What are the two things most often asked of people? What are your favorite movies and types of music? The two go hand-in-hand, which is why I find the integration of music and cinema to be fascinating. I’ve covered dance sequences previously, and wanted to turn my eyes towards the interrelationship between music and cinema. The 30 scenes here represent the funniest, sexiest, saddest combinations of moving pictures and music.
*Note, to save time, this inaugural list contains strictly contemporary songs or covers not created for the movie.
30. Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’ “I Can’t Give Anything But Love, Baby” – Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant don’t burst into this jazz standard. They do, however, warily sing it throughout Howard Hawks’ comedy as a means of placating their newfound leopard, who loves it. The leopard is named Baby, after all. Hepburn and Grant shakily singing it always induces giggles.
29. Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” – The First Wives Club (1996)
The First Wives Club is a feminist call to arms, and no scene shows this more than its’ final musical number. Diane Keaton’s Annie finally musters up the courage to sing as all three friends unite to show that the only ones in control are themselves! You don’t own me, indeed!
28. Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” – Marie Antoinette (2006)
An ‘80s shopping montage in the 1700s? Sofia Coppola gives ladies a candy-coated world of cream puffs, shoes and dresses, themed to the song everyone sang about their high school crush.
27. Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” – Beyond the Lights (2014)
Beyond the Lights was the first film to use Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” as part of superstar Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Caz’s (Nate Parker) airplane ride. It’s a pert combination of sexy song with actual sex scene. Is there any better way to join the Mile-High Club?
26. Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” – Dick (1999)
“You’re So Vain” is one of the more evocative songs of the ‘70s that nearly everyone knows. Here it’s utilized to highlight the personality of the film’s subject, “Tricky” Dick Nixon (Dan Hedaya). As a final “F”-you, Deep Throat – two teen girls played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams – give him the ultimate send-off to the song girls everywhere sing about their exes while crying into a hairbrush.
25. Hot Chocolate’’s “You Sexy Thing” – Boogie Nights (1997)
This scene is summed up through the song. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Scotty J arrives at a pool party and locks his eyes – complete with zoom-in – on Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. The song almost acts as Scotty’s inner monologue as he hones in on his “sexy thing.”
24. Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” – Jackie Brown (1997)
Quentin Tarantino has many musical moments worth sharing, but the opening credits to Jackie Brown immediately set the tone. The director’s nod to blaxploitation cinema borrows Womack’s song – not used in the film of the same name, oddly enough – to set up Pam Grier’s antihero. Like the Womack figure in the song, Brown will do a lot of bad stuff to stay alive. Note how, as the song ramps up, she starts running to catch her plane.
23. Rihanna’s “We Found Love” – American Honey (2016)
American Honey uses contemporary music in its landscape in a way that feels as if teens dicated it, not adults writing as teenagers. Heroine Star (Sasha Lane) falls for Shia LaBeouf’s Jake to this bouncing dance song. The two “find love” in a Target of all places, and Jake’s exuberant dance is enough to entice Star to blindly follow him on the road.
22. The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” – Casino (1995)
Martin Scorsese is no slouch to musical cues. Like Goodfellas, Casino has an extended musical montage that sees bodies hit the floor as the audience rocks out to this ‘60s rock song. Particularly impressive is how Scorsese juxtaposes the song’s organ solo as a character weaves in and out of doors before getting his coup de grace.
21. Doris Day’s “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” – Strictly Ballroom (1992)
The song’s ambiguity plays well alongside the star-crossed romance of Scott (Paul Mercurio) and Fran (Tara Morice). Will they get together? “Perhaps,” as Doris says. The song’s languidness is beautiful situated against the silhouetted curtain, revealing the two’s burgeoning relationship without them knowing it. These two can’t hide it– as if they were in the first place.
20. Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer for You” – My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
I’m a sucker for songs where everyone jumps in, and this moment of embarrassment for Julia Roberts’ Julianne leaves a whole restaurant singing – complete with crab claws!
19. The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night” – Dead Ringers (1988)
Sometimes a creepy song can make a movie creepier, and there’s nothing more unsettling than a good ‘50s song. David Cronenberg used The Five Satins in his body horror story of twins (both played by Jeremy Irons) who practically live their lives as one. In this dance sequence, the two engage in a bizarre, quasi-threesome with a woman that sees them getting a bit too close for comfort, all to the dulcet tones of a song touting romance in the air.
18. Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – The Breakfast Club (1985)
One of the quintessential ‘80s jams plays as the lone source of dialogue in the film’s final moments. Each one of the teens hopes their newfound love doesn’t forget them. They may all hate each other on Monday, but dammit, they have that moment, cemented by John Bender’s fist in the air.
17. The Muffs’ “Kids in America” – Clueless (1995)
How do you explain the ‘90s to today’s youth? Show them the opening of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, in which a group of entitled Beverly Hills teens lounge around “like [its] a Noxema commercial” to The Muffs. You might get asked what Noxema is, but today’s youth will be envious.
16. Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” – Back to the Future (1985)
One of the quintessential rock songs in a seminal classic. Michael J. Fox’s wailing on this Chuck Berry gem ushers in rock and roll to his small town. The whole thing culminates with the funniest one-liner involving a man named Marvin Berry.
15. Britney Spears’ “Everytime” – Spring Breakers (2012)
Director Harmony Korine creates one of the more darkly comic uses of pop music. James Franco croaks out a rendition of a song he finds “sweet” and “uplifting,” as his girl gang engages in a sequence of brutally violent robberies. As the group dances with rifles in hand, Spears’ song becomes a standard for violence and the sexualization of young girls. Ironic, funny and terrifying.
14. Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” – Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Browne may be singing about “somebody’s baby” but she’s nowhere to be found in this ironic musical moment. Browne’s ode to beauty and innocence plays as the theme song for Jennifer Jason-Leigh’s Stacy as part of her quest to have a satisfying sexual experience. Upon losing her virginity (unromantically in a baseball dugout in five seconds), the song becomes a sad reminder that Stacy’s nobody’s baby– and might be growing up too soon.
13. The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” – Magic Mike XXL (2015)
The Backstreet Boys have made a comeback in movies lately, though this is the funniest use of their music. A striptease performed in a convenience store, performed to a song from my childhood? I never thought I’d see it, but I’m so happy I have!
12. Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity” – Look Who’s Talking (1989)
Look Who’s Talking has a great soundtrack, with several songs that could be on this list. The film’s highlight, though, is Mollie (Kirstie Alley) and James’ (John Travolta) swoony dance to this Gene Pitney classic. Travolta makes an entrance by practically breaking down Mollie’s door. The two’s love is evident, even to young Mikey (voiced by Bruce Willis).
11. Heart’s “Crazy on You” – The Virgin Suicides (1999)
The Virgin Suicides illustrates how music dictates and enhances emotion. No scene captures desire better than Lux Lisbon (Kirsten Dunst) and Trip Fontaine’s (Josh Hartnett) steamy makeout session to “Crazy On You.” Note how the song’s guitar solo kicks in right as Lux gets into the car for a perfect jump to physicality.
10. The Divynls “I Touch Myself” – Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
The late ‘90s didn’t have a scene that tickled my funny bone more than spy Austin Powers’ (Mike Meyers) attempt to “seduce” a gang of Fembots to this ode to masturbation. That dichotomy alone induces giggles, but couple it with Meyers’ fake chest hair and Union Jack underpants and it’s comedy gold.
9. Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Director Edgar Wright enhances the humor in his zombie drama with this Queen song during a zombie beatdown. The song is in harmony with the hits the group delivers on the zombie, and even those watching the fight can’t help but groove along to the music. “Kill the Queen” is one my favorite one-liners.
8. The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” – Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Any teen girl knows the frivolity of dancing around her room, preferably before a special night with her favorite guy! Adventures in Babysitting’s opening revels in Elisabeth Shue’s unrestrained fun; one of the few moments of joy before she enters a night from Hell.
7. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Midnight Special” – Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
I could write a whole essay about this scene. It’s that amazing. Ultimately, CCR’s song – whose title plays on the themes of the movie – acts as a unifying moment to bond two strangers (played by Dan Akroyd and Albert Brooks) to each other and the audience. Watching them rock out acts a gateway to a question that lingers throughout the whole movie: “You want to see something really scary?”
6. Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” – Beetlejuice (1988)
Belafonte is felt all over Beetlejuice but is best utilized in what amounts to the best– and worst– possession in history. Dead residents Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) assume a little song and dance (and evil shrimp) will be enough to get the Deetzes’ out of their house. Instead, we have as much fun as the possessed themselves, with every dance move getting more creative.
5. The Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” – 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Girls the world over swooned in 1999 after seeing this movie. Who didn’t dream of Heath Ledger serenading them with a high school marching band to this 1967 ode to love? Ledger gave boyfriends a high bar to hit with the ultimate in grand gestures!
4. Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here” – Sixteen Candles (1984)
“Make a wish.” “It already came true.” There’s no song that can sum up pure joy and a fairy tale ending quite like this Thompson Twins song. I’m nearly 30, and I still dream of the day I can sit on a table with a birthday cake and Jake Ryan. I can at least listen to this song and have one piece of the puzzle.
3. Ruth Etting’s “It Had to Be You” – A League of Their Own (1992)
A good song– and “a lot of liquor”– can be the ultimate confidence booster. For Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanaugh), she finds her spirit through Ruth Etting’s ballad. She slays the stage and leaves her love, Nelson, with a case of the sighs. And who doesn’t love how she belts “seen-en-en?”
2. Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” – Dirty Dancing (1987)
“Cry to Me” is the perfect “precursor to sex song.” Don’t believe me? Watch the moment where Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) dance (and strip) to this. The song’s yearning and intensity expertly acts alongside the foreplay the audience is privy to, making this one of the hottest love scenes. (The song acts as a fun homage to this movie in Guy Ritchie’s Man From UNCLE, as well.)
1.Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” – Almost Famous (2000)
This scene is perfection. A look inside the mind of a band, Cameron Crowe shows us a glimpse in what makes music so powerful. Like the people waving goodbye as Stillwater’s tourbus leaves, the circus is leaving town and all the youth and whimsy is replaced with responsibility. Stillwater, fractured and at odds, can come together for the one thing that keeps them bound: music. As they communally sing, Penny Lane’s (Kate Hudson) “you are home” makes sense. Music is our communal home. It’s what gets us through good times and bad. It keeps us sane in a world of chaos.