. They were just moments that resonated with me. These top three, though… while they all popped into my head before I needed to do the research portion of this list, they showed up over and over. These are truly iconic, so get off my back, dad!

I’m neither the biggest Bob Dylan nor Zack Snyder fan, but boy was Zack’s choice to use this song as an opening credits montage absolute genius. As scenes flash by and we see how the modern superhero changed the world (and how the world changed the modern superhero), the song lacks any subtlety in telling us that time is changing. But sometimes, being on-the-nose is just fine. This builds the Watchmen world perfectly to get right into the story.

#2. Wayne’s World – “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

This one shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s just a group of characters driving along and listening to a song. It’s not even particularly thematic or relevant. It’s just one of the best songs of all time and characters who would be enamored of it. It doesn’t even establish the characters because their skits on Saturday Night Live already did. There were not hours of thought spent on this moment.

BUT… it’s so gleeful. The smashed guy they pick up trying to join in. The lip-synching. The iconic headbanging. Forget what it doesn’t do; what it DOES do is give you a kick-ass funny and endearing scene right away and let the movie worm into your heart.

#1. Silence of the Lambs – “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus

I have never heard this song outside of the context of this movie or a parody of this scene. It’s not a great song by itself. I don’t even really love this film; I merely think it’s fine.

But this scene. THIS SCENE.

It’s so creepy and malevolent and desperate. Buffalo Bill is presented as a fascinating antagonist here as he sways and moves to the tune and asks us all if we’d fuck him. One thing is for sure, he’d fuck him!

That’s it. Like I said, there’s some curious choices in there, but it’s my list. What about yours? Let us know your choices in the comments!

Two that came up a LOT in my research that I just couldn’t justify were “Stuck In The Middle With You” in Reservoir Dogs and some song by The Pixies (?) at the end of Fight Club. In my defense, I have only see Reservoir Dogs once, and I don’t quite recall the scene in question. So if I don’t remember it, how could it make my list? I probably need to see R.D. again.

As for Fight Club… eh, I just hated Fight Club. I’m relatively sure I never even made it to the end. Or, if I did, I was 100% zoned out on it by then.

Mostly I just really wish the scene from Big would have counted.

Until next time… take care!

3 thoughts on “Top Ten: Uses of Pop Songs in Movies

  1. You don’t remember the “Stuck in the Middle With You” scene? Surprising.

    I went through a phase where I was super into Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine – I heard someone stole his gimmick and kind of ruined his whole deal.

    Liked by 1 person

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