Remember the first time you walked down the street with headphones in and it felt as if your life finally had the movie soundtrack it deserved? Everything was heightened, the day-to-day pablum was replaced with people passing looking over their shoulders, the birds blocking out the sun, and the sinister motion of the subway sent tingles up your spine. Without it, it’s just another day—no imbued emotion or trigger to freeze frame the scene in your mind.
Because that’s what music does in movies, it takes a simple moment and catapults it into your hearts and mind, setting the mood and forcing you to feel a part of it all. It fills you with nostalgia for something you didn’t experience or full of longing to one day feel that way too. And some movies do it better than others. It’s not just the combination of good music and cinematography, it’s about the marriage of a visual and auditory experience that transforms something simple into the realm of the iconic. For us, these scenes are the epitome of the best movie music scenes of all time.
BY ELTON JOHN
Does anyone marry music and film better than Cameron Crowe? Probably not. In our opinion, this is the quintessential cannot-be-beaten movie music scene. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” begins playing as they finally wrangle Russell onto the bus and you’re lured into thinking it’s just going to be a driving montage. Then the drummer slowly starts beating his sticks on his knees to the beat, heads begin to bob, and finally someone just busts out singing along. One by one, the whole bus joins in and they’re a group, they’re one again. We’ve all been here, that magic moment when happenstance collides for the perfect song that sums up what everyone’s feeling in that moment, and everyone knows the words to sing along. When William says, “I have to go home,” Penny Lane replies “You are home.” The chorus swells and life is redefined.
“DON’T YOU (FORGET ABOUT ME)”
BY SIMPLE MINDS
The song and movie of a timeless generation, The Breakfast Club and Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” encapsulated the feeling of misunderstood teens the world over. It doesn’t matter if your room was covered with the Brat Pack or Bieber, your high school cafeteria was as segregated by popularity as these misfits in detention. Throughout the movie they admit to their shared teen angst and become unlikely friends. At the very end, they write their manifesto to their detention advisor, laying out their teenage stereotypes and all the ways they defy them, as the opening riffs of the song begins to play while the letter is narrated. As Judd Nelson stomps across the football field in his trench coat, pumping his fist, the chorus swells, “Don’t you, forget about me.” It is the high school moment we all wish we could have.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
“SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL”
BY THE ROLLING STONES
While we may be tired of vampires these days, no one can deny that (aside from Bram himself) Anne Rice did them best, and “Interview With a Vampire” is no exception. After a lengthy recounting of Louie’s (Brad Pitt’s) long and miserable life and all the ways Lestat (Tom Cruise) ruined it, Daniel (Christian Slater) is listening to the tape and thinking he has the scoop of a lifetime. He’s driving through San Francisco in a cherry red convertible and has never felt more alive. Of course, the devil appears when you least expect it, and there’s Lestat, not dead, draining Daniel, taking his car and driving off into the proverbial sunset across the San Francisco Bay Bridge. As Lestat returns to full health, he taps his now perfectly manicured nails against the dashboard and Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” swells, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste/I’ve been around for a long, long year/Stole many a man’s soul and faith.” It’s the perfect summation of the character, the movie, and frankly it’s just cool.
“AS TIME GOES BY”
BY DOOLEY WILSON
Was there ever a movie with a more iconic song associated with it? “As Time Goes By” was the linchpin of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa’s (Ingrid Bergman) tragic relationship. At the beginning of the movie, Ilsa walks into Rick’s gin joint and asks Sam to play “As Time Goes By,” and only a few bars into it, Rick storms in and slams the piano shut. The song is clearly a trigger for Rick, a reminder of better days long gone by that he desperately wants to forget. But it’s later that night, drunk in his own bar, that he demands Sam play it for him. The agony of remembrance washes across his face and we’re swept into a montage of his all-too-brief days in love in Paris. Unfortunately, as the song insists, time goes by, and so, too, do doomed love affairs.
BY COYOTE SHIVERS
Admittedly this entire movie is nothing but one giant music video ode to the ’90s. Empire Records was the after-school job that every misfit music-loving teen dreamed about from their Kurt Cobain covered bedrooms. A place where you could screw up, be a weirdo, listen to music, and have non-stop dance parties (and fake funerals?) all day long. In this scene, the merry group has banded together to “Damn the Man, Save the Empire” and throw the block party of the century. Renee Zellweger rocking an epic-mini skirt, bounces up and down on the rooftop singing “try and find an explanation for why I get this funny feeling deep inside” to a throng of people brimming with alternative teen spirit. It’s the party you waited your whole teen life to find and made you particularly keen to do business at your local record store.
REMEMBER THE TITANS
“AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH”
A seemingly innocuous moment of “yo’mama” jokes suddenly becomes the turning point of integration for this newly mixed-race team as Marvin Gaye sings them into harmony. Up to this point there’d been a fine line between the white and black students and a lot of hostilities. A few crass jokes, some back slapping, a random moment of homoeroticism, and most importantly Ryan Gosling doing some tragic white-boy dancing, and you have a locker room full of football players who’ve finally ascended that mountain together. It’s not only a great scene, but a perfect reminder at how universal music can be.
SUNG BY RUCKUS (ORIGINALY LYNARD SKYNYRD)
In this scene from Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe perfectly embodies both every Southerner’s response when “Free Bird” comes on, and the fact that your entire life could happen in between the first and last chord of it. Here we have Ruckus reunited for Mitch’s memorial service that all of Elizabethtown has shown up for and they’re sending him off in style. As in every bar everywhere, when the opening riff of Lynard Skynyrd’s famous hit begins, the crowd goes crazy, old ladies are dancing, and as Claire (Kirsten Dunst) remarks, “Free Bird, huh?” you’re nodding right there with her, you’ve been here a hundred times. The song builds into its frenetic frenzy, a paper mâché bird is set to glide across the room and catches fire from the heat of the lamps right as it passes through the sign, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” And if that’s not life in the South, then I don’t know what is.
HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I
BY NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
Perhaps one of the best non-book scenes in all of the Harry Potter films, this sees Harry and Hermione at their lowest. Ron has gone, they don’t know how to find the horcruxes, and the weight of the wizarding world rests on the back of children. Nick Cave’s haunting voice builds slowly as Harry looks out across the moors before walking back into the tent, grabbing Hermione’s hand and dancing with her. It’s a moment of lightness in the darkness, a reminder that they still have each other, and a touching testament to their friendship, outside of the trio. But the lyrics, “We’re all weeping now, weeping because/There ain’t nothing we can do to protect you/O children/Lift up your voice,” is an ever-present reminder of what they face.
500 DAYS OF SUMMER
“YOU MAKE MY DREAMS “
HALL & OATES
Let’s just call this Joseph Gordon Levitt’s “I Just Got Laid” parade montage with Hall & Oates. If that’s not enough to sell you on the scene, nothing will.
“BENNIE & THE JETS”
This is the scene that lures you into thinking that going to a bar is actually fun. Elton John’s “Bennie & the Jets” comes on, no one actually knows the lyrics aside “something something something ELECTRIC BOOBS” and suddenly the whole bar is egging you on, you’re on the bar, and it’s that moment that gets memorialized in maid-of-honor speeches. Only your version most likely doesn’t have James Marsden pulling adorable speeches and admitting to crying at weddings. More’s the pity.
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU
“CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU”
SUNG BY HEATH LEDGER
The scene that launched millennial girls into a whole new level of unrealistic expectations toward the male sex, Heath Ledger serenades his lady love on the soccer pitch, complete with the marching band, pinching security officers’ butts, and some mighty impressive frog-leg dancing. We laughed, we swooned, we wondered how we could get Heath Ledger to serenade us and nothing any real teenage boy could ever top it.
BY HARRY NILSSON
This is the ode to sisterhood and all its arcane bonding rituals. Waking up to the sound of the aunt’s midnight margaritas, sisters Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) instantly join in on what is clearly a long tradition. They dance down the stairs in their PJs, grab their margaritas, and conga-line around the kitchen block. It’s a perfect glimpse of female relationships, bizarre family traditions, and the almighty power of music and alcohol.
“STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU”
BY STEALERS WHEEL
Not sure there was ever a better testament to the horror-show that must be Quentin Tarantino’s brain. In the cult classic Reservoir Dogs Mr. Blonde is torturing a guy and takes a break to turn on ’70s classic, “Stuck in the Middle With You,” do a little dance, and then cut the guy’s ear off, before laughing, leaving, and coming back dancing to douse him in gasoline. The whole scene screams “WTF” and the loose and happy beat of the Stealers Wheel song is entirely incongruent with what’s going on. It cements the disconnect and disbelief you feel throughout the film, and while not (hopefully) being relatable at all, will make you never listen to that song the same way again.
A KNIGHT’S TALE
BY DAVID BOWIE
For a movie that’s only claim to fame was putting Heath Ledger in a suit of armor and trying to make Chaucer cool, A Knight’s Tale decided to mix the medieval with the modern in its music selection. In this scene that begins with your traditional “hey nonny-nonny” middle ages dance, the fine-tuned ear starts to recognize a pattern, “Is that?…no it couldn’t be? Did I just hear David BOWIE?” And sure enough, all of court is suddenly dancing to Golden Years in all their courtesan frippery. It’s bizarre, builds brilliantly, and if Malory had included Bowie, we might’ve been far more keen to finish “Le Morte d’Arthur.”
“AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL”
BY RAY CHARLES
Is there anything that better encapsulates the quintessential American Dream? Endless hot summer nights, the Fourth of July, baseball, and Ray Charles? The Sandlot is already the film ideal film of the childhood we all wish we had, where the streets were safe, people were trusting, and kids could be free to just be kids. Add in Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful” and by God you want to start waving your American flag and move to the suburbs.
Surely we’ve likely missed a few, Ferris Buehler’s infamous “Twist & Shout,” the entirety of Guardians of the Galaxy, and “Say a Little Prayer” from My Best Friend’s Wedding all deserve honorable mentions. There’s also all the musicals we deliberately left out, (yes even Pitch Perfect and Moulin Rouge) because we wanted these to be the moments where the music was a surprise element that came out of left field, just like your favorite songs. So love our list or hate it, tweet us your thoughts about what you would’ve included to @litdarling.