Who hasn’t heard a familiar pop song on the radio only to be transported back to the film that featured it? You probably never even paid a second thought, let alone liked that particular song before it became associated with that cinematic sequence. Yet, it was such a perfect complement to that one moment in the movie that you now know the lyrics by heart. In honor to that fleeting but powerful connection between music and film, we count down 52 of the most iconic pop songs in movies.
A word of warning, this list is not about judging the quality or likability of a song but rather how much each song has become associated with the movie that used it. We are also using the term “pop song” loosely. Anything that could have been heard by thousands of people outside a movie qualifies to make this list. Finally, we decided to keep musicals as well as pop song used solely in trailers out of this list.
So without further ado, I hope you have a good trip down memory lane with these 52 pop songs!
52. “Lose Yourself” in 8 Mile
An Academy Award winning hip-hop song that spent 12 weeks atop the US Billboard Top 100, “Lose Yourself” was the most successful single of Eminem’s career (and we doubt he is going to top that the way it’s going these days). The song, summing up the entire background of Eminem’s character in 8 Mile, really goes hand in hand with Curtis Hanson’s film.
51. “Pocketful of Sunshine” in Easy A
Is it a surprise that when you hear Natasha Bedingfield’s song, you think of Easy A? Emma Stone receives a greeting card that plays the song but initially declares it to be “the worst song ever” before slowly obsessing over it, going so far as to use it as her ringtone to constantly reminds us of it.
50. “Sweet Emotion” in Dazed and Confused
Opening David Linklater’s 1993 cult comedy is Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” which evokes nostalgia for those sweet last day of high school when no one has a care in the world. Set in a small-town Texas in 1976, Dazed and Confused is really about nothing more than a band of friends driving off to Houston to buy Aerosmith concert tickets so what’s more appropriate than have one of their song frame the movie.
49. “Sparks” in Wedding Crashers
A track from Coldplay’s highly successful debut album Parachutes, “Sparks” is an understated romantic ballad that is played during the pivotal emotional point when Owen Wilson’s character realizes he might just have fallen in love. It provides a sweet and stark contrast in a movie that features mostly raunchy and crude comedy.
48. “Hip to be Square” in American Psycho
When he isn’t busy returning tapes to the video store, Patrick Bateman likes to chill out to Huey Lewis and the News. This song is featured in the scene in which Bateman hilariously critiques their discography before he axes that fool Paul Allen (Jared Leto). Interesting, this 1986 song includes then-San Francisco 49ers Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott as backup vocals, just in case their NFL career didn’t work out…
47. “You and Me” in Blue Valentine
The soulful love song that became Dean’s and Cindy’s song, for better and for worse, in the haunting romantic drama Blue Valentine. It’s interesting to note that this song as well as the “lost” band Penny and the Quarters were only recently discovered after a box of unreleased demo tape was purchased during an estate auction sale. So for all of you budding musicians, stash your demo tapes everywhere!
46. “Clubbed to Death” in Matrix
A track from Rob Dougan’s debut album Furious Angels, “Clubbed to Death” is played during the training sequence in which the woman in the red dress suddenly turns into an agent. The song mixes classical piano with a modern electronic beat providing a focused mood that is quite rare with electronic/techno music.
45. “I Believe I Can Fly” in Space Jam
Before R. Kelly became associated with disturbing images of flying streams of piss hitting an underage girl’s face, he sung this iconic song featured in the 1996 movie Space Jam. It has since become associated with his airness Mr. Michael Jordan and his involvement in helping Bugs Bunny and his friend win their freedom in a basketball match by defeating their evil oppressors.
44. “Where is My Mind?” in Fight Club
Prominently used in the final scene and credits of David Fincher’s Fight Club, the Pixies’ song is a provocative, sanity-questioning alternative rock anthem which was a perfect way to end the movie, leaving throngs of viewers wondering whether the entire movie did actually take place in Ed Norton’s head.
43. “Secret Garden” in Jerry Maguire
Making ladies around the world turn on the tear faucet in Jerry Maguire is Bruce Springsteen’s 1995 single “Secret Garden”. Like many other songs on this list, it gained most of its popularity after being featured in a motion picture and let’s face it, Jerry Maguire was a massive box office blockbuster.
42. “I Got You Babe” in Groundhog Day
Nothing like waking up to this song every morning to feel like Phil Connor in Groundhog Day. Bill Murray hates this Sonny & Cher song more than anything in the world after having heard it on his radio clock every morning dozens of thousands of times. Before being heavily featured in Harold Ramis’ film, the song became the pop duo’s biggest hit back in 1965 when it was released.
41. “Everybody’s Talkin’” in Midnight Cowboys
The theme song for Midnight Cowboys, Harry Nilsson’s version of the song became a global hit after it became part of the soundtrack for the movie. Strongly associated with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight’s 1969 Oscar-winning film, “Everybody’s Talkin’” has become a standard, covered by numerous artist over the years and featured in 1994′s Forrest Gump.